the 16th Day after Pentecost
September 29th, 2019
Today’s readings are:
Amos 6:1a, 4-7
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Click here to access these readings.
Now, I want to ask you all a question that, usually, makes Episcopalians squirm. I’ve seen it made Roman Catholics squirm a bit, too, but this sort of question, that I’m about to ask, usually makes us Episcopalians in particular really, really uncomfortable. I remember, a few times, down south at seminary, our professors would ask this question every now and again, and there were a few of my fellow seminarians who just – it looked like you had just put a spider down the back of their shirts. They kinda twitched, or itched, or looked down at their desks and fiddle with their papers. This question made them super uncomfortable. So enough preamble; here’s the question: what brought you to Jesus Christ?
For many Episcopalians, this is a deeply personal question. And while I’m teasing you all and Episcopalians in general, I think it really is a deeply personal question: what brought you to Jesus Christ? Not: what persuaded you that the claims of the Bible and of the Church were true, as if this were an essay test back in school. Not: defend the theology of the church in three to five sentences. No; what brought you into a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Word by which God the Father created the whole Universe, the guy, Jesus; what brought you to him, into his presence, into his love, into his loving embrace? What brought you to Jesus Christ?
Now, it’s okay if we balk a bit before this question. At least at first. We Episcopalians, along with some other liturgical denominations, put quite a bit of importance on mystery. And not mystery like in Sherlock Holmes books where there’s a detective and a crime and the mystery is solved in the end. I mean True Mystery. The mystery of Life, of Love, of true Goodness that reaches to the foundation of reality and back. Think about the Eucharist. I could explain to you all the very intricate theology of what happens in the Eucharist, but at the end of the day, we all know that, in some way we meet Jesus up there at the altar rail, don’t we? We know it in our heart of hearts. And when we try to explain it, we get all fuddled and confused, because the beauty of the Eucharist, and that closeness with God, is so much more than words. It is a mystery. It is more than us.
And that’s all very good, but I want to ask you again: what brought you to Jesus Christ? For many people, and especially for many Episcopalians, this question is a mystery like the Eucharist is a mystery. That encounter – that first encounter with Jesus Christ as an adult, not just as a child, which is special enough, but as an adult – that encounter reaches down and touches our very being, the most personal part of ourselves. And for most of us, it wasn’t a single moment. Most of the time, the presence of Jesus Christ enters into our lives over a long time. It’s a slow lifting up, just like how we raise our children, slowly, surely, coming alongside them at times, letting them totter and wobble on their own two legs at others. But there are always moments of grace, those perfect moments or periods of time when, whether in those moments or when we reflect on them, we know that God is with us, that Jesus Christ is or was standing beside us saying his great name: here I am, I am with you.
And yet I will ask you again: what brought you to Jesus Christ? And I ask you not because I want to make you feel uncomfortable or squirm in your pew. I ask you, and I hope for a response, because talking about a thing does something to the heart. I remember a student in my writing class while I was working at the U of O. She came to my office and asked for help thinking up an idea of what to write about for her essay. She went through the usual big-ticket issues that everyone writes about in these classes: the death penalty, immigration, legalizing marijuana. But I could tell that she really didn’t want to write about any of that (and, really, I didn’t want to read another paper on these topics either, truth be told). So I said, “Listen, what do you want to write about.” And she said, “Harry Potter.” Really, she wanted to write about children’s literacy and why fantasy literature like Harry Potter was so important to teach in schools. She went on for twenty minutes about Harry Potter, swinging between formal rhetoric and just gushing about something she loved. So I told her, “Write that paper.” And she did. And it was probably one of the best papers I ever read as a teacher, because she downright loved what she wrote about.
You see, we have a life surging inside of us. God is living within us, within our loves, within our joys, within our hopes and dreams and all that we hope to be good and true. But we Christians, we’re not supposed to keep all that inside. We’re not supposed to bottle up God and keep him in a nice, dusty shelf in the back of our heart like an old bottle of wine, waiting for just the right moment to pop the cork and pour some out. We are people of living water, and the cool thing about living water is that there’s no end to it. And the other important thing about living water is that we are living in a world that is desperately, desperately thirsty.
But just as we are not curators of a library that does not lend out books, we are also not fire hydrants. That student I mentioned didn’t just write a paper out into the void; she wrote for me, her teacher, and for her fellow students and, I believe, children around the country and the world for whom literacy is so important. The Christian life is not lived alone. So, perhaps it’s better to ask, not what brought you to Jesus Christ but who brought you to Jesus Christ? In whose eyes did you see Jesus? In whose actions? In whose love? Maybe it was through discussions, maybe through just actions, but who brought you to Jesus Christ? Who, when you just saw them, who made you believe?
And now I’ll ask another question: who did you help bring to Jesus Christ? Who, when they think long and hard about their life, when they come sober to the facts of who they are and who has guided them, when they ask: who was it? Who thinks of you? And if you say immediately, in a knee-jerk kinda fashion, oh, no one, then awesome, you’re being humble, and that’s good. But think again. Think more deeply on whose lives you’ve touched and in which room you’ve carried Jesus Christ with you. For you don’t come up to the altar just to get a little wafer and a bit of wine. You don’t pray just so you can talk out your problems. You don’t go and do the ministry of the Church so that society can be more cohesive. We Christians are bearers of God the Spirit, of the presence of Jesus Christ Himself. And when you leave those doors later this morning, you will have God with you, ready to be present, to love, and to guide this wayward world into some semblance of hope. Who brought you to Christ? Who have you brought to Christ? Who will you bring to Christ?