Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sermon for September 30, 2007

Why are we here? Now that is a great existential question asked by philosophers all down the ages—but that is not the way I am asking it this morning. I’m asking why are we HERE—why have we come to this particular place on a Sunday morning to say these particular words and perform these particular rituals?

I suppose there are as many answers that come to mind as there are those of us in this church:
  • To worship God
  • Because it is Sunday and this is what we do on Sunday, we keep the Sabbath in this way
  • Because it is meaningful, being here together, praying, singing, hearing God’s word and having the Eucharist in community fills us in some way….I would hope that would be part of all of our answer in some way.
But I want to go even deeper than those answers this morning, and have us reflect together for a time on why it is we come together for the experience of common worship. Why do we gather as a community to be fed on word and sacrament? Or to put it another way, for whom do we come to church? Do we come here merely for our own sake, or is there another reason?

A week ago Saturday, M, C, and I along with RM were privileged to attend the MDG Summit in St. Paul. The keynote speaker was Bonnie Anderson, the head of the House of Deputies. In her talk, Bonnie spoke about our need to understand the connection between our baptismal covenant and our life as a people of mission. She said that in our baptismal vows we were, as Christians, “given our marching orders” when we promised, with God’s help to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, love our neighbor as ourselves and strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” Bonnie reminded us that this covenant we made (and periodically reaffirm) as baptized Christians gives us both authority we can claim according to our gifts, and a responsibility to use those gifts in ministry to others, participating with God in God’s new creation, in God’s mission of justice, compassion and reconciliation.

“Alas for those who are at ease in Zion”….or anywhere else for that matter, Amos tells us, “the revelry is not the goal.” And Timothy too, echoes the message, it’s easy to be trapped by desire and attachment to riches and the things of this world. But we are urged to “set our hopes on God…to do good, be rich in good works, generous and ready to share, so that we have the life that really is life.” And in the Gospel again, we are reminded what Jesus thought about what was important., and it is NOT the riches of this life! We have had an ongoing lesson these past weeks in the Gospels from Jesus about the importance of ordering our priorities, letting go of our attachments, aligning ourselves with the poor, putting our selves, our riches on the line for what we say we believe. This is all very much in line with the message we heard from Bonnie Anderson and from the other speakers at the conference. This is something we are hearing clearly around the church. We are being called to mission. We are being reminded in many ways why we are here. And that is it is not for ourselves but for the world. That the church does not exist to extend the church but to participate with God in co-creation of God’s kingdom here on earth, a kingdom of justice, compassion and reconciliation.

We come together to worship on Sunday because worship is central to our common life as a community not for its own sake, but in order to support and equip us to make a difference in the work we do in our own mission fields Monday through Saturday. We come to be fed on Word and on Sacrament together in order that we might remember who and Whose we are, in order to be strengthened for what we are called to in the rest of our lives outside this place.

At clergy conference last week, I was given the privilege of calling together a panel of the Total Ministry teams from across the diocese to talk about how the Spirit is moving in the lives of the congregations and in the individuals serving on the teams. The most recently ordained of the priests on one of the teams said something that really made me think. He talked about how since he has been ordained, he feels a new sense of responsibility wherever he goes because he feels as though people have identified him as a representative of the church, as a sort of “professional Christian” and that they watch how he handles himself in his daily life. How he responds to conflict, how he deals with people….and as I listened to him I thought, you know, this ought not to just be true for someone who is ordained, but for all of us who are baptized, because truly we are all called, all as Bonnie said, given our orders, to see Christ in others and be Christ’s presence in the world. And there is a way in which the world should be able to watch and see God’s Spirit operating in us, see something in the way we act, the way we ARE that sets us apart. That is what mission is about. That is what ministry is about. And each of is called to it. Every one of us walks daily in several mission fields. At home. At work. Where we spend our leisure time. Every one of us functions in our local community and are also citizens of the wider world. And in each of these places there are chances every day to participate in God’s creative reshaping of this world into God’s kingdom. And in each of these arenas we are being called upon to ask ourselves what is the mind of God in this situation and then to act out of that. And we don’t do this in a vacuum. We have Jesus as the role model. Not so much in terms of that little phrase “what would Jesus do” as how would Jesus BE, or what is the mind of God. In these Gospels Jesus is making very clear how it is we are called upon to reflect the mind of God. We are called, in all these mission fields of our lives to do the just thing, to do the most inclusive thing, to do whatever the act is that most widens the circle and draws others in. We are called to do what considers the good of those most in need, the poor, the weak, the vulnerable. We are called upon to forgive. We are called upon to be just. We are called upon to reconcile. We are called upon to be peacemakers. Jesus came to literally “change our minds,” to transform our whole viewpoint, to give us a bigger picture, a glimpse of the possible world as God sees it. Through our baptism, we are covenanted to follow this vision, to incarnate it in our own lives as Jesus did in His. We are all vocational, called to ministry and mission. There is really no escaping it, we were marked as God’s own at baptism, and we are challenged to count the cost and pick up the cross. More than it ever has the world needs to hear another voice. The voice that cries out for justice, and compassion and reconciliation. This is God’s mission, not ours. Our job is merely to respond. To use our own individual gifts and talents to participate as we are called, where we are called, actually many times, every day, if we are paying attention… our own mission fields.

We are given the opportunity to participate in something more than the life of this world. We are given the opportunity for eternal life – God’s kingdom life – the countercultural life. Not the life that is merely about storing up your riches here on earth. Not the life that is about looking for the best place for yourself. Not the one that is about doing the things that will get you noticed and rewarded. But the life that says what we see before us is not how it can be, how it should be. The life that we are offered is the one exemplified in Jesus. It is the one we can claim through our baptism and the power of the Spirit. We make the world we live in different one day at a time, one act at a time by the way we live our daily lives in mission and ministry. May it be so. Amen.

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