Who are we trying to serve?
What do we know about them?
What difference do we want to make for them?
October 22, 2017, St. Augustine’s Anglican Church
In the first century, the news of Jesus’ resurrection was fresh
It had gone out like lightening
He is Lord!
-greater than Caesar
-greater than Moses
-The Messiah! – Risen from the dead!
Paul, that early saint in the church, was one of the first who really went traveling to tell the news
He was a tent-maker, traveling from town to town
And in each town, he would share the news and story of Jesus while he fixed tents
A complete missionary and a complete apostle
Paul would share the news, allow local leaders to take over, and then move on to take his trade and his message elsewhere
Then, as we have an example in our New Testament reading today
He would write letters back to those young churches to encourage and support the new leaders
It seems in the town of Thessalonica
Paul had really seen God at work among the people
And the whole church became missionaries in their own rite
As St. Paul says, “The word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we [your founders] have no need to speak about it.”
What an example. Each individual a visible sign of God’s love to the world around.
We spoke last Sunday asking, “Who is it that we serve at St. Augustine’s” In business lingo from Peter Drucker’s book “the 5 most important questions you will ask about your organization” – “who are our customers?”
And today we ask what do they value?
To get there, I would like us to re-think how that missionary impulse, like St. Paul, might be at work in us.
Have you ever thought of yourself as a missionary?
Who do you think you serve?
-The people of this city or country or another country?
If Paul has something to say to us, it is that he assumes that being a Christian involves using our gifts and personalities to bring the word of God’s love
He doesn’t beat around the bush he says in effect: If you are a Christian, you are a missionary, though we each do it in different ways.
I think being a missionary can look like a thousand things and function in a thousand ways, but I think the basic impulse is true.
It is the old saying that we are beggars telling another beggar where to find bread.
I am sure you have heard the stories of missionaries being sent to Africa, or South America, or Asia. Western people who land in a village and need to learn the language, what is important to the people, what stories they have, what they value and hold dear.
There are bad stories of mission work of course, but there are also good and wholesome examples of missionaries who respected the people, served them with God’s love, and spoke gently a word of hope and love, and the name and news of Jesus in their midst. It can be said that the good ones followed the very example of Christ coming among us in poverty, to show us the love of God in self-giving.
The best missionaries came first with love. And then a word of love. And then the Gospel took root and the power of the Spirit was released in new ways.
So, for a little experiment, let’s try it on in our minds…
I’d like you to close your eyes and really picture this idea…
Let’s say that you became a Christian in a far-off place
And you signed on to come and serve in the very neighborhood you are living right now
You move to the house or apartment in which you are currently living
Picture your home, think of where you sleep, where you enter and exit.
Imagine you arrive as if not knowing anything about the people around you and so your first job is to learn and watch and observe.
You do not know what they will think of you, do the people around you trust you?
What is the history of the place?
After a restless night’s sleep, you pray in the morning and ask God for direction
You walk out of your residence
And start looking around
-What do you notice?
-As you wander with intention, who do you meet?
The person or people you see
What language do they speak, can you communicate well with them? Or do you have some learning to do?
Do they look like you? Are they of similar age and state? Or do you stand out like a sore thumb?
You listen. What kinds of stories do they tell you?…
As the days go on, who else do you meet? The same kind of person, or a mix?
What is God doing here? With these very people?
You may open your eyes when you are ready
When you thought of your own neighborhood, your own place of living
And in your mind’s eye you looked around as a new missionary
What did you see?
What did you notice that was really important to people? What stories did they tell? Where was God?
Peter Drucker says that “What does the customer value” might be the most important question of all!
But he notes that it is often the one least asked.
And he has challenging words for nonprofits in particular. We are not quite a normal non-profit, but his words apply to churches nonetheless. I read you the full quotation:
“What does the customer value? May be the most important question. Yet is the one least often asked. Nonprofit leaders tend to answer it for themselves. “It’s the quality of our programs. It’s the way we improve the community.” People are so convinced they are doing the right things and so committed to their cause that they come to see the institution as an end in itself. But that’s a bureaucracy. Instead of asking, “does it deliver value to our customers?” They ask, “Does it fit our rules?” And that not only inhibits performance but also destroys vision and dedication.”
Drucker would challenge us to ask – is the good news of Jesus that began Christianity actually getting to the people we hope it would? How would we know? What would that look like?
These questions begin with knowing what people in Edmonton, in Fulton Place, in our families, in our networks of friends – knowing what they really value, what they are about, who they are.
And how do we know?
How do we grow in our learning?
It won’t surprise you that it is the usual old way…
We ask and we open our eyes. We listen to the moments when someone says,
“My favorite thing is…”
“My hope for Edmonton is…”
“My struggle right now is…”
And at the right moment, we ask our own questions.
Some of my favorites right now for learning are these:
I’ll meet someone in the community and say – “What is your spirituality.” I don’t ask any more “do you go to church.” Because that is an assumption of Christendom
We are a multi-faith nation and I want to know what they value spiritually without making any assumptions that they will be at all like me. So, I ask open-endedly early on, “what is your spirituality?”
Sometimes though if the topic comes up I will ask their history with church. In Canada a lot of people do have that history. I will ask:
“what is your story with Church.”
“How do you think of Jesus right now?”
“Was church a positive or negative experience for you?”
Last year I got to do marriage prep with a couple where the wife had almost no church experience. They didn’t feel church had a place for them currently, though they were still drawn and open to marriage in the church.
I learned so much when I earned the right to ask, “If you could be involved in any spiritual activity at this point in your life, what would it be?”
They went on to describe a very open and respectful space where real spiritual conversation could be had, but there was no assumption or ‘push’ to sign and commit on the dotted line of religion.
It was one of the frankest conversations about faith and church that I had had with anyone Christian or non. I gained much, and I think they had never really thought that through.
And so, you know the challenge that I will leave with you today.
I don’t really need to tell you.
It is to listen and perhaps to ask.
My work as a pastor has me spending a fair bit of time with church people.
Your gift is that your baptismal work is much more free and open
You are the eyes and ears and presence of Christ in the world
What are you hearing?
Is there one person this week that you can ask straight up, in your own words, “what is most important in your life right now?”
I am sending you out!
And we will gather November 18th to gather these threads together…
Go and listen
Go and wander in your communities, your families
Go and be a learner.
And let me pray for you in this.
Lord, you have commissioned us in your Son Jesus Christ
To be your hands and feet and eyes and ears.
Unstuck our ears, draw the shingles off our eyes
That we might truly see people as you see them
Give us understanding as a church, and as individuals
The courage to really learn and be open
And have everything to discover.
May it be so in this week and for ever more.