A few years ago, I had a friend who was standing for election as bishop to a place that would not be in my top ten places to live. We had been talking about the election for a while one day when I blurted out, “Why do you want to be bishop there?” The answer floored me and I’ve been thinking about the implications of that answer ever since.
The reply went along these lines: being bishop, being called to any ministry, is partially geographic. We are apostles, Jesus’ ambassadors sent to a particular place at a particular time, with a particular mission. We are very rarely called away from; we are called to.
That really hit a chord with me. When I had been all over Eastern Kentucky, Boston, MA, and South Carolina and I had though about the differences between those places but I hadn’t conscientiously considered the effect of those places on my ministry. I knew not to impose my ideas on others, but did I let those contexts inform my ministry? I can’t answer that question entirely, but I hope so.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9 “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” and while we can talk about who is actually doing the saving (I’ll buy you a cup of coffee for that conversation) I finally got what he meant. He wasn’t being wishy-washy or trying to be the next cool thing. He was offering to the people around him the gifts God had given him for ministry in their context. He wasn’t appropriating their culture or telling them they were doing life all wrong, but he entered their experience and offered the lens of the Good News of God’s victorious love the same way Jesus had done.
That sense of direct calling to a context is a challenge to us today. It challenges us to reevaluate how we spread the Gospel. It challenges us to think about how we celebrate the sacraments. It challenges us to consider who we think of as worthy of love and unworthy of love.
I still think about that conversation all the time, especially working with young adults and college students. I ask myself on a regular basis: “What does it mean to be Jesus’ ambassadors for God’s reign in Kentucky? At UK? What does the Church look like if we double down and invest in this place right now? What has God given us to serve our neighbors today? ”
I’m at the University of Kentucky. We, in the Diocese of Lexington and I-K Synod, are here in Kentucky. How will we be ambassadors of God’s reign here, today?