I was invited to give this year's mission of the church address the night before graduation. Please find below the address. We were blessed to receive an inspiring graduation address the next day from Bishop Curry which I will see if I can get a copy to post.
The Lemhi Pass is at the boarder of Montana and Idaho. There is a wooden fence there, a cattle guard crossing, and a logging road. One arrives there by way of the Missouri River from Fort Benton to Fort Peck Lake and the Lolo trail. And, when you stand there it looks as in many ways it looked when he stood there on the morning of August 12, 1805. It is pristine.
With friends nearby he made his way to the top. He described the event clearly in his journal. He wrote: "We proceeded on the top of the dividing ridge from which I discovered immense ranges of high mountains still to the West of us with their tops partially covered with snow."
Meriwether Lewis was the first white American to look on Idaho and the great northwestern range; the first to take a step out of the Louisiana territory onto the western side of the Continental Divide.
In that moment one can imagine two great worlds colliding. Two thoughts happening at the same time; neither one fully formed.
The first thought had to be the disheartening sight. Imagine "the shock, the surprise," John Logan Allen, historiographer and author, muses, "for from the top of that ridge were to be seen neither the great river that had been promised nor the open plains extending to the shores of the South Sea…the geography of hope [gave way] to the geography of reality."
The whole journey to find a western portage that one might travel from East to West across the United States by boat was a failure.
Everything he was sure of finding was not only not there it was never to be. The dream that had framed one year of study, preparation, and two years of travel across country to this pass was over.
The second thought was the sight of the great empire of the Americas. In that moment he took in with one measure from the east and all that lay behind him to the west and all that lay ahead the wealth and abundance of the new territory and the even greater spectacle of fertile land that was becoming the United States. In an age where transportation, energy, and food had not much changed since the Greeks Meriwether Lewis saw in its rawest form the wealth of a quickly forming nation that we were to become.
In that moment the reality gave way to a geography of hope.
Two thoughts not fully formed but coexisting. The momentforever changed who we were and were to become as Americans.
Two thoughts not fully formed; existing together at the same time.
We arrive at the coordinates of our Gospel and find ourselves firmly planted between the mission of Jesus and the mission of the disciples.
In John's Gospel, chapter 12 beginning at the 44th verse Jesus offers words not dissimilar to Moses as he prepared to leave his people. When Moses had finished speaking the words andcommandments God had given him, when he had completed his work in bringing the people out of Egypt and through the desert years to the very edge of the promised land he says:
Take to heart all the words that I am giving… give them as a command to your children, so that they may diligently observe all the words of this law. This is no trifling matter for you, but rather your very life; through it you may live long in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.
As we read and listen to Jesus' words in the Gospel of John werecognize the completion of his mission. Jesus has glorified God, and he has loved all those given to him until the very end.
To those who received the light in darkness he was living water in the desert. He was The Good Shepherd to all who followed. He called Nicodemus to come along; he healed the blind man. He raised Lazarus. He finished his work of bringing the people to the very edge of their journey from creation to the crossroads of salvation history.
The law they were to live was one of love; they were not to possess a land but be missionaries of the Gospel in all lands.
As the disciples listen I imagine that they hear Jesus speaking and experience the fullness of God's presence. He is for themthe shekhinah of God.
Perhaps they understood as Jesus speaks these words that he is the rock from which flowed living waters in Moses' desert, he is the manna which fell from heaven, he is the one upon whomIsaiah's eyes must have glimpsed.
As Raymond Brown, the New Testament scholar writes in his seminal work on John:
The great exhibition of the enduring covenant love of God in the OT took place at Sinai, the same setting where the Tabernacle became the dwelling for God's glory. So now the supreme exhibition of God's love is the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, the new Tabernacle of divine glory.
John's Gospel testifies that some were struggling to understand, as humanity tends to do. Still others experienced, saw, believed, and followed. Perhaps they had a glimmer that Jesuswas himself God. Certainly this is how John and his community would come to understand him. Jesus was the fullness of God, the glory of God. He was God incarnate.
From chapter 1 verse 14 of John's Gospel: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."
"If you believe in me you believe in the one who sent me."
"If you see me you see the one who sent me."
…[And] we have seen his glory, the glory of an only Son coming from the father, filled with enduring love.
As we think of this testimony, the testimony of scripture, the whole of salvation history we have a glimpse of what Ernst Käsemann, twentieth century theologian and New Testament scholar, meant when he wrote: "the flesh is not simply anincognito through which men must see; rather the glory of theword keeps breaking through the flesh in the miraculous works which can be seen."
The miracles, the teaching, the multiplying and breaking of bread is revelation that God is present in creation.
The earliest witnesses understood that this Jesus was very Godof very God. This Jesus was and is the architect of Salvation history, molding it, and shaping it.
Jesus' words in this passage reveal the continuum of a Gospel story woven in a tapestry of relationship between God and God's people, their covenant and their community. At once we see the Abrahamic family of old and the renewed expanding missionary family of God.
Jesus has opened up to us not only the communal relationship with God ad extra but a divine relationship as intimate as Jesus himself possessed with the Godhead; and with all humanity.
Having one will with the Father, Jesus came into the world to save creation and humanity with it. This was Jesus mission. It is the apostolic mission. It is our mission.
The language of sending in today's text is clearly one which echoes all of John and the missionary imperative breathed uponthe first disciples. From John 20:19-23:
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
Jesus has been sent as the incarnate Word, he has enacted the word in preaching, feeding, healing, and he is now passing it to those who would dare to follow him and model the same behaviors. It is as if Jesus is saying, "The Father gave me this life giving commandment of love. I give it and entrust it to you."
He speaks this commandment that we may more than immolate and admire, but rather that we might incarnate in our own word and action the very presence and glory of God in the world.
As our sacred story tells us, Jesus offers a vision of mission to Philip in John 14:12:
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…
Jesus called the disciples by name, and showed them a manner of life, which brought light and abundant life into the world.
We are heirs and benefactors of their testimony. Preached and formed into community life throughout the emerging missionary church of the patristic era. We stand today as the next generation of missionaries of the unique Gospel proclamation of Jesus Christ.
We are to glorify God, and make Gods deeds known, and share the good news of salvation.
Like Meriwether Lewis, like the ancient Hebrews on the edge of the Promised Land, like the disciples on the edge of missionwe the Episcopal Church are becoming something new. We are being transformed and forged in a fiery furnace of sweeping change.
We hold in our hearts two mission models not yet fully formed and yet coexisting. The past with its structures for ministryexists alongside the future pregnant with all that God intends for us in mission.
The first model is our idea of Church. We currently conduct ourmission out of an age old exchange model based upon communal and long held assumptions about a culture that dates to the middle of the last century.
What is our mission imperative in this model?
For the most part we as Church have maintained the belief that those who are called by God to be Episcopalians will find us.
We have believed that once they were inside our doors they would stay because of our awesome liturgy.
We have believed we are friendly enough to keep anyone who truly gets to know us.
We believed that better stewardship campaigns would cure our financial problems; always hoping this year'sexplanation of why people should give more will work.
We believed that someday we would have the right priest,and then we will grow again to a size that will allow us tocare for our deferred maintenance.
We believed if we just solved the issue of the day one way or the other we would surge in growth. If we were just true to the past…or if we were just true to the future….
We believed if we just preached well, ran a good vestry, meeting, went to the hospitals, wrote a good monthly article that was just spiritual enough we would inspire and fulfill our vocational oath.
We are treating the symptoms of a much larger system failure. Tinkering and propping up a church model that is no longer relevant is not only a waste of time and resources it is sinful as we are called to be missionaries in our contemporary context.
Continuing to be church and depend on this ministry model leads to closure.
As Harvey Cox, author and theologian, expressed in his musings on the secular city, "The failure of modern theology[we might add church] is that it continues to supply plausible answers to questions that fewer and fewer people are asking."Not unlike the twentieth century, we are largely continuing to answer questions and problems from a period that no longer exists. For a culture that no longer exists, from pulpits that look out over empty pews.
We can see clearly where we are.
At this same moment the reality of our geography is giving way to hope.
You and I stand on the edge that divides the modern age fromthe new millennium; we stand at the edge of a new missionary age for the Episcopal Church.
We have been born into a church that needs entrepreneurial evangelists; who see, believe, and create.
We are to make Christ known and to change the world by loving God and neighbor – not as we meet them at coffee hour if it isn't our turn to be ushers -- but out in the world of our daily lives. And there to make such a convincing witness in word and action that those who are seeking may be drawn into the family of God.
As a quote from William Temple, the 98th Archbishop of Canterbury, reminds us:
Evangelism is to so present Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit that [people] might come to trust Him as Savior and serve Him as Lord in the fellowship of His church.
This is our mission, and we are to do it through the virtue of caritas, the living out, the practice, of a church peopleimmersed in a culture of a living and present God.
We are to do the radical work of forming more Christians who are uniquely Episcopalians.
We must participate in the transformation of the world around us – our environment, the economy itself, and the societies of our neighborhoods and cities.
People's lives must be better tomorrow because our Episcopal Church is there proclaiming and enacting the Good News ofJesus Christ and Salvation today.
We must engage in a redesign from the bottom up and realign our church mission with the realities facing the communities in which we find ourselves.
Global and local mission in the new millennium will flourishwhen it is the sacramental vessel which gives life to people, their community, and the environment in which they live. We must reinvest in real community and individual and environmental transformation.
We have the opportunity in this new missionary age to re-engage.
The world around is hoping for partners who will join in providing healthy, fulfilling, life giving, and dignity bound ministry to the communities we share.
The world is looking for partners interested in building sustainable lives in sustainable communities in a green creation.
The world is looking for partners who will nurture relationships with people who live in community together. Getting to know our neighbor, their names, and their challenges and helping one another to have a better wholesome life is the work of the church.
I have a vision, a particular hope. I imagine an Episcopal Church immersed in the word and the community of the world; binding together the reign of God with the creation of God. This is the church's mission. This is what it means to be the incarnated body of Christ, the family of God, in the world today.
Our mission is the "`Entire practice' of signs, images, and actions with nothing in isolation…fundamentally a "performative" faith of the imagined and acted out incarnation of God's community." We experience Jesus, we see Jesus, and we act making Jesus Christ real in the world around us.
We re-present Jesus to the world around us.
In this missionary model we measure our work in the world and not our work on our church campuses. In this missionary model we measure our work every day of the week and not only on Sunday morning.
The church must engage in mission on every street, in every courtyard, in every corner of the city. We must engage missionat the front door of our churches, in the suburbs, in the urban spaces, and in the online plugged in world of the internet. The boarders of church mission encompass the whole of culture.The new missionary age is at once macro and micro-cosmic in nature.
"…Every work of true creativity – doing justice, making peace, healing families, healing individuals, resisting temptation, seeking and winning true freedom for those who are voiceless and powerless: is a missionary witness to the living God They are as N. T. Wright says, "signposts of hope."
We have a mission, the same mission. We have the same mission in Texas, in California, and in Maine. We have the same mission in Puerto Rico, Taiwan, and Africa.
We have a vision and must reclaim our public voice assertingthat our world and its societies is a place where the livingresurrected God dwells. We are missionaries of a God that is seen and experienced through Jesus and through the actions of Jesus' followers.
John Milbank, the Anglican theologian, cautioned in his book entitled Theology and Social Theory: "[We] must recognize that the church has thus far failed to bring about salvation…and instead has ushered in the modern secular - at first liberal, and finally nihilistic-world.
If we are to reenter the world as missionaries of the living God we must move beyond the theologies that have given us the modern era with its lack of meaning, moral relativism,disconnected virtue, and violent division.
If we are to claim a church in mission immersed in the culturewhere the living God is present we must engage the world, the civic society, and the political order.
We must model this in the sanctuary and in the public square. We must be virtuous citizens and not fearful disciples hidden behind locked doors.
The God of our proclamation is a God who encompasses all difference and binds us together in one family in this world - now.
We are to be prophetic in the world, out narrating the world's nihilism and emptiness. The God we proclaim is a God who is incarnated in the earthiness, the fleshiness, of the culture. We must claim and speak, in word and with words, the powerful transformational message of creation, incarnation, resurrection, and transformation.
The church must lead an exodus from meaninglessness, disconnection, and division which permeates our cynical world.
The church must engage in the action of following and acting out, and making real salvation.
We must be fearless in taking our place in the public square throwing aside the notion that religion and faith is a private matter. Through invitation, partnership, and participation we must venture into public place and space and use them asvenues for liturgy and life.
It is true that for some the culture may always be a symbol of evil, corruption, and decay. But for others, and especially for the Episcopal Church in mission, the culture is a symbol of life, human cooperation, human potential, the ever expanding family of God, and corporate salvation.
You stand on the edge of a new missionary age. May you have undaunted courage and be entrepreneurial evangelists. May God who gives you the sight and vision to take your next stepsgive you the geography of hope to believe in Jesus Christ, connect you intimately with God and give you the power and grace to be missionaries in a world filled with potential, creativity – a world that is abundant in life and in love - aworld filled with God's presence a world which is your mission field.