Missional Community


            If you have sat in the pews of church over the years, and listened to a few sermons, you are aware that each of the Gospel writers bring a unique spirit to their telling of the Jesus story. 

Matthew is a churchman that wants the early Christians to see themselves as a body of believers with traditions and rites and good practice.  Mark is our story-teller, who wants you to experience the narrative of Jesus life seen through the Cross of Calvary.  John is the theologian, who expects you to understand the natures of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit … how they are the same God … and yet different in their relationship with each other, us and with the world.  And then there is Luke … Luke who is sometimes called the physician, because of a reference in the epistle to the Colossians, and because he has one or two more healing miracles than the other Gospels have.  But Luke is better known as a social justice advocate, and we see that emphasis early in his Gospel, in today’s reading.  Matthew also shares this story of Jesus’ first preaching gig in the Galilean countryside, that we read about in Luke’s Gospel this morning.  But Matthew, in his Gospel, recalls for us the part of the sermon where Jesus preaches about the great light that has dawned upon people who, as yet, had been dwelling in deep darkness.  Luke, on the other hand, writes about the words we read today in his Gospel.  Words that were first voiced by the third of the Isaiah prophets, who reminded the Jewish people that God would not only restore their community, but would also make them a light to the nations because of their choice to embrace God’s call to be people of justice and love.

            Words like those that we read in Luke’s Gospel this morning are powerful words.  They have historically fueled rallying cries for acts of justice and equality and compassion in our communities.  Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life we just celebrated this past Monday, regularly revisited the words of the prophet Isaiah in calling for a more just and equitable society.  Dr. King has had lots of company over the years.  Because this call to action has never been a solely Judeo-Christian calling.  People of all religious stripes have sensed that visceral call to support and uphold those who struggle in their lives … along with those who have no religious convictions, but who still believed in the sanctity of life and the right of all people to experience blessing in their lives.

            But these days we have another god in our lives that complicates this calling to love your neighbor and reach out to those in need … the god of social media.  A few taps on a cell phone … a few keystrokes on a laptop … and you too can potentially reach even more people than Dr. King reached at any of his rallies or speeches.  Sometimes, it seems harmless enough … but it is a platform that has the potential to offer immediate exposure to huge numbers of people on every continent on earth.  The problem is that it is a god that brings with it a disciple that is neither innocent, nor kind … that disciple is named “shame.”  Social media has the ability to shame you in ways that are both public and personal, and it puts its disciple to work in very effective ways.  Shame tries to convince you that if you are not an advocate for every cause that is lifted up for consideration on social media, then you are mean, or without compassion, or heartless.  It is a very subtle and insidious message.  If you don’t believe that, then ask a middle school girl what social media is like for her … it can be cruel.  Shame will not affirm your solidarity with any justice issue, unless you embrace every justice issue.

            My read of the Gospels – even Luke’s Gospel in which justice if front and center … is that this is not the way Jesus embraced the justice issues of his day.  Listen to the words that Jesus chose to highlight from the scroll of Isaiah that was the preaching text for this day at the Jerusalem temple when Jesus steps up to speak … today’s lesson … good news … release … recovery … freedom … favor.  Jesus always preached from a place of vitality and engagement … not shame and intimidation … Jesus preached honesty laced with love.

            When I think about that in my life, I find that I have always found myself drawn to places where hunger and homelessness are the present need.  I was involved in refugee resettlement both in my first parish and here at St. Peter’s not long after I was called as your associate pastor.  I’ve always been a financial supporter of our Lancaster Food Hub and served on the board when it was still called the Council of Churches.  I also have a sensitivity to gender issues, as I have a nephew who is gay, and faced some rough years in the 1990’s when he was coming out to the world.  St. Peter’s gets the tithe of my income, but beyond that I follow my passions in trying to help where I can in the justice issues that resonate with my heart and my spirit.  I would expect you to do the same.  I would hope and pray that the issues of justice in our world that call out to you … either because of circumstance in your family of friendship circles … or because they resonate in the deepest places of your heart … would be the places that receive a share of your time, talent and treasure.  That is the calling to which Jesus calls us.  Not one of shaming each other because your passions are not my passions … but of rejoicing that we have each found a place where Jesus call finds fulfillment in our hearing.

            Foster R. McCurley was a giant when I was a seminarian at the Gettysburg Seminary, even though he was a professor at the seminary up the pike in Philadelphia.  He wrote twenty-something books in his career, especially on biblical and preaching topics.  But the book that was my favorite of his was entitled, “A Vision for Mission.”  Thinking about our Mission Campaign, and our desire to create mission frontiers in this community, I came across these words, that speak to mission in general, and to our call to find those places where God compels our hearts to be his people at work in the world.  Hear McCurley’s words, in closing.

“Mission” is derived from a Latin verb meaning “to send.”  The Old and New Testaments abound in various forms of verbs meaning “to send,” This is typical of biblical expression, where the greater emphasis is placed on verbs than on nouns.  Theologically, then, “mission” (literally, “sending”) is the work of God by which God reaches out to the world in order to effect the divine will.  Therefore, one can speak of the “mission of the church” only in the most literal meaning of the word “apostolic”:  to be sent.

Foster McCurley, A Vision for Mission

May you find yourself sent to places that call you into God’s world as people of character and service.  May that calling serve God’s purpose for with whom you share your mission work.  And may that calling feed you in ways that only God’s Spirit can accomplish.  Amen.

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Rev. Craig Ross

Senior Pastor

The vibrancy of life here at St. Peter’s makes my service on our staff a joy and privilege. Visitation, teaching and preaching are the ministries that feed my pastoral identity, as together our staff and lay members share in our missional calling … Building a community of faith by God’s grace.

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