Dear friends at Epiphany,
Many years ago at a clergy gathering, we were asked to complete this sentence: “The mission of the church is _______.” We were given time by ourselves to reflect and to write our answers, and then we came together in small groups to share our answers. In my small group, most of us had written long and detailed responses, thoroughly defining the mission of the church in all its varied aspects. And then a retired priest, Anna Caskey, shared her answer with the group: “The mission of the church is extending love.” After the session, I left my carefully crafted answer in the recycling bin. In two words, she had eloquently and memorably expressed the mission of the church.
I have been thinking of Anna’s simple yet profound definition of the church’s mission as we endure the intense anxiety of this election season; as we continue to grapple with the destructive effects of systemic racism and, for those of us who are white, our complicity in it; and as we cope with the ongoing suffering, isolation, and disruption imposed by the pandemic. We are living in troubled times, and for many of us it’s hard enough sometimes just to get to the end of the week (or the day!), much less cope with these extraordinary challenges.
Yet Anna’s words offer a way forward. In a sense, our vocation as Christians is simply to extend love in all we do – because in so doing, we are in some small way imitating God. God, who is love, extended unfathomable love to us by entering our sinful and broken world in the person of Jesus Christ, “to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us” to God (from Eucharistic Prayer A, BCP p. 362). Love lived among us in Jesus, and love lives among us always in the Holy Spirit, who inspires every loving act, no matter how small it may seem. In any situation, when facing any challenge, we can ask, “What is one loving thing that I can do right now? How can I extend love in this situation?”
Extending love is not always easy or accomplished quickly; it sometimes calls us to listen to hard truths, and to commit time and resources to ensure the wellbeing of our neighbors. This Saturday, November 7th, delegates from each parish in the diocese will gather online for our annual convention. Susan Almquist, Marion Dry, and I are Parish of the Epiphany’s delegates to the Diocesan Convention this year. The resolutions we will take up include one that calls on parishes “to explore their historic involvement in and present wealth derived from the forced labor of enslaved people.” Another asks congregations “to expose the greed at the root of the destruction of God’s Creation…through preaching, education, and outreach.” (Click here to learn more about these resolutions and the convention.) These are challenging resolutions that will demand patient and prayerful work. I believe they are also, at their core, about extending love.
Thank you – each of you at Parish of the Epiphany – for the many and beautiful ways you extend love to the world.
Yours in Christ,