Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What is the mission of the church?


The Mission of the Church is the mission of Christ.

In its discernment of its worldwide mission the Anglican Communion has articulated Five Marks of Mission:

To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
To teach, baptize and nurture new believers [that is, to make disciples].
To respond to human need by loving service.
To seek to transform unjust structures of society.
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth [that is, to take care of the earth that God has made].

Recently an Episcopal church in Berkeley boiled down its mission to a handful of words: to be the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Because we are the body of Christ – we the followers of Jesus – we are the heads and hands, hearts and voices, he has to continue his mission. And that mission is to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of peace, that peace that is the reign of God, and to begin to live it out and show it, witnessing in our words, and in our lives, our worship and our work, to the presence of God.

How do we fulfill that mission here, locally, as God’s people, called together in Edmonds? To whom is God sending us? And whom is God sending to us?

These are the people of God’s sending: people who hunger, with the same hunger we have, for a taste of the living bread, the communion of the kingdom, people who thirst for righteousness, that is, for a right order of things.

Who are our neighbors? We know that the 40,000 residents of Edmonds have an average age of just over 45 (2010 U.S. Census), and we know that people come here to live, work, and raise their families – and to enjoy their retirement.

What do we have to offer them? First of all and most of all we have the presence of the redeeming gift, the living Lord, who is present in the word proclaimed and understood, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers, and in our going forth to the world God made, and, having made, saw was good. We invite people to join us in the rest of the Sabbath, and in the rest of the week to carry forth with them the joyous news of our Lord.

Creating, redeeming, sustaining, God is at work in the world.

We are sent – to proclaim. We are charged – to serve. We are invited – to rejoice.

Let us rejoice together in the gift of life. Let us celebrate together in common worship. Let us go forth together in the one Spirit, with a common purpose: to bear the word and be the good news of Jesus Christ, in this time, in this place, to the people whom God has gathered here around us.

Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever.  Amen.  (Ephesians 3:20, 21)

For the Gospel Grapevine, parish newsletter of Saint Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Wash. September 2012. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

living bread

The question is not what the bread becomes; the question is what you become.

Christians for a couple of millennia have concerned themselves, in an internal debate, with the meaning of the bread. What does it become at the moment of consecration, of blessing? It becomes for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ: it becomes for us the food of life – because he gave himself to be the living bread, the source of eternal life. Life that lasts forever, life in the kingdom of Jesus, begins when we accept his gift of life.

And so we accept the gift – in order to live. First, like the people who followed Jesus around the lake and back, we may concern ourselves with our own immediate needs. And so like the woman at the well in Samaria – or the 5000 – we may see Jesus as the unending source of sustenance. But he is that in a larger sense: he is the source of life, the one through whom all is made and comes to be; he is the one who holds the secret of life.

But he is more than just a way to save more trips to the store. What he offers us in his living bread is a new way of life, a new life that is eternal, that starts here and now.

And it begins, that new life, not for ourselves only: he is the gift of life for all peoples. He takes what we have to offer – like the barley loaves and the fish (“but what is so little among so many?”) – and trusting it to God, gives thanks and shares it out – shares us out:

We become transformed as we accept the gift of Jesus, the gift of life.

We become a way for others to reach him – and to reach life.

When we gather, the bread we break and the cup we share become for us the bread Jesus shared among his friends and the wine he poured out for them: they become for us his sacrificial self-offering.

What do we become?
How are we to live?

Paul gives us a clue in his message to the Ephesians, about what a church should be and how its members should treat one another – and become bread for the world.

We are members of one another, he says: we are the body, and the body has a head, Jesus Christ, into whom we grow.

All are called to his supper; all are called to change their lives as they come to the table. Even thieves are admonished, to get themselves honest work so as to have something they can share with the needy.

We are to build up the body, expending energy on that alone. Be kind – imitate Christ – live in love – become like the one who gave himself up for us. This is the offering God desires: a thankful and obedient spirit.

Then, we who have taken in the bread from heaven are called in our turn to become bread for the world. How are we to accomplish this but by following him who is our Lord?

For he is the source of life: we know it – let’s live it.


August 11, 2012.

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 14
1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Fishers of ... Bears?

"Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz." 
("Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the universe who brings forth bread from the earth.")
[http://www.haydid.org/purim6.htm accessed August 8, 2012. cf. Psalm 104:14]

A week ago Tuesday during an evening discussion at CDSP, Mark D. Jordan, professor at Washington University in Saint Louis, recounted waiting for a ride, on the corner of 4th and Market in San Francisco, and looking at all the people passing by, and asking himself, what do we (the church) have to say to all these people?

At a well in Samaria a man sits in the heat of the noonday sun taking a rest. A woman approaches: he asks her to get him a drink from the well. And yet soon she is asking him: where is this source of living water? Show me, tell me, that I might thirst no more.

A blind man by the side of the road calls out: Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy, and a man replies, what is it that you are wanting? Lord, that I might see, that my eyes might be opened. And soon, they are …

A crowd follows a man around a lake, pursuing him, for healing, words and knowledge, for love, for bread, for more than food; and soon …

Soon the crowd will be satisfied, for now; but they want him to be their king, and he disappears. They follow his disciples back around the lake again, and there he is: but he says, there is more here than food. You see – but you do not yet see entirely. Work for what lasts, for what will nourish you forever.

What do we do to get this living bread?

Trust – believe, put your faith in God – and

All else follows
If you believe

The source of living water, of the food that endures; the source of life— is the Lord.

Give us this bread for always, they say.

I AM, said he: the living bread.

What does that mean? What does that mean for us?

What do we seek? What do any people seek? LIFE.

Where do we find it? IN CHRIST.

Why do we gather?

To proclaim the good news,
to hear it, respond to it;
to celebrate the gift of life, and
share it— at the Lord’s Table; then,
to go forth, changed by that holy meal,
sustained and made new,
to bear the good news into the world,
to carry that gift of life with us.

The mission of the church is the mission of Christ.

“Mission is really making us all aware of the incredible love that God has for all of us,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a May 19 webcast about Mission. “It says things like: you don’t have to earn God’s love. God loves you, period. Everything flows from there.” [1]

Who is God sending to us? Who is God calling us to seek?
What is our part in this holy mission, as individuals, and as a congregation?

The mission of the church is the mission of Christ:
to proclaim, reconcile, heal;
to bring the good news,
and the kingdom,
into the world.

But how do we do it? How do we show it?

Our communion, the Anglican Communion, has, in its worldwide discernment of its mission, identified Five Marks of Mission:

1. To proclaim the good news of God’s reign.

2. To teach, baptize, and nurture new believers, that is, to make disciples.

3. To respond to human need by loving service:

the bread,
the healing,
the restoration,
are not forgotten, but
carried on
by Christ’s people
in his name.

4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society.

I won’t tell you how to vote, but I will encourage you TO vote—

and to draw upon
your faith,
your God-inspired reason, and
the teachings of the church,
not only in your inward piety
but in your outward lives—

that what you do as people of God
in the world
will bring that
bread from heaven
            into service
as bread for the world.

5. To take care of the earth that God has made.

Sometimes intentionally, sometimes as accidental stewards...

Locals save drowning bear cub

To consider in our actions
how we are stewards of earth,
active partners in
custodianship of God’s creation.

And that includes the people of the world
that God loves
that we must not treat with disdain
but to respect and
uphold the dignity
of every human person.

Mission, then, is about receiving love and then responding by going out and sharing. “It is a matter of calling the near and the far off together into the fold. It is about healing and reconciling. It is about making that love incarnate in the lives of people around us and in the lives of people on the other end of the earth.” (Katharine Jefferts Schori) [2]

You are the source of life,
the gift of daily bread
            is in your hand;
the gift of eternal life
            is held out to us
            in your arms.

Embrace us, Lord,
            with your love
that we may turn outward
            and embrace the world
            that you love
            that you made.

On March 18, 1958, on the corner of Fourth and Walnut, now Fourth and Muhammad Ali in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas Merton had a vision of oneness with all people.  He called this vision an "epiphany." 
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.  It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race ... there is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Paradoxically, Merton experienced this transformation when he was out of his everyday monastic life and was immersed in the hustle and bustle of our shopping district - now Fourth Street Live.  Merton said of his experience:
I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God's eyes.  If only they could all see themselves as they really are.  If only we could see each other that way all of the time.  There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed...
(Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, New York: Doubleday, 1996)

Lord, where else would we go? You are the bread of life.

May we, as we break and share the communion bread today, know you in that moment of celebration and thanksgiving. And may we know you more fully, see you more clearly, love you more dearly, follow you more nearly, as we go forth in your name. Amen.

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
Psalm 78:23-29
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

[1]   “Five Marks of Mission”. The Grapevine, newsletter of Saint Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Kenwood, California, July/August 2012. p. 5,  http://www.stpatskenwood.org accessed August 5, 2012.
[2] Ibid.