Preached at Christ Episcopal Church, Tacoma on July 21, 2013
The ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11, Year C)
I don’t know about you, but it’s very easy for me to procrastinate and be distracted by any number of tasks – especially when I have something really important to do that’s difficult to define and harder still to accomplish. Now the activities I may busy myself with are, in fact good and even important and necessary – but they’re a distraction from what I truly need to do at that time. You know, it’s just so much more satisfying when I know what to do, how to do it, and I can tell that it’s finished and it’s done well. And everyone else can see it, too.
Mary and Martha are both attending to the requirements of hospitality; Martha is attending to providing food for their guest while Mary attends to the guest himself. She is giving him her presence, her attention. Both are necessary and I’m sure Jesus will enjoy the meal Martha is busy preparing, but to many eyes, it appears that Mary is a slacker.
The church can get distracted, too. We can be very busy doing good, important, NECESSARY activities – often because they’re easily identified, described, measured, and completed. They can be checked off the to-do list and we can all feel successful. However, when we focus ALL of our attention and energy on those needed activities, do we ever ask ourselves how they relate to our core purpose? Do we even check to make sure that we’re focusing ANY of our energy and attention on that core purpose?
Paul writes about the purpose of the church in his letter to the Colossians. After singing this magnificent him about the glory of Christ – through whom and for whom absolutely everything was created and through whom absolutely everything has been reconciled to God – he brings it down to the local congregation. He says even you, this one little congregation, are the Body of Christ. Christ is in you. He has made you holy and blameless before God. And you have one purpose: to Proclaim Jesus Christ.
And there’s the rub, isn’t it? How do we proclaim Jesus Christ? What does that even mean? Who IS Christ to us? How can we even know if we’ve succeeded? It’s so much easier to hold a potluck, or clean out closets, or focus on the budget – all of which are good and important and necessary and MAY be used to further our core purpose or may be used to procrastinate.
In his book, Youth in the Community of Disciples, David Ng addresses this very topic. He reminds us of our essential identity and our central task when he enumerates the many purposes that distract us from our core purpose. These include:
- Entertainment, where worship leaders put on a show and everyone has fun
- Refuge – a sort of life raft in the sea of brokenness and evil that will keep us safe until Christ comes again. Here the goal is to keep everyone comfortable.
- Fellowship – forming and maintaining social relationships; everyone feels they “belong”. Of course this is important, but it’s not the core purpose.
No, the core purpose is to proclaim Christ.
We talked about the core purpose of the church at the College for Congregational Development, too. There we described the purpose as:
- To Gather the People of God as the Body of Christ,
- To Transform us, and then
- To Send us into the world as Transformative Agents for the Commonwealth of God.
It can be tempting to focus on the Gather part rather than on the Transform part and especially on the Transformative Agents part. After all, we can count how many people have Gathered and we can tell if there are new folks. But how do we transform lives? And how do we know if what we’re doing is working?
For that matter, Who are the new people? Are we Proclaiming Christ to those who don’t yet know Christ? Recently, I read a blog post titled,
“9 Signs Your Church Is Ready to Reach Unchurched People.” I’d like to share a few of them.
Your main services engage teenagers. The writer contends that if your Sunday morning service is boring, irrelevant, and disengaging to the teenagers in your church, it probably will be to unchurched people as well.
- Your members know unchurched people. It’s important to have relationships outside of church – people you know well enough that you would feel comfortable inviting them to church.
- Your members are prepared to be non-judgmental. Nuf said.
- You’re good with their questions and don’t feel the need to answer them. You’re comfortable letting them find their own answers.
- You’re honest about your own struggles. We’re not perfect, so let’s be honest about it; it opens a lot of doors, surprisingly.
I’ll stop there. If you’re interested you can read the rest of the post yourself.
What do you think? I know several of them made me pause. They remind us that it’s not all about us. They remind us that our purpose is to Proclaim Christ.
So, How do we proclaim Christ?
We Proclaim Christ when, like Martha, we feed hungry people. We Proclaim Christ when, like Mary, we attend and listen. We Proclaim Christ when we share our stories, telling how Christ has transformed our lives.
That’s why we’re here – to be transformed so that we may be the Body of Christ in the world; agents of transformation for the Commonwealth of God.
Let’s not be distracted, we’re here to proclaim Jesus Christ.