Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Sermon Easter 2 2012

Acts 4:32-35
1 John 5:1-6
John 20:19-31

North Korea, that eccentric and isolated state, caused alarm again last week by its plans to send up a rocket to put a satellite into orbit. Those plans were regarded by many as a cover for testing an intercontinental missile. Missiles are scary things, particularly when the people building them have atom bombs and are fixated by an ideology that most of the world regards as deranged.
In the event, however, the North Korean test failed, so perhaps its neighbours are now a little less agitated than they were.
This may seem a curious introduction to today’s Gospel, but there is a connection. The word “missile” is part of a family of words which share the same root. Others include mission, Mass, and missal, and all derive from the Latin for “to send”.
Sending is mission. And today the risen Lord appears to the disciples in the upper room, and sends them. But unlike the sending of a missile with its threat of hostility and violence, this is a mission of peace.
“Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”
As we have been seeing during Easter week, in John’s Gospel the resurrection is really the beginning of the story of the disciples. Mary Magdalene, Peter, John and today Thomas are brought into a new relationship when they meet the risen Lord. The meeting completes their journey into faith, liberating them from the various ways in which they have been in captivity to sin and death.
Meeting with the risen Lord enables them to believe and so enter into the life which Jesus shares with the Father in the Holy Spirit. The resurrection means coming to live in God in whom there is no death.
Today Jesus spells out more of what that means. The life of God is not something static and self-contained, but is super-abundant, inexhaustible, continually pouring itself out in the work of creation. God’s utterly vivacious loving alive-ness bursts out in all directions.
Jesus has been sent into the world, the Son of the Father, the eternal Word, to complete the work of creation, to bring all to perfection and to enable the creation to share the life of God. And the risen Lord has opened the way to the Father, so that we can enter in and live with his life. That means we also share in the movement of that life into creation. The resurrection draws us into the sending of the Son and enables us to become its continuation in the world. Those who believe in Jesus become part of God’s movement into creation to redeem creation.
That is what the church’s mission is. It arises from the heart of God and pours itself out into the world. It is a Divine movement that we receive and participate in. We are sent. The mission of the church is not something we devise ourselves. Just as Baptism and the Eucharist are things we receive and participate in, because they are part of that same sending, part of that same movement of God into the world. Baptism and Eucharist constitute the Body of Christ, his presence and his mission in the world. This is why one of the words for the Eucharist is the Mass, the “sending”. This derives from the dismissal at the end, “ite missa est”, go, you are sent, go in the peace of Christ. The Mass reconstitutes us as the sending, the mission, of God, bearing his peace into the world.
The mission that Christ gives us is peace, forgiveness, and witness to the risen Lord. Its purpose is to bring people into that relationship of faith in which we can say “my Lord and my God”, in which we receive and participate in the very life of God.
All churches are now supposed to have mission statements, a description of the work that we believe God is calling us to do in our particular context. That’s an important thing. For too long the idea of mission was synonymous with foreign mission, that is sending people to far flung corners of the world to preach the gospel to those who had never heard it. That is an important aspect of mission. But we must not forget that the church is God’s mission in the world, everywhere. Home and abroad. We are sent as the Church, here. We have a mission, here.
But mission statements must be how we interpret and live the mission we have received, not something we construct ourselves. Peace, forgiveness, witness to the risen Lord, and bringing people to faith, are the core. Without those elements whatever we do is simply not the mission of the Church. Social activism by itself, however good, is not what Christ was sent to do and not what we are sent to do.
There is a social gospel, but only because there is a gospel. Care for the marginalised and needy necessarily follows from the fact that there is Good News. The truth that God in Jesus has freed us from the old order of sin and death spills over into every aspect of life that is still under the sway of sin and death. The Gospel, necessarily, is about liberation for all. But it begins with the Good News of Jesus.
Sometimes I think we as the church need to recover confidence in the mission we have received, the movement of God into creation in which we are caught up. Occasionally, exceptionally, I come across churches or clergy who seem to be very busy doing all kinds of good things in the community, but who seem to lack confidence in the basic beliefs that ought to be motivating all this activism.
St Francis is supposed to have said, “preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words”. There is a place for that but it is perhaps a little over quoted. It can be too ready an excuse for those who are embarrassed about making up-front claims for faith. Faith does actually need words. Now we are not all speech makers, we are not all teachers, not all apologists for Christian doctrine. But as the first letter of St Peter says, “always be prepared to give an account of the hope that is within you, but do it with gentleness and respect.”
In one way or another, the answer to the question, “why do we care?”, comes back to the hope that is within us because Christ is risen.
We have met the risen Lord and been called by him, sent by him. He has drawn us into God’s mission, which is his own mission, to bring peace and forgiveness to the world. We are sent as witnesses of his risen life, to bring the world into the relationship into which he has drawn us, the relationship of love, peace, and forgiveness. The relationship in which we share the very life of God.
Because Christ is risen, because he has called us, he has sent us to bring all the world into the embrace of that relationship with him in which we say “my Lord and my God”.

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