27 July 2006

The Mission Field Next Door.

n the Presbyterian Church in which I spent my teen years, there was often a little sheet inserted into the Sunday service bulletins that offered bits of news related to Christian missions. I remember very clearly reading one Sunday morning (though surely not during the sermon!) that the Catholic Church considered France a mission field. Not being terribly well informed about modern European culture, I found this news shocking. France, after all, was the land of Notre Dame and Chartres, the Avignon papacy and, well…Christendom. I guess I knew a little more about medieval Europe than modern. (Those interested in the political and social – and especially demographic – consequences of Europe’s advancing secularism should read George Weigel’s The Cube and the Cathedral.)

When we think about missions and missionaries (if we think of them at all), we tend to think of intrepid men and women carrying the gospel to remote parts of the earth where the Church has never been established. However, while it is certainly true that there are far distant places where the Gospel has not yet taken root, or where there is an ancient but small Christian community now persecuted and nearly overwhelmed by Islam, it is also most certainly true that we live smack dab in the middle of the mission field. The question of whether America is or ever was a “Christian nation” is debatable and much debated. There had been, of course, a strong moral consensus heavily informed by the Judeo-Christian tradition. But it should be abundantly clear that no matter how we understand our history, that consensus has now faded.

Don’t worry – this isn’t meant to be one of those doom-and-gloom, America is going to hell-in-a-hand-basket jeremiads. This is simply to say that on every side we find people who desperately need to learn of the grace of God freely given in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You know the old story of the commander informed by his troops that they were surrounded by the enemy: “Excellent!” replied the commander, “We can attack in any direction.” That is our situation, and that is our call in the time and place in which God in his providence has positioned us. Except, of course, that we are not “attacking” our “enemies.” No, we are loving our neighbors – offering ourselves in love and service, working to make our community a better, happier place, and sharing the Good News that in and through the Church of Jesus Christ, God is reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor 5.18,19). And there is not the slightest sense of superiority in this. How could there be? “All have sinned,” St. Paul reminds us, “and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3.23). And we all know too much the reality of that “fallen short-ness” in our own lives. No, as we often say around here, the work of evangelism is simply “one beggar telling another beggar where there is bread.”

The church I attended while a student in St. Louis had posted above the building’s main exit a sign which read, “You are now entering the mission field.” Amen. Our Lord who called us to himself also sends us in his Name to call others: “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28.19,20). As it happens, “all nations” are right across the backyard fence, next to us at the coffee shop, sharing in our businesses, going to school with our children. Does speaking to someone about the hope that is within, even simply inviting a new acquaintance to church seem a daunting thing? Remember that it is precisely here, as we reach out in his Name, that our Lord promises his blessed Presence.

*This article is from the August issue of the St. Joseph of Arimathea parish newsletter.


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