Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Back to Basics - On Steroids

A thoughtful friend once told me that if people truly understood what the church was about, the church [building] would be empty.  Rev. Alan Bentrup reminded us a few weeks ago in his sermon that what we do on Sunday is not church – it’s worship.  When we leave worship and go out into the world to serve, that is church.  Church is out there.  In the Episcopal Church, whenever the Gospel is read, it is read in a location in the church that causes the congregation to face the door to remind us that we must take the Gospel out into the world.  Before anyone in church leadership panics, I wholly support attending worship on Sundays (and other days).  What we do during worship is practice for our ministry in the world, especially reconciliation.  When we “pass the peace” at church, we are not merely greeting one another with a friendly handshake.  This is a symbolic reconciling action before we go to the Lord’s table together for communion.  Of course, prior to this, we have confessed, through corporate prayer, our sins to reconcile ourselves to God.  So, after this love fest, we are sent out into the world to love others.  To love everyone, actually.  Everyone

So what does reconciliation look like if we were to take it to Monday morning?  Conversation can be useful; it can sometimes makes things worse if approached in the wrong spirit.  Listening for understanding is much different than listening to convince the other.   What if trying to dialogue with those on the opposite side isn’t worth the time other than to say let’s agree to disagree and get on with work of feeding the poor and welcoming the stranger and transforming the world. In this noisy world, we can be convinced debate and argument are essential.  The Pharisees loved to debate small points with Jesus so much so that he finally boiled it down to love God and love your neighbor.  Not much gets done while debating.  If I get caught up in what divides us, I’m using precious energy that could be used to stand up for the marginalized and persecuted.

With 900 hate incidents in the past 30 days, some of which my family and friends have experienced, I have been wondering how to reconcile with others and how to change the mean-spirited tide.  I had the answer all along:  get back to the basics of being a Christian but do so in a radical way that I have never done before. As God would have it, I attended the Evangelism Matters conference recently where Presiding Bishop Michael Curry encouraged us to live out our baptismal covenant to share the Good News and to be obedient to the Great Commission to make disciples.  This has been the root of my ministry the past two years - not church growth, not more people in the pews, not meeting a membership quota - but welcoming as Christ would. Bishop Curry's message was affirming and lifted me out of the dark place I have been in for several months.  He said we can be the church for these new times: where everyone is safe but no one is comfortable.  

My baptismal covenant gives me a very plain charge:

Will you continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent, and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

Baptism is not a comfy sacrament for admission into heaven.  The world is changing and being the same Christian I was last year is not responsive to the Holy Spirit.  Baptism calls us to a sacrificial way of life that requires action and discomfort on our part.  Never before have I understood so clearly that “Christian as usual” won’t cut it in this new world.  Because what the world needs now are crusaders for love that defy practicality and earthly limits.  What new way is Jesus asking you to deny yourself, take up his cross, and follow him?  

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