Today has also been designated “World Mission Sunday” by The Episcopal Church. Each year on this Last Sunday after Epiphany when we read the great Gospel story of the Transfiguration, we are asked to remember that another name for The Episcopal Church is “the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.” In other words, we are all missioners for Jesus Christ, and our mission field reaches around the world, but begins right here at home.
This seems like a good theme to celebrate here at St. Andrew’s Pentecost Church because you are both a domestic and foreign mission and have been from your beginnings! From the Spirit-led leadership of Ester Bryant, Mary Jackson and Louise Scott who petitioned this diocese for mission status way back in 1919 to Fr. Nwachuku’s outreach to Nigerian Anglicans in Chicago in 1998 through the growth of that ministry in its several locations to the eventual merger of these two congregations in 2006 you have been all about domestic and foreign mission!
Our Prayer Book defines the mission of the Church as restoring “all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” So many people are separated from God today! They either don’t believe in God or they are afraid that God doesn’t believe in them. And people are separated from one another! Whether it’s discrimination and prejudice… or the widening gap between rich and poor… or because of broken families or alcohol or drugs, people are looking for healing and for reconciliation – with God and with one another. And it’s our job to make that happen! But how do we do it?
Well, in the 1980s and 1990s the worldwide Anglican Communion began developing something called “The Five Marks of Mission.” It’s a kind of check-list to see if we, as Anglicans, are doing all that is necessary to be about the mission of the Church. These marks were accepted by the Lambeth Conference in 1998 and at our last General Convention in 2009, The Episcopal Church adopted them officially and asked that the whole budget and program life of our church begin to revolve around them.
Our Presiding Bishop says that these marks are “digital” – that is, you can tick them off by the digits on one hand! 1)to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom; 2) to teach, baptize and nurture new believers; 3)to respond to human need by loving service; 4)to seek to transform the unjust structures of society; 5) to strive to safeguard and renew the life of this planet earth. This is a well-balanced plan of action!
And it begins by each of us, in our own way, sharing the Good News of God’s love with our families and friends and neighbors. Let people know that God “is,” and that God loves them. And by so living our lives in such a way that we are witnesses of God’s Kingdom, witnesses that God is in charge…of our lives and of the world! Peter and James and John were “witnesses” of Jesus’ transfiguration on that holy mountain in today’s Gospel. Now, it’s true that Jesus told them not to share what they had seen until he had risen from the dead. But after he was raised on that first Easter morning, those three disciples, and all the others, preached that message all over the Mediterranean world and finally to the ends of the earth. We’re to do the same thing!
Secondly, we are to teach, baptize, and nurture new believers. That’s what the Church is for. It’s to be a place of Bible study and teaching…a place to baptize and confirm people (like we are doing here today!)…and a place to be nurtured by Word and Prayer and Sacrament so that our faith may continue to grow!
Next, we are to respond to human need by loving service. I don’t know all the ways you do that here at St. Andrew’s Pentecost Church, but I know that you do. I know you’ve done Thanksgiving dinners for the lonely and have contributed to women’s outreach programs in Nigeria. And I’m sure there are other ways that you provide direct services to those in need. But we also need to work to transform the unjust structures of society. That’s the fourth “mark of mission.” Someone once said that we can either keep pulling people out of the rushing stream, or we can go upstream, find out who’s throwing them in, and make them stop!
I noticed just ten days ago, at the Church of England’s General Synod, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of his grave concern for our fellow Christians in Nigeria who are under threat at the hands of one of the most extremist Islamic organizations in the world, Boko Haram. He said, “We are talking in Nigeria not simply about a few incidents of interfaith conflict…we are talking about a threatened disintegration of a society…”
And after his words, the Synod unanimously passed a resolution requesting the British government to do all it can “to support those in Nigeria seeking to protect religious minorities of all faiths and enable them to practice their religion without fear.” Sometimes, specific acts of loving service are not enough. Actions must be taken to address systemic injustice! And that’s why the Anglican Communion is so important… so that we can stand in solidarity with one another around the world.
And finally, as Christian “missioners” today, we are to play our part in taking care of Mother Earth – this “fragile earth our island home” as our Prayer Book describes it. That can be as simple as re-cycling our garbage or trying not to litter as we move about the city or it can be as complicated as supporting the efforts of our government to move to cleaner energy sources which will do less damage to our land, our water, and the very air we breathe.
In the Old Testament lesson today, Elijah passed along his mantle as a prophet to his friend, Elisha. Today, it has been passed to us! In the Epistle, St. Paul reminds us that we are not to proclaim ourselves, but that we are to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake. And, once again, on that Mountain of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John see Jesus standing alongside Moses and Elijah, and seem to hear a voice saying “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.”
That’s what we are here to do today. We are to catch a vision of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And we are to ‘listen to him.” But, more than listen, we are to respond to him in mission. As we prepare to confirm two new members today, please join with them in rededicating yourself to that mission. The mission we will now renew by rehearsing our Baptismal Covenant!