Paul and Luke
Proper 9: Isaiah 66:10-16; Psalm 66; Galatians 6 (1-10) 14-18; Luke 10: 1-12, 16-20
July 8, 2007
Pastor Mary Blessing,
Vicar, St. Philip’s, Scotts Valley CA
…Jesus sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town where he himself intended to go….
Sunday School is learning a story today in the Book of Acts that tells about a boy, Eutychus, who sits in an upper room window listening to Paul preach late into the night. Paul talks so long that Eutychus falls asleep, falls out of the window and dies! Yikes!! While everyone else is panicking that this boy just fell to his death, Paul calmly finishes what he is saying, goes downstairs, gets close to the boy, and says “life is still in him”—or translated “his soul is still within”. Some say Paul resuscitates the boy, others say it is Paul’s disciples who bring him back to life a few hours later. In any case, Paul is not concerned about talking too long, so much so that someone falls asleep and falls out a window! Paul even continues in “giving thanks and breaking bread”—sharing the Eucharist, keeps talking, sharing the gospel and eats breakfast before the others check on the boy to be sure he is alive. Paul believes he has an important message and it will be told—the message that Jesus is the Christ, and we are to believe in him! When they finally do surmise that the boy is alive, the others who were present were “not a little relieved that the boy lived….” (Acts 29:9)
Most scholars believe there is a connection between the writer of the Gospel of Luke and St. Paul—many believe Luke traveled with Paul. Luke certainly wrote of Paul and his journeys and adventures in the Book of Acts (where the story of Eutychus is found), “Luke” is the one who writes of Paul’s adventures (and mis-adventures). In other letters, Paul writes of Luke as a physician and “fellow worker), accompanying Paul to Rome. There are some elements of Paul’s own writings in his letters that do not match up with Luke’s version of the story, but let us not quibble about that today.…Let us rather take into account the possibility that Paul and Luke both understood the basic importance of getting the gospel message of the Good News of Jesus Christ out to the gentile world, that they working about the same time, and they each had a tremendous influence in working toward converting the world to become followers of Jesus Christ.
Luke’s story of Jesus sending out his disciples-two by two, going ahead “where he intended to go” is like a preview of Paul’s mission to teach the gospel to cities throughout the Greek world, so that people would be ready to receive “the Christ.” Luke has Jesus sending out his followers—a group larger than just the initial 12 apostles—setting out to various villages and cities throughout the land as far as they can go, offering to share the story of who Jesus is with whomever will listen, with whomever has an open heart, with whomever is hospitable. Paul does this kind of intentional ministry, going to every major city throughout the Mediterranean, over into South Asia. After he does the initial missionary work of teaching, healing and converting people to be convicted in their hearts to become “marked as Christ’s own forever” in baptism, Paul succeeds in getting new churches started. Not only did he build this foundation of new faith communities of Christians, Paul then worked hard to teach them how to maintain themselves as faithful Christians who loved one another.
We are to do the same. Even today, here at St. Philip’s, we struggle to balance our call to ministry between maintaining the status quo of our community that gathers here each week to worship and care for one another, and our call to reach out to people who are not currently regular attendees to church and invite them into our loving Christian family.
A priest friend of mine (Kevin Phillips) helped me articulate this balancing act as he described his vision of what it takes to be a strong, faithful, growing church in the 21st Century.
Churches today struggle to be true to two apparently competing tenets of the Christian faith: the command to “go out into all nations and baptize in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, and the command to “Love one another as Christ loved us” Let me outline for you the challenge and offer a vision of how we can, like St. Paul, offer a framework that gives a solution to strengthen us as we move forward as a community of faith:
Great Commission Churches: Mission-Minded: go to all nations and baptize in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Churches that are continually reaching out to convert others who are not already part of the group. These are very evangelical, adding more and more people, by initiation into the community, but not necessarily doing much to care for each other.
Great Commandment Churches: Maintenance-Minded: Love One another as Christ loves us.—let us care for one another, live happily with those of us who already know Christ and are motivated to perfect our caring for one another that we will be terrific in “loving one another”—but maybe not looking to add others into our community….
Great Foundational Churches: Mission Minded AND Maintenance-Minded: Those churches who grow on the foundation of these two, the Great Commission AND the Great Commandment.. I want St. Philip’s to be a Great Foundational Church, I want us to learn how to live out the Great Commandment to Love one Another as Christ loved us, and also how to live the Great Commission, sharing our faith with others with enthusiasm and joy, inviting them into the fellowship of Christ’s love, baptizing them and incorporating them fully into the body of Christ, while maintaining our own Christian loving family. As Paul, we are to “boast of the cross of Christ,” and be “marked as Christ’s own forever”: sharing the gospel, loving one another—bringing new people into the faith of Christ while nurturing one another in our faith.
If we can keep these in balance, I believe we will be able to create the kind of church that Paul envisioned when he worked so hard to convert gentiles into Christian communities that loved one another, while continually reaching out to invite new “converts” into the community.
The Holy Spirit has gifted each one of us with particular spiritual gifts that can be used for the common good of the growth of St. Philip’s and for our own spiritual growth. As we grow together as a community it will be necessary for us to do some serious spiritual discernment to decide which of our gifts are to be used for which purpose to reach people outside of St. Philip’s, to share the good news of life in Christ with them, and invite them into relationship with Christ and perhaps into relationship with us, gathered here on Sunday mornings. Others who are already a part of this faith community will be called to nurture, teach and care for our members as we invite new people in. As an example, right now there are people planning some specific events that are designed to have us reach people outside our community and invite them in. Two or our resident artists are working hard to create wonderful art for the Art and Wine Festival in Scotts Valley (August 11 & 12). Donna Seelbach will be teaching our teens how to create beautiful silk scarves that can be sold at the Festival. Along with the art for sale will be samples of our Liturgical Art on display and some bits of information about St. Philips. Everyone is invited to come to the Festival to help at the booth, meet people who attend, in a sense to say “Peace to this house” to those they meet and share to “why I go to church”--the joy we have here together, etc., and invite them to church as seems appropriate. Inviting them in may be the thing that brings peace to their hearts, a peace that they have been seeking, and we can provide.
In addition to this “mission minded” approach to ministry, reaching out to others to bring them in, we have people here at St. Philip’s focusing on how we are to nurture one another through Bible study, book clubs, a women’s spiritual retreat, lay pastoral care, calling on home bound and hospitalized persons, etc. Some of our parishioners are going for trainings soon on how to do home visitations to work in partnership with me as the primary pastoral care giver. This will expand our call to maintain faithfulness in “loving one another as Christ loved us”.
Meanwhile, this week we have 6 people from St. Philip’s attending workshops on how to grow Small Congregations which I believe will equip us to continually learn how we can balance our “maintenance minded ministry” with our “mission minded ministry.” Please open your hearts and keep your eyes and ears open, too, to listen to how God is calling you to participate in creating a “Great Foundational Church” here at St. Philip’s, not just for our own sake, but for the sake of “building up the Body of Christ”, for the COMMON GOOD, that we all may live in that “peace which passes all human understanding.”
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