April 24 2016

ANZAC Commemoration Service


Acts 9:36-43


For those of you who were or are still involved in the business world, you will be familiar with the phrase core business. In the business world this is a jargon that talks about the main activity of any company. Therefore we can say that the core business of Coca Cola is producing carbonated soft drinks that contribute to the obesity endemic in the developed world; or the core business of Toyota is producing good quality car whose brake fail every now and then; or the core business of McDonald’s is providing junk food to Australian children (and adults). And you can think about many other examples.

What about the Church? What would we say about the core business of the Church? Well I think the answer varies from one denomination to another. One denomination may say that worship should be the core activity of the Church, while other denomination will say that evangelism is the main call of the Church, and still another denomination will stress the Church’s involvement in social justice issues. And the list does not stop there. We still have fellowship, discipleship, spirituality, education, etc

One important aspect that we need to explore is what the early Church thought as their so-called core business? Our reading today may shed light on the issue.

The passage about Peter bringing Tabitha back from life, which was the same Bible reading that we read last Sunday, resembles many other passages in the Bible. First of all, it resembles the passage in Mark 5 about Jesus bringing a death girl back to life. Even the words that Peter used to bring Tabitha back to life, “Tabitha, arise/get up!” resemble the words that Jesus used to bring the death girl back to life, “Talitha com”, which means, “Little girl, arise.”

Similar to these passages is the passage in 2 Kings 4 about the prophet Elisha who brought a dead boy back to life. Elisha came into the room where the boy’s body was kept, closed the door behind him, and prayed to God. Not long after that, the boy came back to life.

Before there was Elisha, there was the prophet Elijah, his mentor and predecessor. And just like Elisha, Elijah, in 1 Kings 17, also brought back to life the son of a widow in whose house he had stayed. Again the scene looked similar to the others. He took the boy’s body to the upper room of the house and laid the body on the bed. He then prayed to God and the boy came back to life.

All these similarities show to us that there is a continuing theme in all of these passages. Yes, all of them: Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, and Peter, resemble God whose raises the ‘dead’ back to life.

So the passage about Peter raising Tabitha from death today is not an independent passage that is not related to other passages in the Bible. The passage continues the grand theme in the Bible that starts from the first book in the Bible, the book of Genesis, right to the last book, the book of Revelation: that God works to bring order out of chaos, light out of darkness, peace out of war, and life out of death.

Indeed the book of Acts starts with the ascension of Jesus to heaven and the pouring down of the Holy Spirit to the disciples in Jerusalem. In other words, the book of Acts speaks about the Church as the agent, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that continues Jesus’ mission in the world. The Church now bears the mission that not only Jesus started in his ministry, but that God started in the beginning of the universe. And we, the people who inherit the faith of these early Christians in Acts; we also inherit their mission, which is God’s mission in the first place. God restores order when there is chaos, light when there is darkness, peace when there is war, life when there is death.

This is what we call Missio Dei, the Latin words for God’s Mission. The mission of the Church should be part of this Missio Dei. This mission, I believe, is beautifully summed up in the lyrics of that famous prayer that was later attributed to St. Francis of Asisi who died in the 13th century.

"O Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace!
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is discord, harmony.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sorrow, joy.

Indeed, God’s Mission, in Jesus’ own words in the Gospel of John (10:10), is to bring ‘life in its fullness’ to every individual and every community in every place and at every time. And the Church is called not only to bring fullness in spiritual life, but also wholeness in physical, emotional, and social life. The Church has to be involved not only in matters related to religion or spirituality, but in all matters in the world.

But the Church is not the only instrument that God uses to do God’s mission. The common mistake that the Church often has, which comes out of our arrogance, I believe, is to think that we are the only agent that God uses. God has many instruments to bring about God’s mission and the Church, whether we like it or not, is only one of those instruments.

It is hard to deny the ‘miracles’ that our medical professionals nowadays have brought to the lives of many people. I’m still amazed when I think about the things that they can do nowadays. It is also hard to deny the ‘hope’ that people, working in social justice arena, have brought to the lives of many desperate people in our society today. And we shall not deny the work for ‘peace’ and ‘reconstruction’ that our defence forces or UN peace keeping forces have brought to war-torn areas. Many of these people may consider themselves as non-religious, but it is hard to deny that they too are doing the mission that only God can have: the mission to create life in its fullness. And often they carry out this mission by sacrificing their own lives. Yes, these people too have shown the kind of sacrificial love that Jesus showed.

So, friends, we shall not think that our work as the Church is above the works of those other agencies that also bring about God’s mission and vision to this world. What we need to do, then, is not to isolate ourselves from them, but to join them in this great mission that God has started in the beginning of time.

As we commemorate the ANZAC, today and tomorrow, let us remember once again all the people, whether they are Christians or not, who have offered their lives for the sake of other people. Let us also reflect on how we, as the community of believers, can join forces with them to help making God’s Kingdom not only a distant reality in the future, but a present reality.

So, coming back to the question at the beginning of this reflection, what is the core business of the Church? I believe that the core business of the Church is to join God in God’s Mission on earth. And we do this not alone, but with other men and women and children who are also doing God’s work in this world today.

Rev. Toby Keva