At the heart of the Christian Faith stands the command of Jesus, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19
What does that mean?
Christians of all schools of thought believe that repentance and faith in Christ are necessary, but emotionalism, inferior hymnody, and the call for an immediate decision do not seem to many Christians appropriate means of evangelism.
“To evangelize is so to present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, that men shall come to put their trust in God through him, to accept him as their Savior, and serve him as their king in the fellowship of his Church (Archbishop’s Commission on Evangelism, Toward the Conversion of England, 1945, 1.)
Some see the task of evangelism as that of providing a reasonable faith – reasonable, the is, in terms of current philosophical and cultural ideas.
Others view evangelism as the reshaping of church organizations and programs so that Christianity has the power to draw more people into the circle of believers.
AT the same time, however, others have regarded the task of evangelism as that of developing better techniques of outreach and church organizations or more sophisticated means of communication.
To develop a theology of evangelism to try to form a bridge between the intellectual and the practical, or the theological and the institutional modes of understanding.
What brings good news to our contemporaries in relevant language? For most of the Church’s history evangelism was seen as the revival of a lagging, sleeping faith of people who were at least nominal Christians. So when the “evangelists” [everyone from St. Francis to John Wesley] assumed that their hearers knew and shared to some measure the faith and traditions of Christianity. …at the end of the 20th Century such assumptions can no longer be made. Secularity has washed away the common religious and moral convictions that characterized “cultural Christianity.” Evangelism today faces the task of addressing people who are now outside the church and its structures and no longer share the values and visions that have both guided western civilization and provided a common ground for preacher and for people for nearly two millennia.
In the New Testament a sermon was an attempt to adapt the Word of God to the concrete situation of the hearers, so that it may be readily understood. What is it people are being asked to do when they are asked to have faith in Jesus Christ?
Faith VRS Belief
FAITH is used to characterize a relationship to God. Faith implies loyalty and trust. Faith is characterized by openness and confidence in relationship to God’ conversely, it is a Christian affirmation that Jesus Christ God is committed to humankind. Jesus Christ is the disclosure of God’s faithfulness. Faith is relationship we can have in Christ.
BEIEF has a narrower focus than faith. To believe something is to accept its truth. Everyday life is shaped by a host of beliefs about the people, organizations, and things that surround us.
We need to be clear about what must come first? Do we first have beliefs that produce faith, or is faith that relationship to God out of which our convictions or beliefs as Christians arise? The modern theology of evangelism has reached a consensus on this point. Evangelism has to do with faith in God’s redemptive act in Jesus Christ.
…Yet the crucial thing for all theologies of evangelism is the way in which they affirm in faith the centrality of the grace of God offered in Jesu Christ rather than any specific system of beliefs.
p. 317 “In evangelism, Jesus Christ is presented as God’s call and promise to us, about which we are called to make a decision. Evangelism occurs when, through preaching or teaching, either as an individual witness or as a community act, we are confronted with the possibility of committing ourselves to what God is doing through Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world.”
The starting point for this is REPENTANCE. This is more than having a good cry and going on as before. “It is a desire for reorientation in life or an act in which we turn from a life that is less than it can be to something that is more authentic, namely, the grace of God.” …”The call of Christian evangelism is the call to new life in Christ, not new life through Christian ideas or ethics or even through the Christian church. The focus of evangelism is not on the presentation of a point of view on life, but on the transformation of life. Our focus is not on words about Jesus, even good and pious ones, but on the concrete power of Jesus himself. …Christianity is not an ideology to be instilled into a culture, but a power of new life to be shared.
“…As Jesus said, “And I when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all men to myself” John 12:32 The question is, “Do we believe that is true or not?”
Alfred Krass – *
1. “EVANGELISM WILL ARISE OUT OF THE COMMUNITY WHICH LIVES OUT THE MESSAGE OF GOD’S GRACE.”
The church does not aim at solving all the world’s problems, it is not the community of those who are perfect. It does need to exist as a community of people who have found a key to a wholeness the world does not have. It lives as a community of people who are a unifying force in the world.
The Epistle to Diognetus is an apology for Christianity, written by an unknown writer to a pagan of high social or political rank. It probably dates from the 2nd or 3rd century. In chapters 5 & 6 Christians are described as the soul of the world.
“Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind by either country, speech, or customs; the fact is, they nowhere settle in cities of their own; they use no peculiar language; they cultivate no eccentric mode of life. certainly, this creed of theirs is no discovery due to some fancy or speculation of inquisitive men; nor do they, as some do, champion a doctrine of human origin. Yet while they dwell in both Greek and non-Greek cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and conform to the customs of the country in dress, food, and mode of life in general, the whole tenor of their way of living stamps it as worthy of admiration and admittedly extraordinary. They reside in their respective countries, but only as aliens. They take part in everything as citizens and put up with everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their home and every home a foreign land. The marry like all others and beget children; but they do not expose their offspring. Their board they spread for all, but not their bed. They find themselves in the flesh, but do not live according to the flesh. They spend their days on earth, but hold citizenship in heaven. they obey the established laws, but in their private lives they rise about the laws. They love all men, but are persecuted by all. They are unknown, yet are condemned; they are put to death, but it is live that they receive. They are poor, and enrich many; destitute of everything, they abound in everything. They are dishonored, and in their dishonor find their glory. The are calumniated, and are vindicated. They are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted and render honor. Doing good, they are penalized as evildoers; when penalized, they rejoice because they are quickened into life. they Jews make war on them as foreigners; the Greeks persecute them; and those who hate them are at a loss to explain their hatred.
In a word: what the soul is in the body, that the Christians are in the world. The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and the Christians throughout the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, but is not part and parcel of the body; so Christians dwell in the world, but are not part and parcel of the world. Itself invisible, the soul is kept shut up in the visible body; so Christians are known as such in the world, but their religion remains invisible. The flesh, though suffering no wrong from the soul, yet hates and makes war on it, because it is hindered from indulging its passions; so, too, the world, though suffering no wrong from Christians, hates them because they oppose its members; so, too, Christians love those that hate them. The soul is locked up in the body, yet is the very thing that holds the body together; so, too, Christians are shut up in the world as in a prison, yet it is precisely they that hold the world together. Immortal, the soul is lodged in mortal tenement; so, too, Christians, though residing as strangers among corruptible things, look forward to the incorruptibility that awaits them in heaven. The soul, when stinting itself in food and drink, fares the better for it; so, too, Christians, when penalized, show a daily increase in numbers on that account. Such is the important post to which God has assigned, and they are not at liberty to desert it.”
2. EVANGELISM INVOLVES PROCLAMATION AND CELEBRATION.
Evangelism means communicating the gospel in act and also in word. The first task of all the baptized: lay, bishop, deacons and priests is to “represent Christ in the world.” Re-present Christ in the world.
The story is told of the man who wanted to witness by his actions rather than his words to his next-door neighbor. He did just that and one day some time later the man and his neighbor were talking. The neighbor said that he had observed that there was something in the man’s life that mad e him a happier and healthier than he was and would it be all right if he asked him a personal question? The man was thrilled and said that he could ask him anything he desired. “Well, here goes,” said the neighbor. “This is pretty personal but tell me are you a vegetarian?”
3. EVANGELISM IS SPECIFIC, NOT GENERAL.
Evangelism is concretely related to the needs of those to whom it is addressed.
4. EVANGELISM IS ORIENTED TOWARD THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
Evangelism is oriented not toward the past or toward some golden age of religion that once was. It is oriented toward the future. It is the encounter with the grace of God NOW that points us to the unfolding lordship of Christ over all of life. evangelism is good news, not of the soul retreating from the world, but of the transformation of this world.
*Look for Krass’s book, Evangelizing Neopagan North America. [p. 200] “The results of the neglect of the Holy Spirit by many sections of the Church have been utterly disastrous. Deprived of the sense of power and of the experience of God’s life, religion deteriorates into a dreary system of rules and ceremonies. It becomes content with a ‘diminished mode of consciousness’. So religion ceases to mediate the world of the Spirit, and becomes a second-hand account of what was once experienced by people long since dead. …”
“Where we stumble there is where our treasure is.”
GIVING BIRTH TO THE DIVINE BEING IN YOURSELF
And when upon their way they came to Bethlehem the day was done, and they must tarry for the night. But Bethlehem was thronged with people going to Jerusalem; the inns and homes were filled with guests, and Joseph and his wife could find no place to rest but in a cave where animals were kept; and there they slept. At midnight came a cry, A child is born in yonder cave among the beasts. And lo, the promised son of man was born.
And strangers took the little one and wrapped him in the dainty robes that Mary had prepared and laid him in a trough from which the beasts of burden fed. Three persons clad in snow-white robes came in and stood before the child and said, All strength, all wisdom and all love be yours, Immanuel. Now, on the hills of Bethlehem were many flocks of sheep with shepherds guarding them.
The shepherds were devout, were men of prayer, and they were waiting for a strong deliverer to come. And when the child of promise came, a man in snow-white robe appeared to them, and they fell back in fear. The man stood forth and said, Fear not! behold I bring you joyful news. At midnight in a cave in Bethlehem was born the prophet and the king that you have long been waiting for. And then the shepherds all were glad; they felt that all the hills were filled with messengers of light.
In a cave, among the animals, a child was born in the middle of the night. The other-one-within-us has broken loose from his bonds and breathes.
The first delicate signs of a completely new life, deep in the human heart, are immediately surrounded by the unknown forces of the new life, a life to which Mary-within-us had directed herself with unshakable certainty. And the child is “wrapped in the dainty robes that Mary had prepared”, which means that the child is immediately surrounded by light forces that protect him from harmful influences.
Then this newborn is carefully laid down in the manger of the animals; and immediately three men appear in snow-white garments. They bring three gifts: strength, wisdom and love. Those are the three fundamental forces that make everything possible, the invincible forces that require a completely new life. For no human being of this world would be able to endure perfect power, absolute wisdom and all-embracing love.
Opening up the new life within a human being is therefore like an all-encompassing love, like being irradiated by hitherto unknown forces that well up from an unfathomable source in the heart … The light birth, the birth of the light-in-man, has taken place.
Gnostic Christianity considers the birth of Jesus as the birth of the new soul in a person who became like John. John is the one who had the power to purify himself by following a new path. The new soul is the higher vehicle, ‘the new garment’ which will ultimately allow the human being to enter his original world once again.
The paradise myth in the Book of Genesis, at the beginning of the Old Testament, tells the story of Adam and Eve; a man and a woman who left their birthplace (paradise) and obtained a new residence (outside of Paradise).
With the birth of Jesus at the beginning of the New Testament the return journey begins. There we read of a man and a woman, Joseph and Mary, traveling from their home to their place of birth. Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. She is a virgin in the spiritual sense, pure d untainted, completely oriented towards the higher life.
Joseph is the free builder, he who has purified his thoughts and directs them towards the soul. He symbolizes the aspiring human being who deliberately and perseveringly works and builds while staying focused on the divine. That work brings about a continuous process of purification that is guided by the soul.
A HIGHER OCTAVE
We can describe the Joseph and Mary within ourselves as the new thinking activity and the new way of feeling which are caused by the touch from the domain of the soul. In this sense, Joseph and Mary can be seen as a higher octave of Zacharias and Elizabeth.
After all, Elizabeth symbolizes the longing that is oriented to the good of the world, while Mary represents the orientation toward the higher life. The two are therefore related to each other and both bring forth children with a special task: John, who has the task of adopting the outer life to the new inner life; and Jesus, the child in whom pure Love, the highest possible in this universe, assumes a physical form.
Jesus is born in the greatest darkness of the night in a cave in Bethlehem (meaning ‘bread house’) where ‘beasts of burden’ reside as well. Our inner ‘beasts of burden’ have done their job: the persevering, goal-oriented ox caused us to proceed ever onward and the donkey carried us on the most inaccessible roads of life. They brought us ‘home’. They belong to us and therefore they stay in the cave where the soul-being is born.
And what could this cave be other than our own human heart? The human heart is like a cave system with one special birthing room: the right ventricle. There is the manger where our ‘beasts of burden’, the ox and the donkey, found their food with which we were able to complete our journey so far.
But after all the preparation and purification, the same feeding place became a place where a completely different life-force could descend: Light itself. Food and energy for a whole new journey with which the entire personality will joyfully cooperate.
In many cultures, a cave is an ancient symbol of a shelter, an image of birth and rebirth. Ritual meetings were often held in caves. Caves were also shelters for cattle and refuges for people in times of danger.
THE OX AND THE DONKEY
Where do the legendary ox and donkey come from? In the first chapter of the Book of Isaiah, verses 2 and 3, the following is said on behalf of God: I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. So the cattle know who feeds them and where they belong, but people have forgotten where they come from, who feeds them and who guides them.
In a certain tradition, the ox and the donkey represent the ‘Jews’ and the ‘Gentiles’. The donkey symbolizes the Gentiles, the heathen who are suffering under the burden of sin and idolatry. The ox is then a symbol for the Jews who live under the yoke of the law, like an ox wearing a yoke during ploughing. In this instance, the yoke refers to being fully connected with and guided by the divine. The word yoke is derived from the Latin word ‘iungere’ meaning ‘to connect’ and is still recognizable in the word yoga, for example. Thus, the ox and the donkey stand together at the manger of Jesus, which symbolizes the idea that the inner light birth is not restricted to one single race or country but that it is a calling for all humanity. Every human being is able to celebrate the inner light birth at the appropriate moment in his or her life, in his or her own year zero.
GOD IN MAN
The Light Messengers, the visible and invisible spiritual leaders of humanity, descend into the world of time and space to support and guide humanity at every step on the spiritual path.
The divine birth cannot be forced. You can only create the conditions for this birth to take place. How do you know if the new soul is born in you? The famous mystic Meister Eckhart wrote about this: Now you turn your face entirely to this birth. Yes, you will encounter this birth in everything you see and hear, whatever it is. You are like someone who looks for quite a while at the sun, and afterwards sees the image of the sun in whatever he looks at. As long as you do not seek and perceive God in everything, this birth has not yet occurred in you.
Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers describe what they call Four Principles of Natural Alignment:
- Participation is not a choice.
- Life always reacts to directives, it never obeys them.
- We do not see “reality” – we each create our own interpretation of what is real.
- To create better health in a living system, connect it to more of itself.
Christianity is more than a doctrine. It is Christ Himself, living in those whom He has united to Himself in one Mystical Body. It is the mystery by which the Incarnation of the Word of God continues and extends itself throughout the history of the world, reaching into the souls and lives of all men, until the final completion of God’s plan. Christianity is the “re-establishment of all things in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:10)
Thomas Merton – The Living Bread [ix]
“To be alive spiritually man must have union with God and be conscious of it. Apart from this union his religious life will be an empty drudgery, a mere imitation of true spirituality.”
Alan Watts – Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion [pg. 70]
Just what state of being are we baptizing Lucy Barboro Champbliss? Just why are we doing this? Let me begin with our natural state.
In 1996, Lyall Watson published a fascinating book entitled Dark Nature, A Natural History of Evil, [p. 54ff.]
“THERE ARE SEVERAL GENETIC INSTRUCTIONS WHICH SEEM TO BE COMMON TO ALL LIFE:
• BE NASTY TO OUTSIDERS: We are afraid of strangers. We are afraid even when the newcomer has done us no harm. “Who is your family?” “Who were you before you married?” “You don’t talk like you all are from around these parts!”
• BE NICE TO INSIDERS: We are nice to those who are part of us, even when they are really trouble and difficult. Why? “Because blood is thicker than water.” “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” It is really hard to get into most human institutions if those already on the inside do not invite us in.
• CHEAT WHENEVER POSSIBLE: This is the basis of everything from card games to tax evasion. (April 15 is our national day of wailing and gnashing of teeth.) It comes naturally. We hear all sorts of reasons for cheating: “Everybody is doing it.” “I didn’t think that it really mattered?” “Do it if you can get away with it.” “It’s a matter of national security.”
As Vladimir Lenin once said, “What is mine is mine and what is yours is negotiable.”
The great Anglican liturgist, Dom Gregory Dix once wrote, “It is the heart and core of ‘the Gospel’ that something drastic has to be done about brokenness and sin, and that what I cannot do God has done.”
In today’s first reading from Acts we find ACTS 2:42 Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Life among the Believers 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Let me point out that if this is normative for the Community of Faith, there are NO CLERGY. Yes, Apostles but then everyone is supposed to be “fully loaded and ready to move out,” which is the meaning of the Word Apostle. In a sense everyone who witnessed the ministry, passion and resurrection of Jesus was an Apostle with the Twelve having a special role in terms of message.
We have idealized this period ever since: Our baptismal creeds picks this up. What a wonderful place, wouldn’t you love to have been there? How long do you suppose it was before someone ripped the bloom off the bush? It was just about nine months, just long enough for mischief to be brought to full term. Acts 6ff [pg. 1266 in Pew bible]
In the first century women and children depended on the income of a man in order to survive. If the husband died, then the family was in desperate straits. This being the case there is a lot widow and orphan talk in scripture. The Greek part of the community felt that their widows were discriminated against. So the dissatisfaction grew and the Greek communicants began to complain loudly, “our widows are being ignored by the Church meals on wheels.” They came and told the Apostles. The Apostles said we can’t do it all and we must be about prayer and serving the word not waiting tables or literally “Keeping Accounts”. Choose seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom. We’ll appoint them.” And they did. They were called Deacons, a name that comes from the word: doulos or servant. They chose Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, etc. Prayed, laid hands on them . . . and put them to work. Notice that the names of those chosen to be deacon were Greek names. Apparently that management technique is ancient. Put those who complain in charge of the problem. “You are empowered now go do it.” These are the first clergy. Bishops in the earliest days were selected from the College of Deacons.
Over the first five hundred years the Church in the Roman Empire developed the model that is still dominant in the West. From the 6th Century on the Western Culture was Christian. That model continues to this day: Building – People – clergy. Clergy were put in place to act as “professional Christians” so nobody else need bother.
- Lay People get serious about their faith and folk assumed what? Off to Seminary with you. Why, only professional Christians bother with all that.
- “O John, we hired you to do that.”
This is not working and it is not true. I am here to be your Coach not your surrogate nor your truant officer. I am a player coach. I’m playing because I’m baptized. I’m ordained to Coach. This is my part of the re-inventing process we call SOULWorks.
At Saint John’s we have actively and consciously for the past five years been growing ourselves up and calming ourselves down. We took surveys that told us where we are on the journey to union with Christ. We’ve developed initiatives: Bible Challenge (Bibles in Pews), Ancient Practices, SOULWorks Weekends #7 in September.
We are in transition. Going forward there will be many, many, more lay-people in active ministry than clergy. All Christians are in ministry. You will be in places I’ll not be. You have influence that I lack.
What we are called to and what we are baptizing Lucy into is un-natural in this fallen world. We are called to live above our unconscious animal nature What the Church was dealing with then and has struggled with ever since is the simple fact that being Christian runs against what comes naturally for humanity. Rising above the animal toward the Angels of our better nature is an un-natural act!
France’s Cardinal Suhard, “To be a witness is being a living mystery; it means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”
PALM SUNDAY MARTYRDOM IN ALEXANDRIA AT SAINT MARK’S CATHEDERAL
Twelve seconds of silence is an awkward eternity on television. Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, leaned forward as he searched for a response. “The Copts of Egypt … are made of … steel!” he finally uttered. Moments earlier, Adeeb was watching a colleague in a simple home in Alexandria speak with the widow of Naseem Faheem, the guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city. On Palm Sunday, the guard had redirected a suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated. Likely the first to die in the blast, Faheem saved the lives of dozens inside the church. “I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said his wife, children by her side. “I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’ “‘You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.’” Stunned, Adeeb stammered about Copts bearing atrocities over hundreds of years, but couldn’t escape the central scandal. “How great is this forgiveness you have!” his voice cracked. “If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.” Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt.
This is the un-natural life of one who is in Christ. This un-natural life of grace is ours in Christ Jesus. I am committed during these last years as your Rector to accept what is mine in Baptism so that you will do the same. What might happen in Memphis if we each become the living mystery that makes no sense without the resurrection? I’m not sure, but I’d sure like to see it, just once. Amen
In his book, Telling the Truth, the Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy and Fairy Tale, Frederick Beuchner says that if you can’t take a joke you’ll never understand the Gospel. There is a profound difference between tragedy and comedy. In a tragedy the hero pits himself against the gods and is destroyed by the process. Tragedy is concerned with struggles of power. Comedy, on the other hand, is about ambiguity, and the transformation of roles. We think it is one way and it turns out another. Tragedy invariably ends in death; comedy ends in marriage – a criss-crossing of boundaries and limits. One is serious and the other is playful.
The Gospel lesson today is a tragic-comedy. The setting of the readings for today is feasting and partying. Here in the first act, if you will, of today’s production. The prophet Isaiah marches out mid-stage and issues the invitation of God to a party. The aristocratic prophet from Jerusalem in his best prophetic voice proclaims, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
This is a to be a lavish party with the best vintage wine and rich food full of fat. This is long before most of the human population had to worry about fat in their diet. This is a time when fat was good news not bad news. Not only will the eats be great, but as a further act of excess God will shallow up death forever. He will wipe away the tears from ALL faces. Not only will the feast be of the finest food full of fat and taste but the shroud of death will be removed. It will write paid to the old saying of eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die. Wrong, eat, drink and be merry for death is swallowed up and tears are wiped from every face. Death is no more. Furthermore, the disgrace of the people will be removed. God’s salvation — restoration and healing will be unveiled to all the guests — to all people: what an extraordinary vision. We can eat anything that appeals to us without remorse for the things that trouble our consciences and with the sure and certain knowledge that death is no more. Not a bad first act.
Now on to the Main act: Jesus picks up the setting of a party in the Gospel reading today. “The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared,” says Jesus, “to a King who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” In the ancient world one received an invitation to a feast by messenger. Then messengers then delivered a second message that the feast will soon begin. The King sent servants with the message; “The ox has become barbecue. The fatted calf is now filet minion. Countless cases of Dom Perignon are chilled. The tables are groaning with everything from Buluga caviar and Italian truffles all the way to MOON PIES and R.O.C. cola. There is some of whatever you want to warp your beak around. (It’s enough to drive the editors of Gourmet Magazine wild.) Come to the Wedding banquet,” they said. BUT — the guests made light of it . . .One went to his farm — One went to his business, while the rest seized the servants, mistreated some and killed others.
The King’s reaction is like a scene out of Rambo or The Terminator: Houses exploding in flame. These are the beautiful people from “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” They are the very folk we admire. They are beautiful people who have everything but the one essential thing, namely, trust — the only, from God’s point of view, that matters. They have everything but lack the one thing essential, namely, trust — faith, the only from God’s point of view required. That is the tragedy. They have trusted themselves when that is the only thing that will not work. They are like the long list of winners who lose: the Pharisees, the Priests, the rich young ruler, they are you and me, they are all of us . . . who live the twin mistaken notions: Our good works will get us into the marriage feast. And that God’s nature will absolve us from having to sit through it if we happen to have other plans. Both are tragic mistakes. As the guests learn they are dead wrong. Salvation is not by works and the heavenly banquet is not optional. We are saved only by accepting a party already in progress and God has paid the price with his own death. He counts only two things grace and faith. Nothing else matters!
The scene changes – Act II, Scene 2, The King says to his faithful butler, “the wedding is ready, but those invited are not worthy (by their unfaith.) Go into the streets and invite those you find to the wedding feast. Out all the uniformed flunkies went. They went out and gathered all they found: good and bad. (Note he does not invite the good and snub the bad, he invited ALL, while we were yet sinners. He simply invites us to trust his invitation. So the poor, the prostitutes, bag ladies, men with missing front teeth and the smell of Thunderbird on their breath, all the ner-do-wells completely overlooked by the beautiful and important are all home free. See the comedy breaking out? So the hall is filled with guests.
Act II, Scene 3: Now, let me admit that what I am about to say is conjecture. Just go with me, here, … you can’t hold it against someone if they are shanghaied to a party and you don’t like what they wearing. So I think . . . the “sudden guests” are provided wedding clothes, suitable clothes — Bill Blass – Valentino — all sorts of designer rags in exchange for their filthy ones. As the King comes by to mingle with the guests he spies a man without a wedding suit. He apparently came in since he was forced but he will not put on his suit. The King said to the man without a wedding suit. Friend (or as Ann Landers used to say, Buster) How did you get in here without a wedding garment?! The man was speechless! And then they threw him out. Even in a comedy some will always insist on tragedy. You might make some people show up, but you really can’t make them like it, after all, can you?
What is this tragic-comedy telling us? Invitation is the principle judgment in this parable. Notice that “Nobody is kicked out who wasn’t already in. Hell may be an option; but if it is, it is only one that we insist on after we had already been invited to the heavenly dance. The first Guests are worthy. They just wouldn’t come. Their unacceptance was the issue. The Replacement guests become guests by accepting the invitation. The man without a garment wouldn’t accept or even speak and out he goes. The King insists on dragging everybody and their brothers to the party. Everyone is a member of the wedding party and is only shown the door AFTER they were invited in.
GRACE is the only basis of entrance into the Kingdom . . .Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus EXCEPT our unwillingness to accept his INVITATION. The difference between the blessed and the cursed in one thing and one thing only: the blessed accept their acceptance and the cursed reject it; but the acceptance is a done deal for both groups before either does anything about it.
Here in the epilogue, [following my device to the end] in the reading from Philippians, Paul writes from the perspective of one who has said yes to the heavenly banquet. “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. … I have learned to be content with whatever I have. [That sounds un-American] I know what it is to have little and I know what it is to have plenty. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
If God accepts us then we no longer take our identity from our circumstances. We begin to relax in the comic “joke” that what we have always been told about who is in and who is out just isn’t so. Let’s relax, this show isn’t a tragedy after all. Yes, Jesus does die, really dead, on the cross. It’s not stage make-up and fake blood. He’s dead, really dead. That would be a tragedy, if that were the end of the production. But it isn’t. God raised Jesus from the dead. That same resurrection is ours, if we’ll just take it. Therefore things for us are not necessarily how they appear. Let us not be defined by circumstances. God is giving a party and all that is required is that we accept the invitation and show up. There is no end to the party he has prepared for those who love him!
March 8, 2017
Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Memphis Tennessee 38111
Today we come doing the three things Christians always do when they gather: To tell the story; to calm our fears and to speak to the hope that is in us.
I baptized Lucy last November in the company of several babies and little children. There is no rubric/stage direction that children having been baptized are to be returned to their parents. I’ve resisted the temptation to take them all home. I baptized Lucy into the household faith. I didn’t know baptize her with her family name because beginning then her last name from them, unspoken though implied was Christian. And so it remains.
You had so many plans for her! Of course you did, how could you not? Our pain today is that those plans are now mementos. There are so many things that will not happen.
She will never know how really cruel humans can be. She will never know the pain of sustained hunger, nor will she ever experience poverty of body, mind or spirit. She will never grow old and infirm. She lived among for just shy one cycle of the sun round this globe and has reached union with Christ before the age of one. Lucy was vivacious, already the apple of many an eye. Lucy was graced with beauty, a keen mind, a happy spirit. She was endowed with most every gift, save one: TIME.
Let me be as clear as I can beloved. This was not God’s will, not his intention. God created all things with degrees of freedom. Things fall down but not up. It doesn’t matter how many friends you have on Facebook (5000 is the max. I believe), whether you tweet, twit or twitter with millions hanging on every word and your opinions go viral on YouTube; Even endowed with all gifts so than you can move mountains, should you stumble off the roof a feather bed will not appear between you and the ground just because people like you (or not). Something did not function properly within its degrees of freedom last Saturday morning. We are left powerless in its wake. Likely nothing would have changed the trajectory, although, you will question yourself for evermore.
Here we are at a place of choosing. We can choose helplessness or guilt. Please hear me here? The truth is that most of us would rather feel guilty than helpless. Last Saturday morning, you and soon the rest of us met the limits of human power. Immediately, we turned toward guilt, “If I had done this or that? I arrived at a home once on a similar mission, only to have a person confess to me, “You know John, we didn’t get to Easter Sunday this year.” I assured them that God was not taking attendance. Because, were that true the Churches would be filled every Sunday, including Easter Day. This did not happen because Judson has red hair. I promise. I had red hair myself once. It’s not true. If we turn in the driveway of guilt we will torment ourselves and those around us from now on.
No, today let us embrace the truth, we were powerless to keep this from happening. We have no defense in our helplessness. Just sit with that. Grieve that. In addition, this was not God’s will.
God didn’t plan it and is just as sad about it as we are because the Holy One’s heart breaks when ours break. What I can tell you is that Lucy is with Him and in eternity outside time and space she is all that God had in mind when he created her.
Let us go back though and see just what it was we did last November? Let us examine the implications of baptism for Lucy last Saturday and for us today.
For Christians there are two kinds of death: terminal death and Paschal (Easter death). In his Second Letter to the Christians in Corinth, Saint Paul reminds them and us to NOT LOSE HEART.
2 Corinthians 4:16 – 5:10 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling – if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil
The only thing that we can know for certain all people who have ever lived have in common is terminal, “dead as a doornail death.” At birth our outer nature begins Baptism does not inoculate us against mortality. Rather, it was into Paschal (Good Friday – Easter Resurrection), I baptized Lucy months ago. Lucy was baptized into the death of our Lord Jesus, not his terminal death, but his dying and rising death.
Jesus’ empty tomb was exactly what no one expected to find the midst of history. But, the deepest intuition of humanity since that day is that if it can happen once in history it can happen again. It is into this death that she was baptized, not only was she baptized into the Good Friday death of Jesus, but she was also baptized into his Easter Resurrection.
We made promises to support her in her life in Christ. Parents and god-parents promised to bring her up in the Christian faith and life. Many of you here today joined in that promise. Clearly, there was not much time for any of that. But hear me; baptism always says more about God than us. Lucy was endowed by God in baptism with all the grace there is in potential. Today outside time and space: all that grace is realized. Lucy, is exactly, fully, completely everything God had in mind when God the Holy Trinity thought her up not so long ago.
You must grieve Lucy. You must grieve but not with despair. Here the Words of our Lord, recorded by Saint John, the Patron of this House of Faith,
JOHN 14:1-6 Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me
Grieve, but not as people who have no hope. Hear me? Good. In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.