I’d like to ask all of you a question. It might seem simple but take a moment to really think about it. Don’t respond with an immediate answer.

If someone asked you about the primary purpose of our Church, our mission statement, or our Church’s role in the world, how would you answer?

Some of you might say, “The Church is a house of prayer.”  Maybe some of you would respond, “The Church is here for us to fellowship as family and friends.” Still others would share how the Church passes the faith on to our children. Those answers are all valid. But I want you to think again about our Church’s mission. What is our core purpose?

Allow me to share a story that might help to answer this question. One evening, I came home from the Church a little late. I walked in to find Roxanne preparing to bake bread. Roxanne is an excellent cook, and I just love eating her fresh baked bread. As she prepared to bake the bread, I noticed on the counter two bowls with key ingredients. One bowl contained yeast; the other, flour. Curious about the process, I asked her to please show me. Roxanne began pouring warm water into the yeast. She told me that this step was called activating the yeast. Immediately it started to bubble up. Then, she combined the activated yeast and flour together. She explained it was crucial to first activate the yeast, then mix it at the appropriate time with the flour. Over time that flour became dough, and eventually delicious bread. I was amazed to watch these two critical ingredients work together, totally dependent on each other.

Well, as I watched Roxanne prepare this bread, I realized how this process could answer my earlier question to you: what is our mission as a parish? Let me explain. We are the yeast, and the world outside these four walls is the flour. Through our participation in the life of the Church, we receive spiritual water to activate our yeast. Once activated, we are to mix with the flour. We are to go into the world, transform it by witnessing our faith, and change lives with God’s help. In fact, Christ Himself says that the Church’s mission is to activate and transform. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18, Orthodox Study Bible). We are to transform the world. We are to become activated yeast, kneaded into the flour.

Here at St. John the Divine, we strive to do this. We have over twenty ministries in place to activate you individually. Our Bible studies, catechism classes, youth programs, and other ministries exist to activate – energize – you to transform the world. As a Church family, we also aim to transform others through outreach. For example, our annual Vacation Bible School is open to the public. We constantly work to help those in need through our Philoptochos Ladies Society. Through International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), we give humanitarian aid. As a result of these efforts, people are drawn to our Church. They are being transformed, often unexpectedly. They learn how Christ changes lives, and what the Orthodox Church has to offer. They are people like Joseph, an African American who was riding his bike, saw people walking into our Church, and came in. He observed activated yeast. Some of you have brought people to our Church who had no knowledge of Orthodoxy. These same visitors are now interested in becoming members. Every Sunday, several new families come to our Church. God is blessing this community as we strive to follow His will – His will of activating the yeast and transforming the flour.

But, my friend, we can only fulfill God’s mission for our Church to the extent that it is supported by us all. We can only do this by our physical, spiritual and yes, financial support. God understands this. Did you know that there are some 500 references in the Bible about prayer? There are also some 2300 references in the Bible about offering financial assistance to God’s work. God asks us to give our 10% so we can be activated to transform this world. This is God’s will for His Churches. But we can’t transform others without giving of ourselves. You see, if we only give a small percentage of what we earn every year, we hinder our ability to accomplish God’s mission to us. We limit our ability to activate yeast. For example, if your family makes a combined salary of $50K and you give $500, you are only giving 1% of your salary to the Church. That’s only 1% towards activating yeast. If your combined income is $100K annually and you give $1k, that’s 1% to the Church – again, only 1% to activate the yeast. That’s like asking your Church to walk on only one leg. Now, don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with having money – as long as money does not have you. Please reread that. If you only give a fraction of what you could, then ask yourself: does money have control over me? Certainly, times are difficult. People are worried about their investments, but this investment requires no bail out. Instead, this investment guarantees immeasurable returns. Investing in our Church as a supporting member of our community fulfills not my wishes, but God’s wishes and commandments to us all. And, when we trust God through our giving, He keeps this promise:  “ ‘Return now in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not open for you the floodgates of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it is overflowing’ ” (Malachi 3:10, OSB). God will transform you as you transform others.

My friends, I leave you with wisdom from St. John Chrysostom. He said there are two types of Churches. There are Churches whose local Church is their whole universe. Everything centers around their local Church, within their four walls. They have no ministry outside those four walls. He said this is a defeated Church. On the other hand, there are Churches in which the whole universe is their parish. They try to transform everyone they meet by witnessing Christ in their words, but more importantly in their actions. St. John Chrysostom said these Churches are disciples of Christ. Friends, we are called to make the universe our parish through ministries that transform. Transform the world by your physical, spiritual and financial assistance. Help us, support us, in activating yeast and transforming flour. Then, together we can feed the world with the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. That is our mission statement; that is our core purpose; that is why WE GIVE.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God, Amen.

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