1 Corinthians 1:18-24
In the hall across from the office here at church you may have noticed, on your way to the restroom, a wall calendar. It’s sent every year from the Church Pension Group, a multi-billion dollar enterprise which handles pensions, insurance, health benefits and more for the Episcopal Church. Each month on the calendar there’s a clever cartoon, drawn I believe by a priest in New York City. This month’s cartoon features an update of what’s called the Great Commission.
The Great Commission comes at the end of St. Matthew’s gospel, where after the Resurrection Jesus bids his disciples to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (We’re carrying out the Great Commission this morning, as we baptize Annabelle Nicole Charette.) But the cartoon, which is captioned “The Great Commission Revisited,” up-dates this by having Jesus say, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, developing task forces and strategic plans, and surveying the congregation in order to craft a succinct and memorable mission statement easily communicated on bumper stickers, website home pages, t-shirts and coffee mugs.” A wry and telling comment on the state of the Church (and the world) today.
People ask me whether I’m really ready to retire. The answer is that I’m more than ready to retire from religion that falls into the ways of the world, having to sell itself to over-busy, over-bought, over-burdened people by bidding for their attention like a new drug or television show. It can be kind of fun to come up with the sales tools of this religion, and I’ve become not half bad at it. But in the end it destroys the soul – and the religion it sells is not the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.
It would be my dream to continue on after retirement — without pay, free of the Church Pension Group – in some setting where everyone took their commitment to Jesus Christ seriously. Where they came together faithfully each week to learn and worship and support one another in Christ. Where they measured their daily lives against the teachings of Jesus, repenting of the ways they slipped and strayed. Where their lives – not their t-shirts and coffee mugs – were their advertisements of the Good News of God in Christ. Where they sought always to serve others, not to further themselves. And where they earnestly tried to apply the Gospel to the terrible problems that press upon our world today – those Millennium Development Goals we pray for each week.
That might seem an impossible dream, and I don’t in fact expect to realize it. But what I have just recited is nothing else than the life we will promise to live in a few minutes when we join Annabelle and her parents and godparents in restating our Baptismal Covenant. The “faith once delivered to the saints” is given to us, not concocted by us. It is all-embracing, all-demanding – and all-saving.
Though we sometimes get depressed about how far short we fall in being the Church of Jesus Christ, how low religion is on the agenda of most people in our society and even many people in our congregations, we keep on going. Our “mission statement,” our “logo,” after all, is not some slogan crafted out of focus groups, but the Holy Cross. We are blessed that this church is named as it is, for its name helps us to remember that. To remember who we are and Whose we are. We do not baptize Annabelle Nicole Charette, but Annabelle Nicole Christian. “Annabelle Nicole,” I will say, tracing the cross of Christ on her forehead in the holy oil of chrism, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever.”
The story is told of Mother Teresa, who was asked by an interviewer whether it really made any difference, what she did. What did picking up a few dying people from the streets of Calcutta and ministering to them in their final hours mean when put in the context of the great problems of the world? And her answer was, “We are not called to be successful, but to be faithful.” It is the answer written in the lives of all the saints.
And faithfulness is the call, too, that Jesus Christ gave us in his life and death. The call embodied in the Holy Cross. Faithfulness is the call we renew for ourselves and pass on to Annabelle Charette in baptism today. Success belongs to God; faithfulness to the cross of Christ belongs to us.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
— John 3:16-17