Ready, Set, Go: Homily for Gathering Sunday, September 7, 2014

If you look in your bulletins this morning you’ll see that where it normally says “sermon” it says “homily” today. People sometimes ask me what that word “homily” means, and I tell them it’s ancient Greek for “shorter sermon”.
That’s not exactly true. That’s not what the Greek means, but a homily is typically a little shorter than a regular Sunday sermon. I try not to be too long-winded on Sundays, because I believe that often preachers can make their point in less time than they think they need. But today I’m going to be deliberately short-winded. And that’s because today we have important work to do here in worship, and so much of what we are doing will preach the message today. And so I’m going to let it.
Today, it’s time to gather. And it’s time to get ready. And it’s time to go.
IMG_3574We are not the first faith community to be in this position. Today’s Scripture from Exodus tells us about another congregation that gathered and got ready and said “go”, albeit under very different circumstances. Last week we talked about Moses’ call from God to go and free the Israelites and lead them out of Egypt. And this week is about what happened when that community got together and got ready to go.
God is talking to Moses and giving him some instructions on how to get the people moving. God gives them all these instructions about getting a lamb and preparing a meal and even putting blood on their doors as a sign that they are the people getting ready to move. And God gives them very specific directions about how to eat the lamb: don’t have a long leisurely meal. Instead, eat it like you are in a hurry. Get dressed, put on your shoes, put your staff in your hand, and get ready. In fact, don’t even let your bread rise. Eat it unleavened. Because very soon, I’m going to call you out of this place, and onto a journey that will change everything.
So, here in Exeter, all these millennia later, it’s our Gathering Sunday. And we are not being persecuted by harsh taskmasters. We do not have lamb dinners to eat quickly, or so little time that we can’t let our bread finish baking. We are not escaping in the dead of night. Our situation is very different from that of the Israelites.
And yet, one thing is the same: we are gathering, and we are getting ready to go on a journey together that can change everything.
On Gathering Sunday things change. Worship goes back to 10am. We come back upstairs. The choir is back. Our summer vacations are over. And we all come home. But the point of Gathering Sunday is not just to say “summer is over”. The point of Gathering Sunday is that we are about to embark on a journey together, as a church, and we want you, and everyone else, to come along with us.
And so some special things are happening today. You already saw our students come up with their backpacks to receive a special blessing as they start a new year of learning. And after worship you can go downstairs to make sure they are registered for Christian education this year. Our Christian growth folks, and all our Sunday school teachers, have made sure that the journey our children and youth are about to embark on is a fantastic one, and we don’t want anyone to miss it.
But this isn’t just the start of a new year of learning for the youngest among us. This is the start of something new for all of us. We never stop growing in our Christian faith, no matter what our age, and we should never stop learning and trying new things. There are adult Christian education opportunities coming this fall. There are options for serving in our community. There are ways you can serve in worship. And, most importantly, whatever else you are doing there are ways to choose to go deeper this fall. Ways to open your hearts up in prayer, and contemplation, and in discernment of God’s call.
Each of us is being called to go on this journey. We are being gathered together here this morning because we are about to be sent out into something new. We are being gathered to re-focus our vision on what matters, to make choices about how to do the work of growing and serving this fall, and then to go out into our world and let our light shine.
You can even see that in our hymns today. We started with “Be Thou My Vision”, then we are singing “Called as Partners in Christ’s Service”, and then we are ending with a song that is far more theological profound than we give it credit for: “This Little Light of Mine”. And that’s what we are doing today: Re-focusing, partnering, and deciding to shine as we are sent forth on this journey..
And, like the Israelites, we are even going to get fed. Our menu is a little different, but the idea is the same: we are eating a meal together before we hit the road and start this journey. In Holy Communion we gather around the table and say “I’m ready…send me Lord”. There’s a reason we do not eat this meal alone in our own homes with no one else around. We eat it together, because one of the most important things we do as a church is gathering, and because being a Christian means being a part of community. And so, we share the meal, because it strengthens us, and binds us together, for the journey we are about to take.
And so here’s my question: Are you ready to go? Are you ready to start this journey? Are you ready to get on the road?

Now, before you answer that, let me clarify what that means:

Are you ready to be an active part of this community?
Are you ready to join together in worship regularly?
Are you ready to pray and to think and to discern?
Are you ready to learn and ask questions?
Are you ready to tell the story of our faith to the youngest ones here?
Are you ready to sing? Or create artwork? Or use any of your talents?
Are you ready to hang in there during committee meetings, even when they feel as long as 40 years in the wilderness?
Are you ready to serve not ourselves, but our neighbors, and our world?
Are you ready to be a blessing?
Are you ready to be the church?
I believe that together we are. Because I believe this church has been blessed in so many ways, including by each of you individually. And I don’t believe anyone or any church is ever blessed without there also being an expectation. I believe we are only blessed to be a blessing. And I believe that we are only a blessing when we dare to let our light shine.
And so here’s the question again: are you ready for this journey?
I think you are. I think we are. And I think that even on the days when it might feel hard or tiring or tough for us as individuals, especially on those days, that’s when this community will matter more than ever. Because if we make this journey together, God will be able to lead us so much further than if we try to go it alone.
So, why a homily? Why the short sermon? Because we have gathered. And we have prepared for this journey. And now, time is growing shorter…and it’s time to hit the road.
So, are you ready?
Then let’s get going. Amen.

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