A week ago in The Guardian the chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, wrote about the importance of holy days in the Jewish faith. Sacks explained that one of his favourite contemporary phrases is ‘mission drift’. Sacks writes, “First used by the military, mission drift happens when, in pursuit of an objective, people forget what objective they were pursuing. You get sidetracked. The territory turns out to be not like the map. On paper it looks easy to get from A to B. But once you are down there, there are all sorts of diversions…You lose your way.” Sacks then explains that the Jewish high holy days, such as the Day of Atonement, are all about checking mission drift. The holy days are about life and how we live it; time and how we use it; values and ideals and how we tend to forget them.
‘Mission drift’ affects all religions, of course, and Christianity is no exception. In theory our faith sounds so simple —love God and love your neighbour. But we find ourselves cutting corners, compromising principles, searching for quick fixes, too pressured and hassled to look up and see if we are still on the right road. As Sacks writes, “It helps...to stop and look at the map again.” Like our Jewish cousins, we have our own holy days scattered through the year to remind us how we have lost focus, how we have drifted from our holy goals and God. Lent and Advent in particular form two seasons of self-examination and repentance.
As we recall the dedication of our church today, it is a good time again to stop, take stock of where we are, give thanks for what is good, and repent of the ways in which we fall short of our Christian ideals. The Christian word for repentance comes from a Greek word meaning to ‘turn around’ or ‘return’, getting back on track, more determined to get it right this time without getting diverted. So where are we in this parish, and how can we correct our wrong-turnings?
It’s good to recall what it means for a church to be dedicated to God. St. Paul understands the ‘church’ in two senses. First, ‘church’ is the building or meeting place for Christians, the physical and institutional framework that allows communities of faith to happen. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Paul understands ‘church’ to be the Christian people themselves. For Paul, the ‘church’ is an organic, living extension of Jesus’ presence in the world: the foundation is Christ, the bricks are believers, and the mortar is faith. As Peter writes in today’s letter, we are the “living stones” of the church, dedicated to God’s service. Where you are is where the church is. And where you are at spiritually is where the church is at in reality.
How, then, is your faith? Do you bring joy to worship, or bitterness? Do you sing praises to the God who has saved you, or do sit back glumly and go through the motions? What acts of faith flow from your belief? Do you give your money, service, and time to the needs of the church and world? How do you feed yourself – do you read Scripture and come to Holy Communion every week? Do you pray in charity for one another? If not, why not?
Today is your chance to change and grow, to get away from mission drift, to return to love of God and love of neighbour. Only you can return to your mission: it cannot be done for you. No one style of worship, no priest or reader or friend can return you. Only you can, by turning away from mission drift and returning to the source and goal of your mission – God. And God has already forgiven you, is running to meet you.
Returning to God, re-dedicating ourselves to God, is part of our spiritual growth. In the First Letter of Peter which we heard from today (1 Peter 2. 1-10), the author of the letter speaks about this process of growth. He gives us a handy checklist about how we can return from mission drift. First, growth requires getting rid of everything that hurts fellowship: things like jealousy, quarreling, or mistrust. Second, growth requires being single-minded about the things that lead to growth: prayer, worship, and service. Third, growth means growing together so that the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts: no Christian is an island; every Christian is part of the Body of Christ and so we must care for one another. Finally, growth means building a right relationship with Christ, the cornerstone of the Church: we must worship Him, listen to Him, and obey Him. In short, our growth is this: to demonstrate the character of God in all our doings.
Have we drifted from our mission? Our joint mission is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to this place in word and action. We have done much well: built a physical reminder in this building of Jesus’ presence in this town; reached out to young families; shown charity; offered prayer; witnessed in schools and workplaces; and so on. This is not enough, however, and we all drift from our mission in many ways. Perhaps we get overly distracted by the demands of work, worries about money, the stresses of family life. Perhaps we get wrapped up about what we don’t like about our church community: the worship, the preaching, or the people in the pews around us. Perhaps we forget why we are here: to worship God and to proclaim Jesus as Saviour. Let’s get back on track together today. Let’s recall the dedication of this church building to God. Let’s re-dedicate ourselves as the Body of Christ to God’s mission and service. Amen