Remembering To Keep The Main Thing The Main Thing
The Very Rev’d Canon Robert S. Munday, Ph.D.
Last year, one of our graduating seniors at Nashotah House, Kevin Carroll, who is now a priest in the Diocese of Milwaukee, preached one of the finest sermons it has been my privilege to hear in our Chapel—or anywhere else, for that matter. To reinforce the point of his sermon, prior to the service Kevin passed out small “refrigerator magnets,” about the size of business cards. On the magnets, next to the symbol of the Cross, were the words: “Remember to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.” Beneath this saying, in smaller type, was the text of Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
In the months since the 2003 General Convention, I have attended numerous diocesan conventions, provincial commission on ministry meetings, and meetings of Church-wide committees. No matter what the formal agenda was supposed to be, the discussion has invariably turned to the topic of the General Convention and its impact. The issues are serious and affect the whole of our society, not merely the Church. The Church should be providing moral leadership in this area. But, in all too many places, the Church is abdicating that responsibility. We hear assurances that if we go on as if nothing of significance has happened, or if we try to look for some middle way (as if there were a middle way between light and darkness!), peace will come in our time. The descendants of Neville Chamberlain are alive and well.
But what should the Church be doing? The Church must always speak to the moral choices that confront each generation, but that is not the primary reason why the Church exists. Jesus is not primarily a moral teacher, and the Gospels are not primarily moral teaching. The central thrust of the New Testament is the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, which those who love God enter by faith in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for us. Only secondarily are we told that the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God (I Corinthians 6:9-10; Matthew 15:18-20).
If the central thrust of the New Testament is the proclamation of God’s Kingdom, then that should be the central thrust of our lives and ministries as Christians as well. In short, we must “remember to keep the main thing the main thing.”
In Mark 12:30-33, Jesus identified the ultimate goal of the law, and thus Christian responsibility, as “to love the Lord with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” This translates into daily living in the following ways:
Loving God With All Your Heart (Character): To love the Lord with all one’s heart and soul is to be totally devoted to Him, without an ounce of reservation, desiring to know Him more deeply, and doing all that one can to develop a personal, intimate relationship with Him. This can only happen as we attend to the Christian disciplines of prayer, the Sacraments, devotion, meditation, Scripture reading and Bible study. These are not things we do to win God’s favor; they are the means of communication with God that are the essence of our life in Christ.
Loving God With All Your Mind (Comprehension): To be able to “preach the Word, and be prepared in and out of season” we first have to be students of the Word, understanding its truths and how they relate to everyday life. This is to be true of the laity no less than the clergy. In this way the Word truly becomes a “light unto my path” instead of an unlit lamp.
Loving God With All Your Strength (Competence): To understand, however, is not enough. Faith, knowledge, and understanding must translate into action and lifestyle. We are a commissioned people with a task. We are “servants of God” commanded to go out and proclaim the good news, heal the sick, feed the poor, and disciple those won to Christ—and to do this with all our zeal and strength.
Loving Your Neighbor As Yourself (Compassion): This is the second great commandment, because the first cannot stand alone. We cannot love God without loving our brothers and sisters (I John 4:20)! Hence character, comprehension, and competence must all be translated into love and compassion for our fellow human beings. Love towards our neighbor involves the responsibility to share the good news of Jesus Christ with them. It also includes acts of mercy and kindness, hospitality, assisting in times of need, and being there to rejoice with them in times of joy and to comfort them in times of sorrow.
In addition to the Great Commandments that Jesus gives all who follow him, to the Church collectively he gives the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
I have mentioned before in these pages how great is the task of reaching the unreached peoples of the earth with the message of the Gospel. The Church in the non-Western world is growing at a phenomenal rate precisely because Christians there live in a relationship of enthusiastic obedience to our Lord’s Great Commandments and Great Commission.
The question I have asked myself frequently is, “can the distracted Episcopal Church carry out the Great Commission?” We are good at developing programs and setting goals for evangelism: first “the Decade of Evangelism” (the 1990’s—which actually saw a decline in church membership!), and now 20/20 (which aims to double church attendance by the year 2020). Until we have been touched by a radical confidence in the worth and trustworthiness of the Gospel message and a radical compulsion to share the Good News with a world that desperately needs to hear it, our programs and goals for evangelism will be empty dreams.
The Very Rev’d Canon Robert S. Munday, Ph.D., is Dean and President of Nashotah House Theological Seminary and Canon Theologian of the Diocese of Quincy.
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