Today's Morning Prayer Gospel lesson is from the 12th chapter of John, and begins with a scene of Greeks coming to the disciples asking to see Jesus -- perhaps, one might assume, with the intent of wanting to become disciples themselves -- and Jesus responding to this news in a way indicating that this extension of the good news into Gentile territory signals the denouement of his story: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified..."
I will confess that I was intrigued enough by the day's text to take a side excursion over to Brian Stoffregen's Crossworks online ponderings on Scripture to see what he had to say.
Stoffregen's comments on the text as a message for a missional church are an "aha," especially coming out of last night's Evangelism Committee meeting.
I'm trying to apply his comments to our congregational situation. In our depressed rural area, the "Gentiles" in our midst are not pomo cosmopolitans in the mold of the Greeks in the Gospel story. They are largely, to use my pastor's pithy description, "People raised by wolves"; more akin to the ancient barbarians emerging from the European woods in furs and bear-grease pomade.
The community surrounding our church is a dichotomy of "good church people" -- German and Polish farmers who've been there for generations, aspiring to if not achieving what counts as a modest middle-class lifestyle in outstate Michigan -- and an underclass crippled by poverty, lack of education and rural isolation; in some cases by generational cognitive deficit. Their lives often lack even a marginal Christian context, and even a context of basic competency in life skills; their households and relationships are in constant chaos and want. Spousal abuse and child abuse and neglect are common consequences.
Stoffregen notes our complacency, our desire to keep our churches as comfortable meeting places for "people like us," and challenges us to reach out to the people around us who seem to be nothing like us.
How do we do this in our congregation? How do we get beyond the idea of evangelism as merely attracting new residents looking for a local church home or the disaffected from other churches, and get real about extending the Gospel to our "Gentile" neighbors who don't fit our expectations of what new members should be like -- people we have a difficult time relating to in the community in general, let alone within the circle of our faith community?
I'm sending Stoffregen's comments to our other committee members.