A Sermon for World Mission Sunday 2020
It is often said that mission is all about relationships – relationships with God and one another. This understanding is reinforced in our baptismal covenant when we respond to the question, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” To this we reply, “We will with God’s help.”
We enter into relationship because we are all so intimately connected as children of God. Not only are we created in God’s image, I would argue that we are created out of the very essence of God. The presence of God lives within each and every one of God’s treasured creations; therefore, we are all children of God and consequently brothers and sisters in Christ.
Throughout Hebrew scripture, our ancestors revealed this understanding of who we are and what our relationship with God is. In Jeremiah 1:5, we read, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you.” And in Psalm 139, we read, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”
When we enter into a meaningful relationship with one another, we not only grow in our understanding of one another’s reality and walk in one another’s shoes, but we also grow in our understanding of God, through the unique presence of Christ that lives within each of us. We are reminded of this in 1 John 4:12: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
It is that presence of Christ that supports us in our desire to seek relationship. We certainly need God’s help in our desire to follow Christ faithfully in this world. It seems that loving God is often the easy part, but loving our neighbor or even our family at times can be challenging.
Some of us may take relationships for granted, without putting much effort into them. Some of us may not even think about whom we should be in relationship with. Jesus is very clear about who our neighbors are, and they are not just the ones next door. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, our neighbor is the one who is in need – wounded and suffering by the roadside. The Good Samaritan didn’t seem to care or ask about the ethnicity or race of the injured man, just that he was in need of help.
As a Christian community, we are called to be in relationship with our neighbors wherever they may live, and we are called to be in relationship both personally and corporately, as a church, as a community, and as a nation.
Following Christ is about loving God and loving one another, period. We can do this by crossing borders and traveling overseas. We can do this by being a kind and attentive person who lovingly cares for a family member, a neighbor, or a stranger. Expanding on this concept, we can look at relationships more broadly, as our Hawaiian neighbors do. The Hawaiian word ohana means family, and in the Hawaiian context, family can mean the local community or the whole world. The essence of ohana is that nobody should be left behind or forgotten, and this is the sentiment that we read throughout the Gospels.
As a parish, as a diocese, and as The Episcopal Church writ large, we are all capable of reaching out around the world to our sisters and brothers in Christ, to be in relationship and share the love of God with one another, because this is the very essence of what it means to be a Christian.
Being a good neighbor – being in relationship – is about helping others be able to fulfill their potential as human beings, as children of God. Healthy relationships empower both sides, enrich the church and the community, and open us up to grow in our relationship with God.
We have both an individual responsibility to be in healthy relationships with our neighbor and a corporate responsibility to do so. How many unjust laws in our history have limited the full potential of others in our own country and around the world? How has the global trend for national protectionism negatively affected our sisters and brothers around the world?
It is important to care for the elderly widow next door and for the poor in our neighborhood. It is equally important to look beyond ourselves and our own cultural and geographic contexts and to care for those who are in desperate economic situations; those living in a conflict zone; and those who are victims of famine, oppression, violence, or injustice.
As a community, as The Episcopal Church, it is important for us to participate in God’s mission with all those with whom we are able. On this World Mission Sunday, we are reminded of our call to focus on our international engagement and to work with victims of hunger, fear, injustice, oppression, and racism and in support the most vulnerable in society.
We can do this by partnering with a parish or diocese in another part of the Anglican Communion. We can do this by engaging with the missionary programs of The Episcopal Church by supporting the Young Adult Service Corps or the Episcopal Volunteers in Mission who send out volunteers around the world on our behalf.
This July, our Church community – The Episcopal Church – will gather with partners from around the world at the Lambeth Conference, as bishops from all around the Anglican Communion come together in this decennial event in England to celebrate the relationships that Anglicans have had for generations. As we look forward to the Lambeth Conference, we are given an opportunity to see the glorious breadth of our community with diverse ethnic, cultural, and theological opinions. Such a gathering shows that, while we do not necessarily agree with one another on many issues, we can still remain in fellowship and live as community.
As our Presiding Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry would say, we are called to love God, to love our neighbor, and to love ourselves. I would add to that, we should do our best, with God’s help, to ensure that nobody is left behind or forgotten.