Close your eyes, and remember a child's game you used to play. Put your fingers together, and recite after me :
"Here's the church. Here's the steeple. Open the door. See all the people!"
But WHO are these people? That is what my talk is about today.
In the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is an area called The Outline of Faith. Some of us know it as the Catechism. On page 855 is an area titled "The Ministry". I'll read the first two portions to you.
"Who are the ministers of the Church?"
"The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons."
Why do you suppose they put the ministers in that order? Lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.
"What is the ministry of the laity?"
"The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church, to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church."
Represent Christ and his Church??
How do you "represent" something? If you are asked to represent a particular group or cause, you are called "to serve as an example of.."
Examples : Represent your neighborhood association for city council meeting.
Represent your committee at a vestry meeting.
Represent your (insert your own example)
And HOW do you do this representing?
First, become intimately familiar with the group or cause you represent; then present the ideas or opinions to others. You are SENT to REPRESENT.
In the BCP, under Baptism, these things were promised by you (if you were old enough, as I was) or by your parents and godparents.
"Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?"
"Response : I will, with God's help."
"Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?"
"Response : I will, with God's help."
At that point, the priest or bishop baptizes you, and you are presented to the congregation. Part of their welcome to you is "Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood." PRIESTHOOD?
Yep. At that point, we are ORDAINED for our ministry.
What do we do with this ordained ministry?
According to the Gospel of St. Mark, we are to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature."
In the Gospel of St Matthew, Christ commissions us to "Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
So we are ORDAINED for ministry at the time of our baptism. We are empowered (good 90's word) for ministry, and are also COMMISSIONED for that ministry, by Jesus Christ.
OK, NOW WHAT?
What can I, a single, simple person, do? Just grab a Bible and a soapbox, and set up shop on the street corner? Not likely.
We form associations, we become a body, we learn from others, THEN we grab our Bibles and soapboxes. (humor)
When we elect representatives to congress, they go to a central location, work together and reach common goals, and then act on those goals. They become part of a body. We in Christ's church are also part of a body. The Body of Christ.
This is the prayer we've prayed after we've received Communion, BCP, page 365. It reads, in part, "Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as LIVING MEMBERS of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ..."
We are indeed accepted as the Arms and Legs of Christ. We REPRESENT Christ when we leave our church buildings and "go into the world".
You may ask, "But I'm not the best for this job. Why not send a priest? Someone more qualified...."
We are unique of the spiritually ordained in this manner. We wear the mark of Christ on our foreheads, but no visible sign of our ordination, such as a collar like a priest, deacon, or bishop. We're able to go more places, see more people, than our clergy. The sheer numbers show us that. Each and every one of us lives in a number of "worlds". The worlds of our home, our carpool, our work, our neighborhood, etc. In each of these "worlds", we meet and associate with hundreds of people. Each one of us has the potential to REPRESENT CHRIST to hundreds of people, right there where we live.
But why are the laity called to do this? We seem to think clerics speak "religionese". They are SUPPOSED to stand up and exhort, to teach, to talk about the kingdom of God. It's their JOB. But we, Christ's laity, speak out of personal experience, lived at the personal level. It's at that personal level that we can make the most difference.
Let the clerics have the masses, we can become the Body of Christ to the world, one friend at a time.
A young boy walking on a long stretch of beach discovered it was covered with stranded starfish that would die unless they got back in the water. Patiently, he began stooping down and picking them up, one by one, and gently tossing them back in the sea.
An old man stopped to watch the boy. "Young man," he finally said, "look down the beach at all these starfish. Do you really think you are going to make a difference?"
The boy stooped down and tossed another starfish into the ocean.
"I made a difference to that one," he answered simply.
Was the boy "qualified" to be a "star-thrower"?
He was, because he was in that particular world at that particular time.
God works through individuals, not armies. His message is slowly and quietly delivered to us, sometimes one person at a time, usually by a person right next to you. Jesus became flesh to be a living example TO US of what WE are to be doing in this world.
We are to be Jesus Christ to others. We are the church, the BODY of Christ, in this world.
Now, close your eyes again and, remembering that we are the arms and legs, the very fingers and toes of Christ on this world, play the child's game once more.
"Here's the church.............."
Go BE the Church.