Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Gift of God's Grace

A lot of times when I sit down to write these reflections, I honestly have no idea what to say or write.  I will ask someone for a topic if they stop by my office, look at the lectionary for that day, I have even phoned a friend.  More often than not, I use my own life and questions I have at the time and use those as a springboard into a larger topic.  This week I wanted to speak on something that may be difficult for all of us to do because it involves those not so great times in our lives.  I think it is pretty safe to assume that we all have had these times; times when we are separated from God.  Whether it is by our own choosing or our reaction to those situations placed before us.
In C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, he describes heaven and hell as these sort of city like places.  Where as you become closer to God, you move closer to the center of the city of Heaven; and as you move further away from God, you keep moving beyond the outskirts of the city of hell.

I am talking about those times when we have gone past the last house on the block and settled in on the outskirts of hell. 

While I was thinking about this concept, a certain verse stuck out to me.  I remembered thinking it was rather peculiar even when I heard it read in church over a year ago.  2 Samuel 11:1-15.  This is the story of King David and Bathsheba.  I invite all of you to take the time and read the passage as it but if you are unable to right now, here is a quick recap.  David sees Bathsheba bathing from afar.  He calls for her to come to his home.  She becomes pregnant with his child.  Both David and Bathsheba were married to other people already.  David tries to have Bathsheba’s husband return from war to spend the night at home.  Uriah refuses.  David sets up for Uriah to die in battle. 

Wow.  You can’t make this stuff up!  I remember sitting there thinking, what message could this possibly have!?

When you have questions like this regarding something you hear during a church service it is normally a good thing to read the Collect for that day.

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

In this story from 2 Samuel, King David, God’s chosen leader of the Israelites has become lost and confused.  He has turned his back on God.  According to Lewis, he is living in his own personal hell.

I think this is a place most of us have experienced.  It is never a fun or pleasant thing to reflect on these times or the circumstances as to which we are there, but I think it is something we can all relate too.

Now, shifting gears for just a moment.  Have you seen Michelangelo’s painting of the Creation of Adam?

There we go.  I only want to focus on the hands for this part.  Did you know Michelangelo got into A LOT of trouble for this painting?  Can you see why?

In the painting, God is reaching, almost straining to reach Adam.  Meanwhile, Adam just kind of nonchalantly holds his hand out.  At the time, not too many people in the Vatican were pleased with this visual.

Now, back to David and 2 Samuel.  Sometimes, we all may wander and turn our back to God.  I can say it has happened to me personally and just about everybody I know!  It is part of being human! 

It is during these times that we experience one of the greatest gifts of God!  While we may turn our backs and nonchalantly hold our hands out, maybe we don’t even have our hands out at all.  During those times, God never stops reaching.  God never turns a back us.  For it is during these times that we are blessed to receive this great gift of God’s grace!  Sometimes it is not an easy gift to receive.  It requires that we humble ourselves.  Yet, it is a gift that has already been given to us.  It is a gift that is being given to us.  It is a gift that will be given to us.  How will you accept it?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Silent Evangelist

This past Friday I was one of the lucky 20,000 people that witnessed our very own Memphis Grizzlies defeat the Los Angeles Floppers, I mean Clippers, to move on to the second round of the NBA playoffs.  As I was leaving the Forum I saw something that was a daily nuisance for me as I walked to class in college. 


I slowed down a little because I always find it interesting to hear what they have to say.  As usual, it was filled with anger and judgment as I began to chuckle and walk away.  It is always entertaining to hear some of the things they have to say.

This morning a heard something on the radio that made me think of these evangelists that I encountered near the Forum.  Westboro Baptist Church has announced that they will be protesting Graceland.  According to them, Elvis is an evil drug addict and a false idol, which makes Graceland hell.

As Episcopalians, we often times do not focus much on evangelism.  We shake our heads at the people who do the things mentioned above.  “They make a bad name for all Christians” we say.

One great thing about being Episcopalian though is I can say that I strongly disagree with not only the way these evangelists go about preaching the Gospel but also the interpretation of the Bible that they are preaching.  I think it would be safe to assume that I am not alone in saying that either.  Now I am no scholar or academic theologian but my understanding of the Gospel is a little different, a little more loving.

However, all of this made me think about what it is we are called to do as Christians.  We often simplify down to a simple set of dos and don’ts.  Do- treat others nice, respect your parents Don’t- lie, steal, murder.  Is that all it takes to be Christian then?  Why then do people all over the world who do not identify as Christian also follow these rules?  Does simply being a person with good morals make you Christian?

In a previous post I wrote about how that first golden rule often gets glazed over.  We focus a lot on the love your neighbors as yourself.  However, that first one that says love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might!

It cannot just be simplified into a set of rules or guidelines!  If we love Him then it means so much more than just following orders.  The definition of a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.  We all know the 7 recognized sacraments already but if we change how we think about what it means to be a Christian, change the thought of I should do this to I WANT to do this, imagine what that would mean for you in your spiritual life!  You have changed from simply playing the part to being a living sacrament of God!  Your life would be a visible sign of the glorious and wonderful Grace of God!

What else are we asked to do in our lives as Christians…
Mark 16:15
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”

Isaiah 6:8
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying ,”Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I!  Send me.”

If you look, it clearly says that we are called to be evangelists.

But I don’t want to stand on the corner yelling at people!

“Preach the gospel of the Lord at all times, and when necessary, use words.”  St. Francis of Assisi

You do not have to be the person condemning and yelling at others to be an evangelist.  You can simply be you.  Being an apostle to others, lending a hand to someone who is down, listening to someone who has had a rough day, there are countless ways that you can carry out this mission in a positive way.

This past week we talked about ministering.  How do you minister to others?  How have people ministered to you?  This year, the ministering I have received from the wonderful families of this congregation has blown me away. 

I am utterly speechless as I look back and think of the group of youth that go out every month to prepare food for More than a Meal, the group that gave up a Saturday to do yard work at Shady Grove Elementary, seeing how supportive everyone is especially when bad things happen in their lives or the lives of their friends. 

So this week, the challenge is to go out and be an evangelist.

If necessary, use words.