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File:World Map 1689.JPG

The Fifth Week of Lent

I don’t know who it was that first pointed out to me that that the traditional description of the church as “one, holy catholic and apostolic” is formed of words with Greek roots. If you form that same phrase with words of Latin derivation you get: “A single, sacred, universal, missionary church.”

That phrase gives us a dramatically different sense of who we are.

Of course, there are problems with the word ‘missionary’. Too often that has involved a form of cultural imperialism. I served for a summer with a mission in Taiwan after I graduated from high school, and came home with just that question: “In the message we sought to bring, what was American culture and what was the Gospel?” It is a question that haunted me through seminary and made my work in inner city Detroit so compelling. Not only what does it mean to be a Lutheran in this context, but what does the faith itself mean in this culture?

What is the faith? What does Jesus have in mind when he says “You shall be me witnesses?” How should we understand the familiar words of Matthew 28:

“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 that I have commanded you.”

And what about the mission of the twelve and the seventy? What does it mean to be sent to heal the sick and cast out demons as heralds of the gospel?

When Paul says we are the body of Christ, he is talking primarily about life within the community of believers. But there is a deeper truth here. The community of faith is a community called into being by the dawning reign of God. It has received the gift of the Spirit that will fill the world in that day when all things are made new. This is the gift of the risen Lord, the first born of the dead. The church is an outpost of the kingdom, children of light, citizens of the New Jerusalem. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.”

We are the presence of Christ in the world. We are the voice through which Christ speaks, the hands through which he heals, the arms with which he embraces the prodigal and lifts up the fallen. We are called to be the cup of cold water, the shared bread, the shade of a great rock in a weary land.”

The teaching of Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets – brings them to their fullness. And so he rebukes the scribes and Pharisees for failure to observe the weightier matters of justice and mercy. James will rebuke those who say, Be warmed and filled,” without actually warming and filling.

Baptism is a holy calling. Through it we are brought into the single, sacred, universal, missionary community of faith. We are sent into the world, not so much to convert others as to cast wide the net of God’s mercy and bear the love of God into the world.

Gracious God,
in the waters of baptism you sent us forth as your witnesses.
Help us live your grace and compassion
to all you bring near us today.

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Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWorld_Map_1689.JPG By en:Gerard van Schagen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons