January 21, 2020, 9:12 AM

Football Ministry - Sermon, 1/19/2020

Somehow, I managed to avoid ever playing soccer as a child, even though I grew up in the seeming youth soccer capital of Central Jersey: East Brunswick. Many afternoons were spent watching tennis or golf with my grandfather, but I never really played those sports either. Baseball and softball were too boring to watch and I never quite understood American football.

When I joined the East Brunswick High School Marching Band, however, I was forced to learn about football. It especially helped to figure out when our team scored a touchdown because that’s when the band would play our school’s fight song in celebration. However, it was probably not until my sophomore year that I learned about things like “downs” in football.

Apparently, little did I know, in football, the team has four tries to advance ten yards. If the team advanced ten yards in four tries or less, they were given another four tries to score another “down” - to advance another ten yards. The goal was to string together enough “downs” to advance all the way over the goal line. Who knew?

I’ve decided that church ministry is like football. We are given tries to bring the church further into the kingdom of heaven. Sometimes, though, we don’t make it all ten yards down the field of church ministry and don’t fully live into the life Jesus intends for us as a congregation. Fortunately, we are given many more than four tries – more than in football. In fact, because of God’s grace, church ministry is given infinite tries to make it down the field and infinite opportunities to discover the kingdom of heaven on earth.

The movement of this congregation in 2019 down the field of God’s kingdom has been remarkable. Here are some highlights from my annual report:

Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church journeys with people throughout their lifespan – from the five baptisms celebrated in 2019 to the six funerals conducted. Even as we said farewell to some cherished fellow travelers, we also became the spiritual home for new people. We worshiped together on 51 out of 52 Sundays as well as 93 times for mid-week services.

Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church opens our doors to our neighbors. Whether through the ESL classes or the AA group, we seek to become a welcoming place for all people. We provide hospitality and nourishment through the long-standing Lunch on Us ministry as well as by hosting a presentation for people concerned about their immigration status. We launched our “Heavenly Boutique,” a monthly thrift store featuring new and gently-used women’s clothing and continued the Rummage Sale and Silent Auction.

Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church seeks to meet new neighbors by going out into the community. We initiated the “Pray with a Priest” ministry, bringing a Christian presence to secular spaces – yes, even to a McDonald’s. We were a faithful presence at this year’s Bound Brook River Fest, sharing our excitement for ministry with a larger audience. We supported local restaurants on Bound Brook’s Main Street with our “Love Local” ministry.

Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church communicates with the wider community. The church’s website is updated at least weekly. The church’s Facebook page is updated nearly daily. Announcements about the church’s events and ministries are shared with the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey and other non-church publications. There was an announcement about the Grand Opening of the Heavenly Boutique in the newspaper.

Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church lives faithful lives marked by worship and study. Our midweek Eucharist resumed. We participated in and provided leadership for interfaith and ecumenical worship services. We blessed animals, cars, and travel. Our seasonal Bible studies and weekly adult discussion group sessions fostered challenging conversations.

Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church recognizes the importance of the faith formation of our youngest members and friends. We provided joint leadership for a multi-church Vacation Bible School. We explored SPACE – Saint Paul’s All-ages Christian Education – with two inter-generational gatherings. We blessed our students and education professionals along with their backpacks and school supplies. The monthly Youth and Family Service saw the increased involvement of our Sunday School students and teachers in worship leadership.

Yes, to resume the football imagery, we have lost a few yards on the field of God’s kingdom in 2019. We continue to struggle with lower overall attendance, partially impacted by the deaths of beloved congregants and people moving away. We continue to struggle with our financial stewardship practices and member giving. Yet we remain consistently faithful people, seeking always to worship God, celebrate Jesus, and pray for the Holy Spirit’s gifts.

We give thanks for God’s grace, today and always, and we give thanks for the infinite tries God gives us to make it down the field of the kingdom of heaven. Let us know and trust and believe that Jesus awaits us in the fullness of his glory, just over the goal line. Amen.

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