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In an essay enti­tled “Mil­len­nial Ortho­doxy,” I out­lined — albeit rather snarkily — my qualms with the dilu­tion (or deval­u­a­tion) of orthodox chris­tian the­ology within the Epis­copal Church, a baby-boomer backed trend which I posited was unap­pealing to mil­len­nials like myself, who are searching for a church that is more than yet another social jus­tice non-profit. A clergy-friend of mine recently chal­lenged me to ask what is authentic mis­sion and whether the Epis­copal Church — which seems end­lessly enam­ored of things like so-called “mis­sional” the­ology — really grasped it.

Has it fully under­stood the reality of Christ’s great com­mis­sion, that which has been entrusted to us, and mis­sion, his despatching us into the world? In the nine­teenth cen­tury, he argued, we mis­in­ter­preted mis­sion to mean con­ver­sion often by coer­cion, that is, a con­ver­sion without sub­stance. Mis­sion­aries flocked to far flung climes and locales to con­vert the “savage hea­then” to “civ­i­lized faith­ful­ness.” Today, on the other hand, we look at mis­sion as social action without reli­gious per­sua­sion, that is, social action without substance.

In both instances, our approach to mis­sion has missed the mark, failing to demostrate our core con­vic­tion that Christ is the moti­va­tional center of our lives, that our out­reach and our ser­vice flows forth from the inspi­ra­tion of the Holy Ghost; and that in Christ is our redemp­tion by his blood and our sal­va­tion through his grace. We fail to remark upon our salvific journey of regen­er­a­tion, renewal, sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion, trans­for­ma­tion, and glo­ri­fi­ca­tion. We fail to be sent out by him, instead pre­sum­ably going out of our own accord.

Why is it no longer self-evi­dent in our actions that we are“christians,” the fol­lowers, friends, dis­ci­ples of Jesus Christ? Why do we seek to hide that he is our savior and redeemer, the mover of our being? I sus­pect that some­thing is amiss, that our out­ward shame is rooted in an inward guilt that gnaws at us, a seem­ingly unas­suagable guilt that we pro­fess a spir­i­tual faith within the con­text of a mate­rial insti­tu­tion that has not always been a faithful wit­ness of Christ’s love, that has used its long­standing soci­etal influ­ence to cor­rupt the faith in favor of princes and prin­ci­pal­i­ties, denying Christ for gain of wealth and power — not absolutely, but enough.

That we remain com­mitted to insti­tu­tional reform, as well as resti­tu­tion and rec­om­pense for past wrongs, does not seem to stem this per­va­sive guilt or empower us to reaf­firm what is right, what is good and joyful in Christ, despite those wrongs. Instead, we hang our heads, employing our­selves in admit­tedly good work, but remaining always silent lest we res­ur­rect the memory of our the fathers’failings.

If “nothing is cov­ered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known,” if what­ever is said in the dark shall be heard in the light, if what­ever is whis­pered in pri­vate rooms shall be pro­claimed upon the house­tops, do we have any right to with­hold the gospel of Jesus Christ, to omit the procla­ma­tion of our faith, for fear of offending those who deserve the oppor­tu­nity to befriend our Lord and be saved?

Jesus Christ com­manded his apos­tles, recorded in the gospel of John, “that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my dis­ci­ples, if you have love for one another,” which John again reit­er­ates in his first epistle writing, “that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has com­manded us,” that “all who keep his com­mand­ments abide in him, and he in them, and that by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us.”

Cer­tainly the works of love are man­i­fest and cer­tainly the Epis­copal Church acts on its con­fes­sion and under­takes to give meat to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, invi­ta­tion to the stranger, clothing to the naked, vis­i­ta­tion to the sick and the impris­oned, jus­tice to the widow and the orphan; extending arms of wel­come and love to the least and greatest amongst us. I do not ques­tion the Epis­copal Church’s com­mit­ment to and fufill­ment of the imper­a­tive to love and serve one another in Christ’s name.

Nev­er­the­less, I do wonder — often with a little ire — why we do not make it clearer who is the source and what is the sub­stance of these good works; that we do not better under­take the com­mand­ment to also “go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole cre­ation,” as the gospel of Mark records. Or, as in the gospel of Matthew, to “there­fore go and make dis­ci­ples of all nations, bap­tizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

We need not com­port our­selves like nine­teenth cen­tury mis­sion­aries, tact­less mes­sen­gers braying, “Con­vert, hea­then, lest ye be damned to the abyss, wherein the worm sleepeth not and an unquench­able hell­fire bur­neth eternal!” Rather, we must raise our voices just enough to wit­ness to the hope within us. We bear false wit­ness by omit­ting the most rel­e­vant fact of that hope: its ulti­mate begin­ning and end.

James in his epistle says, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith” but we have tried to show our works apart from our faith, appar­ently ashamed to share its origin and in so doing deny the gospel to those most enti­tled to it. We have helped to alle­viate mate­rial poverty, while simul­ta­ne­ously helping to per­pet­uate spir­i­tual poverty. We have fought for civil rights, but denied people spir­i­tual rights. We have been guilty of bearing false wit­ness, of omit­ting attri­bu­tion, pla­gia­rizing and claiming for own that which is prop­erly god’s. We have for­gotten to include the byline, “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

Inter­nally, we pray in the name of Christ. Exter­nally, we act out his com­mand­ment to love one another as if it were merely a human imper­a­tive and not a divine injunc­tion. Why do our esteemed leaders insist on waxing poetic, refer­ring to Jesus Christ only through the most opaque allu­sions and oblique metaphors? Only in the epis­to­lary for­mal­i­ties of salu­ta­tions and clos­ings “in Christ?” Only in the fixed phrasing our prayer book, often heard by the ini­ti­ated alone?

We talk about insti­tu­tional trans­parency as a for­ward-going neces­sity, but do not con­sider doc­trinal trans­parency worthy of note? How can Christ Epis­copal Church, Peoria never men­tion the name of Christ save when it refers to its own name? On the first of Jan­uary, the Epis­copal Church offi­cially cel­e­brates the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, but how often do the good people of St. Swithin’s men­tion his name the rest of the year?

I was raised in a home that tac­itly pro­fessed a vague iter­a­tion of sec­ular humanism. When I first encoun­tered Jesus Christ, I expe­ri­enced the trans­for­ma­tive power of his love. Sud­denly and inex­plic­ably, I found myself — a deeply intro­spec­tive and inward ado­les­cent — trans­formed into an empathic and other-focused indi­vidual. I know well how self-cen­tered I would be were Christ not the center of my exis­tence — or better, how much more self-cen­tered I would be. I feel deeply the pull of Him that turned me around, and upside down, and inside out and exposed me to a love that fed my heart and through whom I learned to love.

Before I befriended Jesus Christ; before I sub­mitted in friend­ship to him; before I under­went his regen­er­a­tive ablu­tions; before I broke bread and supped wine, the obla­tion of his body, the hos­pi­tality of his table, I had never wept in empathy. After I gave myself to him, the suf­fer­ings of people, real people, brought tears to my eyes and com­pelled me seek to relieve them. I do not pre­tend that I am a per­fect chris­tian or a per­fect ser­vant, syn­ony­mous as far as I am con­cered. In fact, I am far, far from it. Yet, despite my fail­ings, I know who is respon­sible for my paltry successes.

I am unashamed to say that I am the work of Jesus Christ, fash­ioned by his father’s hands in my mother’s womb. It is intol­er­able that we allow our shame, our guilt, and our affec­ta­tions of hos­pitable­ness and wel­come to under­mine our faith in Jesus and our procla­ma­tion of the same. So, let me say it aloud: I believe that all I think, say, and do that is good and just is the result of that grace given in abun­dance by JESUS CHRIST, my lord and savior. It may be unpop­ular for most. It may sound naïve to some. It may have neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions for many. Nev­er­the­less, it is, and as such I declare it, for truth should be declared.