May 12, 2013, Easter 7 – Refueling
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A week from tomorrow Roseanna and Victoria and I, and my son Nicholas, are leaving for a road trip, driving down to North Carolina to see the 8 Boswells that live there, and then up to Cornwall-on-Hudson to see the 6 Boswells that live there. It’s a pretty long trip, and we’ve been saving up for months because we’ll have to stop for food and gasoline along the way. Without re-fueling and rest, for us and for the car, we wouldn’t be able to do what we really want to do, which is to be with all those people we love and miss so much. A lot of what makes the trip fun is having one another’s excellent company and finding good food and nice places to stop and rest – all those things keep us well-nourished in every way as we travel all those miles.
There is a quote I love by Catherine of Siena – I love it so much that I have it written in the front of my Bible – where she talks about the church as a kind of re-fueling station: a place of safety and refreshment for God’s people. She wrote: “the hostelry of Holy Church is there to serve the bread of life and the blood, lest the journeying pilgrims, my creatures, grow weary and faint on the way.” I think that is a really helpful and important picture for us of what the Church is meant to be, and also of who we are, God’s journeying pilgrims, carrying out his mission in the world..
God’s mission is to bring healing and light to his world, and the way he does that is by his presence in each of our lives. We think of missionaries as people that go live in the jungle, people with some kind of special calling. But actually, you are all missionaries, because you are all sent into the world every day to be Christ to the people around you. God’s mission is not a Sunday thing, it’s an everyday thing, and it is carried out by each of us in our everyday lives of work and play, family and friends, in the waiting room at the doctor’s office and in the checkout line at the grocery store. When people wanted Jesus to only do his works at appropriate and dignified times he told them simply, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” God’s mission is a 24/7 thing.
If we tried – as Christians often do – to be Lone Ranger Christians, we would soon run dry and our mission would stop being fruitful in the way God means it to. Service without God has a way of very quickly becoming self-serving, and “me and God” has a way of quickly becoming just “me”. At worst we end up cynical and hopeless – at best we just wear ourselves out. And that is why God in his wisdom and mercy ordained for the Church to be a way station for us, because when we come together as a Church we are refreshed and nourished and strengthened, re-fueled in lots of different ways.
First, whenever we gather in his name, God has promised that he is always present among us, and we are strengthened just by being with him, the way a sick child feels better just knowing that her mother is sitting beside the bed, or the way our hearts leap for joy when we are alone and we hear the voice of the person we love and know that they are home.
Another way we are nourished is by feeding on Holy Scripture. When we read the Bible, especially when we read it altogether, we remind one another what is true, because it is easy to forget in the day-to-day slog of our lives that we belong to the kingdom of heaven. We were fed today when we heard the glorious words of Revelation, where Jesus proclaims: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” Those majestic words help to put our own lives and troubles in perspective; like the hymn that goes, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus…and the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace”
We are fed by the liturgy of church, especially I think in our tradition, which points beyond itself to what is true and realer than “real” – the candles, and the music, the symbolism of the vestments and the rituals of the Mass all nourish our hearts with what we call “the beauty of holiness,” as we are lifted up to join our voices in prayer with the angels in heaven and with all the people of God in all times and all places.
And then, what is most holy and perfect of all is the nourishment that Jesus himself instituted for us to receive, that which Catherine of Siena spoke of, which was the mystery of the Eucharist, where God’s people are fed with the true body and blood of the Lord.
And this Church that gathers together as God’s people, his children loving and worshiping him and caring for one another, is not only a place of renewal for us; it is also the main way that Jesus makes himself known to the world. – But people don’t always know how that works, because they don’t always understand or remember what the Church is. Sometimes people begin to think of the Church, not as a gathering of people, but as an organization, kind of a Jesus Inc., and they begin to think that it is the job of the “church” as an organization to carry out God’s mission, as if the Church was just meant to be a sort of holy Social Services Department, and as if ministry means setting up programs to solve people’s problems. But that is a false picture of what the Church is meant to be. God has not entrusted his mission to an organization.
And you might be surprised to hear that it isn’t primarily the job of the clergy to carry out God’s mission, either. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, said, “he gave the shepherdsand teachers, to equip the saints – that’s you – for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” My job is to feed you and strengthen you and give you the tools you need to go out into the world carrying the love and joy of Jesus into all the places you live and work and play. When you are nourished and re-fueled you are able to go out and be Christ in your part of the world.
Because the real Church is you, the people of God. The real Church is not an organization. Jesus told us that when God’s people love one another, that is when the world sees the love of God. And the fellowship of the Church is not programs and focus groups; it is safe pasture for his people, a place of strengthening and rest whose doors are always open.
This has everything to do with the vision that God has given us for St. Philip’s: “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” As the family of God’s children Jesus calls us together, all of us who are weary and weighed down with the sorrows and worries of our lives, so that together we can find rest and refreshment. We come together on Sunday morning for worship, and also as we fellowship with one another during the week, to walk together or work together or pray together, or to share a meal or talk on the phone. Every time two or more gather in his name, he is there among us. And then, fed and strengthened by the Spirit and by one another, we are equipped to go back out into the world, fitted with the yoke of Jesus that is never too heavy for us, so that we can carry out our part of God’s mission, which is to be little Christs in our own individual places in this world.
When we think about being missionaries most of us probably think of doing big things, translating the Bible into obscure Indian languages or converting tribes of cannibals. But mission happens where you live, and mostly that means the small things. Mostly mission is in the way you make choices to make the world a little better, offering someone a ride to the doctor, caring for a sick animal, mowing the lawn for someone or remembering their birthday.
What Does the Lord Require?
6 “With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8 He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?