Sermon: The Measure of our Blessings
“Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
When we were kids, my sister and I would help my grandma bake cookies. My sister loved brown sugar. She would always measure it out carefully, packing down as much as possible into the measuring cup, adding a little bit, packing it down, adding some more, packing it down, and doing likewise until she was sure there was as much brown sugar as possible in that one cup that was called for by grandma’s recipe.
That is the kind of “good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing” that Christ tells us will be poured into our laps. All of us can recount many ways that God has blessed us, has packed those blessing into our lives, and I want to reflect today on how God has done that for our parish here at St. John’s.
We have seen a lot of great things happen over the past year! In June, three men from our parish were ordained to the Diaconate, and two are continuing to serve here at St. John’s. Their ministry has greatly benefited the people of our parish, who have inspired by their witness of faith.
We have also added several lay people to our “team” on our parish and school staffs. Two of them were found through national searches and our search committees were blown away by the quality of applicants that we received. Of those three positions, one is a formerly part-time position that we expanded into a full time position in order to focus on evangelizing not only the youth of our parish, but the adults as well. In our parish school, we have been able to add two new teachers who are working with students who need extra one-on-one attention, and whose presence is making a big difference for the children of our parish.
Last summer, we held a series of gatherings called the Fireside Chats, in which the people of our parish had the chance to offer their input on the direction we should take in the future. What we learned at those Fireside Chats is being integrated by our Evangelization Team into a comprehensive plan for the evangelization of our parish. We hope to have that plan ready for next fall, and I have already shared with you the key pillars of it: inviting, encountering, growing, and being sent.
As a first step towards the implementation of that plan for evangelization, we decided to focus in on our Year of Prayer. We have had two great days of recollection on prayer for men and women and we have another one coming up for families that is going to be a really great event. We are also focusing in on prayer this Lent through the Lenten series and the One Percent Challenge, all of which you have been hearing about at Mass for the past few weeks. Our Year of Prayer is meant to till the soil to get us ready to encounter Christ. We have also been supporting this Year of Prayer with our new intercessory prayer team, which is working together to pray specifically for the renewal of our parish.
In addition to all of the new things, we have made several great changes to our existing programs. We re-booted youth ministry this year with new programming and we have been seeing some great results. We have also made some changes this year to our confirmation curriculum, piloting some changes we are looking to roll out to the entire religious education program. Our confirmation students are attending Mass more often thanks to our new passports, and their parents are also receiving valuable formation that assists them in their fundamental role of being the primary educators of their children in the Faith. We were also able to take our second-year Confirmation students on an overnight retreat with the SENT team from Franciscan University, Steubenville, an inspirational experience for them that brought them closer to Christ.
All of those things are visible ways in which our measure here at St. John’s has been packed together and shaken down this year, but there are many invisible ways in which this happens as well. I would like to share two brief stories about people whose lives have been changed through our parish this year. One day we received a phone call from someone who just wanted to come by and talk. He was not Catholic, not particularly religious at all, really, but he knew that the Catholic Church – St. John’s – was a safe place and would be there to help. He had been the victim of a scam, was in psychological distress, and was ready to end his life. He had a plan and the means to carry it out. We kept him safe, found him the help that he needed, and likely saved his life.
Another story from behind the scenes: A parishioner came and asked me to see an old friend of his, a fallen-away Catholic who was getting advanced in years and realized that he needed to make things right with God and the Church. I was able to visit him and offer him that reconciliation that he so desired. Only a few months later he found out that he was dying of cancer. Members of our parish were there to support him along the way, and just this weekend he went to meet the Lord, strengthened by the sacraments of the Church and assured of the forgiveness of his sins – not only a life changed, but likely an eternal destiny as well.
The contributions of each individual person in either of these cases would seem small – the secretary who made the appointment for the man in distress, the parishioner who asked the priest to stop by and see his friend – but in the context of our parish, they are packed down into that overflowing measure that has the power to be an instrument of God’s grace, changing the lives (and even the eternal destinies!) of the people around us. As a priest, it is a great privilege to look out over the congregation and see not just faces but the stories of lives that have been changed by an encounter through Christ. How many lives would be radically different were it not for St. John’s?
Last year I posed a question to you all: “What would happen if we could take the great things happening here at St. John’s and make them even better?” What if we could focus on the adults of the parish just as much as we do for the young; what if we could take the Confirmation students on a true retreat; what if we could expand our staff?
Well, we did all of those things. We added an adult-focused staff member and have been implementing quality programming for adults in a strategic way. We did the retreat. We added two teachers to the school. But we can’t stop there!
God has been so generous to us – now it is our turn to thank Him for His generosity by packing down that cup of brown sugar ourselves. Each of us has a vital role to play to ensure that the great work of our parish continues. We want to continue supporting the talented staff members we have brought on board. We want to implement even more opportunities for adults as well as children to have a life-changing encounter with Christ. We want to reach the people outside of our doors as well, by evangelizing the rapidly secularizing world around us.
Some people would say, “We can’t do it without your help!” but that would be a misunderstanding. There’s no “we” who do the work of the Church and “you” who support it – this is not your typical 501c3. We are talking about a task given by God to all of us! All of us have that responsibility and opportunity to make St. John’s the measure that is overflowing for all of those who rely on us to preach the Gospel. After all, “the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
This week, you will be receiving a special brochure in the mail along with a commitment card to renew your financial commitment to support our important work at St. John’s. Next week will be our Commitment Sunday, where you will hear from fellow parishioners about how we as a parish are seeing God pack us down to overflowing. This week, when you receive that commitment card, I want to ask that you take the time to talk with your family about your sacrificial support of our parish. Each of us should be in the habit of re-evaluating our situation and re-committing ourselves, so that our giving is not just a matter of habit or a scattered approach, but an intentional act of love for God by sacrificing for the good of His Church.
Thank you so much for all the ways in which you have generously supported our parish in the past, and thank you for considering how you will be able to support St. John’s in the year to come. If each of us works together in a committed way, we can make even more incredible things happen to build up God’s kingdom here in our community. “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” Thank you, and God bless you.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen VII Sunday through the Year, A.D. MMXIX