In 587 BC, the nation of Israel suffered a devastating event: the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem and the resulting exile. It was a catastrophe for their society. For fifty years, the people of Israel languished in exile until they were allowed to return by King Cyrus of Persia in 537 (or so) BC.
They returned humbled, battered, and significantly fewer in number; the first thing they did was to rebuild the altar that the Babylonians had destroyed when they destroyed Solomon’s Temple. Fifty years of exile taught the Israelites to return to their first Love, the God who delivered them from the Egyptians and who gave them the Promised Land — the God who promised they would return.
This is the way our parish should come back. In five or ten years, I would like for us to believe that, as horrible as the hurricane was, this was the time when Saint Thomas’ Episcopal Church re-focused itself around the Gospel. This was the time when we made the Main Thing the Main Thing and the time when God honored that reformation by giving revival. It is not a given that this will happen. We are at a crossroads — or a fork in the road. We must recognize that.
Ask yourself, “What do we offer? Why Saint Thomas’ and why now?” I believe we have reached the point in our history where our decades-long struggle to hold on to our Anglican traditions is getting vital. We as a society are the wealthiest in human history but we are more anxious, depressed, rootless, afraid, and distracted than we have ever been. Foundations in our society are no longer stable as we search desperately for a meaning and a purpose. Many churches which have followed the intellectual and social trends of the culture have found themselves without an answer to the present moment.
Our answer is the Jesus Christ found in the Scriptures. This Christ is highlighted and proclaimed in the very theology, liturgy, and music of the Anglican tradition we have fought so hard to preserve. We have a definitive ethos rooted in continuity with the early church, the Reformation, and, most of all, the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles, found in the Bible, that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
Due to the foresight of those who have gone before us, this is who we are and this is what we offer. It turns out that what we offer is exactly the medicine needed in our present moment. Let me say that another way: all that we have gone through — the cost we have paid — is for this very moment.
For this to happen, we must remain faithful. We must trust the provision of God the Father, faithfully preach the Gospel of God the Son, and have faith in the creative power of God the Holy Spirit. The Bible says, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding (Prov 3:5 ESV). It is with this trust that I ask you to consider your pledge to Saint Thomas’ for this coming year.
“Leaning” on God is a good way of putting it. We have been knocked down. We are woozy like a boxer who has taken a hard punch. It has been a tough year, even though giving has been quite good considering the circumstances. The next couple of years will be tough; there is no getting around it. We need someone to lean on and that Someone is God.
Our part is faithfulness, waiting in anticipation and hope for what God has in store for us. Faithfulness includes trusting God with your resources. Please consider giving sacrificially this year. If there is any particular time for it, this is it. This is no ordinary time in our history — it is not a time for business as usual. The need and the moment are now. Let us go down the right road – take the right fork — together. If you have already pledged and would like to increase it, you may do that and I would be most grateful.
Tithing is giving 10% of our pre-tax income to the work of the church and it is held up as the Biblical ideal. If this is too much for you, please consider stretching a bit and working towards the tithe. There is no other time in our history this will count more than now.
Please also consider giving of your time and talent. We have so many wonderful, talented people at Saint Thomas’. Your work is always critical to the ministry of the church, but it will be even more so over the next couple of years. We need teachers, missionaries, prayer warriors, musicians, and leaders. You have a gift that God has given you for His glory. Let’s discuss how this can happen.
The Israelites were eventually able to rebuild the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem. In doing so, they unknowingly set the stage for the coming of Jesus Christ. It took a long time, though. It was arduous and fraught with ups and downs. They had intense opposition and were often at the mercy of various kings. The humility that arose from their time in exile, though, enabled them to trust anew in the mighty promises of God.
As we look for recovery and renaissance from our own time of adversity, I ask you to trust God with me as you give to St. Thomas’ this next year.