January 27, 2019 – The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.  The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.  The Spirit has brought us to this place and this very day, the Spirit is at work to fulfill the promise and purpose of God.

This is a pretty bold claim.  It can so easily be misused by a preacher who confuses her own agenda with the movement of God’s Spirit.   It’s hard to argue when someone claims to be guided and informed by the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes it’s a way to whip up enthusiasm and excitement in the moment and on the surface without tapping into the solid, sustaining, movement of God that leads us through the highs and lows, the good times and bad, the joys and sorrows of the Christian life.

Each of us has probably experienced cycles of spiritual passion and growth followed by challenges, distractions, and disillusionment.  For many the difficulties, doubts, conflicts and questions end with either being “done” with Christianity or answering “none” when asked about religious affiliation.  Congregations experience these cycles and many would say that whole civilizations do as well.  The history of St. Luke’s tells a story of growth, conflict, decline and rebirth that has been repeated a number of times over our 128 year history.  There are times when we have been the center of revival and renewal for Seattle, the diocese and even the West coast and others when we could barely keep the doors open.

Today is my fourth Annual Meeting with you and again I say, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.”  God’s Spirit has brought us thus far by faith and will lead us on into a future that we cannot fully imagine.  It is a future filled with excitement and possibility and fraught with risk and anxiety.  There will be joys and sorrows, challenges and opportunities, setbacks and miracles.  It is life in the Spirit and it is not for the faint of heart.  The way of Jesus is rarely comfortable or predictable or easy but it is the way of abundant life with food for the soul and the cup of new life.

This is the year that St. Luke’s will undertake the development of the property we inhabit.  Since 1980 there have been no less than 4 property development plans that never came to fruition.  I’m certain that well-meaning and sincere people put energy and resources into those plans.  But for a variety of reasons, they never materialized.   And it would be fair to ask, what’s different now?  Why are we ready now to go forward now?  What’s changed?

It’s probably the same question the Israelites asked Nehemiah about the rebuilding of Jerusalem.  The city had been taken over by foreign armies, the protective walls broken down and the gates damaged.  The inhabitants fled or were taken away as slaves.  Once everything of value had been removed, only a small group of the elderly, the young and the disabled were left.  The former glory of the Holy City was gone.

Nehemiah had been taken away also and was serving a foreign government.  He heard about the plight of Jerusalem and brought it to the attention of the ruler who not only gave him time off to return to Jerusalem but provided some resources for a building project.  Nehemiah arrived and first had difficulty getting anyone on board with his plan to rebuild.  Once they agreed to start, they had to defend themselves from those who would steal or destroy their work.  Then, of course, they started fighting with each other.  Anyone who’s ever built or remodeled, will know how tempers can be frayed.  I’m certain it was tempting to give up and yet, despite all the challenges, this rag tag people of God, along with support from unlikely partners completed the task.

It’s an amazing accomplishment but that’s not the most important part of the story.  It’s what happens in that community that makes all the difference.  At the end of the construction phase, Nehemiah as the governor, politician and developer along with Ezra the priest and the scribes who maintained the history and laws of Israel called all the people together.  This was a people who had lost many of their traditions.  Over years of occupation and oppression they had forgotten their identity as God’s beloved, their purpose and the promises God made to them.

And so it was that Ezra began to read their story back to them.  He opened the Hebrew Scriptures and the riches of their faith poured out upon them.  They heard about the beauty of creation and how God made it good.  They were reminded of their deliverance from the army of Egypt through the Red Sea.  As the day went they heard the cycle of faith, faithlessness, forgiveness, redemption and rejoicing that had happened so many times for God’s people.

They were reminded of all they had lost or forgotten.  In the rebuilding of their city, their place was restored, but more importantly, so was their purpose.   The connection to their past kindled hope for their future.  They rediscovered a deep spiritual heritage as a treasure more precious than any building.  They wept.  And then they had a huge feast and celebration.

It was a shared vision, enkindled by the Spirit of God in Nehemiah that carried them through all the hard work, fear, struggle and risk to a place of gratitude and celebration.  The buildings, walls and gates are important but they were never the final goal.  What God had in mind was a people restored and forgiven, a community gathered together and flourishing, a space for everyone to be safe and cared for.

The church is not a building.  The church is the Body of Christ and is built of and by its many members.  We are united in baptism as “all are made to drink of one Spirit.”  We partake of one bread and one cup, nourished by the love of Jesus.  We exist, not for ourselves alone, but for the community, beloved of God and enlivened by the Holy Spirit.  The goal of our growth and development is the common good, which means we are in this for others.  We are called to care for the weak and lowly, those who are on life’s margins.  We share the mission of Jesus articulated in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospel:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The church is the Body of Christ and as has so powerfully been articulated:

“Christ has no body now but yours.  No hands, no feet on earth but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.  Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.  Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.”

At this Annual Meeting and in meetings with the many people and groups who are part of our community we will be asking people to talk about how they experience the Spirit of God through St. Luke’s.  We may have to change the language for our more secular partners, but what we want to hear is how this place has been and can be a blessing to build up beloved community.  We need to hear from as many voices as possible.  By Easter we hope to have input from dozens or even hundreds of people who are touched and impacted by St. Luke’s.

This information will be gathered and summarized by members of the Property Stewardship Team (Mike Bigelow, Jane Frol, Bill Hoey, Christopher Mosier, Duke Vivian, Barbara Wilson, Susan Young and Dennis Tierney from the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia).  Their role is to advise St. Luke’s Bishop’s Committee and the Diocese, who owns this property, on a process of development that is consistent with the mission and vision of Jesus as it is lived out in this community.

After worship we will gather to participate in the visioning process.  I hope you will stay.  We need to hear from you if you have been a member for 40 years.  We need to hear from you if this is your first Sunday at St. Luke’s.  We need to hear from our guests at Edible Hope Kitchen and the businesses and residents of Ballard.  We will also be electing members to the Bishop’s Committee (Current Members:  Barbara Wilson, Senior Warden; Nathan Zetterberg, Junior Warden, Mike Bigelow, Julia Hunter, Duke Vivian, Bernadette Walcott, Susan Young and candidates, Alison Crowley and Suzi Spooner).  Finally we will be approving a budget for 2019 presented by our Treasurer, Jane Frol with Assistant Treasurer, Bill Hoey.

In the year ahead we will face obstacles.  There will be differences of opinion and setbacks.  But we have never been more ready to move forward.  God has brought us together and provided people who have the gifts we need to proceed.  We will have development partners to work with us on this large task. Each one of you has been given gifts for the building up of the Body of Christ.  The gifts vary and it is God’s Spirit who binds us all into one for the common good.

Before any decision is ever made, we will seek to be clear on our vision and mission.   Through it all we will continue to seek the Spirit of God and to discern the way in which we are to go.  Many of you know Nancy Rogers, who has been a member for over 40 years and began our feeding ministry over 30 years ago.  She has witnessed St. Luke’s cycles of growth and decline.  For the past few months she has clearly told me that we need to be in prayer as a church about our mission, vision and direction so that we can be led by the Spirit in this process.  I think there is probably a way for us to do this without having to all be in the same place at the same time and you can sign up to participate.

What we begin this year may take a few years to bring to completion.   We’ll be sure to have a celebration and I trust that we, like our ancestors in the faith will be able to sing, “The joy of the Lord is our strength.”  Amen.