Christianity sprang up in Jerusalem,
then spread quickly around the Middle East.
Paul started out in Syria and spread the word
as far as the coast of Asia Minor, modern day Turkey.
But no one had imagined taking the gospel to pagan Europe
until Paul had a vision.
Our lesson says, “During the night, Paul had a vision.
there stood a man of Macedonia . . . saying,
‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’
When he had seen this vision, we immediately
tried to cross over to Macedonia,
being convinced that God had called us
to proclaim the good news to them.”
That’s how Christianity got to Europe.
It happened again 300 years later.
An English boy named Patrick was captured by slavers
and spent his adolescence as a slave in pagan Ireland,
but he eventually escaped and returned home.
There he lived with his family and friends for 6 good years.
Then one night he had a vision he described this way.
“I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland.
His name was Victoricus and he carried many letters
. . . (H)e gave me one of them. . . .
I imagined I heard the voice of those very people . . .
beside the western sea – and they cried out, as with one voice:
‘we appeal to you holy servant boy, come and walk among us.’”
So Patrick, who despised Ireland,
returned to the land of his captivity
to share with his former enemies the good news of God.
In 1863, Ozi Whitaker from Massachusetts graduated
from seminary in Philadelphia,
and struck out for his first parish, Gold Hill, Nevada.
The Comstock was a tough and lonely land back then.
Ozzie lasted 2 years.
Having seen the error of his ways,
he hotfooted it back to New Jersey, got married,
and become rector of a well-heeled East Coast church.
But God had other plans.
Not long after that, he heard the call and came back west
to Virginia City and served this diocese for 19 years.
From Virginia City, he spread the gospel throughout Nevada and Arizona.
He celebrated the first Episcopal communion
in Pioche on September 17, 1870 in a saloon.
Today we will affirm that:
“We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”
“Apostolic” means we are sent to someone else.
We have a mission outside our own walls.
The church was born with a mission and lives for a mission
to a world that needs Christ’s love more desperately today than ever.
What is true for the church is true for every individual Christian.
God has to work a sort of spiritual aikido on us.
We come to God because we need something.
We need some healing or peace or joy.
We come to God with a spiritual need,
but the Catch 22 is: our spiritual needs can never be met
as long as we are trying to get them met.
God, like an EMT, patches us up a little,
then gives us a mission to help someone else.
In the course of serving others,
we get healed ourselves,
find peace ourselves,
discover our own joy.
I don’t know how that works, but it does.
Jesus said, “Whoever tries to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
That’s what Paul, Patrick, and Bishop Whitaker did.
They lost the lives they had known.
They left their homes and their comfort zones
to share Christ’s love with strangers
and found a life of self-giving, a life for others,
that paradoxically gave them joy.
Paul did not want to go to Europe.
They weren’t his kind of people.
But the warmest, fondest, most affectionate letter
he ever wrote was to the Philippians,
the people of Macedonia he left his beloved Turkey to serve.
Patrick went to Ireland kicking and screaming
but near the end of his life he wrote a poem
praising and thanking God for allowing him to serve
among these people at the edge of the world.
And some say Ozzie came to like us well enough too.
Joining the apostolic mission is the very means of our salvation.
It’s how we are set free and made whole.
Christ gives us the mission to liberate us from the prison of self
the way Moses liberated Israel from the prison of Egypt.
Today our confirmands will take on the Jesus mission.
The confirmands will say, “Yes, I will share the love of Jesus
with the world.”
I will take up my share of the mission given by Christ
and passed down by Paul, Patrick, Bishop Whitaker
and a line of Christians 2,000 years long.”
Each of us has our part in the apostolic mission.
We bear the Christ light to those in darkness.
We are here to give comfort to the afflicted,
to bring hope to the despairing,
to feed the hungry, and strengthen the weak.
Congregations do not exist to sustain themselves.
We are here to serve the world in the name of Jesus.
We don’t have to cross oceans like Paul or Patrick
or continents like Bishop Whitaker.
Human need is never any farther away than next door.
The basic discernment for any congregation is:
what does our community need?
How can we serve the people in need here and now?
Need is not just hunger and material poverty.
It is loneliness, addiction, spiritual confusion.
Our task is to heal our neighbors’ wounds,
whatever they may be.
As a member of Nevadans for the Common Good,
All Saints is taking on the issues of teacher shortages
and inequality in education based on race and class.
All Saints is challenging a system that puts economic pressure
on people to move into nursing homes when their health
would be better served in their own homes.
All Saints is challenging an immigration systems that deports people
who are eligible to be here – they just haven’t jumped thorugh
the procedural hoops – and separates families driving children
I am proud of All Saints’ leadership in this work.
You have committed to deliver twice as many people
to the Nevadans For the Common Good convention on May 9
as the second largest congregation.
And I believe you can do it. You’ve done it before.
Do you see how different this is from one of those churches
with people sitting around sourly
looking for things to grumble about.
“I like this. I don’t like that.”
Christianity is forgetting what we like or don’t like.
It’s getting outside ourselves to seek and serve Christ in all persons.
Our likes and dislikes,
these are like Turkey to Paul
but God invited Paul outside Turkey to pagan Europe
where he discovered love and joy.
Our comfortable groups of those we already know well,
are like England to Patrick
but God invited Patrick outside England to pagan Ireland
where he found the meaning of his life.
Our old familiar ways,
the stories we tell ourselves about how it has always been
and will always be forever and ever amen
are like the East Coast to Ozzie Whittaker
-- but God invited Ozzie to leave the old East Coast
and share God’s love in this pagan desert.
A church for others,
shapes the souls of each of our members
to become men and women for others.
We don’t just share the gospel by word and deed
when we’re doing church work.
It happens everywhere we go with everyone we meet.
As our confirmands take their vows,
they inspire us to renew our own efforts
to show our friends, neighbors , and the strangers
what the love of Jesus looks like.
And so now, Brothers and Sisters, it is time for all of us
to commit ourselves once more
to a life for others in the name of Christ Jesus.