The book of Ezra, from which we’ve just heard, tells a portion of the story of the Israelites’ return to Jerusalem and the reconstruction of the Temple, following their exile to Babylon in the 6th century BCE. The Book of Ezra is the story of the renewal of a worshiping community.
The Book of Ezra is about Trinity because, as we work towards merger with the Parish of the Messiah, we, too, are in a process of renewal. As we can hear from today’s reading, one of the dynamics of renewal is repentance. Ezra “got up from [his] fasting, with [his] garments and [his] mantle torn, and fell on [his] knees” and prayed:
O my God… our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to heavens. From the days of our ancestors to this day we have been deep in guilt…
If we truly wish to renew our community – if we truly wish for our merger with Messiah to be renewing, and not merely a continuation on a slightly larger scale of what has gone before – our renewal likewise will need to include repentance; that is, a coming to terms with our past, with our sins, and an intention of doing things differently.
I am aware that, for our Jewish brothers and sisters, today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement is a day of repentance, a day of calling to mind sins and asking for forgiveness. But Yom Kippur is bigger than repentance. Yom Kippur is a day to recall the reason for which God has made us, our purpose here on earth, and to consider the extent to which we are living into that purpose, and to change course as needed. I trust that it is no coincidence that our vestry tonight will discuss the signing of the merger documents, thus making the merger official. Our reading from Ezra, and this day of Yom Kippur invite us to consider the reason why our church exists here in Newton, what is our purpose, how well are we living into that purpose, how we fall short, and where we might need to change course. For if we truly wish for renewal and not just continuation, our merger must include a dynamic of repentance.
This evening’s gospel lesson, the story of Jesus sending out the disciples on mission, serves as a measuring stick to for us to assess our own mission. Two things stand out for me. The first is how lightly the disciples are called to hold on to their wealth:
Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money – not even an extra tunic.
How do we hold the wealth we have been given? Wealth in itself is not bad; and I trust God has given us wealth to put to use in service of His kingdom. But how do we hold our wealth? And does the way we hold our wealth get in the way of or help our being sent out “to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal?” No doubt we have and continue to fall short in some ways in regards to our wealth. If we truly wish for renewal, repentance is needed.
Second, how do we respond to those who do not “welcome” us?
Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.
So often, because we are small in size and eager for more members, it is hard for us to shake the dust off our feet against anyone; we want all to feel welcome! But to think that all can be welcomed is a deception that fails to recognize our limitations. If we truly wish for God to do something new in this place, it will be helpful to recognize and repent from our hubris that we can welcome all, and to accept what God has made us, and to let God use us as God wills.
I would love to see our merger with Messiah as renewal and not merely continuation. If we wish for our merger to be a renewal, I think we – like Ezra – are called to repent. I encourage us to pray that God may give us the grace to know our sins and to ask repentance. For as we are honest with ourselves and acknowledge the ways in which we have fallen short, and as we place ourselves in God’s hands and ask for forgiveness, God will use us for extraordinary things. And then I think we will truly know joy.