To say we’re living in extraordinary times is an understatement. And knowing that other periods in history may have been more overwhelming and chaotic is of little comfort, at least for me. However, what hasn’t changed is the Church’s call to mission. In fact, that call is more important and necessary than ever in light of the continued and accelerating signs of the declining relevance of the Christian faith in the West. While it is true that God did not send Christ Jesus into the world to solve all our problems, we cannot expect the Gospel and our faith to remain relevant to people in our day, or the generations that succeed us unless there is some perceived applicability of the Christian faith to the challenges and existential issues that affect the lives of young and old alike in our day.
To paraphrase Richard Rohr, in Jesus, God gave us a human heart we could love. While God can be described as goodness, as consciousness, as a moral force, the truth is, we don’t fall in love with abstractions. So God became a person “that we could hear, see with our eyes, look at and touch with our hands.” (1 John 1:1). Love - God Incarnate – always begins with particulars: this woman, this man, this Jesus of Nazareth. It is the individual and the concrete that opens the heart space to embrace a life-changing I-Thou encounter. Without it, there is no true devotion or faith but only argumentative theories. We the Church are the particular reality that has the role of incarnating the continuing love and presence of God that makes an I-Thou encounter possible, that makes the sharing of our faith potentially relevant to those who have not heard or seen with their eyes this Jesus we serve and adore. That is all to say that Christian mission in our time must be personal, it must be relational. We must be willing to be among, and alongside those who are facing acute and chronic challenges in their lives, in their children’s lives, and in the communities in which they live and move.
The Church must move from a primarily transactional, i.e., from a charitable funding model for missional outreach to a relational model that includes, but goes beyond charity, and aspires to achieve transformation in the lives of our neighbors, both spiritual and physical. Mission and ministry of this kind must of necessity be a lifestyle adopted by the faith community, and if it is to be sustained and consequential over time, it must be truly relational to effect transformation in the lives of our neighbors that glorifies God; parenthetically I would add in our own lives as well.
Moving from a transactional to a relational model for mission requires that we identify opportunities in our community to engage and begin developing relationships that offer the opportunity to understand the needs and challenges of our surrounding community. Engaging in these relationships inevitably evokes empathy and compassion, and a better understanding of the root causes influencing outcomes. Improving outcomes for neighbors must be a mutual effort that preserves dignity for all, that achieves community development that can provide a sustained quality of life and the potential for flourishing, and that builds strong partnerships that have the potential to meet current as well as future challenges.
Just as in the 1st century when God chose to reveal himself and his love for the world in a particular person, the man Jesus of Nazareth, in a particular time and a particular place, the 21st century desperately needs to know God’s love and experience his presence through the agency of his people. As the Body of Christ, It is our calling and our privilege to be the particular witness before the watching world of Christ’s presence and power to redeem and restore all to a life-giving relationship with God and with one another. It is for these reasons that St. John the Divine has initiated the Community Engagement Project (CEP), a journey of discernment leading to the development of relationships and actions that have the potential to change our shared community in ways that glorify God and bless our neighbor. Be looking for more information in January 2022 when The Rev. Dr. Leigh Spruill and other St. John’s leaders will present an overview and status report on the CEP.
Learn more about the vision behind this project at a special two-week class. Join us on January 16 and 23 in the Hall Life Center at the Sunday School hour (10:15 -11:00 am), or by livestream on the website or our YouTube channel. Keep up with developments in the project here. Sign up to hear about upcoming volunteer opportunities here.