Incarnation Holy Sacrament Episcopal Church is a welcoming and inclusive family of faith.
We worship, celebrate, and serve to strengthen and restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
We wrote that mission statement on a vestry retreat five years ago. During that retreat we talked a lot about our congregation, what we believed we were all about, who we were, how we saw our identity, and who we aspired to be. We looked back at the past, and ahead to the future. And we've repeated that mission statement at every Vestry meeting ever since.
However, we didn't make up that mission statement whole cloth. It's rooted in the theology of the Episcopal Church and the Book of Common Prayer. Since we wanted to focus our mission, we turned to what our tradition teaches is the mission of the entire Church, as in all Christians everywhere. Perhaps a better way of saying this is exactly to say, what is God's mission of salvation in the world that we're invited into. The Book of Common Prayer on page 855 says that the mission of the Church is to "restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ." The prayer book goes on to say that the Church pursues this mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love. We took those phrases, put them in the context of our congregation, and turned them into the actions of "worship, celebrate, and serve."
You may notice, though, that there's a a difference between the prayer book and our mission statement. While the prayer book calls the mission of the Church one of restoration and reconciliation, we added "strengthen." This came from a disagreement during our vestry discussion. Without violating confidentiality of our deep discussion, some expressed concern that the word "restore" implied a brokenness, and after all, we aren't broken, are we? Or perhaps we don't want to imply that anyone might be broken. Such an implication could offend, it could turn someone away.
I thought of all of this when I read this week's upcoming Gospel reading from Mark chapter 7. In that chapter we hear Jesus teach
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Throughout Mark chapter 7, Jesus again and again talks about the human condition. Eleven times he uses the term in greek anthropos, or human. It isn't the scribes or pharisees, or the Jews generally (his fellow Jews!) that Jesus is hardest on in this passage. What Jesus is hard on, where he points the finger of evil, sin, corruption, and even brokenness is the human heart. The human heart is the place from where evil comes. There is nothing from outside that can defile a person, because it is from within the human heart that evil comes. Jesus goes on to make a list of all of the evil in the world that emanates from the human heart: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All of those things come from within: from within me, and from within you.
Jesus is calling out the human heart is the origin of evil and defilement. If that doesn't make it sound like we are broken, I can't imagine what could. It's that evil, it's that sin, that requires restoration so that there can be reconciliation with God. That mission of reconciliation is what Paul makes clear is the work of Jesus, the plan of salvation, that God in Christ Jesus was reconciling all things to himself.
Yes, you and I must take a hard look, all of us, into our heart. We must be honest about the source of evil in the world. It can be so easy to look around the world outside of ourselves and see brokenness. We can look at the COVID-19 pandemic, at illness and disease, and see suffering and death inflicted on us. We can look at hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanoes, and see nature as the source of suffering in the world. We can look at drought and famine as a source of hunger and insecurity. It's easy to blame any condition outside of blaming ourselves. And when we exhaust our list of non-human sources to blame, we can blame those people who are different than we are as the source of trouble.
Jesus does not let us off the hook. Jesus knows that all human suffering is the suffering of any one human being. Jesus knows that there is no collective suffering, that all the suffering ever experienced in the world is the most suffering any one human can experience. Likewise, the evil of the world emanates from the corruption of the human heart.
Nevertheless, God extends mercy and love to each and every broken human person. We reflect this in our IHS mission statement, too, when we say that are a welcoming and inclusive family of faith. This isn't a statement about diversity (like you might get out of a corporate board room), it's a statement about God's stance toward all of us. Because God first loved us and welcomed us into himself in the Incarnation of the Son of God, we welcome and include literally anyone, also. God's mercy and love are for all persons. God's mercy and love are for you. No amount of human brokenness begins to compare to the love of God. And we experienced that love most fully in a human, a anthropos, Jesus of Nazareth.
In the end, strengthen isn't a bad word to use. After all, strength is our hope. We hope to move from the brokenness of our human condition, to standing strong in God's mercy and love. We need daily strength for the journey, to continue walking in faith, to pursue justice, peace, and love in the world. Strength might just be the goal, but not strength as the world sees it. Strength that we find on the Cross. Strength that we see in the face of Jesus as he faces suffering and death. I mean the kind of strength that says to the Father, not my will but yours be done. That is the kind of strength we pray for, and we hope God gives us by his grace.
So whether you feel you need strengthening for your journey, or you believe you need to be restored into the Church and relationship with God in Christ, you are loved, welcomed, and included into God's life and family. Welcome to the household of God, and welcome to Incarnation Holy Sacrament Episcopal Church in Drexel Hill, PA. Let us live out this mission in the days ahead more than ever.