Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Fourteenth Sunday of the Year: 2016 updated slightly

I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.

When historians come to write up the history of Christianity in America in the late 20th and early 21stCentury, assuming that there will be any historians interested enough to write about it and any readers interested enough to read it, the two most important names will be one you probably know, Rick Warren, and one you probably do not know, Peter Ducker. Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Church, first published in 1995, is still required reading for many ministers and lay folk and it is that set of ideas which is the basis of almost all current thinking about evangelism and church growth.  The basic assumption of this book is that the end justifies the means. Just as successful businesses have a particular purpose, so successful churches have a particular purpose. Makes sense. The Church has a product to sell just like any business. How do you do that? That is where Peter Ducker, a managerial theorist,  comes in: long-range planning, institute quantifiable and measurable spiritual standards, continuous restructuring, implementing accountability, attempting to exceed growth and giving targets, withdraw funds, if these are not met, eliminate those who do not support the business-church purpose.

You might think that this has nothing to do with Anglicans but you would be wrong. At one of the early meetings of The Anglican Church in North America Rick Warren was the key-note speaker. The Dean of the Cathedral of the Diocese of Dallas eliminated the daily Eucharist, a tradition which had been in place for at least 60 years, on the grounds that it was not cost-efficient. In the same Cathedral the assistant priest has to raise his own salary. 

I do not doubt that Rick Warren and his followers genuinely believe that they are acting on the great commission, just not the great commission in this Sunday’s Gospel. 

Lambs in the midst of wolves: Jesus sends his disciples out not into a secure and safe world but a very dangerous one. Humanly considered this commission is irresponsible. A faulty sales team in a faulty market. But Jesus dares to do so because the Father has sent him as the ‘Lamb’ among men who act like wolves so that he can win the victory of the ‘lamb who was slain’, a victory which abolishes the wisdom of wise in favor of the foolishness of God. Jesus, fully defenseless, appears among men, with a purpose, the redemption and salvation of men, which somewhat inconveniently only he can do.

He does seek the help of his disciples and sends them out to serve his purpose but he disarms them: “carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road”.  The mission is to be characterized by urgency and detachment. Acceptance or rejection is not a primary concern: “Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house!' And if a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you”. The disciples of Jesus were not to rejoice or despair over the success or lack of it. Success is not part of the assignment. That in any case is in the hands of the Lord who sends them out. Only the Lamb of God triumphs. Those who are sent will find in him, not in themselves, the authority to overcome the world.

The Disciples return from their mission elated by their success: Jesus commends them not for an impressive membership drive but because "I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightening".  But Jesus dampens their elation:   "do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are sub ject to you but that your names are written in heaven". Evangelism without character, without holiness, without spiritual combat, is not a possibility.

In the second reading St. Paul says “far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world”. The apparently victorious world has been crucified, rendered dead and harmless. Paul himself has been ‘crucified to the world’. All this is possible only in the Cross of Christ,  Paul’s only boast. The evidence of his submission to the Cross is that he bears in his body the wounds of Christ. That is the ‘business model’ of Jesus and the whole of the New Testament.

In the first reading we are given the somewhat shocking image of Jerusalem as a nursing mother consoling her children. To the mind of the Church this is not the earthly Jerusalem but the heavenly Jerusalem, the Church herself, which gathers 'with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven'.  The Church has no other consolation for her children than that which she has received from God, the love of God finally and irrevocably revealed in the Cross of Jesus. Only from that the Cross can ‘peace like a river’ flow into the Church and through her into us and the world, full of wolves.

The end, by the way, does not justify the means for the very simple reason that if you do not use the proper means to an end you reach a different end, always a danger for sheep among wolves. 


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