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The Charism of Christ Church Savannah

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon
at Christ Church Savannah on August 27, 2017

The Charism of Christ Church
Romans 12:1-8

We can stumble through our lives learning little more about ourselves than a complete stranger could tell us within 15 minutes. Sure, I know myself in a way you never can, Thanks be to God. But some of you may see me more clearly than I can see myself, and in this is the potential for us both to grow spiritually.

I want to draw our attention this morning to how Paul’s Letter to the Romans speaks to the varied gifts God has given each of us. To show you what I mean, let me tell you a story of how some parishioners of a church helped me find my voice and then turn to share how I see that Christ Church is helping Savannah find its voice as well.

As I entered seminary, I needed to find a congregation where I could complete my field education. I told the Director of Field Ed that I wanted to serve at the smallest possible church that was vital to its community. He introduced me to St. Philip’s in Baden, Maryland. The historically black church had an Average Sunday Attendance of 44 when I arrived. I learned that the rural church had the clothes closet and food pantry for the community. They also had received a grant that supported a transportation ministry to pick people up at their homes and take them to the doctor or to the grocery store and other essential trips. Beyond this they had created an 8-bed assisted living facility so the elderly could stay close to home when they could no longer care for themselves. The church might have been small in number, but if the doors of the church closed, the community would have a sizeable hole to fill. St. Philip’s would be missed.

In that context, I began to lead Morning Prayer one Sunday a month and to preach on another Sunday. I had been there for some months when my seminarian committee challenged me. Mittie Gross said, “There is something we all agree on, but it is awkward to bring up.”

“What is it Mittie,” I replied with a little trepidation.
“We want you to preach more black,” he said.
“More black?” I asked.
“You know what I mean,” Mittie said.

I paused, trying to get my bearings. I told them that I didn’t want to do anything that wasn’t me or that some might see as offensive. Then Mittie said, “The thing is Frank. We are not asking you because we want you to be someone else. We are asking, because we see something in you. We want you to stop holding back.”

He explained that they thought a looser style, less tied to the text, and working more with the congregation in a give and take fit who I was made to be as a preacher. And he said, “The best way they knew to put it was to preach more black.”

That was Monday. I was to preach the following Sunday. I decided not to write out my sermon, but to know what I wanted to say and to note the movements of the sermon and then just preach it. On Wednesday morning, I did something I had not done before. After chapel at the seminary, I asked Victoria if she would like me to bring some breakfast from McDonald’s to her and Griffin. She said they would like that and as I left the seminary and headed to pick up fast food, I started preaching the Sunday sermon in the car. And I mean I preached it. I didn’t hold back. Who knows what people in other cars saw, I was preaching.

I pulled up to the microphone at the drive-through, placed the order and then waited my turn to pay. I saw that I could do what my seminarian committee asked of me, but I was wondering if I should. When I came to the first window and a man leaned out to take my money, I looked up and saw his name tag and I knew that come Sunday, I would have to really let go and trust God to get me through. I was going to have to do this thing. I needed to preach.

You see he was wearing a regulation McDonald’s nametag. But there was no name on the tag. Where the name would go, his nametag had one word. It read “Preach.” I paid Preach for my breakfast, drove to the next window to pick up the food and started preaching again as I drove home. That Sunday, I did loosen up and preach. I recall how the first response back from the congregation, that would be followed by a number of amens and the like was Mittie’s Mom said, “Take it slow now” and I knew that the Holy Spirit was in what was happening as that congregation lovingly called something out of me.

I told the story of the nametag to parishioners after church. I shared it with seminarians. Time passed. I began to doubt my own story. I went to the McDonald’s as lunch was ending. I saw the man from the drive through at one of the cash registers inside. His nametag said “James.” I asked him if we could sit and talk for just a minute. He seemed quite unsure, but agreed. They were not that busy and he asked me to give him a minute. When he sat down, I told him my story. He listened quite attentively and smiled. And when I got to the part where he leaned out the window, he jumped in, “It said ‘preach’ didn’t it?’ I said it sure seemed to and nodded toward his badge that said, “James.”

He said, “The Holy Spirit really got you good” and laughed. Then he explained that he is a lay preacher in his church and the other staff at McDonald’s would kid him that he sounds like a preacher when his voice booms through the speaker at the drive through. The Manager was making others that day and made him a tag that said “Preach.” He only wore the tag that one morning. “I keep it on the mirror in my bedroom and see it all the time,” he added. He thought it was the best story and he couldn’t wait to tell folks at his church.

The real gift is not the miracle the nametag that said preach, but that I found a place that was willing to see what God was doing within me and to call out my gifts. This is what the Body of Christ is to do. We help one another discover our gifts and to use them. This is what parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors do. We can all play this role with family, friends, and co-workers.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”

That God gives differing gifts to us is not incidental, but an essential part of how God made all creation to function. God is a Trinity of persons, and while the nature of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a holy mystery, through the Trinity God says that relationships and interconnection are part of who God is and so part of who we are to be. We were created for communion with God and one another. We were literally made to work together. Therefore, God never gives all the gifts or expertise to a single person. God works in and through community. Christ Church is the incredible gift to Savannah that it is because you are comprised of many people bringing your varied gifts together to do something for God so big and wonderful that it needs a team.

The great news is that the team is not simply we humans bringing our gifts to the table. When Paul writes that we have gifts that differ according to the grace given us, he reminds us that it is the grace of God working through us. We don’t have to accomplish anything for God based on our own brainpower, muscle, or merit. We count on God working through us, doing marvelous things, sometimes despite our best efforts. This is not about earning or deserving, but the gift of God letting us take part in what God is doing. Just as in my story of learning to preach a little looser, I can look back and see how the Holy Spirit was up to hijinks, so too in your own life, God is working in and through you, getting your attention in sometimes unexpected ways.

I do want to challenge myself as I challenge you to look for the gifts others have and to help those you know rise to being more fully themselves, not holding back on serving as God made them to serve. But I want to also look at how a whole congregation can have gifts and it is our individual gifts that help the Body of Christ in a given Church more fully be itself.

The great gift that the Mother Church of Georgia gives to Savannah is a House of Prayer for all people. Here in the nave of this church, you are in communion with everyone Jesus is in communion with. We differ not just in family or religious backgrounds, but in our political beliefs and even theological convictions. This is not a happy accident, but the goal. Christ Church intends to be and is centered in worship in which all are welcome. Joyful living and service to others flows from this. But the very life of this church begins with welcoming everyone. Certainly this is true in the Parish Hall all week long as homeless persons line up for a shower and a meal with a warm smile in a place where they know they are welcome. Through ministry in Savannah, I know some homeless persons not just by sight, but by name and their stories and from them, I know the value that Emmaus House welcome. But even more here on Sunday, I know that we are a varied group this morning in which I am welcome and so are you.

What I see is this: Christ Church Savannah is as vital to Savannah as little St. Philip’s was to Baden, Maryland. Savannah has never existed without Christ Church. Christ Church saw this city through its founding and the upheaval of the Revolution, then through the ravages of the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement. There are stories to tell of this church in each of those ages, but there may be no time of greater need for the gifts of this particular church than now. The particular charism, the particular spiritual gift, of Christ Church is sorely needed and would be missed mightily, as our city needs this House of Prayer for all people. We all need this outward and visible sign of God’s inward grace of unity in a world where it is easier to foster division.

But for this Church to most fully be itself, more parishioners need to discover the gifts that yet remain dormant. This is not a call for the behind the scenes organizer to get out front and speak, or the extraverted preacher to sit down with an excel spreadsheet and lose himself (or herself) in details. The call is for each of us to discover how God wired us, to assist others in finding and nurturing their gifts, and then to offer ourselves more fully. Not that more will get done with by your effort, but that God would love to bless your faithfulness by working through you. And for this we each need to discover our gifts, call out the gifts of others, and offer our best to God.

Amen.

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