Monday, January 25, 2010

The Great Commission

When I drive around I'm always curious to look at those signs that churches have on their front lawns. You know the kind - the ones with the changeable letters where they often put up some witty saying about the message the pastor will be sharing that week. Things like "Free Trip to Heaven - Details Inside." "Quit Telling God how Big your Storm is and Tell your Storm how Big your God is." And one of my all-time favorites, "Read the Bible - it'll Scare the Hell out of You." I'm sure these are seen as a way to evangelize as well as to attract people to come inside. And those signs often say something like "Come Join Us" or "All are Welcome." For some people the name of the church may be what attracts them, whether it's "Saint William of York" or "The Full Gospel Bible Church" or "The Church of What's Happening Now."

There are other things that may pull us into worshipping at a particular church. I know people that love the music at their church. They'll talk about how it's very contemporary and uplifting and how they have a band and the kids love it and they walk out of church feeling all energized like they've come out of a rock concert. Others may talk about the wonderful preaching abilities of their pastor. How they can weave words together like fine silk so they caress and enrapture you. Or how they can preach with such force and fury that you feel well-armored for the battle against the forces of evil. Some people are attracted to churches that have spectacular multi-media setups, with wonderful sound systems and lyrics to songs or pretty pictures or videos projected throughout the service to keep you interested and entertained. Of course for Catholics the "selling point" is the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, of central and unparalleled importance in the experience of our faith.

A lot of motivations to attend a particular church or participate in a faith community. But I often wonder if we place too much emphasis on pulling people in? Not that great music, a great message or the true presence of Christ isn't substantial motivation. The key for me is do these things motivate us to not only attend a service on weekends, but also to go out and carry that message out into the world?

Jesus didn't talk about building churches or temples or a "better mousetrap" to attract people and convince them to attend services. There were no sound systems or bands or angelic choirs. There was the Word, of course and certainly if you were fortunate enough to know Jesus and be one of His disciples you experienced His true presence. But Christ's message was not about gathering together once a week, getting our dose of God and moving on with our lives until desire or obligation brings us back.

In Mark's Gospel Jesus says "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature." Plain and simple. Not go into church on Sunday and hear what the minister has to say to you (not that you shouldn't stop going to church because experiencing Christ's presence in community is what sustains and strengthens us). Go into the world and proclaim the Gospel. This is the Great Commission. These are the words Christ spoke to His disciples. This is the message he left them with. That it's not only important just to hear the Word and ponder upon it. We have to go out into the world with that message. We have to live it and share it and nurture it and when we return to worship be fed again by the Word and the presence of Christ. Find renewal and strength in Christ so we can again go onto the world with confidence and compassion and the love of God to bring His message once again to all we encounter.

Our faith is peopled by a communion of saints that understood Christ doesn't just reside in a building on Sunday mornings. Christ is in the world. In every person we meet, every situation, every joy, and every tragedy. Christ is in the strong and the weak, the mighty and the meek. And Christ resides in each one of us. We aren't called just to come and join others and visit with Jesus now and then like an old friend we can share our problems with. We're called to a Great Commission - just as the disciples were. We're called to go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. And not just in our words but in our living. In our example, in how we reflect the message of Christ in our actions and our behavior. And that, more than any witty sign or catchy music or pretty pictures is what is going to bring the world to Christ. We are the church of the Great Commission, a building without walls or boundaries yet full of the presence of Christ and the love of God.

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