St Laurence’s, Effingham—Romans 14:1-12
I of course cannot talk about anything except the elephant in the room, right? The decision that all of you have reached together, and which was my sad duty to agree to, is that this is the final service for St Laurence, and that the church will be closed permanently when we leave here this morning. A situation like this brings up all sorts of complex emotions. Just a few weeks ago I spoke with a woman who was a member here at one time, and later became my parishioner in Warsaw, Indiana; her name is Nanette Newland. She was quite sad, though not shocked, when I told her that this day was coming.
Among these feelings, I hope gratitude is in the mix, because there is indeed much to be grateful for. Blessings have been given and blessings have been received in the life of this community. We have loved and been loved here. We have known God here.
There is also, no doubt, some measure of relief. It takes work just to keep the minimal infrastructure of an organized mission up and running, and … well … you’ve worn yourselves out trying to do that, because there just haven’t been enough of you to go around. You deserve a break, and, as sad as I am about what’s happening today, I’m glad you’re getting one.
But the most dominant feeling in this church today, I suspect, is regret. This is not something any of us wanted to have happen. What did we—any of us, at any time—do wrong?
But our gospel hope discourages us from taking this opportunity to cast blame. Paul addressed a community (Romans 14) that was divided and prone to judgmentalism (over ceremonial food issues, no less). He waves them off: “Who are you to pass judgment on the servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall.”
Are there things for us to learn here? Yes, I believe there are, and, at a diocesan level, we will attempt to understand the history of our work in Effingham, so we don’t repeat any mistakes, here or elsewhere. But for those who have been “on the ground” here, today is just a time to given thanks for what has been, stand relieved, and move on.
As St Paul says, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
For each of us personally, and for the Church collectively in every place, God is, in the power that raised Jesus from the dead, reweaving the torn fabric of creation—restoring, redeeming, renewing. “For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.”
Christ is the Lord of the Church and Christ is the Lord of Effingham. We will all one day give an account of our faithfulness in the work God has placed before us. Not for the results of that work, but for our faithfulness. In the meantime, God continues to work his purposes out, given whatever raw material he can find. So we place ourselves—including this church and all that has happened here—in his merciful hands, knowing that he is already doing more for us than we can ask or imagine. “Whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lords.”