A Sermon for the First Sunday after Pentecost

So, while I have you – because some of you are going to need to scoot off right after the service – before you go, before I go, I just want to say, thank you! Thank you.
Last year, our Rector Emeritus, John Miller, was our preacher here for the 30th anniversary of the dedication and consecration of New St. Mary’s. During his sermon, John told the story of how the ceiling of this church came to be painted blue. And then he said, “Look up and take a look.”

I had seen that coming and had I thought, “No, John, no! Don’t tell them to look up. No!” Because, you see, we have this patch of mildew right up there in the middle where the ridgelines of the nave and transepts meet.

So, you can go ahead and look up now if you want. There it is. A patch of mildew. Yep, there it is. Some of the finest minds you can imagine are working on remedying the problem that caused this and then repairing and repainting it all. You have no idea how many experts have been contracted to provide an evaluation and assessment of this and remediations for the problem. You have no idea how many emails have filled inboxes of members of the building committee and Elizabeth Starling (whose birthday it is today – happy birthday, Elizabeth!); so many meetings and conversations; so much head-scratching. Yep, there it is. Will the Kingdom come with Christ in his glory before that gets fixed? Maybe.

After a funeral several months ago, I was greeting people as they left. And towards the end of the line, a man stepped up, shook my hand and said, “I need to show you a place on the ceiling of the church where it appears that mildew is growing. You may not know about it, so I thought I had better draw your attention to it. Can we go look at it right now?’ I was polite, but I said, “No, I don’t want to go into the church and look at it with you. No sir. Trust me. I do know about the mildew. It is ever before me. As are my sins. No.”

So why in the world am I – on Trinity Sunday and also my concluding Sunday as the rector of this parish – why am I talking about the mildew on the ceiling? Well, I will tell you. It was on my list of things to finish before retiring. And here I am, retiring today. And there it is. Still there. Gonna be there when I’m gone.

Also on that before-I-retire list is a new rope bell pull for the bell tower. New fair linens. Two staff positions to be filled. And most recently because of all the rain, new potholes to fill. Which we know about. So, if you find yourself thinking, “I should tell Elizabeth about the potholes,” please don’t. She knows. And besides, it’s her birthday.

So, there’s a lot that’s unfinished. Someone I wanted to take home communion to, someone I wanted to say goodbye to in person.

When I was just getting ready to graduate from seminary, I was sitting with Sam Lloyd, who had been my spiritual director for a couple of years, and a classmate, Bam Taylor, who went on to be the Bishop of Western North Carolina. If you don’t know, Sam and Bam are two of the great rockstars of the Episcopal Church of the last couple of generations. I felt like I was sitting with Taylor Swift and Beyonce; feeling pretty full of myself, I must say. I had just turned in my last paper and had said something about how good it was to be finished. Sam said, “You know, I figure you graduate from seminary with about 25 percent of what you need to know to be a good parish priest.”

I said, “That can’t be right.”

Sam said, “Maybe not. I mean the percentage could be lower.” And then he added, “For example, you’re getting ready to go to Harold Hallock’s church; how are you feeling about your conflict-avoidance issues?” Thanks, Sam. Maybe I wasn’t finished.

Well, when is something finished? I remember asking Emmy’s mother Mary about this once. She was such a wonderful, wonderful, gifted painter – like Mary Cassatt to me. I was sitting with her in her home studio as she was working on a painting and I said, “Hey Mary, when do you know that a painting is finished?”

And she said, “I don’t know. I just know. Or I just stop and say it’s finished whether it is or not.” So that didn’t help.

And finally, my pastoral theology professor, the great Charles DuBois, said to us one day, “Remember, everyone dies with unfinished business. The sooner you can get over that the better. None of us is ever finished. That’s an eschatological truth. That is the is-ness of life. God is never finished with us, and you shouldn’t be either.”

And maybe that’s the point of this day. Maybe not being finished isn’t an obstacle to life lived by faith but something closer to the very nature of faith. We come from the love of the Father ever bringing forth the Son in a communion of love which is the Spirit given to complete Christ’s work in the world. God’s ever-expressing, ever new love is always leading us out from where we have been to complete the work of love. Faith is the always unfinished work of the love of God.

With one exception. Faith shows us there is one finished work of God. Remember Jesus’s last words before giving up his spirit to the Father from the cross. He said, “It is finished.” The work of God in Christ to overcome this sinful and broken world is complete. So, for you, in your own life, whatever it was; maybe even if it was really awful. The Lord has put away your sins by his sacrifice on the cross. So, forget it. And move on. God is so much more interested in our future than our past.

His finished work on the cross for us gives us eyes to see the work he has for us to finish in this world for him. That’s what love does. And for us that is never finished, thanks be to God. So, rejoice in that. And again, I say, rejoice.

Even with the mildew still on the ceiling? Is it still there? Yes, then, even with the mildew still there. Amen.

The Rev. David H. May