Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Going Fast in Reverse

I’m a huge fan of Car Talk, both because I have a weakness for cars and I love to laugh. Some time ago, a “puzzler” was shared in which a guy with a very ordinary car challenged a local hotshot with a souped-up muscle car to a race. Somehow the regular car won. How? The race was run entirely in reverse and the regular car was geared such that it was able to outrun the muscle car.

I’m intrigued by the picture of two guys barreling down a street, necks craned around, running full speed in reverse. Sometimes I think that’s what the church, particularly the mainline church, has been doing for the last 100 years or so. Most of our movement is in one direction, toward the church.

Several weeks ago, we were sharing in a group of pastors about the calling of the church, and one Catholic layman said, “We have two movements in the church. Gathering and sending. We only do the first one fairly well and the second one we do poorly or not at all.”

What is the mission of the church? Surely it’s God’s mission, not ours, first of all. And it’s about the world, not the church. Ross Olivier put it well: “The real question is not whether the church can find its mission, but whether God’s mission can find a church.” We are not the end, but the means to the end, which is God’s good news to the poor, release for the prisoners, sight for the blind, releasing the broken and proclaiming God’s favor, to paraphrase Luke 4.

How are we doing at University UMC on those two movements? Are we just about gathering, or we about gathering and releasing for God’s mission?

The Church Council is engaged in a season of planning and reflection on our goals and objectives as a congregation for 2012. Our mission and justice ministries are meeting to discern where we might engage the movement of God’s justice. You’ll hear more about all of this later this summer. For now, I invite all of us, as followers of Jesus, to consider which way you’re moving.

It’s something I wrestle with each day. How can I get out of the office, away from the computer screen and engage in ministry? Over the past year, I’ve felt led toward our homeless ministries at UUMC, but also toward finding long term solutions for homelessness with Austin Interfaith and other pastors here in Austin. I have to carve that time out each month, protect it from encroachments by all kinds of good things and then show up with my sleeves rolled up ready to work.

What I’ve found is that the gathering-sending loop becomes the realm of blessing but only, and not surprisingly, when I actually enter the loop. Worship is enriched because I have spent time with others who hurt, and ministry with others becomes a holy time because I’ve been in worship.

I invite you into the loop of gathering and sending. And if you’re there, invite someone to join you. And be prepared for the surprising, transforming grace of God.

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