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Exodus 16:2-4,9-15; Psalm 78:23-29; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35
I was driving to Sarasota the other day and I was distracted by the many “to do’s” associated with the ministry as a member of diocesan staff. On this particular morning, it was not campus ministry, church transitions, or diocesan convention, that I was considering as I drove. My heart was focused deeply on you God’s family at St. Boniface. Then, as I was pulling out on the highway, I looked up into the sky and saw the most beautiful rainbow. When I saw that image in the sky, the first word that came to mind was “Hope.”
I have great hope for this congregation. I believe God has in store for St. Boniface, a future that is unfathomable at this time. That future is right now outside our current imagination, and beyond our own plans or personal desires. God has established already, a great mission future for this congregation. In God’s time, some time in the near future, you all will be ready to begin discerning what tomorrow will look like. That time is not now. Right now, the mission that is before you today, and in the next two months to come, is to focus on Christ’s ministry of reconciliation and healing in this place.
We all have experienced in our lives some form of physical injury. The memory of some physical injuries can be most traumatic, especially if the damage was to one of our limbs, especially the legs, those parts of us that hold us upright, and help us to travel forward in life. If you have you ever had your feet knocked out from under you, you know what I mean.
Usually when you go to the doctor for treatment after such an injury, she or he will tell you to take a rest for several days, stay off that leg, and give it time to heal. Now, if you are like me, sitting still for any length of time is uncomfortable, it is restricting, and I plain, just do not want to do it. I like to keep moving, keep on going, and get to where I want to go. Do you know what happens to an injury though, if you do not take a rest and let it heal? Yes, it gets worse.
Sometimes, a few days of rest as recommended by the physician helps in ways we cannot ascertain right away. Often, even after we follow the doctor’s orders, the pain continues beyond that brief respite, but miraculously, those few days of sitting still, will set in motion in our bodies, the foundation of healing that will continue throughout the months to come.
What happens often though, is we become impatient and we want to see if we can stand on our own prematurely, or we remove the bandages, and begin to pick at the wound. Sometimes, we just need to allow healing to take place so at some point, we can get back on our own two feet, and get back to work. When this type of situation happens in a faith community, and it is not unusual, God’s people need a time of respite before, they begin to return to the mission for which, they have been called.
In the reading from letter to Ephesians, the writer is offering an exhortation to one of the early church communities, outlining for them what it looks like to be a community of disciples of Jesus. I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3). These are the marching orders for God’s people and this is the basis of our mission in the world; unity.
Theologian Isam Ballenger writes, “The peace of God is for the peace of the church and the peace of the church is for the peace of the world … and the unity of God is for the unity of the church and the unity of the church is for the unity of the whole creation. Unity of the church results in mission and the goal of the mission is unity of all things.” (1) The mission of God’s church is not merely to be a gathering place of like-minded religious folk. The purpose of God’s church is to be a witness to the world, of the very Trinitarian life of unity within diversity. This is the very life of God to which, God’s family is invited to take part. We show the world what unity looks like, but the unity God desires for God’s family can and is always subverted by division.
My favorite theologian Paul Tillich in his work Dynamics of Faith describes the purpose of faith and unity as it relates to the mission of God’s family as “the desire and urge toward the reunion of the separated.” We show the world we are people that reunites with those separated by division.
Our culture is more rapidly than ever, at odds one with another and often, over the smallest things, as well as larger issues. Just turn on the news and you will hear about political divisions, socio-economic divisions, and ethnic, religious, and racial divisions. As silly as it may sound, you will also hear about strife, concerning underinflated footballs an old, but re-occurring scandal all the news channels keep bringing up. It seems today the conflict among groups is taking on a vicious and destructive tone. Division subverts the unity God desires for God’s creation. However, the church’s mission remains, to stand firm in the midst of all of that division in the world, as a witness to the unity that is possible in Christ alone.
Our witness to unity in Christ, our real mission in the world is difficult and nearly impossible to say the least, when the community of faith is in the midst of healing and reconciliation after a major trauma. You my sisters and brothers, if you are not already aware, have by the mere experience of conflict, passed through an injury in the life of this community. However, God never leaves God’s people abandoned.
In our bishop’s sermon last week, he informed you all that the next two months (August and September) is going to be a time for this congregation to breathe. That may be difficult for some folks. For some there may be a desire to restore things to a way they were two or three years ago. Likewise, for others, there may a desire to set out on a path to put all of this drama behind, and begin making plans for the future, or to put in place new things and new programs.
Neither of these paths have anything to do with stopping for a set period of time, reflecting prayerfully on what has happened, and beginning the process of discerning where God is in all this change. Neither going backward or moving forward at this time is the response to the exhortation our bishop gave you last week, “St. Boniface needs to take a breath.”
Take a deep breath now and hold it. Now slowly let it out. That is what August and September needs to feel like here at St. Boniface. We need to continue our ministries here just as they are today, and we need NOT make any changes if at all possible, during this time. We need to simply worship, pray, minister, heal, love one another, and rest, so we will be ready for the incredible future God has in store.
You know we cannot do this alone. We must turn to the Great Healer, Jesus Christ who reminds us, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Friends, we have been given a divine prescription for healing, a balm we must apply at every opportunity over the next two months and beyond. Now is the time to come to the Lord’s Table often, to pray, to love one another, and to shift again, our focus on Christ’s ministry of reconciliation and healing. Now is a time to just breathe.
I close with a prayer found in the section on page 460 of the Prayer Book titled, “A Thanksgiving for the beginning of Recovery.” I encourage you all to pray this prayer everyday, as you breathe. Let us pray, O Lord, your compassions never fail and your mercies are new every morning: We give you thanks for giving St. Boniface a time for both relief from pain and hope of health renewed. Continue in this community, we pray, the good work you have begun; that we, daily increasing in strength, and rejoicing in your goodness, may so order our lives and conduct that we may always think and do those things that please you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen