Parish Newsletter Article December 2015
“Get out there, beyond the confines of these four walls, and do something!”
One frequently hears something like this as a pious exhortation among church-folk. To a certain extent it makes sense. The Christian project is not (or should not be) an institutionally self-absorbed enterprise.
An attitude may have crept in—that what we do, as the gathered Church, is at best, unimportant, and perhaps even an unworthy self-indulgence.
But how could we possibly so dismiss Word and Sacrament—both of which occur, on their regular basis, within the Church setting?
Here’s an analogy to consider: Suppose, some evening, that someone we love was gripped by terrible chest pains. Of course, we’d call 9-1-1 right away. But suppose there was no answer, even after trying a few times. We might then get our dear one into the car, and drive as fast as we could to Cape Cod Hospital.
And—supposing, one more time—once we got there, we found the place barely staffed, and the few there obviously no longer up to their various jobs. If we asked what was going on, how satisfied would we be, if we were told, “Well, the management of this place kept telling us, ‘Stop being so obsessed with health care. Get out there, beyond the confines of these walls, and do something important for a change’.”? Might we not then feel—rather strongly—that the Hospital had forgotten why it was there, to begin with? That it had inappropriately neglected its own critical mission? Might we not question if the folks in the Hospital’s management were in the right line of work?
So, dear ones: What we do in this place, as Church, matters too. Very much so. It’s not everything that needs to be done in human community; not a replacement for all else—but it is indispensable.
If we are going to be of any real good to the world, we ourselves must be transformed. In the words of the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent, quoting from the Letter to the Romans: “Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light.” (13:12) We don’t get to transformation merely by “doing more stuff.”
These days, we hear many devout appeals in the Church to “look outward.” Well, of course; there’s certainly some profound truth in this. Our faith is not to be a private spiritual deal. And yet, I’m convinced that if the mainline denominations don’t start to undertake a more serious “look inward,” from the heart of who and what we are as Christians, it won’t be that long before there isn’t anyone left on the inside to look outside!
Our formation—together, in fellowship as the gathered People of Christ—matters. Word and Sacrament are the very source of our mission: worthy of our respect, worthy of our cherishing, worthy of our serious preparation, and worthy of our whole-hearted, joyful, and confident engagement.