The readings for today seem to carry a central theme of becoming God’s agents of transformation. It seems to be heavily based upon an understanding that our call as Christians and members of the Body of Christ is much greater than our own personal survival or maybe one can prescribe to the revolutionary idea that our survival and success is based upon our willingness to participate in the work of Christ. We dwell in a time where it seems increasingly fashionable to live for ones own comforts and satisfaction. Today extreme narcissism seems to be unparalleled in the media and strains of it have become quite a large part of our daily lives. The new term being applied is mindlessness or having a lack of awareness which actually is just disconnecting ourselves from all that is impactful and important to those around us. As resources dwindle the tension between hoarding and communal sharing becomes increasingly intense; very much like Jesus and his disciples in the miracle of the five barley loaves and two fishes. How do we feed the multitude with so little? Must we exclude those who need us, or do we choose where we believe we may have the greatest impact? How much faith are we willing to exercise in order to overcome our mindlessness? How much should we really care about the needs and feelings of others?
If the Episcopal Church is to be an agent of transformation in this world, we must be willing to move. How can we move from being a church stuck in time and frozen within a framework of mindlessness and apathy to that of a movement driven by God’s Holy Spirit? Our Presiding Bishop Curry coins it “The Jesus movement”.
“We must start to subvert a static institutional identity in favor of becoming a dynamic, reputation-risking, radically inclusive, justice-oriented, deeply disruptive force in our community.”
How do we do this? How do we meet the needs of our congregations while still giving to our community? The answer remains the same “For they know we are Christians by our love” Yet, love come with a cost.
The price we pay is holiness, consecration prayer and sacrificial giving which provides us power to participate in a personal and community transformation one life at a time. Jesus can lift us into becoming transforming agents. His mandate was bold yet clear “Go make disciples. The making of disciples is about the willingness to both experience and reveal the effects of God’s transforming love. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” the Apostle Paul urges. Many of our urban churches are facing possible extinction because a spirit of fear and skepticism has invaded our minds. This may seem quite a natural response as the years of broken dreams and the constant cry for love, healing and repairing of the breach go unheeded.
In a recent article titled “One City, but Two Very Different Stories” in the Star Ledger, many residents of Camden were declaring that unlike the picture of tremendous success being broadcasted by those who have enriched themselves, there has not been much to celebrate for the residents. The reality of the residents was “A city where fresh food is as much a mirage as a good job.” A city in which hopelessness has become so thick that it seemingly can be cut with a knife. The urban Episcopal Church is not immune. It is that city in which St. Augustine has just declared its own death.
Many of our members are investing more time and energy in other places rather than seeing the church as a viable place to explore ministry. For many in our communities the church has become an institutionalized and insular structure which, in many, ways have made us become quite culpable in our own demise.
Many of our members are doing fantastic and extraordinary work outside of our churches. Many sororities and fraternities are active in our communities helping young people find their way to colleges and jobs. Many have chosen not to share in our corporate ministry and would greatly invest in community work. This is not to condemn but maybe they find these outside interests more meaningful because they can better see the work of transformation through these institutions, organizations, and through corporate giving. Black churches are now competing with sororities, corporations, and social agencies whose work and ministry they previously were shared.
This leaves the Church struggling to eke out a new identity and a renewed understanding of who we are really called to be. But my friends, this is the Good News! We have been here before! The early followers of Christ were bonded together not by buildings and structures but by a vision of hope and renewal as preached and taught by Jesus Christ. Our call is not to become a reflection of the community, but to become agents of transformation. We are called to be the experts on the topic and ministry of LOVE! The disciples bought into a vision of God’s love as expressed through human compassionate acts, before it became a reality. The early Christians turned the world upside down! Our ancestors turned their communities upside down by believing even before they fully understood their missions. We have churches built on which were once open fields. This means that it may come a time when we may not have buildings but will still have a God who is inspiring us to do things in a profoundly different way.
The Church needs to raise a new crop of leaders who are first willing to believe in the work of Christ and the higher call to become Kingdom builders rather than being gate keepers. One of the most difficult challenge of God inspired leadership is the struggle of those who are co-leaders to buy into the awesome power of God. From Abraham, Moses, Joshua, through Jesus, Paul and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the challenge was just as great when either facing one’s opponents to that of shoring up the support of those who were close and involved in the movements. It can easily become a tiresome burden; Abraham and Lot parted ways, Moses broke the first set of 10 commandments Tablets, Jesus cried out for the disciples just to stay awake, Paul and Barnabas disputed over John Mark, MLK fell out with James Bevel. Yet the work must go on!
My friends, for us to overcome these challenges it is important to hold fast that the work of transformation is ongoing. It is revolutionary, but it is most importantly, Holy Spirt inspired. It is that Holy Spirit which created the world out of nothing, it made a believer out of skin sick Naaman, The Holy spirit made men out of cowards and inspired women to become space ship captains and soccer champs. It is that same Holy Spirit to whom we turn for fresh inspiration and renewed hope. In the end it is all we have to offer to world. And in the end, it is the most satisfying!