Sermon at the Dedication of St. Gregory's Church, San Francisco,
October 23, 1995

by Richard Fabian

        My tenth ordination anniversary was a double surprise party. I had told everybody at St. Gregory's that this was the tenth year since my ordination. So one day when Donald was in town, visiting from Idaho in those days, they lured me over to the Stockbridges' apartment, and surprised me with a big party. As a surprise party always does, this one hit me with a punch: I felt really honored and touched. I couldn't fail to get the message. Another surprise came next day. Donald flew back to Idaho, and called me from the airport to say that on the plane home he'd added up the years, and there were only nine since my ordination -- it hadn't really been my tenth anniversary at all! (No member of St. Gregory's today would be surprised to hear that.)

        So you can understand that tonight I hesitate to guess how many years we've been working on St. Gregory's Church. Just when our brilliant architect John Goldman won our hearts and imagination; or just when he hunted up this land for us at a bargain price; or just when people began pledging and giving and fundraising; or just when our Bishop said "Oh yes, you're going to do it!" or just when our families and friends began telling us they wanted to help. I can't even remember when Wendell Nordby and the great church-building brothers Donald and Peter Schell actually started construction, though they've been laboring night and day eight days a week since whenever that was.

        Instead, tonight I want to return the favor of that surprise party years ago, by pointing out two things, hoping they make a punch with you.

        First of all: we didn't build this building--and Lord knows we haven't paid for it! It is clear to me that God built this building, to honor some friends of God's. In particular God built this building to honor God's friend Gregory of Nyssa. Long ignored by the mainstream; inspirer of mystics; humanist in an age of growing puritansim. I still remember my excitement reading Gregory for the first time, under Richard Norris' supervision, and discovering an original mind that could bring it all together, and unite apparent opposites, and argue consistently that all that is, is good, and made to grow together in goodness. That was the Hebrew Scriptures' view, but was already rare in Gregory's day, and got rarer for centuries afterward.

        God built this building to honor the nutty people who started this congregation in 1978 and joined it since, and who gave, and still give, their time and money and anxiety and creativity and talent and joy and humor and faithful, loving friendship.

        But here's the real surprise party element: God has built this building to honor YOU.

        All the reasons you came here tonight: your friendly affection for us; your creativity and mystic vision; your openness to something different, your sense of fun, your secret taste for chaos; your pleasure in singing and dancing with people; and your long-proven readiness to come to church functions out of duty, even when you suspect you may not like them much. Your faithfulness when you don't like them at all. The committee meetings you've attended for years where nobody sang or danced or got anything to eat, or kept the agenda, or agreed, or actually did afterwards what the meeting apparently resolved to do. All the high-minded people and high-minded stuff you keep supporting just because you're God's friend and you wouldn't put up with the frustrations for any other reason.

        That is precisely how God is friends with you. So now God has built this building to honor YOU.

You here tonight who do not follow Jesus, you are included!

        Jesus showed hospitality to all who accepted it, period. A free gift, just because God loves them. No conditions, no qualifications required. He welcomed people whose lack of qualifications really showed. It was his chosen sign; and he died for it. The very fact that his guests have no qualifications to be present makes plain how God lives and works with every human being, if only we can see. Dear non-Christian friends: at Jesus' table you are surrounded by Christians who are exactly as beloved and as freely invited as you are. Your presence here enables us to see the truth about God and welcome it. That is why you absolutely belong here. So God has built this building to honor YOU.

"St. Gregory's is a church for the twenty-first century. In the twentieth century we have seen the worst religious division and bloodshed in history. The task for religion and for people of faith in the next century is to lead all people to find in their religious roots new bases for unity, for learning from one another, and for living together in peace. Then the twenty-first century can be an era of religious renewal for the good of all humanity. What makes St. Gregory's a church for the twenty-first century is that the people of this congregation know why they're Christian and they're confident of it. They're also truly open to the wisdom and experience of other religions and other religious traditions."

--The Rt. Rev. William Swing on the occasion of the dedication of the new St. Gregory's Church, October 23, 1995

        Every sermon should contain a challenge; so here's my challenge: WHY did God build this building to honor you? Consider WHY.

        God lured YOU here tonight to show you something in yourself--maybe hoping with my little surprise to get your attention, so you can see what God is doing with you, and wants to do with you. Of the many reasons you came here tonight, all gifts from God, which gift is God honoring, hoping to punch you with it, so you can see it? Even just one virtue, where tonight you can make out God's own image in yourself--so you can pursue that virtue from now on, abandoning a whole world of misleading considerations (proud ones or guilty ones or fearful ones)--so you can change your whole life and the world around you, by finally following your true nature.

        This is a challenge for everyone here, Christian or not. One clear glimpse, one vision of God's image in you is enough. (Well, yes, and a lifetime of following that vision!) Enough to draw you where all humanity is headed, and draw others with you. Away from the illusions that distract people. Free of the spiral of sin. Passing through--or even bypassing the beautiful buildings and noble Church institutions and healing sacraments that for all their holy power are only passing signs of God's own true self.

        Friends of God--and all of you becoming friends of God--look now for God's image in your life. If tonight YOU see it and turn and follow, God's whole purpose in building this Church of St. Gregory Nyssen will be fulfilled. Our bishop's work will be done--months before his sabbatical. Jesus' faithful life and death will be vindicated and fruitful and complete. The whole world will spin in a new spiral around you, levitating like a Buddhist master toward the only end it was ever made for. And the singing and dancing and feasting we do here will just be extra. Fun. Free rejoicing. A feast of God's Friends, pure and simple. A feast to go on forever.




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