This past weekend I had the chance to visit a parish a lot like the one I currently serve. The property featured a beautiful and inspiring church with a cozy chapel; an enormous rectory, and several buildings that made up the parish house. You can imagine the complex must have been truly grand in its day. Yet inside the church pews are no longer full; and outside the neighborhood is facing the challenges of economic hardship: poverty, hunger, and homelessness.
Many of the day-to-day conversations seem to have a recurring theme: the building. How to raise funds to care for the building instead of spending down the endowment? How to get more volunteers to care for the building? How to best utilize the space and bring more of the community into the building? So much of the faith community’s time, energy, and financial resources are poured into their beautiful buildings.
This Sunday’s Gospel is the story of Jesus and the rich man. The faithful man who has kept all the commandments, but asks Jesus what else he must do to have eternal life. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” Mark 10:21-22
Jesus loved the man by telling him to sell all his possessions, and give the money to the poor (not the Church mind you). The man was shocked to hear these words, and went away grieving.
In many ways the Church has become the rich man, and our buildings have become the possessions that we just can’t let go of. We are obsessed with maintaining and preserving our beautiful buildings that suck the heart and spirit out of us like a Dyson vacuum.
But let’s face reality. At the end of the day our buildings just don’t matter. The people outside our beautiful buildings are what matters. Because it’s all about relationships, not real estate.
God loves all of humanity equally, but through his Son, he taught us about his preferential option for the poor. Jesus is calling us towards radical generosity. Living into this mission requires that we recognize the poverty that our neighbors and parishioners struggle with, the hunger that children in our community face, the invisible homeless living amongst us.
What if the Church did what the rich man couldn’t? What if we sold our buildings, so they would stop holding us back? If our buildings didn’t burden us, we really could experience what it means to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel, to seek and serve Christ in all persons as a community of faith.
Episcopalians in Maine have the chance to begin thinking differently about radical generosity with Resolution 9 “Focus on People Living in Poverty” at our Diocesan Convention. The resolution asks us to resolve that all committees, commissions, institutions and congregations include in their agenda time to discuss “How will what we are doing here affect or involve people living in poverty?” for the 2013 calendar year.
Some folks suggest this question has nothing to do with many aspects of parish life, such as the altar guild, choir, or facilities committee. But the point is, that everything we do in the Church should affect our mission to be radically generous. If it’s not, why are we doing it?
As communities of faith we need to recognize what really matters, and it’s relationships. Relationships with the folks outside our doors and within, who are struggling, who are broken, who need to experience the transformative love of Jesus Christ.
Rev. Heather Blais