Scripture: Deuteronomy 8: 7-10; Mark 16: 12-20: Rogation. Nigel Bunce
Growth in our gardens and in faith. These two aspects of growth come together for us this Sunday. We celebrate Rogation Sunday; and we look forward to Pentecost next week – the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples.
Rogation comes from a Latin word meaning “to ask”. So today, we ask God’s blessing on the crops in our fields and the plants in our gardens. The underlying motif is new life. New growth in our farms and gardens, and growth of our faith in the Easter season.
But, as the author of Deuteronomy reminded the ancient Israelites. We rely utterly on the bounty of the earth, on fertile soil, sunshine, and rain. Human carelessness imperils the Creation on which we depend. In this rather cool and wet spring season, it’s easy to forget, or even to dismiss, the warnings of our scientific prophets about climate change. But it’s still real.
Jesus’ final words to the disciples, according to Mark
We just heard the last verses of Mark’s Gospel; Jesus’ final instructions to the disciples. As with Matthew’s and John’s Gospels, this looks like a post-script to the main text. Someone else must have written this material into Mark’s Gospel later, after reading Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels.
Jesus commands the disciples to go and preach the Gospel in the world [Matthew 28: 19], and then ascends to the Father [Luke 24: 24: 51]. In churchy language, “preach the Gospel” is called mission, often with a big M. As the Church uses the word, mission has the original Latin meaning of “to send out.” That was the Apostles’ “mission” at Pentecost.
What is Mission? is it growth in our gardens and in faith?
There’s a lot about mission in the May edition of the Niagara Anglican newspaper. One article ends with the following words. “The goal … is to share – with joy and conviction that God’s mission of love in our world is to draw all people – all people – to God’s self, and in so doing to unite heaven and earth through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
I find the emphasis on “all people” problematic in 21st century, multicultural Canada.. It’s more in line with Matthew’s Gospel than what we heard in Mark. Matthew is explicit. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
This has led to a certain militancy among Christians (in every age). So, should the “mission” of Canadian Christians be to convert Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs … to Christianity? I don’t believe so. There’s a vast chasm between telling other people about the “Jesus story” and trying to convert those who already have their own pathway to God.
But, Jesus wasn’t trying to found a new religion. His ministry involved bringing 1st century Jews closer to knowledge of God. He preached and ministered almost exclusively among his co-religionists.
John Bowen’s article “Discipleship and Mission: how do they relate?”
Back to the Niagara Anglican. I found this article very interesting. Bowen noted the emergence of “Missional Movements” in recent years. They aim to “build the church.” That means, to my cynical mind, getting more bums to sit on more seats. Preferably bums that also sit on fat wallets.
I recall interviewing a candidate for priest when I was on a parochial committee in Rockwood. When I told him about the parish’s outreach to a local nursing and retirement home, he responded. “That won’t grow the parish.”
Bowen seems to say that what we don’t need are courses on how to do mission or how to make disciples. He writes that the Gospel starts with God. God is “at work in the world to deal with sin and suffering, with evil and oppression.”
Because, in the words of an old hymn. “For the love of God is broader than the measures of our mind. And the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind.”
So, what is discipleship?
Discipleship, according to Bowen, happens when we accept God’s invitation to help make change in our world, by becoming apprentices to Jesus. Not by trying to “grow the church”. Thus, our role is to be catalysts for this change. Bowen uses the image of yeast working in a loaf of bread. Unseen but powerful.
Pentecost comes next week. We’ll hear about how Peter proclaimed the news that “Christ is risen!” in the streets. Acts records Peter, Paul, and Barnabas as the chief agents who got the early church going.
St. Paul’s understanding of God’s world
Paul had a mantra to remedy the “sin and suffering, evil and oppression” of his day. In God’s world, “there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free”. No injustice. No inequality. That was how Paul founded churches that were “successful”.
Today’s “sins” are the same ones, only dressed in new clothes. Injustice. Inequality. We might say that God requires today that in Canada there is neither “white nor non-white, settler nor Indigenous, job-secure nor insecure.”
It must also include something new. Care for the environment, because the effects of climate change are themselves agents of inequality and injustice. Today’s imperatives are not all the same as back then.
Growth in our gardens and in faith
Discipleship isn’t the same as worldly success. I believe that the kind of message that I describe here, lived out in practice, not just preached, will draw people to discipleship. “Missional” church-building is bound to fail. Because, people easily see through projects that measure success by “growing the church and growing the budget.”
So, let me complete the circle by coming back to Rogation Sunday. The Easter season, in the Northern Hemisphere at least, is a time of new growth, spring flowers, and planting our farms and gardens. But it’s also a time for renewed growth along our faith journeys.
My prayer is that the members St. George’s can be like Christ – lights to the world. That we do our best to live out the love of God in our individual lives. Because that is enough. Whether or not our witness inspires other people to join us as disciples.
We hope they will join us. But that isn’t the point. St. George’s may never be successful by the world’s yardstick. So, I repeat what I just said. Our role is to live out the love of God in our individual lives. Because that is enough. And more than enough. Amen.