This past weekend my husband and I traveled to Florida to attend the wedding of one of our friends’ children. There were a number of things about the weekend that offered fodder for reflection: First, it was a “weekend.” We rarely get weekends off. Second, it was in Florida, a state that I’ve only been to once before. Third: it was a gathering of all of our best friends from our child-rearing days, which was especially poignant. And, it was an opportunity to revel in the beauty of love and the vibrancy of young people and the grace of gathering around a couple to witness the beginning of their lives together and to offer our support. So much to be grateful for, so many blessings, and a lot to process along with the fact that I was actually walking ON THE BEACH in the HOT SUN in a BATHING SUIT. Fantastic.
But there was more than this that gave me a moment’s reflection.
I was struck, again, by what I found when I got out of the bubble of All-Things-Church. (This is not the first time I’ve had this revelation.)
Yes, my work of overseeing the Church (that’s what the word in Greek for bishop, episcopae, means: “overseeing”)… it has the hazard of becoming all-encompassing which can lead, if it is not curbed, to short-sightedness. Now, I listen to the news, I read books that have nothing to do with church, I go to the gym and the grocery store and shop for clothes out in the world, but to be honest, those are not places where I engage with people who are not like me, who do not spend their every waking hour thinking about religion and God or reflecting on which hymn tune is better for the old saw “Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult-“ is it Restoration or St. Andrew? (For the record, I have to go with my friend, Metropolitan Opera bass-baritone John Cheek on this one- it’s Restoration for the win.) I spend my days in productive and satisfying work, thinking and praying about God’s mission and how we are called as faithful people to worship God and participate in the mission of healing, reconciliation and wholeness. I work to support the structures that enable our worship and mission, namely, the parishes in our diocese. I study the institutional structure of our Church and imagine ways to better shape it for mission. I meet with faithful people in our diocese who know a lot about God and who care a lot about the Church because it is important to their spiritual wellbeing and in it, they have found home. I think about boilers and roofs, along with vestries, and meet with those who aspire to align their lives in the Church as ordered- ordained- minsters. I look at the world about us and take in its unhealth- environmental degradation, racism, economic disparity, gun violence, drug crises- and, in the way that an “overseer” does, I draw the line between these critical signposts of a nation in despair and offer a “word.” I pray that my “words” comfort and inspire and motivate. In this time of rapidly changing cultural landscapes, I pray about, dream, and design ways for the Church to be responsive to what Culture offers us now, and how to get in front of it, so that we can make choices about our life together that are exciting, and that allow us to thrive.
But on last weekend, all of that seemed for naught.
There’s a whole world out there that doesn’t know about the redemption from slavery in Exodus; or about the passion of lovers in the Song of Solomon; or the miracle of water turned to wine, or a feast on a hillside served up from a few fish and barley loaves. There is a whole bunch of people who don’t ponder the wonder of a three-petaled trillium growing in the woods as the work of an amazing Creator, who don’t see purpose in offering to a source greater than ourselves the shortcoming of our days, turning them over for redemption and reconciliation and the feeling of a lightened, clean breast; and there are those who don’t see purpose in gathering together with a group of people whom they did not choose, who share a common purpose of offering praise, receiving spiritual nourishment and grounding themselves in a mutual desire for transformation, unity and peace.
There’s a whole world out there that doesn’t know Jesus- or may have heard of him, but don’t see a need to have him – or any religious community and structure- in their lives.
We Jesus followers who gather together have become irrelevant. This isn’t new news to me, but I was a reminded of it as I stepped outside of my ecclesiastical bubble.
We wax on- quietly- about Evangelism in the Church. Our Episcopal allergy to sharing God’s good news is our worst fault. Our second worst fault is that when we do evangelize, it is often for the sake of increasing the number of “fannies in the pews,” to ease the strain on our budgets.
We are called- by virtue of our baptisms- to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” (BCP 305)
We are called to invite others to share the treasure that we have discovered (or that we have received by the matter of generational hand me downs) and to offer to a world that increasingly “knows not the Lord Jesus” and the riches of his grace.
I’ve been transformed by having Jesus and God and Church in my life. I continue to be transformed by the hard Way of Jesus, loving God, loving neighbor and striving to love even myself. How about you? There’s an ice-cream eating, sun-soaking, dress-shopping, coffee-house-hanging world of people out there on a lazy Sunday who might like to know our wildly irrelevant secret. Dare we share it?
(Disclaimer: for all I know, all of those people on the boardwalk on Sunday morning were faithful Christians. I didn’t ask.)