Finding our Why.
Updated: Feb 22
Homily from the Investiture and Seating.
We gather here today at the start of a new year, a new liturgical season, and a new chapter in the life of the Diocese of Southwest Florida. But this is also the start of the season for annual parish meetings, new vestry orientations, and the completion of those pesky little things we call Parochial Reports. So, for my clergy and lay leaders, this is your friendly reminder that March 1st is looming. The hour has come for you to review your parish records, to comb through year-end financial statements, and to get ready for your annual participation in the oldest continuous gathering of data in the history of the Church. For those who might not be familiar with this annual ritual, the Parochial Report is the way we Episcopalians gather random and miscellaneous bits of information regarding membership and church attendance, baptisms, weddings, funerals, programs, staff, clergy, and, of course, congregational budgets and financial reports. It is riveting and thrilling stuff, I can assure you!
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Now, this data is important and, at times, somewhat useful, but these reports only give us a partial picture of the life of the church. The Parochial Report, like so much of our institutional life, only focuses on a certain subset of questions. At the end of the day, we take all of this data that we have so meticulously collected, organized into pie charts, and published in a four-color, glossy annual report, and we sit around a conference table, and we ask ourselves the same three fundamental questions. What’s the plan? Who’s going to do it? How are we going to pay for it?
If you think about it, with a few rare exceptions, every data point on your Parochial Report, every item on your monthly vestry agenda, every topic that gets raised at your Annual Parish Meeting, every announcement that gets printed in your weekly bulletin - they all in some way relate to one of these three questions. What’s the plan? Who’s going to do it? How are we going to pay for it?
Now, these questions – What? Who? and How? – are, of course, vitally important questions, but there is a deeper, more pressing question, that we need to be asking, and that is the question Why? Why do we do what we do? Why do we make the sacrifices that we make? Why do we offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, in service to the kingdom of God? Why?
My friends, the “What?” and “Who?” and “How?” of ministry lose their transformative power when they are disconnected from the “Why?” of ministry. And so, I am becoming increasingly convinced that many of the challenges that we are facing as a church stem from the fact that we are disconnected from our WHY, disconnected from an abiding sense of purpose, conviction, and passion for the ministry of the gospel. During a few of my Sunday visits to congregations, I have referenced a recent survey that our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has been speaking about as he travels the country. Many of you may already be familiar with this survey and its findings.
It was conducted by The Episcopal Church and released in March of last year. The intent of the survey was to gather information regarding people’s basic assumptions and perceptions about Christianity in America today. The survey showed that the vast majority of Americans, over 84 percent, believe Jesus was an important spiritual figure.
But the same survey showed that a majority of Americans also believe that Christians don’t practice what Jesus taught or live how Jesus lived. Christians are perceived as being hypocritical, judgmental, and self-righteous. In other words, most people actually like Jesus. They’re just not too sure about us.
And it’s not necessarily because we’re doing anything wrong. In many cases, the “What?” and “Who?” and “How?” of ministry are moving along just fine. The problem is, in many cases, we are no longer clear about our WHY. Our purpose and our passion for the mission of the kingdom of God. Best-selling author and motivational speaker, Simon Sinek, when speaking about organizational leadership reminds us that people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. In other words, the world isn’t going to be very interested in WHAT we are doing, unless we are first clear, consistent, and authentic in proclaiming - WHY we do what we do. WHY we are who we are. WHY we live how we live.
So, this morning, as we begin this new chapter together, let’s talk for a moment about what it means to rediscover our WHY.
I think the first we need to do is look to the example of Jesus himself. Because Jesus was always clear and consistent about his WHY. He remained persistently focused on his mission. He was abundantly clear about his purpose. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly. I have come that you may know the truth and the truth will set you free. I have come and said these things that my joy might be in you and that your joy might be complete. I have come that you might believe in me and the One who sent me. This is WHY I have come!” As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews put it, “For the joy that was set before him, Jesus endured the cross.” My friends, WHAT Jesus did, WHO he was, and HOW he lived were the fulfillment of WHY he came! It was the disciples, of course, who got confused. At times it was their fear and anxiety. At times, it was their pride and arrogance, but it was disciples who became overly focused on questions like - What’s the plan? Who’s going to do it? How are we going to pay for it? Yet over and over again, Jesus would lovingly, but firmly, refocus their attention on WHY he came. And so, if we are going to rediscover our WHY, we need to first and foremost look to the example of Jesus.
But we also need to rediscover our own personal WHY, our own sense of purpose and passion, and conviction. Because we know ministry is hard. Following Jesus is not a walk in the park. Proclaiming good news when it seems no one is listening can be exhausting. Burnout, addiction, anger, fatigue, and so many other challenges and pitfalls are often rooted in a loss of vision, a loss of purpose, a disconnection from the WHY of life. I will stand here today and confess to all of you that there have been times when I have caught myself daydreaming about taking an early retirement and become a greeter at Walmart. But over and over again, God pulls me back and lovingly reminds me of my WHY.
So, what is my WHY? I believe that I as begin my tenure as your new bishop, you should know what drives me, what motivates me, what is my sense of purpose and passion as a minister of the gospel. I have been a Christian and an Episcopalian my entire life. But when I was 17 years old, I had an encounter with the Risen Christ and an experience of the power of the Holy Spirit that radically reoriented the trajectory of my life. Over the years, I have grown and changed and matured in significant ways, but the intensity of that initial encounter with Jesus continues to inspire and challenge me to this day.
When it comes to scripture, God’s mission of healing and reconciliation as described in 2 Corinthians 5 as well as the promise of the Risen Christ in Revelation 21 that he is indeed making all things new have profoundly shaped the contours of my life and ministry. And so, my WHY is to be an ambassador of God’s healing, reconciling, and transforming love in every encounter and circumstance. I fail often. I fall short daily. But over and over again, God lovingly brings me back to WHY.
So, my friends, let me be clear, your Parochial Reports are still due on March 1st. But as we enter into this new season together, I want to challenge you to spend some time in the coming year, rediscovering your WHY. Personally, in your own walk with God. But also collectively, as followers of Jesus and in your roles as leaders in the church. My prayer is that you will be strengthened and empowered to reconnect with your purpose and passion. To rekindle the fire of your first love. To renew your commitment to the mission of God’s kingdom. To rediscover your WHY. And all for the glory and honor of God. Amen.