Lenten Meditation 7 March 2012
“God is always choosing people, First impressions aside, God is not primarily choosing them for a role or a task, although it might appear that way. God is really choosing them to be himself in this world. … It’s not that God likes anybody better or that they are more worthy than the rest. God’s chosenness is for the sake of communicating chosenness to everybody else! … In other words, what first feels like exclusivity is finally and fully for the sake of inclusivity!” (page 43)
Stained glass window detail of St. Teresa of Avila photographed in Summit, NJ.Lenar@Christian-Miracles.com Photograph Copyright 2010 Loci B. Lenar
When I was a young man about to embark on the journey to seminary, I met a member of my home parish downtown one day, a middle aged woman with children just younger than I. This parishioner had not grown up in the Episcopal Church but was a staunch supporter of our parish. She asked me, “Do you know what I like about the Episcopal Church?” Being a polite young man I replied, “Tell me.” Her answer stunned me. “Only the right people belong to our church.” I could not think quickly of a response that would not have been both argumentative and confronting, which would not have been appropriate in a bank lobby. So I simply said, “That’s why we are not growing.” I really wanted to speak to the fact that she had it all wrong, but I suspect my voice would have been raised and it likely would have produced an ugly scene. And I was a polite young man.
Another story. A friend related a conversation that he had when he was on a search committee in the Diocese of Virginia. He and another member of the committee had gone to visit a parish in a nearby town where a candidate was rector. There were no signs for the church in town, and after stopping at a couple of filling stations to ask for directions, without success, they continued to drive around town until they finally stumbled on the church. At coffee hour, Charlie saw a person he had known from diocesan conventions and related their difficulty in finding the Episcopal Church. The member of the local parish said, “Sir, everybody who needs to know where the Episcopal Church is in Culpepper already knows where it is.”
Both of these stories relate an exclusivity that is both embarrassing and antithetical to the Christian Gospel. Unfortunately, however, we Christians, and because I know more Episcopalians than other Christians will say especially Episcopalians, seem to delight in the fact that we are “the best kept secret in town.” I believe that is an abomination! To be the best kept secret in town is to revel in an exclusivity that is arrogance of the highest order. It is to look at the world around us and decide that they have nothing to offer us, so they are unworthy of our attention, except of course to give away our leftovers in clothes and canned goods.
Once upon a time, the Episcopal Church was the apex of the social class both locally and nationally. We were the Church of Pierpont and Morgan, of presidents of the US and captains of industry, of society leaders. A hundred years ago an Episcopalian was regularly the senior chaplain at both West Point and Annapolis, training officers to be leaders of the military and the Church. We were the settled Church, the connection with England and history, the right place to be seen on Sunday morning.
Every main line expression of Christianity in America is shrinking. It is no longer necessary to belong to a church of any stripe in order to advance in a job. The younger the age group, the smaller the percentage of church membership. The trend is definitely downward, which is disturbing because we ignore our calling to our soul’s peril. Sharing the Good News is not about getting members for our congregation so we can keep the doors open. Sharing the Good News is about showing others that they are chosen and beloved by God. We can only share what we have; I cannot share what you have because it is not mine. I cannot bear witness to someone else’s experience of God; in courts of law that would be objected to as hearsay evidence. I can only speak of how God has impacted my life. I can only proclaim by word and deed what God is doing through me. I can only offer you the knowledge of God’s chosenness when I have accepted it for myself.
It is time for all of us to hear and acknowledge that we are chosen, called to be images of God for this world. As St. Teresa of Avila said, Christ has no body, no hands, no feet on earth but yours to accomplish the work of God. I would add no lips to proclaim God’s Good News of inclusion of absolutely everyone as beloved. We cannot afford to be “the frozen chosen,” not because we are dwindling in numbers but because we have been called to proclaim God’s grace, mercy, and love to a broken and hurting world, starving for a morsel of acceptance and inclusion. Now let’s be about the work of Christ in our corner of life.