St. Matthew's Episcopal Church Maple Glen, Pennsylvania

Epiphany and the Mission of the Church

During Epiphany the Church draws our attention to God’s intention that all people become a part of his beloved community. The Apostle Paul has much to say to all of us at St. Matthews about the call that is on our lives as believers to be ambassadors who bring the world’s people to peace with God. Here follow seven Pauline principles.

  1. Our call is to be agents of reconciliation: Paul understood the Church to be the body of Christ with Christ himself as the head of the church. He assumed that Christ’s mission to the world was to be ours as well. Christ’s concerns, emphases, attributes, ministries of care and proclamation are ours. Paul described our mission in 2 Corinthians 5:17-20, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us.” Our mission as agents for God is to bring reconciliation to the world, to break down the walls of alienation.
  2. The mission is to the earth’s diverse peoples and systems so that the peace of God “that passes all understanding” may rest in them. We pray globally and act locally. As we capture God’s vision of reconciliation that breaks down the walls that divide the peoples of the earth from their God and from each other, we become co-workers with God in God’s restoration of all things.
  3. Sometimes God has to heal us while we are agents of change in a changing world. In order to heal us God has been known to “stir up the heavens and come down” as God does the unexpected and transforms hearts, breathing through the heats of our desire the Spirit’s cooling balm (See Ephesians 4, Romans 8 and Colossians 1) Perhaps parish transitions are one of those moments of “stirring.”
  4. Foundational to the missionary strategy of Paul is a profound confidence in the Holy Spirit to transform lives, to heal diseases of mind, body and spirit, to end oppression, and to reconcile men and women and disparate races and cultures.
  5. Paul assumed that the work of God would be accomplished by the Holy Spirit through the members of the local body of Christ. Paul enumerates the gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. These include gifts of healing, prophesy, miracles and ministries of administration, teaching, helps, and prophesy. It is clear that he assumed that these would be part of the normal Christian church life. Paul’s vision for the church was therefore not dependent on powerful personalities or learned methodologies, but on the charisms of the Holy Spirit present in the lives of all men and women, youth and children of the body of Christ. Paul trusted young leaders, like Timothy, Priscilla, Barnabas, and Lydia who were teachable and open to the direction of the Holy Spirit; leaders who relied on the Holy Spirit for the tools and strategies to do the mission of the church. The mission of St. Matthews does not take a holiday during a transition, but instead offers an opportunity for each of us to find and do the work the Spirit.
  6. Paul was convinced the Spirit-filled community was capable of learning in the Spirit the things they needed to know about life and ministry. Since he never stayed in a place very long, he made sure converts had an encounter with the Holy Spirit and then he set them in house churches where they could engage the ministries of the Holy Spirit enumerated in the texts mentioned above. It is clear that Paul expected new converts to be empowered by the Holy Spirit so that they became a new creation. Their lives were to be radically transformed in Christ. Their affections were to undergo conversion. They were to become witnesses as Paul was. This moment of transition might provide a good opportunity to explore small groups that allow us to grow in grace and mission.
  7. Paul was focused on bringing Christ to all whom he met using every resource he had. Paul supported himself through tent making. He looked to establish common ground with his listeners. The clearest example is found in Acts 17:16-33. Paul noticed that the Athenians were very religious. He saw numerous idols and altars throughout the city, including one with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” He seizes this opportunity to make known to the Athenians, “the God who made the world and everything in it.” He even quotes from one of the Greek philosophers to say, “In him we live and move and have our being.” As a result of him beginning where the Athenians were, using what was already known to them, he was able to proclaim the gospel with greater ease. Consequently, some became believers that day. Paul’s missionary strategy was to introduce people into relationship with their God in ways that they were able to hear.

We live in a post Christian century like the one Paul served. The Church today has moved to the margins, no longer valued much by society. We might consider leaving the familiar, the tried and true in order to understand the ways our culture and her people can be open to the mystery of God. New strategies and ways of being are called for this Epiphany to bring the people of the earth to their creator and savior. We children of the Spirit are the ones who must follow her in order to find new ways forward.

~ Peter+

The Rev. Dr. Peter B. Stube, Interim Rector