by The Rev. Dr. R. Leigh Spruill
Christians understand that we do not get to choose the times of our calling. However, the Bible is abundantly clear about three vital truths for God’s people. First, we are indeed called by God (1 Timothy 1:9). Second, we are to be discerning of the times (1 Thessalonians 5:1-7). And third, we are to be faithful to our calling regardless of whether the times make it easy or not (Luke 12:8-11).
I feel energy driving our parish to engage in renewed and vigorous contemplation of how we fulfill our mission of Changing Lives for God in Christ. What does that look like for this time, for the blessing of our neighborhoods, our city, and the larger church? I am utterly convinced that St. John the Divine can be an even brighter light shining the love of Christ into these broader realms of cultural life. Indeed, I believe St.John the Divine may be in some ways uniquely endowed to be a holy and edifying presence for this era characterized by challenge, anxiety, and disunity. This conviction inspires me every day.
As we are all well aware, Houston is a global city, brimming with resources and leaders, diverse in make-up, yet marked by great inequality in socio-economic life and other serious challenges. Despite many blessings, our local life in the city is not immune from the larger national reality of deep political polarization and increasing social fragmentation, much of it vitriolic in nature.
Furthermore, our times are increasingly characterized by skepticism and indifference of institutional religion. I have almost stopped pointing out annual declines in the membership statistics of mainline denominations like The Episcopal Church lest I seem a doomsayer or a scold. But the facts are the facts, the decline is accelerating, especially since the coronavirus pandemic, and many church leaders are either strangely oblivious or captive to inertia or some combination of both. We ask God that St. John the Divine be a counter-witness to these trends.
Yet, it is precisely into such a fallen situation that God sends his only Son, Jesus Christ. I find it always helpful to remember that it is precisely the reality of our fallen situation that prompts God’s redeeming action in Jesus to begin with. This winter issue of The Vine arrives during weeks that the church anticipates, celebrates, and contemplates the meaning of Christ coming to us as Jesus of Nazareth. If we do this well, we may experience renewed faith that it is only God who has the power to hold and heal the brokenness of this world.
The amazing thing is that God recruits us as his church into his mission. What an utterly undeserved privilege! The testimony of the gospel is that the Light of the World says to us, “You are the light of the world.” Jesus intends this as no pithy illustration. He means that we belong to him. And any discernment about the mission of the church finds its basis in Christ’s identity and mission. It is his calling, not ours, that we are seeking to pursue and embody in the future. I want us to hear this promise with a new sense of urgency, excitement, and imagination.
What would a renewed vision for St. John the Divine look like in times such as these? In what ways might we be even more intentional growing our capacity to connect new people to Jesus through our life together and to become an even brighter beacon of Christ’s light going forth to bless those all around us? Our friends and neighbors, our city, and the larger church yearn for signs of this light. There are relatively few congregations of any kind in the United States with the leaders, resources, energy, and location to embrace the challenges these questions raise and to respond robustly in faith.
Know that I look forward to continuing to engage with you in the coming weeks and months over this theme, trusting that you will bring important wisdom and blessings to our collective discernment. These are critical times, and to paraphrase from the Book of Esther: “who knows but that you have come to your position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4.14).
NEXT: Discerning God's Vision for St. John the Divine
Sundays, Dec 4 — 18 at 10:15 am in the Hall Life Center
Join Leigh Spruill for this 3-week series exploring what's NEXT for St. John the Divine
Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent & Christmas
Rector's Book Recommendation
Several times I have returned to this devotional book in Advent and the weeks following Christmas. I highly recommend it. There are 40 days of devotions, each written by one of a diverse collection of Christian writers such as Annie Dillard, Thomas Merton, C. S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen, John Donne, Meister Eckhart, Dorothy Day, T.S. Eliot, Thomas Aquinas, Philip Yancey, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and more. Each day’s devotion is just a few pages long and requires less than five minutes to read. I often recommend this book to parishioners inquiring about devotional reading this time of year.