That They May Have Life: Part One Nov/Dec 1989

I am here this morning to preach for a decision.

I invite youth make a choice, to choose Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour of your life. To choose LIFE itself. To choose the peace of God which passeth all understanding. To make a deci­sion “that we all may have LIFE.”

I don’t hear many preachers in Episcopal pulpits calling for a decision but that’s what I am call­ing for this morning, a decision for LIFE. A decision that is a very personal one as you ex­amine your own life, and a deci­sion that is represented by the congregations of which you are a part: a decision to live in Jesus Christ and exercise Leadership In Faithful Evangelism as we an­ticipate a Decade of Evangelism, “that we all may have LIFE.”

One hundred years ago the first bishop of this Diocese came to South Dakota and preached for a decision. He preached for LIFE, for life abundant. In fact, that message became the central focus of his ministry. It was sym­bolized in the cross he gave as a sign of those who had decided to live and follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

For those of you wearing your Niobrara crosses this morning, take a look at that cross. You will see the seal of Bishop Hare and in the center of that seal you will see another cross with the Greek let­ters which mean, “That They May Have Life”.

Bishop Hare came to our Diocese, “that they may have life”. The life he offered, the deci­sion he presented was a decision that is still with us one hundred years later.

And so this morning I ask you to decide. To decide to renew your life in Jesus Christ and in so doing take on the identity, vocation and ministry of an evangelist offering others life.

Throughout this past year we have been celebrating a centen­nial of our statehood and a centennial of our Cathedral Church. One hundred years of ministry and service.

Are we a Church un­to life or unto death?

Are we a Church that is alive? Are we a Church that is renewed? Are we a Church that is growing, vibrant and resilient?

Or are we the opposite of life? Are we a Church unto death? Are we a Church that is losing membership, experiencing decreases in terms of budget, having to cut back in program, realizing we have problems with stewardship?

Are we a Church, my brothers and sisters, unto life or unto death?

Now I want to share with you some hard words. If you listen to the analysts of religious behavior and religious experience here in the United States, if you hear what the sociologists and psychologists of religion have to say about the Church today, it is not particularly good news.

Many say that the Episcopal Church along with other mainline churches such as the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, the Lutheran Church and others is a Church un­to death. It is a Church that is dy­ing. It is a Church that is losing membership, losing its missionary zeal, losing its em­phasis on the Gospel.

It is a Church that is captive to survival and preoccupied with in­stitutional concerns. It is a Church that has turned inward and focused on itself.

It is a Church that does not know how to reach out any longer, that continues to wring its hands and its heart over an iden­tity crisis of clergy and people and doctrine and dogma.

The news is not good news if we look at the facts and figures, and perhaps more importantly, if we look at the behavior.

I have just returned from an in­terim meeting of the House of Bishops in Philadelphia where we celebrated the two-hundred-year birthday of the Episcopal Church itself, in terms of its first gathering of bishops. What struck me about our time together as bishops is that we continue to rehearse, relive and agonize over a decision that was made over ten years ago. Most of the energy was turned inward.

We were worried, concerned and upset about possible schism. Finally one brave priest had the courage to stand up and say to those bishops assembled, “the Church is tired of hearing about internal strife, it wants life and it wants life abundant.”

That is what Jesus came to of­fer, that is what His whole life was about. Let us return to that mandate from the Gospel, from Holy Scripture, to share the good news of Jesus Christ: share that life; share that peace which is no peace at all, and yet “a peace that passeth all understanding.”

Our Presiding Bishop said, “it is not Canterbury that unites us but Jesus that invites us”.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I come here to preach for a decision. I ask you to choose life over death.

I ask you to accept Jesus Christ in a new way, to allow that re­newed vision and understanding of the importance of His life for you to instill in you the zeal, the love and the fervor that would draw you to be evangelists.

We are on the brink of a new decade. We are on the brink of a new time and, if I can borrow from “New Age” religion, I think we are about to experience a “harmonic convergence.”

Last summer when I was in Lambeth with other bishops of the worldwide Anglican Communion, we said, now is the time for evangelism. As an entire Church we recognized the deep need to take the life that Jesus of­fers and share it with the entire world.

Last summer prior to going to Lambeth when we gathered for General Convention in Detroit, our Presiding Bishop said, “Let us create structures of grace that will allow us to share life as we begin a decade of evangelism here in the Episcopal Church in the United States.”

At the last two meetings of our province, Province VI, we said to one another, “Let us lay aside all of the internal administrative concerns and all of the things that we ought to be doing as a Pro­vince, and let us concentrate our efforts on the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. Let us take as our purpose for being a Pro­vince in the next ten years, evangelism. Let everything that we do as a Province reflect zeal, reflect love, reflect ministry and reflect the life and renewal that it will take to be evangelists.

And that brings us to our diocese.

Several years ago I came to you with a “20/20 Vision”. The first part of the vision had to do with our coming together as God’s people, To Increase Ministry Effectiveness. We called it T.I.M.E.

Ministry effectiveness had to do with increasing faith, knowledge, understanding, and commitment of ministry that we all share as baptized Christians.

T.I.M.E. had to do with finding more clergy. It had to do with strengthening the quality of that ordained leadership through education, through Niobrara Summer Seminary, more per­sons going to seminary, deacons’ conferences and through a variety of other opportunities to deepen the faith, commitment and love of Jesus Christ within our ordained leaders so that they might be enablers of that love with the congregations that are a part of this diocese.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I am here to preach for a decision. For the last five years we have been about the business of increasing ministry effec­tiveness, TIME. But now is the TIME for LIFE.

I am convinced that we have never been stronger as a Church and as a diocese. As I look at the ordained strength that we have, it is encouraging, it gives me hope and it fills me with the ex­pectation that this is going to be a wonderful decade, a decade where we offer LIFE.

As I look at the growing sense of lay ministry and the will­ingness to accept our baptismal identity, I am inspired because I see persons reaching out and say­ing, “I want to do more than be a passive person sitting in a pew. I want to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I am here to preach for a decision.

It is TIME for Leadership In Faithful Evangelism. But that leadership is not simply a pro­gram, not a new way of putting together something clever that we call L.I.F.E., not a diocesan mandate, not something that will be organized and laid upon you as congregations who say, “Oh no, here comes another one from the Diocese.”

The LIFE I ask you to choose is a life that is very personal. It has to do with your congregational family, it has to do with the way you live your life, celebrate your liturgy, and go about the business of your baptismal vocation as ministers of Jesus Christ. We need LIFE.

Let us look at it.

First of all: Leadership. Did you all read the paper this morn­ing? Did you notice the headlines? Jim Bakker, twenty four counts of fraud, to be sentenced October 24th with a possibility of one hundred twenty years in prison.

Leadership! Martin Marty, a Lutheran theologian and a popularizer of theology, recently wrote that Methodist, Lutherans, Episcopalians and other mainline religious folk take a secret kind of delight in seeing that Jim Bakker has been dethroned. Now, we don’t talk about such delight publicly but we say to ourselves that it is about time that he was exposed and now maybe the faithful will come back to where they belong, to our churches.

Leadership! My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jim Bakker’s shame is our shame. We have ab­dicated leadership. We have not fed our people, not given them the life which they seek. They have gone elsewhere for the porridge of tele-evangelism. That is no Church, which is no LIFE, but en­tices the passive, mesmerizes the apathetic, offering individual solace rather than the communi­ty that we call Church and the life together that we call salvation.

So let us look at Jim Bakker as a reminder of our own failure.

Is the “mainline becoming the sideline”? Are we of the established Churches becoming disestablished in a new way? Have we lost our power and our influence and our ability to speak a prophetic voice? Have we lost the role of leadership?

Where is the Episcopal Church in terms of leadership? Where are the strong voices that shape this country, its morality, its life?

Let us reclaim leadership. Let us choose leadership as a part of our life together.

Leadership In. . .In, the second letter of LIFE. Not leadership ‘‘for,’’ ‘‘as,’’ ‘‘about’’ or ‘‘on’’ life but leadership In, Leadership In Evangelism. Such “inness,” if you will , reminds us of the fact that we are called as God’s peo­ple to participate. Rather than being on the sidelines, passive, we are called to be in and to be involved.

A phenomenon within the Episcopal Church that we talked about at the House of Bishops’ meeting is that we have too many well-intentioned people who are on the sidelines of our Church criticizing it, rather than being involved and making a commit­ment to change it.

We are hard on ourselves, we are critical of one another. That criticism takes many forms.

It goes something like this:

“If just the Presiding Bishop would (fill in the blank).

“If just the National Church would (fill in the blank).

“If just the Diocese would (fill in the blank).

“If just the Bishop would (fill in the blank).

“If just our priest would (fill in the blank).

“If just our vestry would (fill in the blank).”

The In that we speak of, the participation that we are called to, invites each and every one of us to take seriously LIFE and to exercise it in the way that we pray and the way that we live and the way we provide that leader­ship.

It is time, my brothers and sisters, to stop beating up on one another, to stop being critical of our Church and to start participating with renewed commit­ment and renewed LIFE.

I am here to preach for a deci­sion.

I invite your participation. I in­vite the kind of critical construc­tive criticism that will lead to new LIFE and not to the destruc­tive division that we call death. We have been praying for unity for a year and I think we are starting to experience some of that unity in the midst of our brokenness

The third word, Faithful. There is a temptation for us to lust after those evangelistic gimmicks that will help us to realize growth in numbers, growth in people and growth in dollars. That is not the aim of evangelism of LIFE.

The aim of evangelism is to share Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. If we are faithful with that message, if we are faithful with the Gospel, we will ex­perience the blessings of God.

But if we go about this decade with the rationale of being evangelists to increase numbers and to increase dollars, our ef­forts will fail and they should. Because God whom we wor­ship, God whom we see as new life and renewed life invites us not to a life of success but to a life of faithfulness: a life of speaking a prophetic word even when that may hurt; a life of calling others to repentance and ourselves to repentance when it is far easier to seek success; a life where we are bound together and bound to live and forgive and to share what we have.

That is the faithfulness that our Lord manifested in his earthly ministry and that is the faithfulness that He calls us to as His evangelists.

And finally the “E” word itself, Evangelism. The last letter of LIFE. Most Episcopalians are scared to death of the “E” word. Such fear has to do with our deferring our leadership, forget­ting that which is essential to the Gospel.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, evangelism is not just done by a few. Evangelism is not just some specialty that is prac­ticed by persons who are charismatic and have the gift for preaching and teaching. Evangelism is not something that takes place on TV or under tents.

Evangelism is the mandate of the Gospel itself. The word means to be a messenger. It means to be an angel, a messenger of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

And I suspect our real fear in terms of evangelism is not so much the function or the sharing but the fear that we have forgot­ten the message. We don’t know the message. We have become alienated from the message and the message is LIFE, life abun­dant in Jesus Christ.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I am here to preach for a decision.

I am asking you to be evangelists, to share the Good News with your family, your friends, your churches, with the communities in which you live, in the work place, to share the good news as a messenger who shares that news in word and in action.

One hundred years have passed. We are about to embark on an exciting decade as we prepare for a new century. I think we are living in a very exciting time within the life of the Church.

I think we are living within a particularly religious age. I don’t think it is accidental that the Anglican Church worldwide, the Episcopal Church, the Province, our Diocese and other Churches are recognizing the need for evangelism and new life.

Tomorrow I will complete Part II of the sermon in my charge to you. It will not be a “charge”, but rather it will be an invitation, an invitation that will carry with it the particulars of the LIFE of which I speak, the LIFE that we pray for and the LIFE that I hope will fill us with the love of Jesus Christ and love for one another.

I conclude with a prayer that I would ask you to pray with me, a prayer that I hope will govern and guide us in the next decade, a prayer that is a recognition of the fact that all of our efforts to be messengers require us to get down on our knees and ask God for the message.

Oh God, Creator, Sustainer and Sanctifier of all LIFE. Renew in us such love for you and your creation that we may provide courageous and effective Leadership In Faithful Evangelism for the Diocese and state of South Dakota. In this new decade make us prophetic and car­ing evangelists in word and action that we all may have LIFE in Jesus Christ, Amen.


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