Sermons at Grace
Welcome to the sermons page. Here you will find Bishop Gates' sermon at the Celebration of New Ministry on July 13, 2019, the last sermon of Year C (November 24, 2019) and sermons preached at Grace Church starting with the First Sunday of Advent in year A (December 1, 2019). The lectionary readings for each service can be found on the appropriate date on the lectionary page by clicking here, or by clicking on the name of the service the sermon was preached. We send you warm greetings from the Vineyard and Grace Church and hope to see you when you're here. Thank you for your interest and for listening!
What a great delight for me to be back here with you at Grace Church. I bring greetings from all your sisters and brothers around the Diocese of Massachusetts who join me in congratulating you on this new partnership between rector and congregation. Many of them are here with us, including friends and colleagues from the Cape and Islands Deanery, of which you are a part; members of the diocesan staff; ecumenical clergy of this town; and many more. All of us are delighted to join you for this celebration and to
represent the wider church which rejoices with you!
Before moving back to Massachusetts a few years ago, my wife and I lived for 18years in Chicago and Cleveland. The shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie are beautiful –but they are not the ocean. We missed the salt air. We learned to eat lake perch instead of
cod. And we grew thoroughly unaccustomed to the tide. (Actually the Great Lakes do have a bit of tide, but not so as you’d notice – registering a variation of just 1 to 4 centimeters!). The tide is a ceaseless reminder of the dynamic quality and rhythms of our world
and of our lives. Here on Martha’s Vineyard you know all about tides. The up and down, out and in, swelling and contracting rhythm of the ocean waters are mirrored by the cycles of life in this place: winter/summer; isolation/congestion; population 16,000/population 100,000; a booming summer economy/a winter when many will need help to get through the lean months. Up and down, in and out.
Here at Grace Church, your life contains a similar rhythm. Week by week you come to this place to be nourished and strengthened; then you are sent out to serve. You come in to care for one another; you go out to care for others. You come in to sing and pray, and
study, (and maybe prepare Lobster Rolls!); you go out to show compassion to others, and live your faith, (and maybe serve Lobster Rolls!).
A congregation has other rhythms, too. Longer cycles of triumph and challenge, of joyful times and sad ones. Since your first service was held in 1862, through the ensuing 157 years, you’ve had periods of manifest growth and strong community engagement.
You’ve also times of challenge and sadness. My visits to Grace Church in the past 4-1/2 years have most often been at moments of strain and even acute grief. But now, once again, dear friends, the tide is rising! We affirm that our life in Christ is a never-ending journey of rebirth, renewal, and beginnings-again: that tidal rhythm of renewed commitment to one
another, and to those you serve near and far.
When I visited the parish in 2015, I was presented with a button and a T-shirt that bore the slogan, “got grace?” Perhaps it was one manifestation of what your online history refers to as the “enthusiasm and whimsy” of your priest at the time. From time to time I
wear the button or T-shirt: “got grace?” It tends to attract attention. Some folks who think in biblical or spiritual terms get it right away, and smile. Others, who clearly don’t understand the reference, look quizzically at me. One older woman actually gave me a
confused stare and asked, “Grace Kelly?” I’m not exactly sure what it would mean to “get” Grace Kelly. Or Grace Jones. Or Grace Slick. I guess I wouldn’t mind “getting” Grace Hopper, the brilliant computer scientist and naval officer.
In any case, the rhetorical question, “got grace?”, is in this case an invitation – an invitation to this church, Grace Church. And an invitation to receive the blessing which is inherent in the name you bear: Grace. The grace of God. The free, lavish, unearned love of
God. Got grace? Yes! By definition, as Christians we know ourselves to be recipients of this blessing, heirs to this promise.
But, just for a moment – treat this not as a rhetorical question, but one I’d like you to answer. For instance, you might know that our crucifer today is Grace O’Malley. So, if I say: “Look at this great liturgical crew: got Grace?” You say: “Yes!” This parish has survived more than a century and a half of good times, and hard times. Got grace? (Yes!) Camp Jabberwocky and its ministry with physically and mentally challenged persons has been supported by this congregation for decades. Got grace? (Yes!) Bishop John Burgess, and Esther, and their family, imparted and continue to impart their own special blessing to the life of this congregation. Got grace? (Yes!) A core value of this church is to live out its baptismal covenant to seek Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as
self. Got grace? (Yes!) At moments in its history, this parish has hosted a coffee shop for teens, and a basketball league; has marched in the CROP Walk; and has celebrated Mass on the Grass! Got grace? (Yes!) This church is a site on the Island’s African-American Heritage Trail. Got grace? (Yes!) And now, you have called a fine new priest as your rector – a man of deepest pastoral instinct and experience; a scholar and teacher; a man who with his family already loves this island, and wants to engage with you in its life. You’ve called Stephen Harding. Got grace? You do, indeed.
Your new rector was quoted recently in the MVTimes as saying this: “One of the things that is exciting to me [in this place] is that we can dream who we want to be into being. Yes, we’re an Episcopal church and we’re very proud of our tradition, but we have a freedom to explore and grow and find our place in ministry, in the world around us.”
I love that image of dreaming a new reality into being. In that quote – framed with the pronoun “we” and not “I” – and in the care with which Stephen made every aspect of today’s service to be fully mutual – it is clear that what we celebrate today is a not so much a new ‘administration’, but a new partnership in ministry. An earlier draft of today’s bulletin featured on the cover a heading which read: “The Institution of the Reverend Stephen Harding as the 18th Rector of Grace Episcopal Church.” Formally and canonically, it is that. But that is not what Stephen wanted as the headline. For he takes seriously the mutual, communal theology noted in today’s scriptures.
In the first lesson, Moses knew he could not lead the people on his own. He gathered no fewer than 70 elders to share responsibility. In our second lesson, Paul sketches out his familiar image for the church – one body composed of many parts, members of one another, complementing each other with differing gifts, so much stronger together than separately. And in the Gospel, even Jesus says his disciples are not servants, but friends – empowered and sent together to bear fruit. So, our service is framed as “A
Celebration of New Ministry at Grace Church.” Or perhaps, even more accurately, The Celebration of a New Partnership in a Longstanding Ministry.
Stephen is a devoted priest. No doubt he will work hard to carry out his pastoral ministry, as well as his responsibilities to preach and teach and organize and lead. But Stephen is not an ecclesiastical caterer. He is not called to be a professional Christian on
your behalf. Rather, you and he are called to be the church together: to care for one another together; to maintain this lovely church together; to teach your children together; to worship God together; and to serve the needs of a hurting world around you – together. Always, only, together - side by side as pastor and people.
The world, my friends, needs you. A world that cannot decide how to muster the courage to care adequately for our planet before it’s too late … needs you! A nation that can’t seem to remember what it means to welcome the stranger, as we ourselves were once
welcomed, … needs you! A society still divided by the bitter legacy of racism’s sin … needs you! An island where abundant resources can mask the plight of those whose shelter is insecure and who surf from couch to couch to campground … needs you! Our whole beautiful, lovely, broken world needs you, needs God’s grace, of which you are the agents.
Stephen has penned a beautiful prayer, found on the home page of your parish website. I cannot think of a better prayer for you today:
May our church be a place where our focus is on God and our neighbor;
where multiplicity of identities is sought;
where we remember that we are all equally in
relationship with God, who is greater than we are.
Where we gather together to be nourished and fed by our common God.
May we remember that we are in relationship with each other and that we are inter-reliant on each other.
That each of us is important and needed for our church and our Island to thrive.
May our Church be a place where we can see Christ in each other; remember who we are;
work together for the common good; and to share what we have been given with our wider community.
“Got grace?” Oh, you’ve got grace, all right. With a century and a half of God’s blessings behind you; and the mutual companionship of one another alongside of you; and the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit before you; you’ve got grace!
I am so grateful to be here with you to commend you in your selection of your new rector, and to welcome Stephen and Storm and Theo!
Stephen and people of Grace Church: Enjoy one another and cherish your differences. Share the work of ministry as pastor and people together. Fling wide your
doors, not only to let others in, but to go charging out! Like the tidal waters of your island,
come in and go out, for the love of God!