“To teach, baptize and nurture new believers.”
Yesterday we heard Carol Hampton and Steven Charleston speak of “Inspiration” as one of the “four directions” of youth ministry. We all desire to be inspired, to be in-spirited, don’t we?
St. Augustine in the fourth century prayed: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Human beings have an empty space in us that can only be filled by the Divine. That would help to explain why so many in our culture today consider themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” It also explains why so many of us try to fill that spiritual void in our lives with substances, chemicals, alcohol and even other people. We are in fact hungry for God, even if we do not recognize it.
But the Creator did not wait for us to find the Sacred One on our own. The Creator searched us out in the person of Jesus the Christ: “The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was for God, in readiness for God from day one. … The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:1-2,14 The Message)
After Jesus completed the work he was given to do, he gave us a job. Jesus said: “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” (Matthew 28:19).
The Creator chose the twelve tribes of Israel to be a blessing for all the tribes and nations of the earth, including, but not limited to, the Chickahominy, the Cherokees, the Choctaws, the Lakota, the Dakota, the Ojibwe, the Dine, the Blackfoot, the Native Hawaiians, the Athabascan, the Potawatomi, the Norwegian, the English… Did I leave anyone out? All the nations have been given the commission by Christ himself to make disciples of all the nations.
This work given us is known as “evangelism.” Evangelism is defined by Episcopalians as “the presentation of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, in such ways that persons may be led to believe in him as Savior and follow him as Lord within the fellowship of the Church” (General Convention of TEC, 1973). Let’s unpack that a bit.
The Church and the world desperately need more disciples. Notice I did not say that the church and the world desperately needed more church members. We need committed disciples, people who have given their lives to Christ, who have received him as Savior and pledged to make Christ the Lord of their lives.
The Ojibwe word for “chief” is Ogiima. Ogiima is also translated as “boss.” Jesus is our Ogiima. Jesus becomes the “boss” of our lives. We give our lives as an offering to him, learning to live God’s way and not our own way or, worse, the way of evil.
True to the call in our Baptismal Covenant to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” (BCP, 305), at some point we have to learn to speak the name of Jesus to our friends and neighbors. One of my favorite understandings of evangelism is “one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.”
The early Church had a “catechumenal” process whereby new members were incorporated into the community by stages, making sure they knew what they were getting themselves into because it could literally cost them their lives in the Coliseum in Rome. Most importantly, new Christians were not simply “going to church,” they were joining a community of believers in service to the Lord Jesus Christ. The word “catechumen” is based on a Greek word that means “echoing sound.” The catechumens were giving the Gospel a hearing.
Perhaps its time we recovered a bit of that catechumenal spirituality and practice in our own communities. I was inspired by Mary Crist’s and Julia Bogany’s presentation about their work with “Women’s Circles.” What if we formed “Circles of Disciples” in our communities?
These “Circles of Disciples” could: 1) Reflect on the Sunday Bible Readings together; 2) Pray and worship; 3) Serve the poor, powerless and outcast; and 4) Discern how the gifts God has given are to be used in the building up of God’s Reign of peace and justice. We don’t even need church buildings for this; we could use people’s living rooms!
One of the principles of Asset-Based Community Development is that two or three people with a passion can change the world. Jesus himself said: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). We are not alone in this. Jesus himself will be there.
The Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith, Potawatomi
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota
Wewoka, Oklahoma (Seminole Nation)
February 19, 2013