As I’ve been writing daily reflections during Lent, I’m hopeful you’ve been able to learn a little bit about me. I have tried to be candid, open, and vulnerable. I feel like I have grown spiritually, and I hope you have found my writings to be valuable. My original commitment was to try to do about four reflections per week. I surprised myself by exceeding this goal. Including Sunday sermons, which were not published in writing but still made available online and in person, I have not missed a day during Lent. As we are approaching Holy Week and I need to focus my energy on finishing up liturgy preparations for Easter, this will be my final reflection in this series. I will continue to write weekly reflections that will appear in the email newsletter, but they will no longer be sent out daily. And as this is my final daily reflection in this Lenten series, I’m going to make it about you. This is a chance for me, as your pastor, to be your biggest cheerleader. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: I am so impressed with the way that you serve God and one another. I don’t think there’s a parish in the Episcopal Church that takes its call to ministry more seriously than St. John’s. You are amazing stewards of your gifts, and you use them to make the world a better place. Thank you for that.

               If I don’t give you any examples of what I mean, then it might sound like I’m giving lip service. So please allow me to share. As a parish, we have decided that feeding the hungry is of great importance. And of course we would! In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus specifically tells us to feed the hungry. Over the past year, with food prices skyrocketing, our community found itself in great need. The number of visitors to the St. John’s food pantry saw a steady (and for a while, sharp) increase. We were able to help literally hundreds of families by giving them a chance to make their food dollars extend. As more food left the pantry, and the budget decreased, our food ministry team began to grow concerned. How will we continue to do this important ministry? How can we continue to feed God’s people? Then, as a parish, you rallied. You prayed hard and worked harder, and you have ensured that the food pantry has both food and financial resources to carry on.

               When it was announced that the budget was running low, the milk can came out on a Sunday. The milk can was filled with donations that helped give us a shot in the arm. Your vestry voted to release some additional funds to go to the food pantry on a monthly basis to help push things along. On Super Bowl Sunday, you brought food items to show love for your teams. These items filled our shelves for weeks! The scouting troops who use our building also did a food drive of their own. Hundreds of pounds of food were donated! We witnessed a stellar concert by Hyeri Choi, raising not only enough funds to pay for the rental and tuning of a grand piano, but also for additional funds to go toward filling the food pantry shelves. And you came out in droves to decorate, cook, and share an Italian meal together, raising hundreds of dollars to buy even more food. The food ministry is alive and well at St. John’s, and that’s all because of you. Tip your cap and take a bow, because you made that happen! Thank you for doing that!

               And how about our Veterans’ ministry team? You’re doing amazing work to help our veterans, too! Last fall, a few members of the team came to me with the idea of hosting a golf tournament. While I was unsure about the timeline and short turnaround time, I loved the initiative and gave the green light to move forward. You volunteered to get donations of items and money, to find golfers to fill teams, and to put together a pretty darn fun event. You not only learned a lot from the experience, but you raised enough money to fund the training and placement of a service dog for a much deserving armed services veteran. Way to go!

               But it didn’t stop there. Nope. You wanted to double down. Go big or go home! Let’s have a bigger tournament, the team’s members said. And that’s what you decided to do. This time, taking knowledge gained from last time, you set your sites higher. You wanted to have the tournament at a larger course with higher stakes and a bigger turnout. Almost becoming the clichéd “victims of your own success”, you made the announcement that you have so many registrations that you had to close down the tournament for any more players. All slots have been filled, donations are continuing to pour in, and the tournament is still a month away. After expenses, this tournament should bring in sufficient funds to pay for three dogs. That’s triple what you raised the first time around. You’re doing that work. You’re doing God’s work on earth. Thank you for doing that.

               There are so many ways I see you share the Good News each and every day. I saw members from St. John’s participate in the Union of Black Episcopalians Absalom Jones celebration at St. Barnabas. You asked me if we can look into hosting the event at St. John’s in the future. The answer is of course we can! I would be thrilled for us to host that important annual event. You are doing tremendous work every month by making and bringing food to the veterans on Fridays. You are coming together regularly to make communion bread that we share every Sunday and Wednesday. You are doing wonderful business at St. John’s closet. You’re hosting scout troupes and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in your building. Your garden ministry is making our grounds beautiful. Have you seen the wildflowers and the irises that are in bloom? The garden looks fabulous! You are providing low-cost food to the community every month with POWWOW. You are reaching out and caring for your fellow parishioners when they are sick or in need. Your office staff and your musicians and your youth leaders do tremendous work. Your vestry is committed and determined. Your altar guild and lectors and eucharistic ministers make sure our services take place beautifully. You couldn’t have a more committed and capable deacon. You couldn’t hope for a more engaged and enthusiastic postulant. You have a great A/V team that has made it possible to follow along in worship without the need for paper bulletins. Your sexton and groundskeeper make the property look kept up and beautiful. Your treasurer is the best there is. You are a blessing and you are blessed in return. You are doing all these things and more. And what warms my heart the most is that all of these ministries are done with passion! You find them life-giving. You do them with a smile on your face and joy in your heart. And you aren’t afraid to have fun. Ministry should be fun. It should be life giving. God shares with us, and we share with others in return.

               God calls us and then he equips us. Sometimes we might not feel like we’re capable of doing what he calls us to do. But he empowers us. When food resources were running low, it didn’t look like we’d be able to continue to feed people. But God called us and then he equipped us. When we didn’t have golfers signing up to golf, we were wondering if the tournament wasn’t going to happen after all. But God called us and then he equipped us. God provides for us, and we probably notice it more when we can put the gifts he has given us to good use. There isn’t a church that uses its gifts better than you do. Thank you for sharing this Lenten journey with me. Thank you for allowing me to share pieces of myself with you. And thank you for sharing pieces of yourself with me. Thank you for being Christ’s hands and heart in the world. Great job. Keep up the good, life-giving work. You’re amazing!

Forty Days of Aloha (And Gratitude!)