{Our friend Mary calls this series “mug shots.” Why didn’t that occur to me? Good one, Mary! The Lenten series continues, with reflections prompted by Kellam kitchen cupboard mugs…}DSC07359.JPG

When Ithaca’s First Presbyterian Church celebrated its Bicentennial a few years ago, it issued these mugs to church members and friends. With the logo of the Presbyterian Church USA, the church added the line “In Mission and Faith.” Nicely done.

One year before, the church I served in nearby Trumansburg, First Presbyterian Church of Ulysses, celebrated its Bicentennial, noting that First Church Ithaca was in reality, Second Presbyterian, Ulysses. (Ulysses is the name of the New York town in which both Ithaca and T-burg are located.) It was a good-natured rivalry, with both churches grateful for the work of the evangelist who had helped start both congregations two centuries ago.

When our Trumansburg Church wrestled with a slogan of sorts to attach to our Bicentennial print pieces, I suggested the line that we adopted, one I smile at now. “Looking Back…Moving Forward.” I thought that captured the need to celebrate the past and contemplate the future. But when one thinks about looking back and moving forward at the same time, that leads to bumping into things! One could get hurt!

On the other hand, FPC-Ithaca’s line on that mug is simple and straightforward. Yet, I wonder if there might have been some discussion about the order of the words. In mission and faith…or, in faith and mission. Which of those loaded words comes first in chronology or purpose? Do we find ourselves faithful and then engage in mission? Or do we act out our commitment to justice and peace, and grow therefore in faith? I guess I’d have argued for the former, the opposite of the church’s order. But then…

Naturally, both words go hand in hand for faithful, mission-oriented churches. Joan and I read this morning from Walter Brueggemann’s Lenten devotional book A Way other than Our Own:

Lent is the time for cold, sober reflection on that which our faith knows that we have mostly forgotten. The God of the Bible so wants human community to work, right here. But the God of the Bible also tells us what it costs for community to work. What it costs is a harsh criticism of the terrible advantage some have over others. God is indeed “pro-life,” for the poor, for the hungry, for the homeless, for the naked. When these become the center of policy, the city becomes both pro-God and pro-life.

Brueggemann’s two page essay on Isaiah 58 ends with a prayer that asks, “…Lead us into a deeper faith that challenges injustice and makes the sacrifices that must be made to build a society that is ever more truly human.”

The compiler of the essays is Richard Floyd, and he wrote the prayers that accompany each day’s devotions. I wonder if he thought very long about word choice. “…A society that is truly human.” One might have thought “truly holy” would be appropriate, if sounding a bit pious. A society more holy. But then I remember that statement of St. Irenaeus in 185 A.D. : “The glory of God is humanity fully alive.” True humanity reflects the glory of God. Deep faith affirms that daily in whatever mission is at hand.

In mission and faith, a church feeds the hungry, welcomes the stranger, comforts the sick and imprisoned. Only if its people do. The mission statements that churches imagine, tinker with, finalize, and proclaim are only valid if people in the pews, fed by Word and Sacrament, leave the building and engage the world.

First Church? Second Church? Let’s just try to avoid being the last church.