Rector's Blog: Sent Ones
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I originally wrote this a little over a year ago as we meditated on The Way of Love – The Episcopal Church’s rule of life. My focus, as you’ll see, was on our movement out into the world. Less than a month later, we began a long-term quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and much of what I wrote here felt immediately impossible. But this idea of you and I being sent into the world is bigger than a specific moment in time – and as we begin to move back out into our world again and see things opening up, as we find new ways to be present in our world, I wanted to reintroduce this idea of Jesus sending you out. So, here’s what I wrote:
There is a moment during Jesus’ ministry when he sends his followers out into the world ahead of him. Their job is ostensibly to share life with people in such a way that others know God’s Kingdom is real, present, and active. When they Go out into the world, their presence is meant to be a taste of what it’s like to share life with Jesus.
It is the Christian belief that when we go into the world in Jesus’ name, the world will be transformed by our presence. Of course, sometimes we get this terribly, horribly wrong. Sometimes we think it’s our job to force “belief in Jesus” on others, to convince, cajole, or – even worse – enforce “Christianity” upon those we meet. This is no gift, but a gross misunderstanding of the Love of God that is manifest in Christ Jesus. So, I get why some Christians ignore Jesus’ command to Go – but Jesus does indeed command it.
Jesus commands his followers to Go into the world. And I’ll say it again, we believe that our going into the world changes the world. Not because we force others to join us: But because we believe that when we go into new places and communities, when we commit to cross boundaries, listen carefully, and take part in healing and reconciling what is broken in this world, our presence will effect change for Love. This is the true work of Jesus in the world.
But there’s something about Jesus’ command to Go that’s worth considering here, and it’s what it does to those of us who receive the command.
I’m going to get word-nerdy for a moment, so bear with me. The Greek word we translate to mean “disciple” has the connotation of close pupil, follower, and adherent. The disciple sticks to Jesus like glue, sits at his feet, and pays attention. This is essential to the Christian life, unquestionably. But there is a point when Jesus looks at his adherents, and commands them to Go. This isn’t a dismissal or rejection – it’s a commission. Jesus sends them out with purpose. They become “sent ones”. And there’s a word for that in the Bible too: It’s apostle. An apostle is literally “a sent one”.
Jesus’ command to his followers to Go shifts their identity from disciple to apostle. They aren’t just adherents anymore: They are the sent ones. Their obedience to Jesus’ command transforms their understanding of themselves and their life in the world. Jesus sends us. His repeated command to Go, to go into the cities and towns, into the community, into the world, to go bearing the Gospel and bearing our very selves – is not just meant to change the world into which we go: It is meant to change us. When Jesus commands us to Go, we become sent. This is transformation, and it is fundamental.
At the core of The Way of Love is the question of our willingness to be transformed. Are we willing to let God influence us? Are we willing to allow God’s presence to impact the way we see ourselves, our lives, and the worlds around us? I don’t say this glibly or lightly: So often our conversations around God – if we even have them – focus on what we believe about God, what we believe God thinks about us or which of our decisions God might “like” or “dislike” – as if God’s primary occupation is as passive, judging, observer.
God is not a passive observer of life. God is present and active in our everyday life. You are every moment in the presence of the God who loves you. Not the God who admires you or idealizes you or hopes good things for you or who worries about you from afar: The God Who Loves You. And love is not passive. Love is not idealistic. Love is not distant or abstract. Love is active and moving, generous, kind, and effective.
Effective love? Yes. God’s love is not hypothetical or theoretical. The love of God has an effect on your life today – right now. Love effects change.
The work of The Way of Love is meant to give us practical ways to experience and engage with God’s effective love. Walking in The Way of Love shifts us from knowing about God to knowing God. This is a shift from theory to practice, from hypothetical spirituality to effectual religion. If you are actively participating in love relationship with God, you will be transformed – not from bad to good, mind you (good luck with that.) You’ll be transformed because that’s what real relationships of love do: They challenge us, make us grow, make us more whole: They make us change. Transformative, effective: That’s love.
If this is true about our love relationships with other people, why would we expect anything less from the God who created relationship in the first place?
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