The Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2007.
IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT.
In John’s Gospel we just heard the Jews ask Jesus a question. While trying to finally determine just who Jesus really is they asked him: “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, ” I have told you and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe me.” Think about Jesus’ answer: “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.”
If someone asked that question of us, what would our answer be? As individual Christians and as St. Francis Church, how would we answer that question? Would we, you and I, be comfortable with our answer if we responded along with Jesus: “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me?” Not works opposed to faith, but works because of faith.
This is an important question, so this morning I want to review something that we have been discussing over the last few years, and that we have been trying to apply in our lives. And then I am going to offer a concept that I believe will help us to become more and more the people who God has called us to be.
Over three years ago, we spent quite a bit of time and prayer attempting to gain insight and clarity on exactly what we, as individuals and as St. Francis Episcopal Church, were being called to do, in our individual and common life. What was it, that God wanted us to do? What are our individual and common missions?
Over a fairly extended period, we considered our individual gifts and we considered our gifts as a church. We talked among ourselves and we talked with the other churches in South Fork. We tried to determine what was currently available, what was needed, and what we could offer.
We considered providing a food bank, a retreat center, a welcoming program for people moving to the area and other things.
We spent quite a lot of time in this process because as St. Paul reminds us in the 12th chapter of First Corinthians, we, as individuals and as a church, are the Body of Christ to the world around us. We are Christ’s hands and heart in the world today. We are to be participants. We have things to do. And we have been open to being led.
One very specific area that we have been trying to put into practice is to become “Instruments of Peace to the world around us in the everyday world that we encounter as we go about our daily lives. Together, we have been striving to bring the words of the Prayer of St. Francis to life for those we come in contact with. And if you really think about it, bringing Love, Pardon, Union, Faith, Hope, Light and Joy to a situation where we have found Hatred, Injury, Discord, Doubt, Despair, Darkness and Sadness, is really a pretty good thing to do. And, when we have had such an experience we should be very grateful that we have had the opportunity, the heart and the openness to become instruments of Peace.
But for me, and perhaps for some of you, the challenge is maintaining my focus on a day-to-day, experience by experience, basis. Cindy and I say the Prayer of St. Francis together every morning before we start our day. But somehow, when I get to the market, or the post office, or somewhere else, I sometimes forget to look around, to see what God is already doing in that situation, and to see if any of those conditions that are listed in the prayer of St. Francis, exist. I don’t forget all of the time, but more often than I would prefer. Perhaps you experience something similar.
So this morning let’s look at a concept that may help us be a little more specific, a little more focused, as we go about our days as we go about our lives
Wayne Schwab is an Episcopal priest. Wayne spent twenty years as a priest involved in parish ministry. He then spent almost another twenty years working as the first ever Evangelism Ministries Officer for the National Office of the Episcopal Church. Wayne worked with Bishop Elliott Sorge back East on small congregation development and was a leader in the workshop that Elliott put together, in January that Cindy and I attended. Wayne was supposed to be with us next Saturday at our meeting, but unfortunately his wife is experiencing some significant health problems.
Wayne wrote a book entitled When the Members are the Missionaries. In his book Wayne offers some interesting suggestions that I think can help us as we seek to become “Instruments of Peace.”
Wayne begins by reminding us of two important points. First, that when all else had failed, Jesus was born and lived and died and was resurrected in order to reconcile the world to God and to bring justice and love to the world. That was His mission in the first century and that mission continues to this day through His Church.
Wayne reminds us that when we were each baptized, we were not baptized as sort of initiation rite into an organization or club or into the Church. Our baptism is not a rite that says that we are now members in good standing and that is all there is to it. Wayne suggests that our baptism is the sacrament that invites us to become part of the “mission”. Our baptism is the beginning. It is the first step that we take to become part of the exciting mission of the Church. The mission to bring reconciliation, to promote justice and to offer love to the world around us. We, as members of the Church, are to become participants in the Church’s mission. In so many words, we are to become “missionaries”. We are not to become members of the Church and then stop. We are to become “missionaries”, along with Christ, in bringing reconciliation, justice and love.
And if you think about it, bringing reconciliation, justice and love is the very essence of what we have been doing by becoming “Instruments of Peace”. But, where we have been trying to be “Instruments of Peace” wherever we are, Wayne suggest that it will help if we will focus on six specific areas of our lives.
Focusing on these six specific areas of life versus wherever we are may help us to see some needs that we have overlooked. By thinking about and evaluating these six areas, these six mission fields, we may see where we could initiate some actions versus responding to situations. So let’s think about these six mission fields and see if perhaps we can bring to them reconciliation, justice, love and peace.
Listen to Wayne’s description of these six areas and see if anything comes to your mind. First, there is Home, which includes parenting, friendships, relationships among the residents; maintenance of the place of bed and board. The next area is Work, which includes what we are paid to do or school for the student or volunteer work for the retiree.
The next mission field is Community, such things as soccer referee, elected town officer, or school board member. The fourth area is the Wider World. This could include things like writing letters to the editor about social issues, participating in an environmental group or political party. The fifth area is Leisure, which could include hobbies, favorite recreation, or care for our own physical or psychological health. The sixth mission field is Church, which includes reading, ushering and home visitor.
Home, Work, Local Community, Wider World, Leisure and Church. Six specific mission fields where we might be able to bring reconciliation, justice and love, and Peace. As we focus on these areas, as we look for ways to become missionaries, Wayne suggests we remind ourselves that the Lord is already here and at work, and then ask ourselves these seven questions:
· What has God been telling me or doing through my life in this mission field?
· What conditions inhibit reconciliation, justice, and love in this mission field?
· What change is needed to increase reconciliation, justice and love in this mission field?
· What will I do to achieve this change considering my gifts, limitations, and convictions?
· What vision (description of what I will do) will I use to draw others into working with me for this change?
· How might I talk of God while I am sharing my vision or following through on it?
· How could I invite others to join me at Jesus’ table to be fed and empowered to achieve this vision? How can I encourage others to seek help in church life?
The main thrust of When the Members are the Missionaries, is that on Sundays we become empowered to go out and bring reconciliation, justice, love and Peace every single day of the week, in truth, every single day of our lives. On Sunday, we the “missionaries”, find strength from each other, from worship and from the Eucharist, to become daily participants with the risen Christ in making this world a better place. Church gives us the strength to be “missionaries” every single day. And then, when we are asked who we are, we can comfortably respond: “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.”
[Note: the seven questions come from the book, When the Members are the Missionaries. A revised set of the questions is found on Making the Vision Work > Basic Tools > Basic Tools 3B.]