Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Welcome, in the name of God.

The theme of this week’s Gospel lesson (Matthew 10. 37-42) is a) a continuation of last week’s Gospel and the instructions for mission and how the mission is to be carried out, and b) now addressed to those who will receive those who will preach and teach, which will enable the mission of God to be carried out in their communities. It is in essence a word to the Matthean churches in the Holy Land about how to do ministry the way that Jesus wants it done.

One of the first things that I noticed about this lesson, is something simple and as I being to play with it, have discovered that it is something rather profound. Welcome and reception are basically the same thing where the Church is concerned. When you welcome someone, you are receiving that person into fellowship. This has profound implications for how we deal with thing like membership. If there is one thing that I know about Anglicans and the ways in which we practice our hospitality, we often fall short of practicing the ways in which are expected where the Scriptures are concerned.

For example, welcoming someone means that they are welcomed into fellowship not just with one or some, but with all. And there is reward for those who welcome new people into the fellowship of the Church – it is a good and noble ministry. It is why I am more and more convince that there is a need for the Church to return to the practice of the Catechumenate. This means that parents and sponsors for baptism in particular as well as those preparing for Confirmation enter into a group where they are taught the Christian faith so that they can be effective in their life and work as a Christian person, both being a disciple and in making disciples to build up the Church community. We are with God who is building for the day that the kingdom will finally come in all of its fullness.

In it all there are images of both promise and of warning. Jesus gives to the community the abilities to heal the sick, open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf. He has commanded that the Church combat evil by cast out demons and spirits, to proclaim forgiveness, the coming near of the kingdom and even the power to raise the dead. We are also warned that not everyone will like us, agree with us. There are people who are going to oppose us, both in word and deed. There are going to be people who would beat us and put us in jail. There people who would see us executed and put away so that we cannot do as Jesus did. While there is the potential to see growth and there are also real hazards for those who will preach and those who will host. Being a follower and a promoter of the Christian faith can be and often is hazardous to one’s person and estate. What is more important? Worrying about what people can do to us because they don’t like us or worrying about failing God and what God has asked of us?

The Church needs to offer refuge to those who are proclaiming the word of God and to those who are seeking a righteousness that is not their own. The Church needs to receive those who are perceived as weak and therefore dependent upon the Almighty for what they need. We are called upon by God to make such people family, going well beyond “one off” events that might speak to people and have a real impact on people’s lives by receiving them and treating them like family. We are to create the conditions and atmosphere within the Church community that draw people to Christ and then assist in their growth to maturity as fully developed disciples.

After all, the joy of salvation and living it out in this world is something to be shared with all who will come and participate and not to be hoarded like treasure. We offer food for the soul and water for the person to drink. And the same is worth sharing for life, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Living the Great Commission in the Cruciform Life

We have come now to that part of the Church year that has often been called, “The long green season”. It is the time for growth and for maturing of fruit and the reaping of the harvest. This Sunday’s Gospel plants us firmly back in the Gospel of Matthew and in the “Mission” discourse. Last Sunday we heard of the Great Commission of Jesus to his Church to making disciples, to baptizing and teaching them all that has been commanded of the Church by Christ and recognize that in the going, teaching and baptizing Jesus will be there with us in it all.

The Gospel (Matthew 10.24-39) this week is about being a disciple and where the disciple’s focus needs to be and where it need not be. The disciples are asked to do two things. First, they are to participate in the marvelous signs that Jesus is doing among the people. Namely, they will be healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, causing the lame to walk, curing lepers, exorcising demons, and raising people from death to life. Secondly, the disciples will need to learn what it takes to be followers of Jesus and to be a part of the community he is creating through his teaching, his authority and ministry. The disciples will have to unlearn what they have learned and will have to learn to live a new life: one dependent upon God and each other for the building up of the Church and the kingdom of heaven.

I had a conversation with a friend this week and we were talking about ministry and the things that clergy do. He was amazed at what he saw in me and said that he could ever be like me. I reminded him that I have been a public Christian for a very long time – nearly 25 years now. I pointed out that when I started I was young and foolish, and as bold as brass. I have had to learn how to be the Christian and Christian leader I am now and I did not get there overnight. I have had to learn to let go of some things and learn to trust God to provide when there is need. I have had t learn to move forward to follow and not look back. I have had to learn to deal with opposition from both outside and inside the Church to the Gospel – people who have chosen walk away from the Church and people who have worked to bring me down in a public manner.  I have had to learn to live with a life with safety nets and vices stripped away – things that we hold onto to help and keep us safe.

The lesson I have learn is that the only real safety is in learning to live, to die and to rise like Jesus. He asks that we learn to give ourselves away because in trying to hoard life and shield it thinking that it is ours, what we have we are actually limiting ourselves and moving away from God. As I look to God, he is the source of my life and my strength. He is my portion and my song. He calls us to cross bearing and self denial. He calls his Church to cruciform living. And he demands that we remain in him to remain strong in spite of the conflicts that the cruciform life requires. Intentionally living for God and proclaiming the truth about God is going to be divisive in this world. We are going to find ourselves in conflict with our culture and its ways. There are many in the world that are still listening to the Church, to hear and discern what it is that God is saying and doing. The cruciform life is meant to put Christ on display for the world to see. If we are not willing to swim upstream against our culture, to declare the Good News, the truth of God in Christ, are we really worth knowing? Are we really saying as a community of faith, anything that is worth someone else listening to?

Many in the Church these days are afraid – fearful of loss buildings and structures, of rejection of themselves by the world or by God and sometimes both. Many contemporary Christians are fearful of failing to be the people, the disciples that we are each and all called to be. If you are a person of faith and you are thoroughly committed to seeing the kingdom of heaven here on earth, and you are out there trying to do your level best, isn’t that what God asks of us? We are called to be faithful and fruitful not successful. Success, fame and failure of things belong to God and God alone. The conflict, the problems and protests of this present age rest within God and his relationship with the world. So keep on looking up. He who has called you is faithful and he will do it. Come with me and follow me as I follow Christ. Keep your focus on God, bearing your cross, producing spiritual fruit and walking into the kingdom.


Living in the fear of God and full life

He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge. Fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death. (Proverbs 14.26-27)

I don’t know if you have noticed, but we live in a culture that is scared to death of death. I have been noticing the fear that we have around death for some time. In fact every time I go to the cemetery, the fear I sense in others in palpable. No one wants to be there but they go because they must. And the funeral services industry tries to cover things up and make them more presentable so that those who are grieving don’t have to see the reality of what is proclaimed in liturgy (that we are but dust, and to dust we shall return) or the reality of what is happening in returning a fellow sojourner to the earth from which they were originally drawn. Our society fears that this life is all there is and that there is nothing more to be had. The idea of facing eternal darkness and emptiness is a terribly frightening thought and most try as hard as they can to avoid it.

Our culture likes to pride itself on the idea that only the villains die. Villians are often popular because they can be as bad as they want, do what they want, so long as at the end of the plot line they die an acceptable, horrific death. A death that is commensurate with the level of evil they brought to the heroes trough out the story. The worse the villain, the greater are the demands for the bigger death scene. So for example, think of the latest season finale of the HBO series, “Game of Thrones”.  One king dies of poison at his own wedding. His grandfather, who has been the architect of all kinds of villainy dies on the most ignoble of thrones: the toilet. The son who has murdered his former lover for being his father’s bed is applauded for revenging and shooting arrows into his treacherous father while he is on “the throne”. I share this with you because we can never see death coming and we always think ourselves as heroes until the moment that we face our mortality and then it is more than likely too late. No amount of bargaining will change things.

What does not seemed to be recognized is that, for the Christian soul, death is the gate to wider, fuller life. If we believe in God and we believe that God is there for us beyond this life then shouldn't we live this life for everything it is worth, knowing that there is life after this life and death? Shouldn't we consider carefully and prayerfully what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and recognize that this life is worth living and to the full because there is more life to come? Even when we face death, our own our someone near to us, do we not know that walking the valley of the shadow of death, we do not do so unprotected, vanquished? We are never alone there because Christ is there already. The valley is now only a reminder of death because Christ as been victorious; the valley is a shadow of its former self.

If there is a way I could explain it, it would go something like it did at the funeral of the Late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. The blowing of “Last Post”, a moment of silence, recognition of the death and who the person was in this life and commendation for the next life. Then the call of the trumpets to reveille, to rising up to life again. So in this moment as we are called to rise in the new life, we are called to know the grace that God has given for this life and let us fully live it. And let us call to mind the peace God has granted for not only this day but also for the days to come that we might live on in the full and abundant life of God.