Epiphany 5B’24
28 January 2024
I Cor. 8.1-13; Mk.1.21-28
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock. Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

All Knowing, All Powerful, and All Loving God, you have promised to be in our midst wherever two or three are gathered together in your Name: Come and dwell in our midst, O Lord, and continue the good work you have begun in us       to your greater glory, through Christ, our Savior. Amen.  – The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

I love the yearly gathering for the Annual Meeting of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church! One of the main reasons I love it is that it’s a chance for us to brag – to brag on our God and on each other! Rather than counting the deficits and failures our focus is on counting our blessings – the strides we’ve accomplished together through God’s abundance of grace during the past year.

There are three adjectives I’d like to share that I believe have been in great abundance at St. Luke’s this past year: Hospitable, Generous, and Loving.

The Rule of St. Benedict written over 1400 years ago was a guide for early monastic communities and enshrined hospitality as one of the hallmarks of Christian community: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35).”[1] Time and time again in 2023 I have witnessed first-hand, the warm and hospitable welcoming of strangers and guests into our midst. 

I was talking with a single adult just the other day who was rejoicing with me on their first anniversary as a member of St. Luke’s. They had looked far and wide for a welcoming and accepting church home but had not found it, until they walked through the red doors. After attending only one Sunday, they told me that they knew that this was their spiritual home! A young family with children found a future for themselves and their children, particularly though the hospitality of our children’s ministry team!

New choir members have found a welcome and fellowship among the choir. A long-time member that hadn’t sung a solo in almost thirty years, managed to do just that – thanks to voice lessons they are receiving from Victoria! One parishioner recently returned to the choir after a couple of decades long hiatus due to the hospitable spirit they felt there.

An elderly person was describing the sense of awe they had experienced at attending their first service here. Slightly shocked, they told me that they had, through the people, the music, and the Spirit here, experienced a closeness with God they had been looking for their whole life!  St. Luke’s, you are a hospitable people!

Generous is the second adjective to describe the people of St. Luke’s over this past year. With the after effects of the pandemic affecting the attendance, combined with the needs of an aging building, we were in dire need of increased financial resources. Appeals were made, prayers were lifted and answers were given by God through His people! Two individuals approached me and informed me that they intended to give $50,000 this year and an additional $50,000 next year to be applied directly to the principal of our mortgage. Their gift has spurred on a couple of other folks to make a sizable gift for the retirement of the mortgage bringing the total down to near or just below $300,000! There have been other private donations for special projects throughout the year that has saved the church thousands of dollars.

Your generosity has also shown up in sacrificial giving of time and talent by serving in our various lay ministries: the building and grounds, children & youth, vestry,  finance, and Red Door teams, the daughters of the King, the Churchmen, acolytes, altar guild, and Lay Eucharistic Ministers, Lectors, ushers, morning and evening prayer leaders, the choir, the handbells, office volunteers, outreach folks working in the clothes closet, Annie Lea’s Little Pantry, Flags of our Fathers and Mothers, St. Francis House vets, Safety Task Force, Festival of the Senses, Bible and book study leaders/group facilitators, faithful participation in the centering prayer group. Please forgive me if I left your ministry out, but I think this is a pretty good sample of ministries!

The third adjective – Loving! The Church of St. Luke’s is not the building it is in fact our people! Through the people there have come so many acts of love and deeds of kindness over this past year that are too numerous to count. Some of them are known to others and some are not with some of them being done anonymously. The loving care of the shawl ministry has been very active this year in blessing families with new babies by giving them hand knitted blankets, and in giving prayer shawls to the sick and needy. There’s the ‘quiet and behind the scenes servants’ who volunteer with the soup patrol bringing homemade soup to the sick or grieving. DOK have provided numerous funeral receptions giving comfort, solace, food and fellowship for the bereaved. There are a number of individuals that have been unable to drive and in need of rides to church, there is a dedicated core of the faithful who have made sure these folks are given rides to and from church!

With all of the hatred, division, violence, and hypocrisy it is easy to become jaded and cynical, but perhaps all the ministries and loving action that I have mentioned can go a long way in letting the world around us know what we stand for. Noted author Karen Powell wrote about this desire: “I yearn for the day when we as the church are known for what we are for instead of what we are against. I pray that the long list of “what the Church is for” includes remarkable Christ-centered care for the least, the last, and the lost.”

As your priest and rector, it is my honor to be able to guide, encourage, support and participate in ministry among you and I am often surprised by the joy that springs up, sometimes out of nowhere! While in my office the other day I overheard one of our office volunteers out in the hallway humming a tune. I knew I had heard it before but couldn’t identify it. I wanted to remember it and finally after several minutes it came to me “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” It was the theme song from the popular movie franchise – Toy Story, written and performed by Randy Newman.  In these words, I think we can see what the Christian Community can be at our best:

You’ve got a friend in me
You’ve got a friend in me
When the road looks rough ahead
And you’re miles and miles
From your nice warm bed
You just remember what your old pal said
Boy, you’ve got a friend in me
You’ve got a friend in me
If you’ve got troubles, I’ve got ’em too
There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you
We stick together and can see it through
Cause you’ve got a friend in me
You’ve got a friend in me

Some other folks might be
A little bit smarter than I am
Bigger and stronger too
But none of them will ever love you
The way I do, it’s me and you

Boy, and as the years go by
Our friendship will never die
You’re gonna see it’s our destiny
You’ve got a friend in me





[1] From Chapter 53, The Rule of St. Benedict