Homily: On the Liturgical Nature of Mission (with audio)

Homily by Matthew Dallman
Given at St Paul’s Parish, Riverside, Illinois
On Proper 9, Year C, 2013 (BCP 1979): Isaiah 66:10-16 | Galatians 6:(1-10)14-18 | Luke 10:1-12,16-20

To say that names are “written in heaven” is Christ’s way of saying that one’s way of life matches with the way of life taught by Christ. We are all called to this way, this pattern of being and ordering our lives. And when we follow it, by the grace of God, our names too are written in heaven. In this pattern, Christ is at the center, and his presence speaks to us. His speaking, Luke tells us, sent out the seventy, to go ahead of him, as his speaking sends us out, to go in peace to love and serve the Lord; thanks be to God. And his speaking calls us all back to him for true reconciliation. Just as Christ counseled the seventy against the sin of pride, we must strive to remember that all things good, true, and beautiful come not from us, but from God’s acting. God, who lets-be. This is why it is said that liturgy is God’s theology, his own way of making himself intelligible.

But what would Christ have us do in between his sending us out, and his calling us back? Surely we are to be with people. Surely we are to share meals with those who do not know about Christ, or who have rejected his Good News. Now, our Lord knows that this work, this being with people, will not be easy, and it could even be dangerous. We Christians need only look around the news from the Church today in Syria and in Egypt, where clergy have recently been brutally murdered. Our Lord knows that this work, this being with people, will not be easy, and it could even be dangerous. And still, our Lord chooses for us to be as lambs in the midst of wolves, with no possessions that we prize above the Lord.

What else are we to do? We are to speak. We are not to be doormats, and merely silent. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house’. Do we say these words? Our faith tells us that the Lord will see to it that his peace rests with those who are ready to receive it. It is not for us to decide who is ready; our job is to speak the words. Now, to be ready to receive means that a person can hear the words ‘the kingdom of God has come near you.’ Notice that Luke tells us that these words heal. The words ‘God’s kingdom has come near you” heal. We must strive to present these words to others with integrity, with peace, and through love.

And in presenting these words, live them. For what is the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is the Christ-centered life. It is a life lived according to what is known as a regula — a rule of life and prayer. The regula at its core is three-fold. Firstly, Christ’s actual and mystical presence in all people and things, yet concentrated and focused in the Sacrament of the Eucharist at Mass — this sacrament feeds us, and in so doing invites us to an adoration of all creation; secondly, praise of God the Father through the daily Office, for in the Office, the entire Church — in visible creation, in paradise, and in heaven — sings together in loving acknowledgement of God who is love transcendent; and thirdly, guidance by the Holy Spirit in our encounters with creation and our fellow man, often guided and framed by Scripture. Sacrament, Office, devotional Encounter. This is the pattern at the root of our Prayer Book. This is the pattern at the root of the Catholic faith.

And in presenting these words, live them. For what is the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is the Christ-centered life. It is a life lived according to what is known as a regula — a rule of life and prayer. The regula at its core is three-fold. Firstly, Christ’s actual and mystical presence in all people and things, yet concentrated and focused in the Sacrament of the Eucharist at Mass — this sacrament feeds us, and in so doing invites us to an adoration of all creation; secondly, praise of God the Father through the daily Office, for in the Office, the entire Church — in visible creation, in paradise, and in heaven — sings together in loving acknowledgement of God who is love transcendent; and thirdly, guidance by the Holy Spirit in our encounters with creation and our fellow man, often guided and framed by Scripture. Sacrament, Office, devotional Encounter. This is the pattern at the root of our Prayer Book. This is the pattern at the root of the Catholic faith.

Our Lord knows that this work, too, will not be easy. And so he calls us back to his presence. And so the way of life, Christ’s pattern, emerges: the liturgical life of presence, dismissal, and return. Whenever we need to, and not only when we return, we can ask for God’s help. God listens and wants to hear your voice; daily, regularly, whenever you want, for any reason at all! As Isaiah tells us, God responds to us also like a mother, and we her children. She feeds us from her breast, teaches us on the journey of life, enjoys our playful company. We can say that God’s mission is to mother all of creation and raise it to a new Jerusalem, the very Jerusalem to which Christ’s face has been set.

It is when we, sent out from Mass, help to feed, help to teach, help to enjoy the company of others that the Body of Christ spreads through the world and makes the whole of creation new. This is Christ’s victory. Some say that it is when we “get out of the way” that God acts, and there is truth to that, because it is God’s grace that acts, and nothing strictly of our own. But put another way, when we fully engage another person, face to face, heart to heart — as Christ will shortly face us in the Eucharist — God’s mission finds victory. When we fully attend to any situation, and seek to discern in it the unity of the Holy Spirit, God’s mission finds victory. Attending and engaging — what St Benedict means when he tells us to listen — this is the beating heart of Christ’s pattern of being, and it is how we are to be in our lives, as we seek and serve Christ in others. And through our attending, our engaging, our listening, we speak: we speak in our lives and in our words, the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come near to us, and to our neighbor.