[The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 9, 2003; Preached at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo, NY. A vestry overnight on February 8-9 centered attention on each of the baptized having six – not just one – daily mission fields. This surprised all and made Sunday’s planned sermon all the more timely. – AWS.]
“Friends in Christ, I believe that I stand on firm ground when I say that ‘to be an Episcopalian is to be a missionary, not a member of a particular denomination of the Church of God.'”
My thanks to all of you for the chance to be part of Founder’s Day. You have a noble history going back to 1817. You have a noble present in your decision to stay downtown and minister to downtown Buffalo. Mark tells us Jesus’ first act was to reach out for some helpers – Peter and Andrew, James and John. And his next act was to show them – and all – his power over sickness and evil. No wonder his fame spread and crowds gathered! His response? “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And, soon, he increased the disciples to twelve and sent them out to carry the word and to heal. That word was the reign of God. God is here, now – to overcome evil and make the world a better place. And that word was accompanied by deeds. He and his disciples healed, as well as proclaimed. And so must we – Jesus’ disciples today – put word and deed together. Jesus went out to meet the world. We go out to meet the world in Jesus’ name. Each of us is baptized into Jesus’ mission. See your baptism that way. You joined the mission of Jesus Christ in your baptism. In confirmation or reaffirmation – indeed, every time you come to Jesus’ table – you say, “Here I am, Lord; send me.” The church meets the world in us, the baptized! We are on Jesus’ mission all the time. Beware of thinking you have a mission – just one mission. The truth is that you have six missions. All of us do. Our lives have six arenas we are in every week – our homes, our work, our local community, the wider world, and our leisure, as well as our church. We are called to be on mission in each of them. Here are two stories of people on mission. I got them while working on a book.
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Three years ago, when Margaret and I first talked, her mission at work was to resolve tension with a coworker. Last Friday, I asked, “Can we talk about all six of your mission fields this time? Let’s first catch up with work” Her current mission is bringing ideas to get new contracts to her office — a construction company that builds waste water treatment plants. And she is quite good at it. She adds words to her deeds. When her boss asks her opinion on a matter, she says, “Let me pray about that first.” His disbelief has given way to the soundness of her recommendations. They work! At home, Margaret is a single mother with a 9th grade son and twin girls in the 6th grade. Her mission now is talking about boundaries in dating and in drug and alcohol use – on the right level for each of them. Now, they come to her with questions. She opened the door by talking about the pressures kids are under these days and how they might meet them as Christians. To build up her community, Margaret is working with local people to set up a shelter for the homeless in transition. To motivate people to help her, she tells her own story of domestic violence and how the church provided a home for her and her three children when they would have slept in the car without such help. In the wider world, peacekeeping is her present mission. She has formed a prayer group at her office and was part of a march for peace two weeks ago. In her leisure time, she writes. While she writes for pleasure, she finds her subject is the God-shaped vacuum in each one of us. Her work seems to be leading to an evangelism course for her congregation. And, in her congregation, she has just left the role of senior warden. Right now her church work is at home with the 9th grader who is preparing for confirmation. All four of them are memorizing the Nicene Creed and talking about living the baptismal covenant. Those are Margaret’s current missions in her six mission-fields.
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Eddie runs a section of a large law firm devoted to insurance. Three years ago, he defined his mission as building a climate where his coworkers can learn from their mistakes – rather than be rebuked for them. That is still his mission. He puts it in a few words. “I let my associates know it is okay to learn from mistakes and to get better at what they do.” Eddie puts words with his deeds. Last week, as they met in court, he asked his associate, “Have you said your prayers?” “What prayers?” his associate asked. “For divine inspiration that justice be done,” was Eddie’s quick reply. At home: Eddie and his wife are working together on plans to refurbish the house. He is taking the time to work on it together so it is a real team effort — something he has not done well in the past. In his local community: Eddie is just finishing up as scoutmaster for three years. Next, he will join a team planning high adventure events for the high-school age scouts – one of whom is his older son; and a younger son just might join up, too. In the wider world: Eddie is working with two others to write an article on how states should deal with insurance companies that go bankrupt – a field that needs a lot of improvement as he sees it. In his leisure: Eddie is making sure that his leisure time is taken with his family rather than by himself. How many of us can learn from that! At church: he is pressed for time and, for now, supports his wife and two sons in their church activities – handbell choir for his wife, youth group for the older son, and confirmation for the younger son.
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There you are. Each of us is an Eddie or a Margaret. Each of has not one mission fields but six. In each, we are trying – or should be trying – to make life better in some specific way. That specific goal is our mission. Claim that grand word. We are on mission – God’s mission in that place. God is meeting the world in us. Yes, God is active in other people and in other ways. What counts is that we join God’s mission! Here is what you can do for all to be missionaries. First, believe that God is most concerned about how we live from Monday to Saturday. And see Sunday church as the place we go for direction in how to live better and power to do it. Readings, sermons, and prayers give us direction in how to live. In the bread and in the cup, we receive power to live that way. Second, put on “mission glasses.” See you own six mission fields. See what you are doing there to make life better. See yourself as part of God’s mission. Hear God calling you – and everyone else – to join the mission to make the world a better place.
[The Rev. A. Wayne Schwab; Coordinator of Member Mission Network, Inc., President of Member Mission Press, Chair of the Spiritual Formation Committee for the United Church of Hinesburg, VT, Author, Speaker, and Workshop Leader.]