The Feast of Saint Simon and St. Jude: October 28, 2018
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
This Fall we have been discerning who is God calling us to be as a spiritual community. As we have gathered together, one of the questions we are asking is, “Why does church matter?”
In this week’s Messenger, Mother Kate shares the story of Matthew Shephard “who was finally laid to rest in our National Cathedral. Matthew was killed 20 years ago, a young gay man beaten and left to die in the freezing Wyoming night. His family, members of the Episcopal Church, never had him interred anywhere, afraid that his grave would be desecrated. But now, in our Episcopal and national house of worship, Matthew’s body is in peace, safe at last. In a time of violent division, here is one story that shows us how God’s house is a place of mercy, welcome and justice, a haven for all.
This is one story that shows us why church matters.” (The Rev. Katharine Flexer)
“For you who once were far off will be brought near…For Christ is our peace, through the cross he breaks down the dividing wall putting to death the hostility between us.” (Ephesians 2:13-14)
There was a time not too long ago in our neighborhood where the color of your skin determined your place in the world and in the pew. If you were white, you were welcome to worship here. If you were a person of color, you were not welcome. Instead you were sent down the street to St. Jude’s – a mission chapel established by St. Michael’s to serve the growing African-American population in the neighborhood.
St. Jude’s was a thriving community. Led by the Rev. Floarda Howard, the chapel grew over fifty years to include sports teams, choirs, Sunday School, social clubs, and worship. But when hard times fell upon the Upper West Side, St. Michael’s could no longer afford to support this vibrant cornerstone of Christ in the community despite their booming numbers. In 1957, St. Jude’s was closed and torn down to make way for what is now Park West Village.
“St. Jude’s was founded in 1909 not to help our neighbors, but to keep African-Americans separate from whites in worship. Fifty years later, not much changed in the way of welcome and hospitality. Only the altar, and a stalwart few including our own Lucille Donovan, made their way here in the end.” (The Rev. Katharine Flexer) Even then, St. Jude’s altar sat neglected on the porch, out of sight and out of mind for another fifty years until it was restored and placed at the back of the church in 2007, our bicentennial year.
Today, St. Jude’s is once again a vibrant cornerstone of Christ’s mission. A space that calls us to face the tragic roots of our past and celebrates the life of a faithful community whose spirit lives on here – a blessing to all who sit or pass by.
In times of fear and desperation, St. Jude’s welcomes all around the table to gather together in hope to receive comfort in our sorrow, courage in the face of adversity, healing in the midst of suffering.
“For you who are far off will be brought near…for Christ is our peace; in his body he breaks down the dividing wall of hostility between us that he might create one new humanity in place of the two.” (Ephesians 2:13, 15-16)
St. Jude’s chapel reminds us why church matters.
On this feast of St. Jude’s, we are challenged to grow in our own practice of welcome and hospitality — to ask ourselves: “who is missing at the table?” “Who do I need to welcome to come and see and taste the Bread of Life?”
For thirty five years, the Saturday Kitchen and Pilgrim Resource Center has been asking these same questions as it strives to serve those on the margins. Each week, over 200 people pass through our doors for food and referrals. But those who come do not just bring empty bellies – they too hunger deeply for that food that nourishes body and soul – they too long for a space to gather around the table as a community to break bread, share fellowship, sing songs, and be blessed and loved for who they are.
One of our Saturday Kitchen regulars says, “This place gives me life. It makes me feel like I have a place where I belong.”
Saturday Kitchen and Pilgrim Resource Center are places where walls of poverty melt away, where guests and volunteers become fellow members and saints in the household of God. A place where the Bread of Life is shared, where all who are hungry are welcome to God’s table where there’s enough for all.
Saturday Kitchen reminds us why church matters.
Each of us has a story to share of why church matters to us. Each of us has a story of how we have encountered the Bread of Life in this community. Our work of sharing this bread, of building up the kingdom of God on our corner of the world is possible not because of this building, but because of you,…you the people who give financially to support the mission and ministries of St. Michael’s.
This year, our pledge drive theme the Bread of Life invites us to consider how can we share from the abundance we have received? How can we share out of our abundance to sustain the ministries that help us feed and heal one another and our neighbors?
When we give to St. Michael’s, it is not to keep the lights on or the boiler working or to fix a leaky roof. We give to expand our mission and ministry of sharing God’s peace, healing, and welcome. We give to offer the Bread of Life from our table to all who are hungry and thirsty in the world.
Next Sunday marks our ingathering service where we will come forward to the table bringing our financial pledge for the year. Each pledge is a sign of support to the work we do here together. No matter how large or small, every dollar is a vital contribution to sharing the bread of life, to telling our story of why church matters here and now.
Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life, they who come to me shall never hunger, they who believe in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) All of us, no matter how well-fed or housed, are hungry for the Spirit of God. Our prayer is that we continue to seek and nourish, and share this living bread with the world.” Amen.