Reprinted from the Associate Pastor's column in the May edition of my congregation's newsletter.
The calendar says May. This is true.
But for many people in the church, including myself and many of our committees, our minds are not on Mother’s Day plans or Memorial Day cook-outs (OK, our minds might be there, too!). Much of our attention has turned to the fall, when the new program year begins.
And whether it is in regards to Sunday School and Confirmation Ministry, or to the fall Stewardship Campaign, or to our congregation’s ongoing Evangelism efforts, many of us are asking the same questions:
• What is the mission of the church?
• What are we called to do?
• Who are we called to be?
• Who are we, as the people of God at Resurrection Evangelical Lutheran Church?
We’re asking these questions because the ways we answer them go a long way to determining how we carry out our ministries. For example, as our education ministries look ahead to next year, we inevitably ask “what should we teach?” and “what kinds of programs should we offer?” These questions are answered in large part by how we ask those central questions of our congregation’s mission and identity.
So, what is the church? From our Lutheran tradition and our denomination’s governing documents we read that the church is “the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel.” Church is that gathering around Word and Sacrament, that event of faith that happens when the Word of God collides with our human experience, killing us in our sin and raising us up in the newness of our Lord’s resurrection life.
But what does that mean for us here at Resurrection? Churches around the country and around the world subscribe to this teaching, and yet they each live into it so differently. How do we embody this Word and Sacrament understanding of church here at Resurrection? How do we encounter the Word of God in worship, prayer and study? How do we let ourselves be challenged by this Word, comforted by the Word, killed by this Word, and raised up by this Word? And how does our encounter with this Word shape the way we carry out the various ministries that we have here, both those that govern our life inside the congregation and those that lead us into the world to serve and proclaim?
Yes, something is happening here at Resurrection that is leading many of us to discern anew our mission, purpose, and vision. This is a healthy and faithful thing for us to do.
One of my favorite Bible stories is the tale of two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). These disciples were walking to Emmaus and away from Jerusalem, feeling quite dejected following the crucifixion of Jesus. A stranger came and walked with them, and they spoke about the tragic events of the previous few days. The stranger then interpreted scripture to these disciples, showing them how the events of the crucifixion fit into the story of God’s relationship with Israel as told in the scriptures. This stranger shared the Word with these disciples.
Then, at the end of the day, the disciples urged this stranger to stay with them to break bread. And so he gave thanks over bread, broke it, and shared it with them. At that moment, in the breaking of the bread, they recognized that this stranger was the risen Lord himself.
This encounter with God – come to them as a stranger, in Word and Meal – transformed the disciples, and sent them immediately back to Jerusalem to sing his praises and live a new life of hope and promise.
As we seek to answer the questions that surround us here at Resurrection, let us commit ourselves to encounter God in the Word and Sacrament through worship, Bible study, prayer and service. Indeed, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that the first step in the life of faith is putting ourselves in a situation where faith can happen – in church, in Bible study, in Christian fellowship, in service to our neighbors. As we continue to engage in these core Christian practices, and as we bring our questions about our mission and identity to these practices, the Holy Spirit will lead us into a future that is faithful, hopeful, and fruitful … and will send us forth with hearts burning and mouths full of God’s praise.