A Sermon Delivered by
The Reverend E. F. Michael Morgan, Ph.D.
Trinity Episcopal Church
May 12, 2019
From last Sunday’s Gospel we heard …
Jesus said to Simon Peter a third time – Do you love me?
Peter responded: Lord you know everything, you know that I love you.
Jesus then said to him – Feed my sheep.
And from this morning’s Gospel lesson, Jesus said:
My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.
Both these Gospel lessons this morning give us a foreshadowing of what we are called to believe, and what we are called to do as Christians. We gather the people, we tell the stories, we break the bread, and then as Jesus clearly states, we are told to ‘feed my sheep.’ This practice is rooted in our ancient liturgical traditions, and it still represents what we are about today as we gather as latter-day Episcopalians on Sunday morning to celebrate the Eucharist.
These days there are wide interpretations of what the church is supposed to be doing in addition to feeding the hungry. Some feel it is required to be more intentional about looking after its own flock, caring for the needs of faithful parishioners. Others claim that the purpose of the church is to reach out to those in need, and find creative ways to transform the world to be more Christ-like. And, as is the case with most things in life, there is truth on both sides. The mission of the church is an important topic that will likely be debated from generation to generation – assuming of course the church continues to survive and can maintain a spiritual place in an increasingly secular world. Here’s what some scholars are saying already about this particular religious theme of the church’s purpose.
Around the time of ”Y2K” (the year 2000 AD) in a book with a long-winded title called, “The Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church into North America,” the book’s publication was the first work to introduce the concept of a “missional church.”
According to “Missional” theology, the American church had been tied to a "Christendom model" of faith for centuries, wherein the church focused mainly on internal needs by sustaining the cultural privilege it held in society. The decline of Christendom, however, provided the church with an opportunity, these scholars said, to rediscover its identity as a people sent by God into the world as gospel-witnesses. The problem though is that such ideas often, if not inevitably, provoke resistance. The authors of Missional theology emphasized that "Missions" should not be one church program among many, but instead, should be the church's core identity; a place where witnesses are sent by God into the world.
Well let’s be honest. There’s a compelling argument to be made for a much deeper quest into the purposes of developing a congregation than ‘let’s get going.’ In any church’s life, for example, questions are raised regarding what is to be found at the point of departure; what is at the core of an emerging faith-community; and what makes a parish tick? Closer to home, we might well ask; what is Trinity Church’s “signature-piece?” What defines us? Is it 200 years of history: a beautiful building and aesthetic liturgy; a community kitchen that serves upward of 80 to 100 meals-a-day Monday through Friday; or a Canterbury outreach to WVU students? All these good deeds are currently in play – yet there may be even more activities going on behind the scenes. As the photos, inserts, and the back-page of our Sunday Bulletin ask: ‘WHO ARE WE?’ and ‘WHAT DO WE DO?’ Take a moment to read these materials – they’re very informative.
Let me also remind you, this religious inquiry is not unique to our own time or place, it was also occurring nearly 20 years ago at the turn of a new century and a new millennium. At the heart of any parish worth calling itself Christian, is the need to engage in honest conversation about the role of Jesus Christ in our lives, and how relevant the living-Jesus is for us in today’s world.
But let’s hold-on a moment before we get too caught-up in a complicated task of strategic planning. The simple truth is that not everyone is reading from the same page on this matter, and it takes skilled leaders to balance different, and sometimes competing, interests in a fair way. Simultaneously, it begs the larger, more significant question of what the church really stands for; how we’re connected to it; and who it is that we actually worship in our liturgical services. Do we worship -
The Holy Spirit?
Or perhaps even a Suffering Servant …. Jesus?
That last one gets us to the heart of the matter, the man Jesus, and what his role as the Messiah is in today’s church life. Here’s how a noted Biblical scholar described it.
“Only Jesus-of-Nazareth will save the church. It is not a wealth of doctrine or rigorous discipline that will regenerate the church, but the practice of Jesus, which is to say, what the historical Jesus said and did.” And it follows logically that it’s time to ask the basic question. Fundamentally, who was Jesus?
Here’s one answer.
Jesus taught us how to live as sons and daughters of God, as brothers and sisters to one another, in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, with moderation in the face of wealth, without discrimination against anyone, whether they are healthy or sick, sinner or saint, pagan or Jew; and to do so as committed and sometimes suffering-servants of every fellow human creature.
And here’s still another view of Jesus’ important role.
Jesus knew that some people use their religion, but others try to live it. Jesus never intended religion to be used to obtain social standing, networking opportunities, or power over others. Religion was intended to bring us life. It was clear in the teachings of Jesus own words that if religious practices ever got in the way of our relationships with others, then we were to set aside our rituals and repair our relationships first. Jesus’ priority was absolutely clear: “First be reconciled to your brother (and sister).” Then, follow God’s Commandments.
We need to recognize those views are still operative in today’s theological conversations of 2019-America; but I’ve noticed, and perhaps you have too, the discussions are becoming increasingly complex, confusing and contentious. Yet as long as we remain determined to work together in good faith and for the shared mission of Christ, we will prevail. Then we can say together the ancient and worthy acclamation that:
He is risen.
He is risen indeed.
Let’s commit to doing this ….
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
CREDITS, NOTES, & REFERENCES: available on request.