Last Sunday after Epiphany.
We conclude the great missionary season of Epiphany this morning. I say “missionary” because this season has been all about the Light of Christ shining into the whole world, making it clear that the Good News of God’s love was not to be limited to any one religion or ethnic group, but was truly intended to be shared throughout the world. Because of that, this Sunday of the Church Year has been annually designated “World Mission Sunday” by The Episcopal Church.
Some of you may remember Fr. Bob North, a missionary to southern Sudan, being with us here at the Cathedral a couple of years ago. He was encouraging the Diocese of Iowa to build a relationship with a new diocese (and really a new country!) in South Sudan. Bishop and Mrs. Scarfe along with two priests from this diocese are in the Diocese of Nzara this very day to see if we can forge a new companion diocese relationship. Do keep them all in your prayers. Missionary work today is not so much about us taking the Gospel to them, but standing in solidarity with these new Christians in the two-thirds world, and indeed learning from them in the process. That’s the beauty of our companion diocese relationships!
We always read the Gospel story of The Transfiguration on this Sunday because it was one of the formative experiences for Peter, James and John as they were present at a powerful mystical experience of Jesus. And they realized –quite literally “in a flash” – that Jesus was the embodiment of the Law (represented by Moses) and the Prophets (represented by Elijah). This powerful encounter left them silenced for a time, but it did not take long for them to regain their voices and to be about their mission as Apostles…as those who are sent.
Well, you and I are the “sent ones” today. We’re the ones who are to share with our families, friends, and neighbors what we have discovered about God through Jesus and his Church, and to continue to let God’s light shine in our dark world today. Our Prayer Book Catechism says that “the mission of the Church is to restore all people…to unity with God…and each other…in Christ.” But that’s a pretty sparse definition, so the Anglican Communion has tried to flesh it out a bit, by adopting something called “The Five Marks of Mission.” It’s a kind of check-list for us to see if we are being about the mission of the Church. Our Presiding Bishop says that these Marks of Mission are “digital”…that is, you can count them on the five digits of one hand!
Mark #1 is “to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.” Obviously, it all starts there. We are to witness, by our words and our deeds, the extremely good news that God is in charge of this world, and that we are not! That’s what it means to live under the king-ship, the reign, the sovereignty of God…and to begin doing it right now!
Mark #2 is “to teach, baptize, and nurture new believers.” That’s why it is so important to support such programs as Godly Play and Journey to Adulthood, to have an Episcopal Youth Group, to participate in and support Diocesan programs for young people like New Beginnings and Happening. Our young people deserve, not only to baptized…but to be taught…and to be nurtured in the Faith. And it’s our responsibility to see that it happens!
Mark #3 is “to respond to human need by loving service.” St. Francis famously said, “Preach the Gospel always…if necessary, use words!” And, by that, he meant that serving other people is also a way to demonstrate that they are valued and treasured by their Creator, and that God, and God’s people, want only the best for them. That’s why Trinity Cathedral supports the PUNCH program with other churches in this area. “People Uniting Neighbors and Churches” is a way to respond to human need by loving service…right here in the neighborhood.
Mark #4 is “to seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind, and to pursue peace and reconciliation.” Some people are uncomfortable with the church speaking out in the public square, but “separation of church and state” does not mean that the church has no role in society. It means that the state may not establish any one religion in this country. The Church should never be “partisan” but she is sometimes “political” if that means seeking to challenge structures that oppress and hurt people. Sometimes, you can either keep pulling people out of a raging river one at a time, or you can go upstream and find out who’s throwing them in…and try to make them stop!
Finally, Mark #5 is “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” It has to be said that the Christian Church has not always taken our responsibility to this planet very seriously. And while it is true that the first Creation story in Genesis says that we are to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it,” (Genesis 1:28), the second account of Creation says that God put us in the Garden of Eden “to till it and to keep it” (Genesis 2:1). In other words, to be good stewards of the earth. Like a good farmer is to be a good steward of the land – so that it will bear fruit for years to come.
We will enter the holy season of Lent this week. Lent is a time of self-examination and repentance, of prayer, fasting and self-denial. But it’s not only a time for self-examination of our personal lives. It can be a time for the Church to do some self-examination of our own –corporately. Are we carrying out the mission of the Church here at Trinity Cathedral…in the Diocese of Iowa…in The Episcopal Church? Are we proclaiming the Good News? Nurturing our young people? Serving the poor? Speaking out against violence? Being good stewards of this beautiful world God has given us?
If not, there’s still time to repent. Still time to turn around and go in a new direction. Still time to heed the voice from the cloud who spoke to Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration: Look: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”