Does the church exist for us or for others? Probably the best answer to that question is that it exists for both. The church is here to provide spiritual nurture for our personal transformation and it is here to be a beacon of hope for the entire world. If the church is here only for us, it would literally die when we die as no one would be here to continue it. But, more importantly, if we live as the church only for ourselves, the institution is not worth keeping. We are only as good as the message we send to the world and the work we do in the world. If we are here only for ourselves we will die from the inside out.
October 18 is the date on the calendar when we celebrate the Feast Day of St. Luke. Luke was not among the 12 Apostles, was not a Jew, perhaps didn’t even ever meet Jesus, but converted to the faith and accompanied Paul on his journeys. He is credited with writing the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts which would make him the primary author of the New Testament. Luke was an outsider, a Gentile, and a physician. There is one Tiffany window at St. John’s, to the right of the Ascension window above the altar, and it is a depiction of St. Luke.
We’re currently reading the Gospel of Luke in our daily lectionary and in our Sunday worship as prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer. Luke’s gospel is similar in many ways to Mark’s and Matthew’s but it contains numerous stories that are not told in any of the other gospel accounts. Luke is eager for us to hear that Jesus’ ministry was not just to the Jewish community. Luke reminds us that the Gospel was for the entire world. He himself being a Gentile and coming to the faith was particularly appreciative of the universality of the Christian message. Salvation wasn’t for the few; it was for everyone. Grace is open to all: rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, male or female. Maybe because Luke was an outsider he was able to address our tendency to keep the good news of the gospel to ourselves and believe that the kingdom consists only of people who are like us. Luke won’t stand for such a shallow understanding of the Gospel.
Luke was also a physician and that affects his perception of salvation as well. Working each day to make others well, Luke seemed to know that salvation itself is being made well. Being a healer, he could appreciate the healing power of Christ and he incorporates that into all that he writes, all that he does as a person of faith. Luke is a doctor and knows that all who are sick are in need of healing, a believer who knows that all who seek salvation receive it. He’s a pretty radical kind of figure.
St. John’s does a lot of work in our community. Last week we housed a homeless family as part of our work with Family Promise, a local entity started by our congregation which helps homeless families find permanent housing. This week we are doing a simple little thing but something pretty important. On Friday afternoon we will host the Sidney Lanier football team and provide their pregame meal for them. 75 players and 20 coaches and managers will receive a meal prepared and served by us. The reason that is important is that most of those high school students have grown up in Montgomery and never been in our church. As our churches are so segregated they may even associate St. John’s with segregation. They may associate us with the unequal playing field of their everyday lives. We may represent privilege and even oppression to them.
For us to open our doors and offer a meal to these high school athletes may just be a little beacon of hope that we shine into our community. The purpose of the meal is simply to be hospitable and to further our connection with a struggling public school, to let it be known that we have respect for them as fellow members of our community.
I’ll get to give the team a pregame talk. What I’ll share with them is my own experience of growing up playing sports and the difference between individual and team sports. In individual sports you do your best and either win or lose. In team sports something else altogether happens. You have to play together. In addition to my own performance, as a member of a team my purpose is to support the others and make it possible for others to do their best. That means encouraging each other, supporting each other, letting every member of the team know that their contribution matters. Successful teams win a lot of games. But, more importantly, successful teams build community, a sense of mutual respect where all are made better. Successful teams do what churches should do but often don’t.
The church is here to participate in our community is such a way that all are made better, that all can see a beacon of hope, that all may know the open invitation of grace. We’re not here for ourselves alone. We’re here to live out the message of love and respect for every member of our community and the world.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.