Category Archives: Mission

Sent

J Appears to His Friends

Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 4:32-35

Psalm 133

1 John 1:1-2:2

John 20:19-31

The Christian faith is bookended by two great mysteries:

the mystery of the Incarnation and the mystery of the Resurrection

During the season of Christmas we hear the truth that God came to dwell among us as an infant, completely dependent on human kindness.

And now in the season of Easter we declare that this same child grew to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God and was wrongfully arrested and executed for it.

But not only that, but after all seemed lost, after his shameful death and the scattering of his followers in confusion, Jesus was raised from the dead, triumphing over sin and death.

But, if you were one of his disciples, in those days after his death, would you be ready to believe his resurrection was about to happen?

Imagine you are Peter or Martha, and Mary Magdalene comes to you on that morning and tells you that she has seen Jesus and that he is not dead but alive.

Would you believe it?

Suppose that while you are there, Jesus suddenly appears among you.

And it is not a ghost or mass hallucination.

Instead he is there and you see the marks on his body, the marks that showed how terribly he died.

And he does not upbraid you for not believing but instead says, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Hear that phrase again: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

This one you have loved so much, who has been murdered so violently, he says to you simply: “Peace.”

And then next Jesus breathes on you – literally giving the breath of God — the Holy Spirit.

And then he tells you that if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.

This is the core of what Jesus has sought to teach his disciples – he has come to grant the peace of God, found especially in the forgiveness of sins.

In that moment of receiving the Spirit, the disciples grasp who Jesus truly is.

And they grasp who they are – apostles – apostle in the New Testament Greek meaning those sent to continue the mission of God in Christ on earth.

But suppose you were not there at that pivotal moment.

Suppose you are Thomas.

For whatever reason, you were not there when Jesus appeared to the others that Easter Day.

And you wonder if all they said is really true.

But then you, Thomas, receive a gift – Jesus appears to you and the other disciples a week later.

And you see all that the disciples saw before.

And you too fully grasp who Jesus was in that moment and you worship him as your Lord and God.

I think John is telling us that in the act of recognizing who Jesus truly is; that act also makes Thomas an apostle, a sent one.

And so here we are.

We are all like Thomas in our own ways.

We were not there when Jesus was raised from the dead.

And yet every week we are called to proclaim this great mystery of the resurrection.

Indeed Jesus says of people like us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (20:29).

The Apostle Paul says that to the world, believing that someone was raised from the dead can seem like great foolishness.

So why do we believe?

For each one of us that believing has different beginning points.

But I would venture that for most of us we believe because our hearts have been touched by someone who spoke the good news of Jesus to us.

It could have been your mother or father, a friend, a teacher, a counselor, a pastor.

I would argue then that the message of the good news of Jesus has come to us through apostles in our day, ones who have been sent to us in our lives.

And to go one step further, the one who brought you to the gospel, that person had been brought there by other apostles who had proclaimed the gospel to them.

Now, let us consider that if there are about 25 years in a generation then we could imagine a line of about 80 people between the ones who proclaimed Jesus to us and those first apostles who encountered the risen Jesus two thousand years ago.

Imagine that line of 80 people extending from the pack of the church all the way up to the altar.

Imagine the ones who have gone before you — the ones sent out to proclaim “what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands” (I John 1:1).

We are the ones now sent to proclaim the Good News of the Risen Christ.

As you come up to this altar and as you sit in your pew while others receive communion, imagine us all flowing up to the altar seeking the risen Christ and meeting him there and returning again to our seat, sent from the altar as his apostles in the world.

Christ is risen, let us go forth from here as his apostles, his pierced hands and pierced feet in this world.

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Ashes to Go, Blessings on the Way

For the first time today I participated in Ashes to Go. I joined other people from St. David’s in Austin at the corner of 6th and Congress in front of the Starbucks for 90 minute shift.
I would guess that in the time we were there we imposed ashes on about 60 people. Maybe more. Several things struck me during my time there.
First, people came with openness. Many were appreciative, saying they were not able to get to church and felt the need to have the ashes in any way they could. About half said before receiving ashes that they were Roman Catholic. I was not always sure what they meant by this. All of us imposing ashes simply affirmed their identity and offered them ashes. The attitude of all who received ashes was profound gratitude.
Two encounters stand out for me. One was when several of us imposed ashes on about half of a Segway tour group. The other was when we gave ashes to a Christian from Iran. I don’t think her church in Iran had a custom of imposing ashes but she explained she had just moved to America and wanted the ashes as a sign she believed in Jesus. We gave her a card that we gave to every person that included a list of services for St. David’s. She seemed profoundly moved and said she would come to visit.
Some of my clergy colleagues and I had a Facebook discussion today about where the Easter equivalent to Ashes to Go is. If on Ash Wednesday we offer a public witness in preparation for Lent, when does that happen for Easter? Of course, a public action on Easter Sunday might not be as effective downtown or at commuter stations. But what if something was done on Easter Monday? What if we offered a blessing of the baptismal waters from the Easter Vigil? What if we offered a blessing in the name of the Risen Christ? What if we offered to all those people who pass by us a Blessing on the Way?

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On Maps and Mission

So I have been looking at the recently released data from the 2010 US Religion Census. The Episcopal Church has 1.9 million members according to the latest figures. (This is down from the historic high water mark of 3.4 million in the 1960s.) In most US counties where TEC is present (and there are plenty where it is not), the average number of Episcopalians is at or below 1% of that county’s population. Now, as the Crusty Old Dean has reminded us, the Episcopal Church has never been numerically large. But the visual graphics are striking.  Here is the map I am talking about:

So, red is the highest population of Episcopalians (mostly around Native American reservations), clocking in at 5% or higher of the population. Then you get a nice smattering of oranges in the traditional East Coast bases of the church. But even there we are only talking about 1% to 4.99% of the population. Then the yellows and greens (like where I live in California) show where less than 1% of the population is part of the Episcopal Church. Then take a minute and look at all the grey area. County upon county where the Episcopal Church is not present. Sure, you can point to the middle of the country and say, well, no one lives there.  But that would be a lie. And you see many counties with solid population centers. The Episcopal Church just is not there.

Some would look at this map and see a map of the decline and near-collapse of the Episcopal Church.

Not me.

I look at that map and see a great option for the mission of proclaiming the Anglican way of living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I don’t see decline.  I see new opportunities for ministry and mission.

Do you?

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