February 7, 2010
The Rev. Brad Rundlett
February 7, 2010
1st Corinthians 15:1-11
In his Pastoral Address to Diocesan Council on January 29th our new Bishop pointed out that most of us attend Church because someone invited us – parents or other family members; a friend, co-worker, or neighbor. Despite the WELCOME signs we set out by the street, very few of us venture into Church on our own; someone has to take us by the hand and lead us in.
I grew up in the deep South, the Bible belt, a descendant of French Huguenots; a died-in-the-wool Episcopalian. I was an anomaly. My Southern Baptist peers (who out-numbered me a thousand to one) continually put the heat on me to come to their Church – the only true Church – and accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. Bless their hearts, they were taught that only Baptists are saved, so it was their divinely ordained duty to rescue me whether I was willing or not. “Whiskey-palians” (as we were called for our wine guzzling ways) were high on their list of “The Fallen.” Most of the invitations I received – if not easy to decline - were friendly enough. Occasionally they were quite confrontational. Given the serious danger to my immortal soul, considerable pressure was warranted. .
My heathen sisters and brothers, I’m here to tell you that I gave the Southern Baptist Church a try. And God bless them, they are as good and faithful as any people I have ever met. But to this day I remain a lost Episcopalian because – as snobbish as it can be - I am totally hooked on our majestic liturgy. Our hymns and prayers have captured my soul. As God is my witness, if I am bound for eternal torment, I plan to process in high style, vested in the color of the liturgical season, prayer book in one hand, hymnal in the other. .
Now, all joking aside, I applaud my Southern Baptist sisters and brothers for their temerity. They take their faith quite seriously. When they hear Jesus tell Peter “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” my Baptist friends respond enthusiastically. With echoes from the prophet Isaiah, “Here I am; send me”, they hit the streets, knock on people’s doors; stop complete strangers in Home Depot and the grocery store, and invite them to Church. .
We Episcopalians, on the other hand, would never be so bold or presumptuous. We hide behind the maxim that faith is a private matter. It’s just plain bad manners to bring religion up at all, even in the parish hall on Sunday morning. God forbid we ever offend anyone. Right? .
Maybe not. .
Consider Luke’s lesson in this morning’s reading from the Gospel. Jesus was much more like a Southern Baptist than an Episcopalian; and for that matter, so were Isaiah and Paul. They were much more concerned about good faith than good manners; they were much more interested in building the Kingdom than being comfortable. All three of them – prophet, Apostle, and Savior - were constantly sticking their noses in other people’s business, pointing out where folks had gone astray, telling people how to get right with God. .
Are you beginning to feel uncomfortable? Are you wondering if I’ve had a major breakdown, lost my marbles, or suffered some sort of “born again” conversion? Am I really suggesting what you think I’m suggesting? .
Rest assured; I don’t want you to go out and assault people with your faith. I would, however - in response to our lessons form Isaiah, Psalm 138, Corinthians, and Luke - like to offer you some food for thought. .
Number one: noting the decline in attendance in all denominations, including the Episcopal Church, Bishop Shannon declared “We Christians don’t wake up on Sunday morning and ask ourselves if we feel like going to Church. We go.” It’s not optional. Worshipping God is central to our being. We were created to love and serve God. If I don’t show up there’s one less voice to sing the hymns, one less person to stand and recite the Creed, one less person to kneel and pray. Faith is personal, and it is communal. Of course we read Scripture by ourselves, pray by ourselves – at least we should. But there is no substitute for doing these things with other people. Something wondrous happens when the people of God gather together, when we hear the Word of God together, sing the songs and hymns of the Church together, affirm our faith together; receive Christ’s Body and Blood together. Our spirits merge with one another and with the Spirit of God (which is why we call this “Holy Communion”); we are lifted up, we are renewed, we are enveloped in grace. .
Number two: we have become almost apologetic about our faith, and particularly about the Episcopal Church. I don’t believe for a moment that God wants us to trash what someone else believes, or brow-beat them into believing what we believe. I suspect we are all – at our best – only partly right when it comes to matters of faith. Most certainly we are all partly mistaken too. There is more to God than what’s in our Catechism. When we finally do see God face to face, I bet my life we are all in for some very big surprises. We are not here to judge others, to victimize people with doctrine and dogma. The love of God is Good News. We are here to love God and one another as Christ loves us. .
And that means - according to Isaiah, the Psalms, St. Paul, and the Gospel of Luke - we are called to invite other people into a relationship with God, with Jesus Christ, and into a community that celebrates God’s unconditional love and saving grace, God’s forgiveness and mercy. Bible scholars are quick to point out that Jesus talked a lot less about people getting into Heaven then he did about us worshipping, loving, and serving now, in this life. It is not enough to say we believe in God and hang out a WELCOME sign. We are called to build up the Kingdom of God, and the people of God. And that means sticking our necks out a little bit to invite other people to Church. .