Updated: Aug 30, 2019
The days here in Minnesota are getting cooler and night is coming sooner which means that September and fall are just around the corner. School is starting back up again and people are starting to settle into the patterns of fall and winter.
We at First Christian don't really do a Rally Sunday. For those unfamiliar with the term, "Rally Sunday" is a Sunday usually in September that serves as the start of Sunday School after a summer away. But while we don't have a Rally Sunday, we do have a Blessing of the Backpacks where out students come forward and they and their backpacks are blessed for the new school year.
The changing of the seasons and the act of blessing backpacks and students has me thinking about coming together and going out, or in church parlance, gathering and sending.
There is a lot of talk today that churches need to get out of their four walls and go into the community to serve and this is important, because sometimes we got the message from others that congregations were to invite people to come to church instead of sent out being the church.
If you remember those public awareness bumpers from the GI Joe cartoons in the 80s, they always ended with "and knowing is half the battle." That's the case here. We are called to be apostles which in Greek means "the sent out ones" or "messengers." But that is only half the battle. We are sent out from a place, and that place is church. Now, I'm not really talking about the church building. Instead, I'm talking about the gathering of people that meet in the church building. In the Design of the Christian Church, the church is described as "wherever believers in Jesus the Christ are gathered in His name. "
Something happens when the church gathers. It goes against the spirit of the age by crossing boundaries and they listen to what God is calling them to do in a changing world. The Design continues:
Transcending all barriers within the human family, the one church manifests itself in ordered communities bound together for worship, fellowship, and service; in varied structures for mission, witness, and mutual accountability; and for the nurture and renewal of its members. The nature of the church, given by Christ, remains constant through the generations, yet in faithfulness to its nature, it continues to discern God’s vision and to adapt its mission and structures to the needs of a changing world. Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
So, we gather to sing songs of praise to God. We gather to hear the Gospel preached and we gather to share in God's Meal.
That's what it means to gather. But we are also a people who are sent. Sometimes people might think being sent means doing good work, and it is that, but it is also more than that. In the document "A Word to the Church on Church on Witness, Mission, and Unity" presented at the 1981 General Assembly, we learn that the church has a mission: to witness to God in the world.
The Church, the ecclesia, is the community of persons “summoned for a particular purpose.” And that purpose is of God—a mission which transcends the Church and for which the Church was brought into being. The Church is thus an agent for God’s mission in the world. A Word to the Church on Witness, Mission, and Unity (1981)
We go out into as a people with a mission: being an agent for God's mission. As I said earlier, the word apostle means messenger or someone that's sent. We are sent to witness to the power of God in the world and we do that in a ministry of evangelism- telling the Good News. Evangelism is about the whole gospel, tending to our sisters and brothers in word and deed. Witness, Mission, and Unity tells us:
The mission of the Church by definition includes evangelism proclaiming and sharing the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. But, we reject as unacceptable the false dichotomy often set forth between evangelism and engagement with problems in society. In this time of new formations and understanding we urge that evangelism not be too narrowly defined. It should not be rooted in institutional survival, expressed solely as membership recruitment, or concerned only for numerical growth. A Word to the Church on Witness, Mission, and Unity (1981)
So, why am I sharing all this, if you're still paying attention? It's because I hope that we as a congregation can better focus on who we are as church. First Christian-St. Paul gathers together to be a people of God and we are sent out on a mission from God. Churches don't simply gather without being sent, nor are they sent without gathering. Instead, churches are gathered and sent.
September means we will gather and be sent. Starting on September 11, we will start our Midweek Bible Study and Weekly Vespers which is the gathering part. On September 14, we plan to go on a prayer walk of various institutions in the White Bear Lake/Mahtomedi area- the sending part. I hope people will consider taking part in both events as together we learn what it means to be a people called church.
God gathers us as a people to care for each other and to give praise to God. Then God sends us out in the world to preach the good news, to care for the poor and free the prisoner.
We are gathered and we are sent. This is what the church is called to do, especially one congregation named First Christian Church of St. Paul.