At our annual meeting in August, I set out three goals for our growth as individuals and as a parish, commitment to the Gospel, commitment to prayer, and commitment to community. I will discuss each of these commitments below.
Commitment to the Gospel
If we are to grow in our commitment to the Gospel, yielding to the power of the Gospel of Christ to transform us and to transform the way we see others, we must first understand the Gospel. As easy as it seems at first try to define the Gospel, we soon run into a variety of descriptions and realize why there are four complementary books of the Bible that are characterized as Gospels.
I invite you to pause before reading further and attempt to summarize the Gospel of Christ as you understand it.
As we sort through these descriptions and try to define and describe the Gospel, we must first remember that the Gospel is “Good News.” At the heart of any description of the Gospel is a loving God who reconciles Himself with His unloveable creatures through Jesus Christ. The tragedy of the Gospel is that as unloveable creatures, we often choose to remain unreconciled. We either try in vain to make ourselves loveable or we try in vain to find a love like God’s in things that are not God.
The transforming power of the Gospel is simple and yet takes us a lifetime to master. We grow in the Gospel as we set aside the false ways in which we try to feel loved and the false ways we try to be loveable. We grow in the Gospel as we rest in the Gospel truth that we are beloved by God. We grow in the Gospel as we see those around us as beloved. We grow in the Gospel as we set aside our attempts to determine whether others are loveable or not. We grow in the Gospel when we set aside our empty attempts to use others to make ourselves feel loved.
As a congregation formed (and transformed) by liturgy and Sacrament, we don’t have to look far for a good summary of the Gospel. We hear this summary each week in the Prayer of Consecration as we pray, “Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself; and when we had sinned against you and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent your only Son into the world for our salvation. By the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary he became flesh and dwelt among us. In obedience to your will, he stretched out his arms upon the cross and offered himself once for all, that by his suffering and death we might be saved. By his resurrection he broke the bonds of death, trampling Hell and Satan under his feet. As our great high priest, he ascended to your right hand in glory, that we might come with confidence before the throne of grace.” We participate in the ongoing story of the Gospel as we encounter Christ in the Eucharist. We are then sent out to live the Gospel throughout the week.
Commitment to Prayer
As we have read through Mark during this season of Ordinary Time, we have see how Jesus called the twelve “to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons” (Mark 3:14-15). This central message of Mark’s Gospel also provides a way of understanding prayer as encountering God, being transformed, and being sent.
Committing to prayer is committing to encountering God. Just as Christ called the Twelve to “be with him,” He calls us as well to “be with him” in prayer. Jesus also tells us that He will send the Holy Spirit to guide us and comfort (John 14:15-31; John 16:7-15). In the Spirit and the Son, we also encounter the Father. As we remember the accounts of Moses, Elijah, Isaiah and others encountering the glory of the Father, we can begin to understand the transforming power of prayer as encountering God.
Committing to prayer is committing to being transformed. Most of the Gospel of Mark is about the transformation of the Twelve in the presence of Christ. Their understanding of God, of themselves, of others, and of the Kingdom is challenged and transforming by seeing Jesus at work in the world, by hearing Jesus teach, and by yielding to the correction of Jesus. In prayer, our “eyes of our hearts” are enlightened as we encounter the power of Christ at work in the world, hear His teaching in Scripture, and yield to the ways in which He corrects and transforms us (Eph 1:15-23).
Committing to prayer is committing to others. Jesus calls the Twelve to transformation so that He can send them into the world to proclaim the Kingdom and bring healing to others. In our Gospel today, we see that true power in the Kingdom is not power over others as the world would see power but instead the power to serve others. By praying for others, we begin to learn the power of the Kingdom.
While it is tempting to set out lofty goals for a commitment to prayer in terms of number of hours each day or specific items, instead I invite you to set out your own commitments to pray. Consider first the times and places you already encounter God and cultivate these as times of prayer. Consider the ways in which God is already inviting you to be transformed by encountering His love and set a time each week to prayerfully listen and reflect on the ways that God has invited you to be transformed, the ways you have yielded, and the ways you have resisted. Consider the people already in your life and how you might pray for them and for your relationship with them.
Committing to prayer can be frightening for a number of reasons, but we can take comfort in Paul’s encouragement that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).
I pray that we will grow in our commitment to prayer. I pray that together we will pray for one another, our parish, our neighbors and I pray that we will grow in our ability to listen and experience God in our prayer.
Commitment to Community
Our commitment to community begins within our parish community. In any group of people there will inevitably be disagreements, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings. Being committed to community means being committed to reconciliation with one another when these things occur. True reconciliation begins when both parties recognize their own part in the disruption of relationship and the pain they have caused the other person. Making excuses for our own or another’s hurtful behavior prevents reconciliation. Discounting our own hurt or the hurt another has experienced prevents reconciliation. Reconciliation continues as we seek forgiveness from one another fully aware of the pain we have caused. Reconciliation is complete when we determine that the relationship is more important than our own pain or pride. I pray that as we experience the inevitable tensions, misunderstandings, disagreements, and hurts of that come with being a member of any group that we will grow such that Christ’s love in us and our love for one another is stronger than anything that might come between us.
Our commitment to community extends beyond our parish to our archdeaconry, our diocese, and other churches in our community. This commitment to community places into action the belief we profess each week in the catholicity or oneness of the Church as the body of Christ. The same love that joins our parish together also joins us in communion rather than competition with other parishes and churches.
Our commitment to community extends even beyond the church to our neighborhoods, our workplaces, and other places we encounter people. Just as Jesus radically expanded the definition of ‘neighbor,’ we also radically expand community to include all of our ‘neighbors.’ In this way, we commit to seeing all people through the lens of Christ’s love, refusing to divide the world into “us” and “them” and resisting the temptation to dehumanize anyone as “other.”
Will you join me in these commitments to the Gospel, to prayer, and to community?