Wednesday, November 30, 2011

News from the edge: Evangelism Story #1

As many of you know we recently held an Evangelism Conference in November.  I want to share with you several stories from the front lines of Evangelism - where people are bridging the gap between church and world.

The first story comes from Beaumont, Texas. 

Here is the message from the edge:

"I'm so excited.  I took the church into the world today.  I invited some people to join me for Morning Prayer at a local bakery/coffee shop.  Three others showed up.  I had printed off the service for everyone.  During the time for intercessory prayer I invited them to offer up their prayers and it was sweet time of healing conversation.  I plan to do this every Tuesday during Advent and then decide about continuing.  I invited others and several were interested but couldn't make today.  There was another LARGE group in the bakery sitting right next to us from Capital One Bank.  I had my back to the rest of the bakery, but I hope that perhaps some others noticed us.  Just wanted to share my excitement with someone who would care!"

This is awesome work.  You know we do this work in the hopes of being out in the world. Engaging with ourselves and others.  We don't do it to "catch" people like in other forms of evangelism. We do this as part of our work of sharing.  Congratulations Beaumont, Texas for taking the church into the world.

You can listen to the Evangelism Talks here: Bishop of Texas Podcast Page

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent Meditation

So, here is the truth: most of us don’t get why we (Episcopalians) don’t do Christmas like the rest of the folks who have been working on it since before Halloween.  Some of us think, "Advent is inconvenient and I don’t really understand it anyway." “Waiting” is not one of the cardinal virtues our society holds dear. Just consider on demand movie downloads …

But, waiting is the point of Advent.  Yes, waiting is inconvenient, but then, we are waiting for the coming of an inconvenient God!

Most days I’m looking for the convenient God—the one who gives me all the things I need--a God who will “level the mountains before me, raise up the valleys and make straight the paths.” (Isaiah 40, Mark 1)

Most days I am looking for the God who is nearby when I need him and far away the rest of the time.  And, if we are really honest: most of us want to be singing my favorite hymn: Bing Crosby’s “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” now, with the rest of the ice skaters at the mall.

But the God of the Gospel, revealed to us in Advent, is very different. Advent comes in the darkest part of the year, when Christians have to wait to celebrate the coming of the Light of God, the Word of God, into our world.   As Episcopalians, we can wait in several ways. We can make family dinners a priority, lighting the candles of the Advent wreath together with prayers and readings.

God’s inconvenience is not limited to making the time to have a family meal, let alone pray.  God’s Gospel message is even more inconvenient than that!

Isaiah 40: 3-5 and Mark 1:2-3 speak of making the path straight, preparing the way--not for us but for the coming of the Lord.  Advent is a renovating time for our hearts to change our actions.  We can use this time of Advent to become a unified voice in the wilderness.

It’s not uncommon for people to believe that happiness lies in goods and wealth, in extravagant gift giving, when in fact these are misplaced values leaving many people unhappy and feeling unloved. The Good News we have received is not a private message, but a message of hope and love from God for all people.  It is a message we can share with those who live in the midst of the “holiday” insanity.

We are waiting on a God who is interested in the good in every one of us and who cares how we treat our neighbors. (See Matthew 25:31-46)  We are waiting on a God who is interested in the lost and lonely.  The God we worship comes for those who are not at the table, who have little--the cast offs of society.  This is a challenging God.

This is a God who is born homeless, into a lower class family, who is on an immigrant journey, who spends his time with those whom society deems unworthy.  The God we are waiting on is inconvenient because many of the people God cares for are not like us.  Our God comes for the poor and the rich, the old and the young, the weak and the powerful.  God cares for people with whom we disagree politically, who have no homes or who have mansions, who drive nicer cars and who have no car, who have everything they need and those who don’t even have clean water.

This inconvenient God has a message of love for everyone and he will ultimately offer it and himself to the whole world not in the hay of a manger but upon the hard wood of a cross.

Yes, our God came at an inconvenient time, in an inconvenient place, to people who were an inconvenience. This inconvenient God invites us--those who already know of their hope and salvation--to be part of the proclamation and to help in the work. 

Even God’s invitation is inconvenient. Marked as Christ’s own forever, we discover that it is you and I who are to begin the work on the valleys, the mountains and the rough places.  We are God’s heralds, and we are his hands and feet in the world. We are the ones charged to work for the reign of God.

You might say, "That is a most inconvenient message because I have Christmas shopping to do!"  Yep. We are waiting on a God who intervenes in our life, in our desires and in the way we want to do things.  Our God invites us to gather as family at table in this season to share common meals with common prayers. We are invited to read scripture as a family in our home.

We are called to do this spiritual practice of Advent on the one hand so we may remember our own saving.  And, on the other hand so that our eyes will be opened to God’s people who are looking for help and aid. 

We light our Advent wreath to remember that this inconvenient God sends us into the world bearing his light into the darkest of night.  We bring greenery indoors to reminds us of life in the midst of winter so that we might be life and help life take shape and root itself in the world where death and hunger are constant companions to many on their pilgrim way. 

In this Advent season I hope you will be inconvenienced by this inconvenient Christ we worship. I hope you will gather with your family or your friends at dark, break bread, read a passage of scripture and light a candle in your Advent wreath.  I hope you will do this because I hope it will remind you of the saving grace of Jesus and the saving grace he has in store for the world, so much so, that you will see people in your life differently.

I hope in this Advent season that God will see and hear his people at work in the world.  I hope God will see his people--and most of all the people of his Episcopal Church--transforming lives of those looking for a place to lie down, a place to be fed, a place to give birth. I hope he will see someone committing kindness in the stillness of the darkest night.

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Quotes

  • "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