Eric, a new acquaintance, recently shared his story. He grew up participating in Christmas pageants, going to church every Sunday, singing in the choir, and regularly attending Bible study. He said that for the longest time he was in church, but that the church wasn’t in him.
Although he had a lot of knowledge about Jesus, he realized that he didn’t know Jesus. He felt that he had an association with Jesus, but that he didn’t have a relationship with him. The practices he embraced to get to know Jesus are similar to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s The Way of Love. He shared that his first step was to meet Jesus and to be open to Jesus’ invitation. He then listened to Jesus, meaning he paid attention to what Jesus was saying – in scripture and prayer, through others, and by listening to things he would rather not hear. And lastly, he approached Jesus; he turned to Jesus. His new experience of the risen Christ transformed him and his relationship with the people in his life.
The distinction between being in church versus having the church in us is essential! When we have the church in us, we carry the church – Jesus – into the world wherever we are.
Shortly after my conversation with Eric, I saw a CartoonChurch.com post on FaceBook: Where the Church Is. In the sketch the church is everywhere except in a church building! The church can be everywhere – and should be everywhere – because the church is in us!
So, I ask, is the church in you? And where will you take the church today?
The Christian year – and, I hope, our daily lives as Christians – revolve around two transformational cycles: incarnation and resurrection. In the Christian kalendar, each of those two cycles begins with gestation, a time of examination, reflection, and growth (Advent and Lent). That season is followed by a time of celebration, begun with a feast day and extending far beyond the holy day itself – Christmastide and Eastertide. And after the rejoicing, we enter the “ordinary time” of integration, as we use the time following Epiphany and Pentecost to incorporate the learnings of the cycle into our daily lives and work.
We are well into Eastertide, and, for me, the lesson of Thomas the Doubter is still looming large. Like many in 2021, I find myself in the midst of a whirlwind of political wrangling, pandemic distrust, and civic tug-of-war that seems not unlike first-century Palestine. I’m seeing the Thomas story not so much as a lesson for unbelievers as a model of what Christ is calling each of us to do.
To affirm his identity, and to restore the trust of his doubting friend, what does the resurrected Jesus do? He shows us his scars. He’s willing to expose his wounds, and to invite his friend to touch them. He allows himself to be shockingly vulnerable. And he claims those scars as the marks of his resurrection.
The Incarnation calls on us to “be green,” to begin a new life, to allow Christ to live inside us and through us. And through the Resurrection, we are called to allow our scars to be far more than signs of our hard-fought battles. In his risen body, Christ declares that our scars are the marks of our resurrection. As we become vulnerable enough to show those scars, we both model and proclaim the work of resurrection in our lives.
Our daily lives often bring scars. Some we are ashamed of, and some are marks of honor. May we have the courage to allow others to see and take strength from our scars. May they be for us and for those we encounter signs of our resurrection.
One of my favorite memories growing up in Baltimore, MD was fishing trips with my dad on Saturdays on the Severn River. On more than one occasion, we would find ourselves in the midst of a school of rockfish. As fast as we could rebait our lines, we pulled in fish after fish.
That experience reminded me of one of those post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Several of the disciples are at the Sea of Galilee when Peter decides it’s time to get back to work, so he says, “I’m goin’ fishin’.” Now for Peter, it was not a leisure or recreational activity as it was for me. It was his job, his business, his way of making a living. Peter was a fisherman. So off he goes – to work. After a frustrating night of catching nothing, he is joined by Jesus and things change.
This is one of the three times that Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection. Remember the other two? One was with those two discouraged disciples traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Jesus meets them along the way, and things change. The third was in a room where several of the disciples had been meeting, anxious and fearful about their future. Again, Jesus comes into their midst and, with the words, “Peace be with you,” makes a difference.
It’s just like Jesus to be with people on their job or while they’re traveling or when they’re meeting – in short in the midst of the activities of their daily lives. That may seem all too obvious to you, but we don’t always make that connection between Christ and our daily lives. More often than not, there’s a gap, a gulf.
For the Church to see and to live into that connection demands a significant shift in focus. Much of what passes as lay ministry is what lay people can do to help the clergy do their jobs better. In reality, the reverse is the real calling: what clergy can do to enhance the daily ministries of lay folk. For remember, God’s chief arena of activity is not the Church but the world. “God so loved the world… (not the Church) … that he gave his only begotten Son.” An image is the congregation as a base camp – not existing for itself but to support, train, equip, and affirm those climbing the mountain. Our daily life and work are our mountain. Thus Paul in Ephesians points to the baptized community as the place to “equip the saints” – that’s you and me – “for ministry.”
Dorothy Sayers, a great 20th century Christian writer, once wrote, “The first demand on a carpenter’s religion is that he makes good tables. What use is anything else if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry.” That is the connection between Sunday and Monday, between liturgy and life – the connection that each of us as the Baptized is called upon to make in whatever occupies our daily lives: work / family / school / community / volunteer / leisure.
One Sunday after a service, the rector, as usual, was at the rear greeting the people as they were leaving, Suddenly, a man came up from the street and asked, “When does the service begin?” Before the rector could answer, an astute laywoman replied, “The service begins now!” She had made the connection. So, we have those post–resurrection appearances: Peter at work, two disciples traveling, several disciples meeting – examples for us of where Christ meets us in whatever occupies our daily life and work. And that is where each of us is called – to discover in our daily lives our particular calling and ministry. For that is where Sunday connects with Monday and where our liturgy meets our lives.
N.T. Wright is an English New Testament scholar, a Pauline theologian, and an Anglican bishop. He recently responded to an article in the British weekly magazine The Spectator, which accused the Church of England of embracing anti-racism as its “new religion.” In The Spectator’s letters, Wright address the question, “Is the Church too “woke”?
“…the ‘anti-racist’ agenda is a secular attempt to plug a long-standing gap in Western Christianity. The answer is to recover the full message, not to bolt on new ideologies….
“The church was the original multicultural project, with Jesus as its only point of identity. It was known, and was for this reason seen as both attractive and dangerous, as a worship-based, spiritually renewed, multi-ethnic, polychrome, mutually supportive, outward-facing, culturally creative, chastity-celebrating, socially responsible fictive kinship group, gender-blind in leadership, generous to the poor and courageous in speaking up for the voiceless.
“If this had been celebrated, taught, and practised, the church would early on have recognised ecclesial racism for what it is…. If it has taken modern secular movements to jolt the church into recognising a long-standing problem, shame on us.
“But the answer is not to capitulate to the current ‘identity agenda’…. The answer is teaching and practicing the whole biblical gospel.”
As Wright reminds us, asking whether the church should or should not be “woke” is missing the point.He asserts that the early Christians in that “attractive and dangerous” community – “multi-ethnic, polychrome, mutually supportive, outward-facing….and courageous in speaking up for the voiceless” – knew they were called and commissioned as allies and champions of all those that society drove to the margins. And since that time, racism has played a large part in derailing the church’s commitment to that vision.
Glenn Packiam, commenting on Wright’s letter, adds, “It’s a shame that it took secular theories to diagnose [the church’s] error. But that should not make us reject those theories. We can allow them to wake us up.”
In response to those who urge the church to call out racism, we can most faithfully honor our baptismal promises by holding ourselves and our congregations accountable to that radical, “attractive and dangerous” vision of a scandalously inclusive Body of Christ. May we dare to proclaim the whole gospel and work to build the Body of Christ as a whole, life-giving, embracing community that embodies the good news the world longs to hear.
In his March 21 sermon, a preacher I know quoted from the movie Justice League: “Evil doesn’t sleep; it waits.” The text for the sermon was John 12:20-33, and Jesus tells his followers that their discipleship has a cost. He also proclaims that the “ruler of this world will be driven out.”
The ruler of this world is evil, and evil still wields horrific power. Our nation has just witnessed yet another racist and misogynist hate crime perpetrated – this time against women of Asian descent. This heinous act of violence and terrorism reminds us that the pandemic of racism relentlessly ravages our nation and our common humanity. These evils aren’t new. For those of us who are White, the evils might appear to be beneath the surface and then erupt. For those who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), these evils are pervasive. Instead of confronting and telling the truth about racism, our nation has chosen to ignore it or believe that it doesn’t exist. It does exist. Evil waits. It waits for opportunity.
One of the promises we make at Baptism is to renounce the “evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God” (BCP, 302). There is no doubt that racism, domination/supremacy, terrorism, or violence – whether physical, psychological, or verbal – are dehumanizing evil powers. And the fight against evil requires both our words and our actions.
As we will soon promise at the Great Vigil of Easter, let us “reaffirm [our] renunciation of evil and renew our commitment to Jesus Christ.”
I’ll be the first to say that this isn’t easy. Yet, it’s incumbent upon us all to take this vow to heart, to follow Jesus into the hard places where he leads us, and to name and confront the evil we encounter daily wherever we are.
Over the years in the parishes I have served, I have been visiting members where they work. The conversations usually go: What do you do here? What is the Sunday-Monday – the Faith/Work – connection with what you do here? This latter question is, for most all of the church members, the first time that question has been raised for them. Yet where they work is the place where they spend most of their God-given time and talent. What an indictment of the Church!
Here are the words of one businessman, David Wofford, I visited. The words he wrote (pre COVID-19) describe his “Aha!” to that second question:
Excuse me? Faith at work? I’m not a priest or a rabbi. It’s not my job to heal the sick or mend broken souls. I’m just a “used-bond salesman.” These were my initial thoughts when Fletcher said he wanted to visit me at work to discuss faith at work.
Upon his arrival, Fletcher surveyed my work area. The space is a large trading floor with people sitting in front of several monitors blinking price action in the bond market. Everyone sits almost elbow to elbow and it can get a bit loud. The two of us then moved to an office for a little privacy. I tried to explain that the atmosphere in my office was closer to that of a fraternity house and not exactly like a place of worship. We work hard, do a good job, and at the same time, have a lot of fun. More often than not, that fun is similar to the fun we had in elementary school.
After asking for more details about my job, Fletcher thought a bit and he said something that opened my eyes. My faith was all around me. It is there when I try to help my accounts meet their goals with honesty and integrity. If they are down, I try to cheer them up or put them at ease. The camaraderie with my colleagues is also a part of my faith. Many of us have worked together over twenty years in a very stressful occupation. We share lots of laughs. We pull together when times are tough. Another salesman and I like to read “Forward Movement” on line during down time. There is also an email I receive from Fletcher entitled “On the Job Prayers.” I pass that around to some in my office to help alleviate some of the stress during the day.
I park across the street from my office. Each morning there is a little ritual on my walk. I thank God for my great family. I ask for Him to help me be a better father and husband. I thank Him for the opportunities I have and the friends around me. I ask for His help when times are rough or a friend is in need. I thank Him for the sunshine or the rain. God walks me to work….and everyone in the office says I only park across the street because I’m a tight wad and can save $30 a month!!
Faith at work? Even for a “used-bond salesman”? Believe it or not it can happen.
St. Seraphim of Sarov is often quoted as having said, “Acquire inner peace and thousands around you will find their salvation.”
All during Christmas and Epiphany, we Christians have focused our awareness on the Light of Christ. As we walk our Lenten journey, we’re invited to practice silence and stillness, discovering Christ’s light within our own hearts as well as in the world around us. Our Lenten practices can help us nurture that light, grounding us in the peace that Christ’s presence brings.
The daily work of practicing inner stillness can free us to remember who we are – a Child of God, beloved and called. And in that clarity of our true identity, joy blossoms as quietly as a flower unfolding. That joy is the wellspring of the generosity – in terms of possessions and time, skills and spirit – that is the hallmark of one who follows Christ’s way of love.
Seraphim understands that joy as God’s irresistible gift – whenever we receive that joy and offer it to another, it sets the world alight. “We cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of one who gives and kindles joy in the heart of one who receives.” In the sharing and receiving, such a community of joy participates in the reign of God.
May our inner work in Lent lead us to the realization that our daily work – offering ourselves as such conduits of joy – can bring us to a place of true peace.
We’ve just celebrated Valentine’s Day, on the very same day as the lectionary reminds us of Jesus’ transfiguration, marking the shift from his Galilean ministry to his prophet’s journey to Jerusalem and the cross. We Christians are about to move from the festivities of Mardi Gras to the solemnities of Ash Wednesday and the 40-day journey that leads us to witness Christ’s transit from death to life.
This liminal week reminds us that love is the catalytic transformational force that God brings into the world. Love – the love that made St. Valentine a martyr – gives us new eyes to perceive God’s transformational work all around us. Love – the love that announced “This is my beloved. Listen!” – created light in the darkness and lights each of our lives. Love – the love that tenderly reminds us that we are dust – proclaims that we are made in the very image and likeness of God.
As we embark on the journey of Lent, may we remember that our calling is not to religious athleticism, demonstrating by our strenuous practice that we are worthy of God’s love. As God reminds us, in the words of the prophet Amos, “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” (Amos 5:21) Our calling, instead, was proclaimed by Micah: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:88)
This Lent, may we walk the Way of Love, remembering that “Go” is an essential element of the Christian life. Go out from the comfort of church pews into the challenges of daily life. Go beyond our timeworn practices to experience a new perspective. Go into respectful relationship with unmet neighbors and unfamiliar cultures, to look into the eyes of siblings we’ve never met.
May our journey this Lent awaken us to new life, as we walk into the immensity of the reign of God.
“Throughout my career, I have heard lay leaders and professionals yearning for affordable, accessible education, training, and resources to support their ministries,” WOW!! Those words come from Dr. Julie Lytle, the Director of Distributive and Lifelong Learning, speaking of Pathways for Baptismal Living, developed out of the Episcopal Bexley Seabury Seminary. “We’ve created Pathways as a resource hub in response. It is designed for people to enter where they want and need so they can discern, explore, and deepen their faith and respond to God’s call.”
Over 20 courses, workshops, events, and activities are available and can be taken in the order that best suit personal interests and needs. There are programs for discernment, personal enrichment, licensure in cooperation with the local bishop, and ways to meet church-wide imperatives. The programs are designed with opportunities for personal reflection as well as live and asynchronous online interaction with the instructor and other participants.
One of Pathways’ signature offerings is coming Sunday, February 14, 6:30-7:30pm, Eastern. “Sharing Stories of Baptismal Living” will air live, featuring Byron Rushing. Known as a politician, public historian, community organizer, and Christian, Rushing has said, “If Jesus was not in the legislature, I wouldn’t be there either.” He currently serves as vice president of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies and spent 25 years as a representative in the Massachusetts state legislature.
Like so many, I found Amanda Gorman’s inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb,” inspiring.
I’m reminded of the promises we make at baptism by her closing verses:
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid,
the new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
In John’s Gospel Jesus is the light of all people, and his light shines in the darkness. Jesus then invites us to be brave enough to see his light and to be his light in the world. Each question posed at baptism also asks us to be Christ’s light in the world: Will we teach, pray and gather – even if by Zoom? Will we persevere in resisting evil and then repent when we stray? Will we model the Good News by our words and our actions? Will we love one another? And will we strive to make our world more loving and more just?
Whenever we live into our baptismal promises – wherever we are and however minor our actions might seem – we shine a light that others can see. We might heal someone’s wounds with a kind word; we might lend a listening heart to a shut-in – or someone wearied by the persistent isolation of quarantining; we might encourage a spirit of community; we might help someone make an appointment for a covid-19 vaccination. This is how we reveal Christ’s presence in the world.
Even in the midst of pandemic, racial injustice, social and political turmoil, and isolation, we can be brave enough to look for and to see Christ’s light – there in the seemingly never-ending shade. For, as Ms. Gorman reminds us, there is always light.