Sunday, 17 September 2006

SERMON: 17 September 2006

This is the FIRST sermon I preached in England! We arrived on Sunday 10 September and the very next Sunday I was presiding and preaching in Gorton. I knew I had to begin to introduce myself into the community - which was good. I like to connect my or any other person's story to the Gospel is one of my favorite ways of preaching.
The sad thing is that this church was officially closed about six weeks after this service - they had known it was coming, and I knew there were some pastoral issues that I hoped to begin to address a bit here as well.
The world is ALSO a very small place : on this Sunday, one of the parishioners from my church in Brookline MA was visiting Manchester because he grew up here - in fact, he'd been to this church in Gorton on several occasions because he has family in the area - that was amazing ... of all the two or three places in the world, ours connected here.

Sunday 17 September 2006

14th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19)
St George’s (Gorton Abbey Hey Team)

Mark 8:27 – end

“Who Do You Say That I Am?”

I find today’s gospel fitting for my first sermon here in Abbey Hey and Gorton because the theme is about getting to know who Jesus is. More appropriately, I suppose it’s really about Jesus knowing who we THINK he is.

But in keeping with my first Sunday here, I want to tell you a little about whom I am, who I think/ believe that Jesus is, and then ask you to consider the question for yourselves.

I’m Stefani Schatz, I’m an Episcopal – Anglican priest and a new member of the Gorton and Abbey Hey Team Ministry. My official title is Associate Minister, I’ll be non-stipendary – and because of that I’ll be ministering part time – sharing my time (after the closing of St George’s) between St Philip’s, St James, and Emmanuel. I’m living in the St James Rectory on Wellington Street with my partner/husband JD who will be also be a priest come this January. JD is the reason we’re here in England, he’s just starting a PhD at the University of Manchester in Theology and we’ll be here for three years during his research.

If you ask me where I’m from (which is what the shop people tend to do when we’re out in the market and city centre) I’ll say California. I was raised in a beautiful city on the ocean called Santa Barbara. Yes, just like you’ve heard or visited : Lots of palm trees and a lovely beach. My parents are divorced, but my mother still lives there; my dad lives in Tennessee (in the South). I have a younger sister who lives with her husband and 2 year old twin boys in New York City.

I probably had pretty much of an ideal childhood for the US. My family certainly wasn’t rich, but we had everything we needed. And I grew up in a Christian-centered home, although I wasn’t Episcopal at the time – we went to church as a family pretty much every week. My father had studied for the ministry himself in a non-denominational church. For him Jesus was the person telling and showing us that we are to help other people who are less fortunate in life. He instilled that in me and I find my deepest belief about who Jesus is, is that he is our example of how to treat other people as we live.

I went through all my education, including college in California. For a time, like many people in the US – I’m not sure about here – I was away from the church. We use the phrase “spiritual but not religious” … During those years of my life, I’d say the spirituality that I developed was one of deep gratefulness to the amazing God of Creation. I learned to be thankful for all that I have because it was given to me, undeserved, from a loving God.

There is a Bible text that goes : “to whom much is given, much is expected”. As I grew into my early adulthood, out of this sense of being grateful, I felt a call from God to “give back”. I entered church life again by coming the Episcopal/Anglican Church and was active in my mid-twenties (including being a church warden) and about five years later began to explore moving into the priesthood.

In the late 1990’s I entered seminary in Boston, Massachusetts. By moving across the US for Master of Divinity program, where I knew absolutely no one, I encountered an experience of Jesus that I describe as his hospitality. Jesus for me is also the person who loves all and every kind of child, woman or man. I know this is not easy, because perhaps like you, I am comfortable and enjoy being with the people I know best – but with Jesus’ openness to people very different from me is how I try to act.

After seminary, I returned to California – this time to the much larger setting of Los Angeles. It was my time of curacy – like Sean’s – at a very large church. With those people, we practiced the kindness of Jesus in the simple acts of loving of one another. In the way that each family shares both the fun and the challenges of living together, I saw everyday examples of a healing touch or word, and experienced the power of crying, laughing and praying together in good times and bad.

Change is a word that I often use to describe my life recently. After Joe and I were married in 2003 in California, we moved to Boston for his own theological studies. I worked at a church there with children and young people. ((In fact, one of parishioners from that church has family here in Manchester and is visiting us today.))

So this is how I find myself with you … trying to answer the question of who do I say that Jesus is. Hopefully you’ve understood that I say Jesus is an inspiring model of how to live our lives – especially in terms of how we treat one another; how we’re to share and care for all God’s people; how we’re to be open to welcome each other even when that’s difficult; and how being together is so important to not only our Christianity but also our basic humanity.

You may not agree with that. You may not say that’s who Jesus is for you. That’s OK. That’s perfectly OK because we don’t have to agree on exactly whom we say Jesus is. We hear in the gospel that there was a range of ideas about how his apostles and disciples understood him.

What IS important is that we each think about this question of who we say Jesus is. We must look at what Jesus is saying to each of us, how his life makes an impact on ours. That’s the personal spiritual “work” that each of us needs to take time for.

I’m known in Boston for giving something practical at the end of a sermon. Here’s this week’s: IF ever throughout the week you take a quiet moment, or in passing you think about me or the past Sunday or St George’s, then ask yourself the question: Who do I say Jesus is? What are a few of the qualities that he represents for you? Is he a friend, an example, a comforter, a challenger, or mighty king?

And we really shouldn’t stop with our own narrow individual views. Out of our own experience we need to share our answers with others. That may be difficult – it’s not exactly what we say in passing instead of “lovely weather isn’t it?”, but maybe as we get to know one another you’ll at least share with me who YOU think Jesus is.

As St George’s enters this time of transition from being one church to being a part of many and you each go on to another congregation, it matters who you say Jesus is! Your response to that question is what makes a different group of Christians stronger. All our understandings of Jesus are made “better” whenever we bring them together – not to make only one answer but to make a fuller answer. And we’re strengthened in our sharing of those answers just as we are when we receive communion together as we’ll do in a few minutes.

Finally, let me say Thank you for listening to me say who I believe Jesus to be. I’m grateful to be among you, and hope for the privilege of learning who you say Jesus is along our way together.


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