Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"I am with you always . . . "

Lenten Meditation  14 March 2012

               It seems this is more than enough for God to create the yeast and the critical mass that God needs to unfreeze and save the world. ‘The whole batch is holy if the first handful of dough is holy’ as Paul says (Romans 11:16).  We rub off on one another because true spirituality is always contagious.”  (page 84)            

Jesus Appears to the Disciples, Congregational Church of Austin, UCC

               “In polite company one never speaks about religion, politics, or sex.”  That was a mantra with which I was raised, and there are probably a fair number of those who are reading this, particularly if you grew up in the Episcopal Church, that heard the same or a similar “rule”.  Of course, there is a quite valid reason for never discussing any of those subjects:  it is far too easy to fall into argumentativeness with politics; if when speaking of religion one might become arrogant and make others seem to be wrong; and sex is just plain embarrassing.  The mantra really came out of the Victorian Era of what we now believe to be total repression of the human psyche.  I was in a conversation recently with someone who had not heard that sentence but was talking around it.  When I quoted my mother, she said, “Then what is there to talk deeply about?”

               Episcopalians have always—at least in my lifetime--been uncomfortable talking about our faith.  Unlike some of our Evangelical brothers and sisters who have been raised with personal witnessing within the worship service, our experience was to be at worship alone with God, supposedly ignoring the fact that there are others in the same space with us.  “It’s God and me and no one else.”  That is why the introduction of “Passing the Peace” was so uncomfortable; Episcopalians had to admit that there were others in the church with them.  Before I began to be an acolyte at about age 7, my mother chastised me when I would look around, and especially when I watched the other parishioners returning to their pews from the communion rail.  “This is not a time for watching others; it’s a time to be alone with God,” she would say, suggesting I should bow my head and close my eyes.  Children (and adults when we are willing to admit it) are curious about our surroundings and want to see who all is with us.  We really do want to know that we are not alone, but that we are part of a community of worshippers.  And yet we are extremely cautious—embarrassed—about talking to one another about the incredible experience of being in relationship with God. 
               As Jesus is about to ascend, he gives his 11 disciples their final marching orders including a promise.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”  (Matthew 28:19-20)  He does not tell the eleven to go hole up in some house so that they will be safe; he orders them to get out of their protective shell, take some risks, and bring others into the beautiful relationship with the Living God that they have experienced.

               I remember vividly when the “Decade of Evangelism” was proposed in the 1980’s the reaction of many of the congregation I served in Norman, which mirrored much of the Episcopal Church.  We were aghast that we might be forced to go door-to-door passing out tracts or to stand on a street corner asking if passersby were saved.  That seemed to be the only expression of evangelism that was possible.  Even today we forget that one of the questions of the Baptismal Covenant asks, “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?”  We promise in our response, “I will, with God’s help.”

               I am convinced that part of the reason the Episcopal Church—and every other main-line Christian group—continues to decline in numbers is that we are not willing to be “witnesses,”  the term Jesus uses for his disciples (Acts 1:8), to the grace, love and mercy of God in our own lives.  Everyone in the US knows, because we have seen enough lawyers on TV, that witnesses can only testify to what they have seen and heard or they will be challenged for giving hearsay testimony which is inadmissible.  I can only be a witness to my life in Christ, to the miraculous deeds that I have seen and experienced, to the transformation that has occurred in my life.  Why am I so reticent to share God’s love?  Could it be that I am too timid?  Now is the time for all of us to pray for the courage to allow our deep spirituality to “rub off” on others and take those baby steps of sharing how the Good News of God in Christ is alive in me.  Begin with a trusted friend who you know will not ridicule you and practice until you are comfortable enough to speak to someone not so close.  God will give you the opportunity; remember Jesus’ last words in Matthew 28:20, “Lo I am with you always…”

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