By The Rev. Carlton Kelley
I have been asked to share the seven questions that formed the basis for my sermon on Sunday, June 26, 2016. These questions were taken from the January 8, 2012, Anglican Journal and written by the Canadian priest, the Rev Dr. Gary Nicolosi.
Please bear in mind, as Fr. Nicolosi says, that some questions are “so full of complexity that no adequate answer is possible, but that does not prevent us from considering multiple perspectives…”
1. “What would be lost, and how would the world be worse off, if our church ceased to exist?”
Fr. Nicolosi reminds us that many of the services the church alone provided in the past are now being offered by secular organizations. What then is our irreplaceably unique purpose? Are we merely a social service provider with an overlay of the divine?
2. “How does the church add value to people’s lives that they cannot live without – whether they know it or not?”
Fr. Nicolosi recalls many people standing in line to eat at the Cheesecake Factory in Buffalo. He then asks, “Would people wait that long to attend church?”
3. “What challenges in the fulfillment of mission does our church face and what can we do to bring about that new thing God wants our church to be?”
Not every new thing is of God nor does new mean better. But, the church frequently resorts to the answer that “We’ve never done it that way.”
4. “What are the barriers to seeing reality that our church needs to move beyond?”
This is a very difficult question because it is sometimes nearly impossible to see reality as it is when we are in the middle of it! Our reality is like the air we breathe – it is taken for granted that it cannot be different than it is. However, those sensitive to language understand that words create reality. So, what words do we need to change when we speak of Grace Church?
5. “What issues does our church need to face within the next year so that five years from now, we won’t have to say, ‘We wish we had…’ “
There is almost always something in the life of a complex institution that requires change. What is that ‘something’ for Grace Church?
6. “If money were not an issue, where would you like your church to be five years from now?”
As responsible stewards of our God given resources, we will need to make decisions about the direction we wish to take. There may be many possibilities, but fewer probabilities. What future direction is sustainable given our location and the foundation of the Gospel?
7. “In what ways can we affirm “Jesus is Lord” without appearing to be bigots?”
This may be the central question for the church of our time. In an age of increasing pluralism, how is the Gospel mandate to “preach the Gospel to all people” best done? Recalling that St. Francis is reported to have said that we are always to preach the Gospel, but to use words if we must, does that mean that the essential message of the Gospel – “Jesus is Lord” – should be ignored or abandoned? What does it mean that Jesus and none other is Lord? We claim that the life, death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord were unique and pivotal events for the entire cosmos. How are we to claim our uniquely God given vocation, in the power of the Holy Spirit, “to complete his work in the world and to bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all” without diminishing others? (Book of Common Prayer, page 374) Again, What does it mean that Jesus and none other is Lord? Our lives as Christians truly depend upon our answer both individually and corporately.