In a meditation, Frank Wade, the one time interim dean of Washington National Cathedral, asks, “Why are we called followers of Christ?” To which he answers, “Because Christ is going somewhere.”
The active nature of our faith is at the heart of what it means to call ourselves Christians. Throughout the Gospel, as illustrated in our lesson today, Jesus is active. Even when he tries to take a break, the people follow him and he tends to them as a shepherd to a lost flock. The crowds swell, the number of people in need of his healing or good news grows, and yet he doesn’t let the size of the task deter him. He keeps going.
By the example of the one we follow, we aren’t a static people. Yet we humans, including those of us who call ourselves Christians, have a tendency to want to stay put.
In our lesson from 2 Samuel, David recognizes that he has finally achieved a sort of peace and that his kingdom is beginning to flourish, so much so that he’s built a lovely palace for himself. Not thinking it right for him to have a palace and the Ark of the Covenant to remain in a tent, he proposes to build for God a temple, in other words, a place to stay put.
Yet God reminds David through the prophet Nathan, that our God is a God on the move. God had led David from the pasture into battle with Goliath and then into kingship and then through many battles and was continuing to drive David on. There was no time for staying put. God would create God’s own temple and it would be in the hearts of followers who had been sanctified through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. And this temple of people, with Christ himself as the chief cornerstone, would be a temple that could remain on the move.
To settle in or travel lightly is a perennial balancing act facing that temple, the Body of Christ. The 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City, Utah has only recently completed is triennial work and how best to bear witness to God’s dynamic presence in the world continued to drive the conversation. I know that many of us might not even have been aware that our church was meeting in its triennial legislative gathering. Salt Lake City is a long way from Mezzogiorno. What happens in our church outside of the parish is lost on many of us, and, to be honest, for good reason. So often, what’s happening at the general church level seems to have little to do with the daily life of ministry in our communities. The only time that we’re aware of general church events is when parish life is interrupted by your dear Rector being away for a month or when church events land in the opinion sections of the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times.
Had I not been on sabbatical with you good people, I too would have been there with Fr Austin. But between you and me, I’ll take Rome over Salt Lake City any day.
The body of Christ is supposed to be agile because the body of Christ is going somewhere. Yet this branch of the one body, The Episcopal Church, seemed, at times, to have fallen asleep. Like the leg that goes numb after having been crossed for too long, The Episcopal Church had lost touch with the greater portion of the Body.
Certainly good ministry was being done. People encountered Christ and were brought into the fellowship of his people. As a denomination, however, things were in a downward spiral.
Yet as a leg that has fallen asleep begins to tingle as it wakes up, I report to you that the vigorous tingles of awakened life are moving through all levels of The Episcopal Church.
From maintenance to mission: it’s an overused old adage, yet one that describes this moment in our history perfectly. Christ is going somewhere and The Episcopal Church, as a denomination, has begun a process to allow it to be ready and able to follow.
The church is making the decision to become more relevant in the lives of ministry within our individual congregations and communities. Through resources like mission initiative grants, the general church is having a direct impact on local congregations. The Joel Nafuma Refugee Center recently won just such a grant through the Episcopal Churchwomen United Thank Offering grants. By the example of our denomination, we are then encouraged to examine our own way of doing things to insure that we’re willing and able to follow Christ where he leads, even if that means leaving behind ways of doing things that had become comfortable.
St. Paul’s made a major transition in its life and ministry when the crypt those many years ago became first a home for artists, including Andy Warhol at one point, then a meeting place for folks in recovery programs, and then finally the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center. This is what dynamic ministry looks like. As the needs of the world around us change, our work and ministry changes. If we truly desire to be Christ in the world today, we must remember that Christ didn’t settle down and watch the world move on around him. He stepped squarely into the middle of that continuing movement.
Why was it that we’re called followers of Christ? Because Christ is going somewhere. Pray that we go with him.