Tuesday, January 06, 2015

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas (J. Barry Vaughn, Jan. 4, 2015)

Happy new year, everyone! New Year’s day is not on the liturgical calendar, but I want to propose a change to the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church. General Convention will take place in Salt Lake City this summer, and maybe all of us can go up there and petition the Deputies and Bishops to make New Year’s Day the feast day for the city of Las Vegas. It’s what we’re known for all over the world. It may not be a spiritual occasion in Las Vegas, but it’s certainly a time when spirits are used liberally.

We say “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Needless to say, that’s a phrase that covers a multitude of sins, but in a strange way, it may also be a kind of Christian idea.

“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” more often than not means that people come here to do things they would rather others did not know about. But it also means that we can put our past behind us; we can look ahead to what is to come. Our history is not necessarily our destiny; we can start all over again, be reborn, and that is certainly a Christian idea.

The prophet Isaiah says, “Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past.  Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth.” (Isaiah 43)

One of my favorite prayers in the Prayer Book says, “Let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new…”

So how appropriate on this first Sunday of 2015 that we baptize Rylynn Faith Gordon and also welcome our new minister to children and youth, the Rev. Erin Spengeman Hutchison.

Today we are doing a new thing, or rather, we recognize that God is doing a new thing among us. We are also renewing something old. This church has a great history of ministry with children and youth. That ministry has been somewhat dormant for a while, but today we announce our determination to renew our ministry to children and youth, because, my dear sisters and brothers, if we do not pass on our faith to our children, then this church does not have a future.

But I imagine that some of you are wondering, “Why do we need a minister to children and youth when we have so few children and young people?” It’s not a bad question, but I think it is the wrong question. It would be better if we asked, “Why in the world would families with children and young people come here, if we do not have programs for them?” I subscribe to the “if you build it, they will come” school of Christian ministry. We cannot wait until families with children and young people join us and then create programs for them. We have to create those programs before we can attract families with children and young people.

Today’s reading from Jeremiah talks about the new things that God will do for the Israelite exiles in Babylon:

They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall become like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.
Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty.

This priest could do with a little less fatness, but I like everything else Jeremiah has to say. It is a profound vision of how God does new things.

Jeremiah tells us that there is nothing so old that God cannot make it new; there is nothing so decrepit that God cannot repair it; there is no desert so desolate that God cannot make it bloom; none of us are so lost that God cannot bring us home; there is no sorrow so deep that God cannot transform it into joy.

In other words, there is hope. There was hope after the Babylonians invaded Judah, burned Jerusalem and its temple, and took its people into exile. There was hope for the crucified Christ on the cross. And there is hope for us. For beyond exile, there was return and restoration; beyond the cross, there was resurrection. And beyond our difficulties and disappointments, God awaits with joys we cannot imagine.

But there is work for us to do. We must create programs and structures in this church for the people whom God is bringing to us. That is why I have asked Rev. Erin to join our staff. And that is why she and I will be asking you to help us build a Sunday School and youth ministry.

I want to be perfectly honest with you: I met Rev. Erin and decided to hire her after we had put together the budget for 2015, so her salary will add to the bottom line of the budget that our treasurer Vivien Rothwell put together. So if you want to support our ministry to children and young people by adding Rev. Erin to our staff, I hope you’ll give just a little more than you had planned to give to Christ Church this year.

Our children and young people represent hope. The hymn before the gospel reading tells us that Rylynn, the child we baptize today, is a “child of blessing” and a “child of promise.” Every child represents both a blessing and a promise.

Like the magi bringing gifts to the infant Jesus, we, too, have gifts to bring to the children in our midst. To the children and young people in our midst we must bring the gift of religious education, and the even more important gifts of our attention, our support, and our love.

So in this season when old things are being made new and things which were cast down are being raised up, I invite you to renew and raise up our ministry to children and youth, and to invite them to join us and the magi in our pilgrimage, following the star of hope that leads us to Jesus.