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Sunday, May 13, 2012

St. Michael's -Austin, TX

A copy of the sermon I gave at St. Michael's:

Let us pray:
Heavenly Father,
We surrender the center space
and beg You come and occupy it.
We thank you for changing us
so that our leadership in mission is worth following.

As I stand before you today, I recognize that many of you have walked with God longer than I have, and that you may have been part of St. Michael’s long before my family appeared. For that, I am quite humbled to be the lay speaker for today.

I recently attended a discernment retreat that focused on Episcopal mission work. The retreat was geared toward Young Adults, was put on by the National Episcopal Church, and was part of a larger program that sent participants abroad for long-term mission work. Throughout the retreat, there were two questions that became a reoccurring theme:

What is Mission? (and, How do Episcopalians define ‘mission’?)
What is the Church’s role in mission?

These questions tend to elicit an array of answers. Anyone who has served on a committee tasked with drafting a ‘mission statement’ can attest that it is sometimes difficult to put their unifying purpose into written form. Each church parish in this Diocese has formed their own mission statement, each parish has multiple programs within their community that have a uniquely expressed mission, and within each of us lies our own personal values which drove us to be a part of the church community in the first place.

Each of these ministries may have different functions….yet somehow, we know that we are all bound together by an underlying purpose. Sometimes we don’t even consciously recognize it; we just know.

This morning’s reading from Acts (Acts 4:5-12) shows the earliest movements of the church, where we see the Disciples spreading the word of God and stirring the community to believe in His message. Having witnessed firsthand their teacher’s lessons and miracles, watched as He was executed in the most painful way imaginable, and felt unforeseen joy when they see Him risen three day later, these Disciples have every reason to be unabashed in their faith. They have no doubt that their teacher is indeed the Savior of the world, and they are pursuing this with unapologetic fervor.
It is one of the earliest moments of Christ-following. These disciples are laying the groundwork for Christ-centered fellowship. They are meeting in each others’ homes, they are performing miracles in Jesus’ name, and in all their actions they are uplifting others’ faith like light illuminating a dark room. And they are driven by their unifying mission.

These disciples –the same disciples who once abandoned Jesus to die – experienced Jesus’ final teaching before he ascended to heaven. Having risen from death, Jesus summons his followers and says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18b-20 -NIV). This charge, this Great Commission, is what drove the Disciples to tell others the wonder they had seen. This is the point at which Christianity as we now know it was born.

In response to the original question “What is Mission?”, mission is, in my experience, accepting that there is a God who took your place on the cross out of love, and allowing that belief to be the central pillar of your life. It is sharing your unique expression of Christ to others, and allowing others to share their unique expression of Christ with you. This ministry is meant to be relational –it compels you to do good with others

The times in which we truly felt welcomed by a church family, or uplifted by a parish ministry, occurred when we felt an authentic, sincere relationship forming with another individual. The reconciliation that God desires does not occur exclusively in solace –it requires an intimate level of communion with fellow Christ-followers. Our mission, as charged to us by Jesus Christ, brings us into the lives of others in an inspiring, healing, sometimes messy yet inextricably harmonious way. That is what mission is to me.

…And we have an opportunity to further our mission work in an exciting way. The discernment retreat I referred to at the beginning of this homily was for an Episcopal Missions program called the Young Adult Service Corps. I am happy to say I have been accepted into this program, and will be going to Grahamstown, South Africa for a year of service beginning this fall. Duties will include living in a Anglican Monastery, teaching at a Holy Cross school on the Monastery campus, and being an active member of the local Anglican communion. And much like your walk with God flourishes when you share your faith with others, so do our ministries require a communal effort to truly be Christ-centered. I’d like you to consider joining this ministry with prayers and financial support. Like all ministries, this is not done alone –it needs your help. I will be available after this service to answer any questions you have, and, if you so desire, give you the form to make a financial offering. I also have information you can take home to pray about if you wish.

I would like to conclude with a prayer I first heard on the aforementioned retreat, and as we pray this together, my hope is we all can be open to the ways God is calling us to further engage in our unifying mission –both today, and forever more. 

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire
in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. 

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