The Gift of Reflection

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Proper 24/Year A ▪ October 18, 2020
Exodus 33:12-23; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

The Gift of Reflection

10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass. Mother Hymes’ sermon, “The Gift of Reflection” (1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Exodus 33:12-23).

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, October 18, 2020

Yesterday, Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church was received by our Diocesan Convention as a Mission Church with our new name, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. To prepare for this historic occasion, I was challenged to tell the life story of the church plant which would be shared in a four-minute video. Day after day I poured over three years’ worth of pictures, from the very first visioning meeting in October 2017 to our wandering through the desert of car dealerships (plural) and shared church space to finally resting in our own dedicated church home in July 2019.  Many faces captured in those pictures remain with us today, and a few that do not.  A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a testimony giving thanks and praise to God’s presence transcends what the limited human eye can see and what the limited human language can articulate.

After viewing the string of video soundbites, supported by the images that made the cut, the life story of this faith community is none other than a narrative of faith, hope and love.  One founding member’s testimony said that it’s been constant prayer to keep the church going, and knowing that there could be no real growth without a stable worship space, she witnessed answered prayers in the finding of this place, our now church home. That is a testimony of hope, that remaining in a state of prayerfulness uniquely inclines one’s human and spiritual senses to witness and experience God actively working on behalf of his faithful.

Similarly, a founding couple shared that they had felt God leading them to this church and that their initial enthusiasm has only grown.  That is a testimony of faith, that when God called them to participate in his mission, already at work in Wesley Chapel, they obediently replied, “Here am I, send me.”

And, still yet another founding member, shared through tears, the truth of our church planting ministry, which is at once invigorating and exhausting, saying, “It’s been a labor of love for us.” After experiencing deep loss, our sister labored on in Christ’s love through this faith community, finding deeper purpose and spiritual anchoring. That is a testimony of love, that through seeking relationship with God and with God’s people, she, as the hymn, Come Labor On, says, was able to “…Move away from gloomy doubts and faithless fear.” (1982 Hymnal #541).

After viewing the produced video for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, it became evident that our patron saint’s first letter to the Thessalonians today, uniquely speaks to this faith community, as we reflect on our life story, and begin a new chapter.

This first letter to the church of the Thessalonians was a letter written by an absent Paul, who had been informed by his co-founder, Timothy, that his absence was a source of anxiety for the people. Through Paul’s reassuring and encouraging words we get a glimpse of the life story of that faith community which Paul founded.

Just as the testimonies of our church members have the power touch the hearts of those seeking Christ, Paul reminds the people that the community’s own example of turning to God from idol worship, and their own work of faith, labor of love and steadfastness of hope (v. 3) had already impacted the gospel mission for the better.  Within this small passage, Paul gives the church the gift of Paul’s own reflection on the church’s life story, intending to ease anxiety and to strengthen their faithfulness.

After three years of kingdom-building work being done, within this faith community—without a blueprint—we, too, have the gift of reflection, and we must be encouraged by what God has created out of what appeared to be nothing. Look around, and not just at the sanctuary in which we have gathered today. Look at the faces that are gathered here. From my point of view, which spans three years, I tell you, as Paul wrote to the church of the Thessalonians, I always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in my prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and your labor of love and your steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church has been living in a Holy Spirit whirlwind from the visioning of our ministry to today. While there is still no blueprint for what God is now calling us to do, and be, we can only imagine this next chapter of our church’s life story, continuing to walk by faith.  Here’s what I know from my own life story; God did not bring us this far to leave us. In times of rejoicing and in times affliction and lament, we must embrace the ever-present gift of reflection.

In our Old Testament reading in Exodus this morning, when God told Moses to leave Sinai with the Israelites, Moses told God that they needed God’s presence. And, God reassured Moses that He would be with him.  God assured Moses, also, that as his glory passed him by, God would put him in the cleft of a rock and shield him with his own hand, until he had passed him by. For no one, after having seen the face of God, shall live.  And, wouldn’t you know it, God promised Moses the gift of reflection, assuring him that in the taking away God’s protective hand, Moses would be able to glimpse God’s back, as an assurance that God had indeed been with him.

Sisters and brothers, many of you are being called to serve in leadership and in new ministries as we strengthen our work of faith and labor in love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. Now as St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Wesley Chapel, may we never forget that we, like Moses, need God’s presence. May we trust that God’s own hand will provide divine protection from all harm for this body of Christ.

And, while we may not always be able to witness God’s glory—while our noses are down, doing our work—taken up in the Holy Spirit whirlwind—be assured that in this precious time of reflection, that God has given us the gift of looking back to see that he has been in the midst of us, and that we have indeed found favor in his sight.  Amen.