First, a very short homily. In today’s reading, Abraham is sitting outside his tent in the grove of oak trees at Mamre, near modern Hebron. This oak grove was on an ancient power spot. Abraham had chosen this place to build an altar to the Lord, his God. Abraham was a man of faith with a converted heart. As he sat at the entrance to his tent he saw three men appear. He fed them his finest food, gave them water, washed the dust of the path from their feet. Abraham didn’t do these good deeds for the travelers to earn credit with God. Abraham’s good mission work with these thirsty, hungry travelers was the fruit of his converted heart. He acted in faith, not to earn faith. As he served the three migrants the eyes of his heart let him see these were angels, not ordinary men. We never know when we are in the presence of God. A converted heart helps us see more clearly.
For many churches in decline, “missions” has become their mission. Many forgot that doing good works is the fruit of conversion of heart, the result, not the means of conversion. Nor is it the way to salvation. Jesus clarified for us that our fundamental responsibility is to die to self and be reborn in Christ. This is painful. So painful, it is easier to just skip the dying part and move directly to doing good works by focusing on missions. We substitute the warm feeling of helping the unfortunate without suffering the pain and dislocation of turning our own interior lives around.
We’ve all witnessed a large decline in mainline church membership. You can date the beginning of the decline from the time of the explosion of the Hydrogen Bomb. Probably just a coincidence, but we wouldn’t be all wrong to call this church era the Thermonuclear Age. We’ve witnessed a man-made power on a cosmic scale. Man has rivaled God, and we live with dread. Younger men and women, the generations who came of age in the latter part of the twentieth century, these certainly have the same spiritual needs as earlier generations. Perhaps more so in this era of anxiety. But they are not in church. Why?
Unchurched younger people may very likely see the hypocrisy in substituting charitable works for the agony of dying to our old self and rebirth in Christ. Perhaps they need a different way of being introduced to Jesus’ gospel message of personal conversion of heart. Our gospel reading saw Jesus instructing his twelve apostles to go first to the existing church, not to the unchurched, and remind them the Church exists because God desires to serve his faithful people; not the other way around.
I love this Aurora church because its people know and live their lives in this great truth. Your hearts are converted in humility, and your good works and prayers are the fruits, the result of your faith. You walk Jesus’ path.
I suspect you recognized something of yourselves in Reverend Blom. Barb shows the fruits of conversion of heart in her own life. She, too, walks the path. I am certain that you and she, working together, will find new ways to bring God’s message to our anxious world and local community. I believe the Lord has spoken to this church and guided it to call Reverend Barb, whom I join you in welcoming.