LIVING THE VISION
I am so very happy to be with you this evening, and to be given the opportunity to know you….. Indeed, in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and on behalf of my brother in Christ, the primate of this God protected Archdiocese, His Eminence Metropolitan Phillip, and of the Hierarchs of the Antiochian Archdiocese, and myself, we greet you with a glad heart……. For we know that this gathering is an affirmation of a common Vision….. It is the Vision to be part of the One Holy Orthodox Church: The Church of Christ;…. of Peter and Paul;….. of our Fathers and Mothers;…. of you and me… Thus, with love and prayer we encourage you to move forward in faith and confidence that Christ is truly in your midst – strengthening and directing you as you move forward to live the Vision of your spiritual goals.
I pray that the theme of your spiritual vision – that which will echo in your ears and hearts – will be Jesus’ commission to his disciples,…. to: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
This Vision of course is all about “seeing something” and “looking somewhere”. …. We must be looking outside of ourselves and into the eyes of those searching for Christ and His salvation…. Then the Vision of Mission becomes much clearer for us…. The problem with some churches is that they have no Vision because they cannot see, or refuse to see, the life which God longs for them to possess.
Often, the challenges of moving forward with godly Vision seem great….. But the godly resources available to us are greater still….. If God be for us, who can be against us?…. God’s love constantly surrounds us: He who commands us “to go and make disciples of all nations” also says, “I am with you always…” Clearly, Christ is saying to us: If you attempt great things for God, I promise you that you can expect great things from God.
Accordingly, I wish to suggest that three perspectives are central to sound Christian thinking with regard to accomplishing our spiritual goals – and doing great things for God:
q First, we need to look back to the roots of our Faith and to the community in which we were nurtured.
q Second, we need to look outside of ourselves in missionary compassion on a world which is in need of Christ – being eager to see where the Holy Spirit is at work, and to join Him there.
q Third, we need to look forward in hope and confidence, knowing that our efforts are not in vain, that "God is working in and through us" and that "His Kingdom will come. "
FIRST, LET US LOOK BACK TO OUR ROOTS
If we are to share a message relevant for today,… a message of hope that connects contemporary people with God,…. we must (oddly enough) begin by looking back…. Looking back to where our Christian faith begins – in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ….. Further, we can never forget that Christ gathered around him people of faith, a community of believers….. To these, Christ gave the gospel commission of making disciples of all nations…. Not only did Christ give them this directive, but on the day of Pentecost, His followers were given power to accomplish this goal….. Through this power the disciples were able to accomplish the mission which the Lord had directed them to do…… Thus, we must never forget that we belong to that ancient, yet ever new, power endowed Community of Faith.
SECONDLY, WE MUST LOOK OUTWARDS IN MISSION
We do not look back to the past simply out of some odd interest in history. ….. Christians are not, and should not be a nostalgic people. …. We look back so that we may grasp what it means to be Christian….. We look back so that we may know Who our Lord is, and who we are in relation to Him. …. We do this so that we may then faithfully live the life of Christ and thereby deliver His Gospel message in our own generation,… in our own setting,… in our own society.
We look back not to live in the past, but to bring the miracles of the past into the present;…. to create continuity with it…. Doing so enables us to take hold of our Lord Jesus Christ:
v Who not only was, but still is.
v Who not only strengthened, but Who still strengthens.
v Who not only raised up from death, but Who continues to raise us up with Him in power.
We can be confident as we launch out into our own modern society because we believe that the One who came so long ago, is the same One who comes to us today….. We know that His touch continues to be filled with that same ancient power of renewal and regeneration.
By looking back to our roots,… we understand that we are called to make disciples of all nations – especially those immediately around us…. This means that we are called to look beyond ourselves….. We need to look out with missionary intent to the world which Jesus came to save – for that is His Great Commission to us.
A very popular question over the last several years has been: “What would Jesus do?” … Our answer to this question determines our own response to His commission… For our calling is precisely to do what Jesus would do if He were here. So let us look out at God’s world – at our community in which we live – and determine its needs.
But let me offer you some of my own thoughts on what Jesus would do.
v Jesus would want us to build a church as inclusive as the gospel is inclusive.
v He would welcome all people, and there would be no division of race, class, sex, or education.
v He would call upon us all to stop being so self-concerned, and instead, to love and care for others.
v He would call us to go – go out into our community – and make disciples of all people, by first showing them the great love we have for each other…. In doing so, you will bring to such people the Truth found only in Jesus Christ and His Holy Church.
You are not alone in this endeavor. God is with you. We are with you…. You have the wonderful benefit of knowledge gleaned from those who have established missions before you….. There are many resources available to you, and the Archdiocese will be more than happy to provide them to you, and, thus help you move forward strongly in fulfillment of your spiritual goals.
Moreover, in every Christ-centered endeavor, God gives the courage to boldly reach out in new ways into our world…. Living the Spiritual Vision which God has given you means — being faithfully engaged in God’s work of renewal, and the continuation of the Great commission.
LASTLY, WE NEED TO LOOK FORWARD IN HOPE AND EXPECTATION
Each new Liturgical season calls us to look forward to the next, with expectation and joy……. We are called to always be in a state of preparation and expectation for an encounter both with Christ, and those who wish to know Him. …. Thus, we are constantly encouraged to look forward in confidence, and to move forward in faith to spread the Good News of Christ.
In what specific ways are we to do this?
First, we must be forward looking in our planning and decision making…. Sometimes we church leaders need to be reminded of the words of Holy Scripture that “if there is no vision the people perish.”.. This is certainly true of church life….. I know of some churches where nothing ever happens because nothing is aimed for…… As someone has said: Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.
v Churches grow when they have leaders who confidently set goals, and move forward in faith to achieve their goals.
v Churches grow when they have leaders who have vision, leaders who care, and, who are passionate for the Faith.
Second, we Christians are called to be achievers – not for our own sakes, but for our Lord and His kingdom. Thus, our goals must include:
v reaching out with godly compassion to those in need
v proclaiming the love of Christ for all humanity
v being firmly rooted in the Bible, holy tradition and the Fathers of the Church, and
v establishing and promoting the saving presence of the Orthodox Christian faith within our own community.
Thus each Orthodox Community must set its own goals….. You too, must set your own goals, and do so with confidence that you can do all things through Christ, who strengthens you.
Let us be people who expect God to work among us…. We are called, of course, to be active, energetic and focused people of God, serving Him and loving him in all our strength, and with all our soul…
However, a warning comes with this:… for such activity must flow from true spirituality;…. indeed, from the roots of our faith and love of God.
That is why I said earlier that we look back to take our bearings from the teaching received through Holy Scripture and the Church…. We are bound by them and we will be blessed through them as, in the words of the Apostle Jude, we honor the ‘faith which was once and for all delivered to the saints.
When we consider any successful and growing church, we find a common element present:
v the leaders and the people will be those who believe in new beginnings and whose faith in Jesus Christ is enthusiastic, committed, and always open to fresh possibilities…. Living in this manner leaves you wide open to the energy of the Holy Spirit and His direction.
Someone once said: “Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from God.” …. Do not be afraid…. God is with you!… Every time God’s children have thrown away fear in pursuit of faith – communicating the Gospel message of our Lord Jesus Christ fearlessly – miracles have happened….. I am sure Christ’s Disciples felt all alone and horribly afraid at times…. Yet, they had received the command “Go into the world and make disciples of all nations.”…. Moreover, they had received the great and enlivening promise: I am with you. I will never leave you. You will succeed – for My church will triumph over the world of darkness.
May Christ’s Holy Name be blessed, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.