Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Our Story, Their Story, Christ's Story
Peter tells them the one story of the family of God. He tells them the dueteronomistic story of the family of God, which culminates not in the resurrection, but the coming of the Holy Spirit that the entire world may hear of the Messiah, the Christ. When they heard this they were cut to the heart, awe came upon everyone and there were many wonders and signs. (Acts 2)
Christianity is a story - a particular story. It is the story of God who is glorified through creation. When creation falls away from its ultimate purpose, thanks to the work of humanity, our sacred story tells us of the Messiah who comes to reorient and lead us to our eternal place within the family of God. Our sacred story leads us to undertake the work of glorifying God in all things.
This story is told and retold through the experience of people, the diverse spiritual journeys, cultures and languages. Many different people, more diverse than the first Pentecost gathering, tell and retell the story of Christ as they have come to know him and love him and worship him.
In telling the one story of the family of God, the strength of its truth is that missionaries have found the story alive over the centuries within the cultures and peoples who do not yet know Christ. The strength of the family of God, rooted in the Holy Spirit, comes because for centuries Christians have engaged in a conversation with their neighbors, listening to their stories, and seeing (as if for the first time) the story of Christ alive in the "other." Christians leave their world of comfortable symbols and journey to foreign places to discover and rediscover Christ at work in the world.
We might think of the biblical image of Paul speaking to the people of Athens about the "unknown God" (Acts 17.22ff). Paul, a missionary of Christ was able to see in the lives, even in the local worship of idols, the revelation of Jesus Christ. After listening and seeing how they believed, he used this as an opportunity to witness to his own belief.
For the church's mission to be healthy it must exist as a group of people who are dedicated to proclaiming the story of God in Jesus Christ, people who can listen, see and discover Christ at work in the world in the lives of others. The mission of Christ will die if all we do is say there is one way. Get on board! We must be at work in the world helping people to understand, in the words of Rascall Flatts, God blesses the broken road that leads to Christ. Faithful Christians make room for the story telling and for the listening. Christians make room so that those who do not yet believe may come to believe that their lives have been leading them to Christ.
For me, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. As a Christian missionary I have to be willing to listen to people and to discover how Christ is bringing them along the way, to the truth, that they might live the life of virtue. Christians must be willing to touch the lives of others, to listen to their stories of their journeys and see the revelation of Christ so that we can retell the ancient story again and again.
As I reflect upon the work of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Texas this summer I relish in the news of churches who have undertaken mission trips in their own back yards and around the world. Engaging, listening and discovering Christ in the midst of diverse cultures and peoples is our work. These stories beckon to us to renew our missionary commitment at home. We must return to our congregations with the news that Christ is alive in the world about us, God is truly at work in and beyond our churches and we all we have to do is step outside to see the manifest opportunities for transformation. Our missions abroad help form us in the knowledge that we are to be missionaries locally.
Unfortunately, just as we are sure of our one story of Christ, we are sure of the one story about the people who live in the neighborhoods and communities that surround our churches in the Diocese of Texas. We tell ourselves, they already go to church, they don't want to hear from us, they aren't like us, they are unbelievers, they are … they are … they are … As your bishop I would remind you of the missionary knowledge that they are Christ's and we are called to minister to them, reach out to them and to discover Christ already at work in their lives.
Our next issue of the Episcopalian is a celebration of the good work we are doing in Galveston, in Belize, in Honduras, in Uganda, at Camp Allen and in South Africa. I hope it will be a reminder that we have the opportunity to change the world across the street and across the world. Moreover, our own transformation may lie within the work of listening to the stories of our neighbors and witnessing God already at work in their lives.
- "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
- "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
- "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
- "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
- "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
- "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
- "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
- "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball