Today is the Annual Meeting for Redeemer, New Paltz, and as such we are provided with an opportunity for reflection and celebration on where we’ve been, as well as for casting our collective eyes towards where we are going next, all of this considered in light of and in context with the Word of God as it comes to us in scripture and is being revealed to us in the person and acting grace of Christ Jesus. Sure, there’s some business of Spending Plans and election of Council members and reports that need taking care of sandwiched in here as well, but those only make sense and only really matter in the context of reflecting on the mission to which God in Christ is calling us as a community in Christ sent for the world.

So, some reflection: Well…we have survived another year of living through a pandemic. After our first year of living through the pandemic we might as individuals and as a church community have thought, “been there, done that, probably don’t need to do that again.” Yet, here we are, finishing up year two, and therefore perhaps reasonably thinking, “wait, I was definitely clear that one year was enough, God, right? What happened?”

Yet, one of the things that I would like to reflect back to us as a striving Christian community is the fact that, in fact, we did not just survive during this pandemic. We have striven and we have thrived. And we have striven and thrived despite everyone having very busy and taxing lives that have been made even more busy and taxing and draining by the extra demands of this pandemic. Wow.

And, I submit to you that we have striven and thrived as a Christian community because we have kept clear about our mission: “Sharing Christ’s Welcome” with the world. Jesus sums this mission up in another way in our gospel lesson today from Luke, in which Jesus quotes Isaiah and says:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4: 18-19)

Indeed, the Holy Spirit continues to urge us on! To bring good news to those who are in need body, heart, mind, or soul. To proclaim release to those who are captive, recovery of sight to the blind, to be in solidarity with those are oppressed – to proclaim that God’s favor – Christ’s love – lives and breathes with this world and all of us in the midst of joys but oh so definitely – definitively - in this midst of upheaval and pandemic and struggle. Thanks be to God.

So, there is a clear mission that helps us keep from getting lost in the weeds and that motivates us onward, especially in times of stress and turmoil and when we get tired or exhausted: to share Christ’s welcome with the world. And then we are reminded in today’s first lesson of what kind of community God needs us to be building in order to carry out this mission.

Paul writes that we are one body in Christ and that all members are needed. There should be no dissension within the body. Instead, the different members should be caring for one another, recognizing our common need for one another. Can you imagine how different this world, this country we live in might look if we all took these ideas of mutual need and care for one another seriously? If we looked around and considered everyone that we see as part of one body, with no part being indispensable.

This is why the world needs striving church communities like Redeemer, New Paltz. To be yeast in the mix of the great loaf of humanity, encouraging us to collectively rise up for the things that really matter. To avoid being lumbering oafs and instead bake a sumptuous loaf. Yes, I did just make all those plays on words.

So, we’ve got a clear mission of welcome and we’ve named qualities of the community we are seeking to build for ourselves and as part of the world around us for the sake f mission. Now, I want to name a few of the things that I think are fair for us to hope and maybe even expect of each other in the coming year.

You can expect of me to love you with a Christian love and to encourage us all to be growing in Christ-like love for one another and the world. You can expect me to be praying for you, this Christ-centering community of Redeemer, New Paltz, and the world around us - especially New Paltz and the Hudson Valley – and I sincerely hope that you will be working to grow your own prayer lives. I think we can agree that I as a pastor – and all of us - should be striving to be there when we text or call or e-mail each other in crisis, but hopefully also for the joyful moments or “ah-ha” moments of moving forward with excitement on some new or renewed endeavor or plan. I look especially forward to working together to nurture spaces in worship, education, service and even administrative tasks where we can move more deeply into our faith, the faith God in Christ continues to plant in us individually and collectively.

I’m going to continue to craft Christ-centered content in homilies, social media messages, and music and to encourage your gifts and participation in this content creation, such as with the remotely recorded choir anthems, youth retelling of the Christmas story, and the short plays created for this year’s “Not Your Grandma’s Christmas Pageant.”

I’ll be encouraging us to have curiosity and courage – and I hope that you’ll remind me to strive to build these attributes as well. The work of God in Christ building us up as a Christian community for the world amidst a pandemic and one of the more challenging times in world history is certainly far from done, but with curiosity and courage we can continue to be renewed to see how we might share the age-old gospel story in new and different ways. This includes new ways of worshiping, utilizing video conference-like technology and it probably also includes our goal – that we’ve named several times now – of praying and having conversation together to decide on which of our focus areas to give the most focus to in 2022/23. Homelessness and Hunger. Justice and Equality. EarthCare. Campus Ministry. Administrative Matters. Where is the Holy Spirit calling us to put most of our energy and move the needle of our focus in that area forward?

My dear fellow members of this body of Christ, I have every confidence that, with Christ’s help, we can continue to grow forward for the sake of Christ and world. If we will place God and this community central in our prayers; if we will continue to discern where God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is calling us to serve, to put our energy in reaching out to care for the world through this church community; if each of us step up and step in, we will find that we are so much more than the sum of our parts. This body of Christ that is a holy experiment called Redeemer, New Paltz sharing Christ’s welcome for the world.

One last note that I think deserves saying. Even as each of us is called to step up and step in for the sake of Christ’s work through this body of Christ for the world, we will also need to find the places where we need to say “no.” Maybe in order to focus on the creation of sermons and songs, or to pastorally encourage volunteers and staff on which ever focus area we discern together, I will have to say “no” to some other things. Maybe in order for you to teach or organize or comfort or rise up for justice or be a part of administrative groups like Council and Stewardship, you will also have to say “no” to something else, be it here in the church or in another organization or school or volunteer area of which you are currently a part. In this, let us remember that a prayerful, intentional “no” in one area can be a part of God’s empowering “yes” in another.

Now. Now we go forth into the rest of this worship service that includes an annual meeting, challenging ourselves to be our very best selves as we seek to build a Christ-centered, healthy, outward-focused church community serving in the world. To grow in Christian love for one another that overflows to the world around us. To be patient with each other and with ourselves on this journey. As one body of Christ, with a variety of members, I hope that we will recognize again on this day that we need each other. Just as there is no dispensable part of our human bodies, there is no dispensable part of our Christian body of Christ. And we are called - invited forward to share our God-given gifts in ways that build up this body of Christ and that build up this world with love and light and goodness.

We are indeed heading towards year three of a global pandemic. This is indeed a time of great upheaval in our nation and the world. Yet even as we recognize the enormity of this reality, we also remember that there have been other pandemics and other times of great upheaval. And Christ’s work for us remains the same:

“bring good news to the poor…proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind…let the oppressed go free.”

We will never do any of what we do perfectly – only God in Christ is perfect in perfect love. Yet with God’s help through Christ; with Christ’s perfecting love and grace working us over for good, we can together, as the apostle Paul wrote, “Strive for a still more excellent way.” Amen.