EVANGELISM

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?

Diognetus 3

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.

anonymous-letter-to-diognetus

The Letter to Diognetus

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.

Alfred C Krass

Alfred C. Krass

*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. …”

THE PRESENTATION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST IN THE TEMPLE

Presentation of Christ in the Temple - Rembrandt

Presentation of Christ in the Temple – Rembrandt

The Feast of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple is not one we know well.  So, let’s talk Theology:  The Presentation marked on February 2nd is the other half of the Annunciation marked on March 25th  (9 months from Christmas

Gabriel – Annunciation of great joy – He is Messiah   & Virgin born
[Contradiction]
Anna & Simeon – Presentation of great suffering – He will redeem his people at great cost.
Equals Paradox

The reading from Hebrew Scripture is from Malachi, the last of the prophets.  He writes,  “. . . and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight  — indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”

The prophet tells the House of Israel and us two things:  1. The Lord is coming   and   2. He is coming to the temple.

In the 1st Century the longing for Messiah was keenly felt in the era of Roman occupation. The temple of that period, the third temple was built by King Herod, the Roman puppet king. In 19 BC he began work on a new temple at Jerusalem.  He did this to win favour with his subjects and to impress the Roman world with his splendid building.  The main building was finished in ten years but work continued for the next fifty.

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The temple itself was covered with so much gold that it was a blinding sight in the bright sun.  The temple platform was extended beyond the hill to enclose an area of 35 acres. I have read that 24 or so football fields would fit on that vast platform.  It could be seen from outer space.   At its southern end, it stood 100-150 feet above ground level.  A covered cloister ran right around the outer courtyards.

 The Temple was laid out in concentric courtyards.

  • The main entrance was from the south, and led to the Court of the Gentiles.  Anyone could enter this part of the temple.  [Notices in Greek and Latin forbade non-Jews to enter the inner court of the temple.]
  • The next court was the Court of the Women.  This was as far women were allowed to go into the temple itself.   It was here where Mary and Joseph stopped.
  • Men could go further, into the court of Israel.
  • The inner court was limited to priests only.
  • In the center of the complex was the Holy of Holies where only the High priest went once a year on the Day of Atonement.

The point I want to make here about Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus in the Temple, is that it is nothing like anything we have ever seen.  You may think this is sort of like a baptism since we tend to view the Scriptural setting as identical to our own.

Not so, put that right out of your head.

Going to the Temple was less like going to Church than going to the Fair!

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Model of Temple

The centerpiece of temple worship was the ritual slaughter of animals: sheep, goats, bulls, and if you couldn’t afford four-legged animals a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. By this time the Jews were no longer a nomadic people, each family with their own flocks.  But you still needed animals for sacrifice. A thriving business grew up supplying animals for sacrifice. [You recall that Jesus did something about that but that is 33 years in the future.]  So:

  1. You bought your animal, got in line and when your time came you presented your beast to the priests.
  2. They killed the animal and it’s blood poured down a special drainage system designed to drain away the vast amounts of blood spilled every day.
  3. The outdoors altar was a slaughter assembly line  with the Sun shining and the animals bellowing.
  4. Some of the meat went to the priests;
  5. Some of it was used for your family ritual meal, while the remaining parts were burned.
  6. It was a bloody, smoky, smelly place.
  7. At the same time worshipers were praying out loud,
  8. Choirs were singing psalms
  9. Religious scholars were holding forth to their students in the porches around the courtyards.

Going to the temple and going to church have little in common unless we open a stock yard at the Cathedral and hold graduate classes in theology and choir rehearsal at a continuous Pentecostal revival and barbecue!

 “ . . . And the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple!”  Certainly Simeon knew the words of the Malachi.  And then it happened one day, not perhaps the way he had imagined but nevertheless it happened.  A couple came into the temple to make sacrifice, as required by the law, for their first-born son.  Most families sacrificed a sheep or a calf.  The law made provision for people of less means.  They could get by with a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.

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The irony is that all the crowds that thronged the temple that day did not discern the presence of Messiah, the very one that they desired. They were so busy doing what was required that they missed the great day, when the Son of God had his coming out, presented to all the world and only two eccentrics whose eyes were fixed, looking for God, saw him.

Presentation_of_the_LordThe Spirit gave Simeon the gift of recognition.  So Simeon spied them and his heart, long trained to look for Messiah, discerned in the face of the little one, the face he had longed to see: the face of the holy one.  Taking the babe in his arms, he blessed God in the words we sing at evening prayer or often at the burial of a Christian, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.”

Anna, eighty-four years old, who lived in the temple and worshiping there fasting and praying day and night came in. She too recognized the child as the promised one, and began to tell the news to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel.

This Day is also called Pro Orantibus [For those who pray]   These two old people, Simeon who prayed and dreamed, Anna who prayed and fasted  may have been half blind with age but the eyes of their imagination were clearly and sharply focused.

Mark Twain once said, “

“You cannot trust your eyes, if your IMAGINATION is out of focus.”

If Renewal Works has taught us anything it is that while everyone owes God One soul, the care and feeding of your soul cannot be delegated, hired out or left to force feeding by the clergy.  It can however be neglected, starved and abused.

RenewalWorks is a process we are using to get our imaginations in focus! How?

  1. We are reading some scripture from day to day or at least regularly; not enough we believe but more scripture than we have in the past. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly! It doesn’t take much Bible to affect us!  Embedding our lives in Scripture focuses our imagination!
  2. In the breaking of bread: To discern the presence of our Lord in the bread and wine.    We believe that in this place we encounter the risen Jesus in bread and wine just as he promised.  If this is true do you see it is the most important thing we do all week!
  3. In our own inner life I believe that God is speaking to us constantly in our prayers, dreams, visions, and hunches.  But we are to busy doing our daily sacrifices of time, talent and ambition to even notice.  It is only when we are willing to slow down and focus our imaginations that we can trust our eyes.
  4. In each other:  God often seems to speak to me through the people in my life. Parker Palmer once wrote that, “Community is that place where the person you cannot stand always live.” It takes a work of imagination to see that we are all gifts of God to each other, especially those who irritate and scare us the most.
  5. In the faces of the poor and stranger: The Blessed Teresa of Calcutta spoke of Jesus in his disturbing disguises.  She said that when she encountered him in the breaking of bread that she could encounter him in his most distressing disguises.  Eyes with focused imagination see him and hear him, “If you have done to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters you have done it unto me.”
Icon of the Presentation

Icon of the Presentation

I ask you to take better care of your souls.  Please call on us. The clergy are not paid to be Christians for you.  The clergy are here as player-coaches.  We are in ministry of equipped and coaches ministers.  Please, Please, by the mercies of God come and join in this movement.

In our baptism we are given the gift of the Spirit, who penetrates history and existence in order to focus our imaginations will come into focus. With clear eyes it is easy to discern the Holy One in us, between us and to holy hands for the care those in need.

I see you.  I see him in you. Look around you will see him too. To him be glory now and forever.  Amen

Epiphany III – 2014

Friedrich Heinrich Füger

Friedrich Heinrich Füger

Back at Christmas we heard the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”  But notice that Matthew quoting the prophet takes the situation a step further, “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and on those who sit their lives away in the shadow of death – on them live has dawned!”

John the Baptizer was arrested by Herod and ultimately beheaded From then on Jesus started to herald his message and to say .  .  Jesus began to preach the Kingdom of Heaven. “Repent, for the Kingdom is at hand.”  Or as Frederick Bruner puts it, “Turn your lives around, because here comes the Kingdom of Heaven.”

And so it did.  Without marching bands and media coverage, walking along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus sees Simon and Andrew his brother.  This is the Andrew who last week spends the afternoon talking with Jesus.    At the end of last week’s reading, Andrew finds Simon and tells him that he has found the messiah, the anointed one.

We all know Simon.  Jesus nicknamed him Petros, the Rock.   He was a man of giant proportions, wonderfully complex, and passionate: at his best a rock, at his worst, silly putty.  Andrew, was the proverbial “little brother”, stable and dependable.  In the Gospel accounts, Andrew is always bringing someone to Jesus.

Jesus calls them.  This was not their first meeting but now comes the moment to decide.   They left their nets, boats, and families and followed Jesus.

Then Jesus called James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  James was the older.     John, tradition has it, was about sixteen.  They are best known for being the loud mouths of the group.  Jesus named them the “Sons of Thunder” because they liked talk about punching the lights of anyone who disagreed with them.  Fortunately, like thunder, they were mostly noise.

Jesus called these four men and they left their:

  •                 Nets:       careers
  •                 Boats:    possessions
  •                 Father:   family

and  followed him.

fishing boatThis is not to say that they never had contact with career, processions or family again;

  •   Peter is later at home with his wife.
  •   All of them go fishing again.
  •   They didn’t give away the boats.

BUT CAREER, POSSESSIONS AND FAMILY were no longer the ultimate focus of their lives.  To do evangelism we must first, BE, evangelized!  We are initiated into this community, we are adopted into this family by Baptism.  We are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. This baptism is not magic.  It is not like a flu shot.  It is the beginning of   relationship and dependence on God.

We may or may not be aware of the work of the Spirit for a long time.  We should, however, be very aware of the love and nurture of Christians around us.  That is why we need to know each other, love each other, forgive each other, carrying the burden of those overloaded and building a community that promotes maturity in the faith building up the body of Christ.

Fra angelica

Fra angelica

The center of this family of Christians, like all families, is the table where we eat.  This is the place where we gather as the assembly of the faithful to encounter in word and sacrament: The Resurrected the Jesus.

From time to time, what one of my favorite characters in literature calls a “sudden irresistible motion of grace” may well come our way.  We are going along, working, doing our thing, when an event, a person, or a combination of factors STOPS US in our tracks.  Our outer shell is cracked and suddenly our heart is dilated, we can’t explain it.  Something has shifted a bit and we are transformed from what we were.  We call these events: religious or conversions experiences.

Then we move on and reflect on what has happened by:

    1. Study:    what does this mean?
    2. Piety/Prayer:  What is God saying to me?
    3. Action:  Doing what is called for in response to God’s call and grace.

So the process of conversion, which began at our baptism, continues.  The same process is alive in us that worked on the first disciples.   The authenticity of their discipleship resided in their “follower ship”.  They did not simply “believe” Jesus and let it go at that.  They did not “praise” Jesus by verbal declarations of support; nor, did they offer Jesus good intentions about getting behind him some time in the future. They committed themselves.  They made a decision around which all the other decisions in their lives would revolve.  …

James Tissot

James Tissot

They made a commitment! They made a decision, which formatted all the other decisions they would ever make. The fact that they left nets boats and father and followed Jesus doesn’t mean that they never had contact with career, possessions, and family again. BUT none of these things were the focus, the defining principle of their lives.   The defining principle is a person: Jesus and their careers, possessions and family became their means of ministry.

None of us is born Christian — not now, nor in the time of Jesus.  We are never “genetically Christian.”  We might originate out of generations of “good Episcopalians,” but, as the statistics bear out, this origination does not guarantee an active involvement in the community of faith. In every age, in every generation, a decision has to be made. Grandparents and parents can’t make it for you.  A hand-me-down, hereditary commitment doesn’t work.  Sitting week after week in a chicken house will not make you a poulet!  It’s as futile as someone attempting to be baptized on behalf of someone else. Commitment can’t be made by proxy and God has no grandchildren!

 God’s self-disclosure in Christ calls for a response — our response.  That is the essence of today’s Gospel reading: revelation meets up with commitment.”   The philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, once said, “a thing is what it does.”

 We can do all we will here in the church to talk about fishing.  We can talk theory, study the book, have a boat, (remember that the section of the church where you are seated is not the sanctuary [the sanctuary in this church is the section behind the altar rail, so when people ask me how many people can be seated in the sanctuary at Saint John’s I say, nine when crowded.] Where you are seated is called the nave from navis which means ship.  If we go out on the lake and paddle around a fish may jump into the boat. But that is not fishing. We are called to transformation and then to be agents of transformation, which brings me to that word that provokes an allergic reaction in Episcopalians: Evangelism, the fishing for people our Lord spoke of so long ago.

 It’s a loaded word.  The word, EVANGELISM, raises images of lapel pulling, 35 pound black-bound Bibles, guilt, shame, and the hard sell.  For some people who have been approached that way it feels like being “stalked” for Jesus.   I am uneasy with that too, but the problem is that in reacting against that we do nothing.  We say something like, “I think that by living a good life, a life of faith, people will observe that life and that will be enough.   Well maybe….

2011_01_23_fishermen[1]

A man who took this position lived next door to a man who was not a Christian.   So the Christian man decided to live out the life in front of his neighbor.  And he did.   The neighbor noticed that his neighbor’s life was different.  One day he said to the Christian across the back fence, “There’s just something about you that is different from me.  Your life is full and you are just more peaceful than I am.  I want to ask you a question?”

  • “Yes,” said the Christian.
  • “Are you,” asked the neighbor.”
  • The Christian began to get a little excited, “Yes, go on he said”
  • “Are you a vegetarian?” asked the neighbor.

There is a time when speaking a word to others about Jesus is exactly the thing required for the manifestation of grace to take place but it must come from deep within us where we hear the spirit speaking words of grace and hope.

It is time to get on with it.   Jesus calls us to follow him: now not later.   We are called to be full of him wherever we are.  Let us pray that our careers, processions, and families will day by day become the means by which “an irresistible motion of grace” may be manifested in our lives and in the lives of those we meet.

Amen.

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So you want to live a life of faith?

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The Monkey Mind

Suppose one day you decided to intentionally live a Christian life.  Where would you begin? What is the first small turning of mind that begins the adventure of following Jesus?

A first step is to notice the process of your mind, the Buddhists call the unconscious and undisciplined mind, “the monkey mind” meaning that our mind is a tree full of monkeys with chattering, swinging to and fro and competing thoughts. Notice how the mind flits from thought to thought. Know that focus is the goal and also know that this is easy to wish and hard to achieve and when achieved is of short duration.  What to do?

The very first thing to do is “decide” to follow Jesus.  Immediately, the thought erupts, “You can’t do that!” I say, “Yes you can,” however, avoid vain battles and take the posture of “as if.”  Begin to act “as if” you can live the Christian life. Give up the pressure of doing it right and just act as if it were true.  Later on if it isn’t working you can climb again into the simian tree.   Now that you are acting as if it were true, now what?

The next thing to do is to cultivate inner peace & serenity. How? Let’s explore.

Inner serenity is gained by balance.  Balance is gained by moving beyond contradiction to paradox. What you ask?  Just listen.  We learn to be good boys and girls at our mother’s knee.  There is a right and wrong.  If we choose the right and avoid the wrong all will be well and of course that is true as far as that goes.  Contradiction is only a place on the journey not its end.

“I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light,” a hymn in the 1979 Hymnal sums up this stage, however, if we assume this is all that isImage required we will lose our way.  The opposite of faith is not doubt!  The opposite of faith is certainty.   Certainty is seductive.  We choose the light. Done, we think. All that is required is to set our autopilot and get on with other demands of life.  Choosing the light is of course the right choice and if that choice put paid on sin all would be well. This is not the case.

The boundary between light and dark is not between us and someone else, no, unfortunately this boundary is in the core of our being. When we realize this is uncomfortable, so we find someone and focus on them and their failings and thus avoiding our own we find our “certainty” again, lapsing again into comfortable unconsciousness.  What is called for is honesty, ruthless honesty.

  •  We keep before us our brokenness self-centeredness
  • We withdraw our projections (more about that in a bit)
  •  When tempted to project we look instead at our own shadow
  •  We adopt what Richard Rohr calls “non-dual” thinking. What is this?

 Non-dual thinking is the origin of this blogs name: Beyond Contradiction.  We must leave behind the either or thinking and embrace paradox. Yes there are two points of view.

In fact one of these points of view is right and the other wrong. One option is chosen and the other avoided.  We do all this without losing our objectivity and serenity.  In this quandary, I found a passage from the writings of Carl Jung very illuminating.  This portion of the last chapter of his work, Memories, Dreams and Reflections speaks to me as deeply as it ever has.

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Carl Jung

I quote it in its entirety.  “In any case, we stand in need of a reorientation, a metanoia. Touching evil brings with the grave peril of succumbing to it. We must, therefore, no longer succumb to anything at all, even the good. A so-called good, to which we succumb, loses it ethical character.  Not that there is anything bad in it on that score, but to have succumbed to it may breed trouble. Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism. We must be aware of thinking of good and evil as absolute opposites. The criterion of ethical action can no longer consist in the simple view that good has the force of a categorical imperative, while the so-called evil can be resolutely shunned.  Recognition of the reality of evil necessarily relativizes the good, and the evil likewise, converting both into halves of a paradoxical whole.”

Memories, Dreams, Reflections – Carl Jung pg. 329

Living Out Grace

Alfred C. Krass

Alfred C. Krass

In his book, Evangelizing Neopagan North America, Alfred C. Krass states that Evangelism will arise out of the community, which lives out the message of God’s grace.  At first glance this statement seems obvious.  “Of course we live out the message of God’s grace!”  But do we? If we do how do we know that we are doing so.  What does it look like?

 The word evangelist means one who bears good news. It is always used in a context of joy, at least from the point of view of the messenger. Here we gain a significant clue.  Grace always travels with her companion joy.  Grace is the good news that salvation of God in Christ Jesus is free!  It is a gift that cannot be earned.  It can only be accepted never gained by any effort on the part of humanity.  As one reflects on the mystery of such love joy is the authentic response of the heart’s delight in the love of God.  Joy is the state of being of one who has experienced the message of grace.  There is movement in the imagination of the soul and such movement produces outward effect.

Joy makes the bearer of good news attractive and draws the hearer.  Joy comes from the heart and communication from the heart will penetrate the shell around other hearts.  I have always be suspicious of those who felt it was their duty to inform me of God’s law and the consequences of not receiving their “good news” on their terms.   No

Grace imparts joy and grace plus joy = gratitude.   If we want to know how we are doing in our soul’s journey we need only ask, “Are we grateful?”  For gratitude is the sign of grace and joy. .

Note: The angels appearing to the shepherds in the Christmas gospel bring news of great joy.


Practice-Oriented Religion

“I want to suggest that the idea of practice holds the key to thinking about how people

Robert Wuthrow

Robert Wuthrow

with multiphrenic*  selves may be able to participate effectively and in a morally responsible way in the civic and economic arenas.  The critical issue is not whether people change their minds, even if they do so frequently, and it is not whether they draw inspiration from many different sources, rather than one; It is whether or not they take their spirituality and their moral concerns seriously enough to spend time reflecting on them, deliberating over them, and connecting them with their behavior.

Put simply, practice should not be conceived in opposition to theory, but in contrast with flakiness.  Practice is the effort that goes into having good reasons for what one believes and that demonstrates the seriousness of these beliefs by thinking about them and incorporating them into everyday life…”       Robert Wuthnow

How do we make disciples?  Clearly, Jesus did not say:  affirm these facts; do as little harm as you comfortably can;  when harm is unavoidable without change take up denial as method so that ignorance is mistaken as innocence; and having all you could reasonably do,  you will inherit eternal life. What Jesus did say was, “Follow me.” 

Richard Rohr

Richard Rohr (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The truth is that people are not abandoning the church of their fathers in the face of the demands of Jesus.  They are leaving the Church (all of it) because we are not Christian enough!  As Richard Rohr puts it, “we don’t need more orthodoxy (right belief) but orthopraxy (right practice).  He is right.

That is why at Saint John’s we have taken up the method of Renewal Works.  The recommendation of the Renewal Team from their work with the survey data was that as a congregation we engage the Bible as we are not conversant with the sacred text.  In response to this recommendation we launched the Saint John’s Reads and Bible challenge.  200 adults pledged to read the scripture every day this year; 80 of that number pledged (signed a card even) to read the entire Bible in a year.

Crossed Red and Green Laser BeamsA laser is not different light than your garden variety defused illumination; a laser is light that intensely focused. That focus is geometrically more powerful than dispersed light.  What is happening among us is not something novel and new, the Holy Spirit is moving us with subtle elegant nudges: a quickening here, an ah-ha there, a bit of insight tucked just so  as the view finder is adjusted a slowly, almost imperceptibility the but in real time with real power.  The outward sign and the inward spiritual grace is joy!   JWS

*Having multiple identities pieced together from the multiplicity of mediated messages in our environments.

 

Evangelism and Church Working Paper (2000)

Note: I am adding posts of documents I have written or found helpful in my search for a way to communicate the Gospel that makes a difference in people’s lives that is observable in time. I welcome comment. JWS

EFM logo 2

Over the past four years I have mentored an Education for Ministry group.[1]  As an experiment I formed an all men’s group.   There are now thirteen men in all four years studying Old and New Testaments, Church History and Theology.   Relationships have formed and deepened as the groups met weekly for thirty-five weeks per year in three-hour seminars.  I have observed that several of these men have developed into evangelists.  They “rush”, as they call it, people inviting them to church but also into conversation about faith.   Often the invitation comes because people notice how much these guys care about one another and enjoy each other’s company.  The question is asked, “How do you all know each other?”  When the answer comes, “we are in a church group together,” people are intrigued.

 Being in relationship outside the group is powerful but the consistent gathering as community for fellowship, worship, reflection and study has a powerful impact on the maturing of each member.   One of the group in Year One said, “I’ve been in the group six months and already I feel more comfortable suggesting grace before meals and leading it myself.  I would not have done that before.”  The work of evangelism has become a conscious part of these men’s life as they interact with friends and co-workers.  Recently I inquired as to how this had happened.   The consensus was that being together regularly and studying the Christian tradition gave them growing confidence in where they stood and in speaking a good word about the good news of God in Christ.

 Marks of Evangelism:[2]

  •  Evangelism will arise out of the community, which 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.”
  •  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 “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 the man and his neighbor were talking.  The neighbor said he had observed that there was something in the man’s life that made him happier and healthier than the neighbor and would it be all right if he as him a personal question?  The man was thrilled thinking to himself, “here it comes the pay-off for my witness.”  “Yes,” he said, “ask away.”  “Well, here goes,” said the neighbor.  “Tell me, are you a vegetarian?”  Evangelism requires both act and word!

  •  Evangelism is specific, not general.
 EfM logo 3

“It is impossible either to love or to educate anyone whom one has not taken the trouble to know and understand.”[3]   Evangelism is concretely related to the needs of those to whom it is addressed.  The matrix of evangelism is relationship.  Elton Trueblood once said to me that he believed in what he called the “principle of inequality” – the further in the Gospels one reads the more time Jesus spent with the twelve and less time he spent with the multitude.  The work of evangelism has always been done one at a time.

  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.”[4] Fundamentalism is looking for a past that never existed except in the wishful thinking of those who long for life to be simple without contradiction or mystery.  Such thinking makes those who think differently intolerable.  “Contrary to the dominant asceticism of the past few thousand years, Christianity is a world-loving religion, and not one based on dismissing, fleeing, or distancing itself from the world.   A church which claims to be opposed to the world is fundamentally alienating itself from God’s prodigious creativity at the heart of creation.  Little wonder that many people today are abandoning the church.”[5]

People are interested in knowing that there is a God and that God cares about them.

 “One striking trait, found in a number of different Gospel sources, is that Jesus seizes the initiative in calling people to follow him.  Three clear examples are given by the Marcan tradition: the call of the first four disciples (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) in Mark 1:16-20; the call of Levi the Toll collector in 2:14; and the (unsuccessful) call of the rich man in Mark 1-: 17-22.  In each case, Jesus issues a peremptory call to follow him, a call addressed to people who have not taken the imitative of asking to follow him.”[6]

 Following the spirit of Jesus we invite people not to follow us but to join us in following him.  My suspicion is that we are sitting comfortably (more or less) in our pews waiting for people to come to us when they are waiting for a call that in many cases never comes.

 “Every child, and the child in every one of us, is ready to plead: Tell me a story.  For the role of stories is to explain life, and the good stories, in their very substance and in the structure of their language, become revelation.”  — Andrew M. Greeley

Being and Doing

 The EfM group spends time together in study, fellowship, reflection and worship but they also spend time doing.   Most of the group serves as ushers.   Four of the groups are vergers.  Five are lay Eucharistic ministers.   They also serve on the also unique parish organization the gravediggers guild.

 The Chapel of the Cross has an ongoing churchyard where members can be buried.  Almost a decade ago I began the practice of digging the graves by hand.  This has grown into a powerful “formational tool; no one could hire these men to dig a hole in the ground.  But what they could not be paid to do they choose to give as a gift.  It is a formational tool because it cuts through much of the cultural denial about death.  It is difficult to be in denial about your mortality standing knee deep in someone’s grave.  It is always good when the work of the church points people toward the eternal issues of life and existence.

EfM logo


[1] A theological education for laity administered by the Program of the St. Luke’s Seminary,

Sewanee, Tennessee

[2] Evangelizing Neopagan North American, Alfred C. Krass

[3] Can Christians Be Educated Morton Kelsey, ed. Harold Burgess p. 12

[4] Evangelizing Neopagan North American, Alfred C. Krass

[5]Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics

By Diarmuid O’Murchu [p. 75]

[6] A Marginal Jew Vol. III: Companions and Competitors    by John P. Meier, p. 50

Aside

Richard Rohr

Richard Rohr (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“There are five realities that males must learn & Integrate by EXPERIENCE if they are to become men.” Richard Rohr

  •  · Life is hard
  •  · You are not that important
  •  · Your life is not about you
  •  · You are not in control
  •  · You are going to die

My teacher, Ed Friedman, said that God’s will is that we mature and that happens by facing challenge. Realize that in America we spend a lot of time and money preventing this very learning from happening to our boys (or girls for that matter).  If we are prosper as human beings this must happen.  If we are to survive this must happen.  That is why I suspect that Jesus spent so much telling people to get over themselves take up their cross and follow him.  If we are to be Christians we must integrate these five things by EXPERIENCE if we are to follow Jesus where he leads.

Ministry is easy, if you are willing to have your heart broken

He pushed open the door and entered the Tower Room just as the deacon gave us our marching orders, ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lordt.” He was tall, black and very handsome.  Neat is the word that summed him up. From the top of his head adorned with a braided Mohawk to the well maintained shoes, he was impeccable.  Where had I seen this look before?

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