It seems we are living in an era when the choice to attend Church is understood as an individual “right”. I believe this is true and I bless our for-mothers and fathers who secured this “right” for each of us. This benefit of living in a free and democratic society is a “secular blessing,” that is, it is an advantage or perk-based on birth or migration. If, however, as a Christian, we try to say that attending Church is a “right” in which we have the freedom to choose without responsibility beyond ourselves. Well, that is just nonsense.
In truth, if we look at ourselves and our thoughts and our wrestling with sin, we are not living in a time very different than any other time in history. People have, in every era, postulated that they need not attend Church or gather with other Christians. It is the mantra of the defiant that they “find God” in the garden, on the boat back, or down the nature trail. And in truth, God is most certainly there—always, but in saying these things the person really means that “finding God” here or there replaces the need to go to Church.
In the New Testament, Jesus regularly talks about (part 1) the individual relationship with God (himself) which is both a blessing and a requirement for spiritual growth and human completeness. Jesus also talks about (Part 2) gathering as God’s people in the same manner and more emphatically still, as he requires certain actions to bring fullness to that gathering (i.e., “Take and eat this…”).
C. S. Lewis lived much of his early adult life as an atheist. He was not known to gather much with any group, as this may have been “part of his make-up.” When Lewis became a Christian and joined the Anglican Church he not only whole-heartedly took on the relationship, (part 1) but realized the necessity of the gathering (part 2). Lewis regularly attended Holy Trinity Church in Headington, Oxford, England, even when he did not want to. So devoted was he to the truth of part 2, that he chose to be buried in the graveyard outside this little village church, to remain part of the gathered community.
People wrote to Lewis throughout his life, and he always wrote back. In a letter written in 1950 to a Mrs. Arnold, he provided reflection and instructions “Regarding the Church.” Lewis spoke of the Holy Communion as the Sacramental rite we must emulate per Jesus’ instruction, but also as the symbol of the gathered body as a whole, the “Body of Christ.” It is for this reason that Communion cannot be celebrated alone. As Lewis notes, “The New Testament does not envisage solitary religion,” at all times “some kind of regular assembly for worship and instruction is everywhere taken for granted in the Epistles. So we must be regularly practicing members of the Church.”
Lewis acknowledges that people, “differ in temperament,” for instance being pre-disposed to avoid gatherings. Temperament, however, is not a reason to not attend Church, rather, knowing one’s temperament may just be the reason to run to Church. On more than one occasion Lewis mused about “wasted time” in Church but was always there anyhow. It does not matter if we are extraverted or introverted, grumpy or elated, we are called to Church. “For the Church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities,” Lewis says, “but the Body of Christ, in which all members, however different (and He rejoices in their differences and by no means wishes to iron them out) must share the common life, complementing and helping one another precisely by their differences.”
He instructs Mrs. Arnold to read 1 Corinthians 12: Verses 12-14, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”
We are called by God in Christ to be members of the body of Christ–the church and to be gathered as the Church. This might make us uncomfortable or give us feelings of vulnerability. We might have a childhood memory that repels us, that shows the Church to be less than perfect, but then again it is not a perfect place; it’s a redeemed one. We might also think we’re better and less needy than the people found in Church and therefore have an excuse to not go. Lewis continues, “If people like you and me find much that we don’t naturally like in the public and corporate side of Christianity all the better for us: it will teach us humility and charity towards simple lowbrow people who may be better Christians than ourselves. I naturally loathe nearly all hymns: the face and life of the charwoman in the next pew who revels in them teach me that good taste in poetry or music are not necessary to salvation.”
Church is not an easy place, but the world will be redeemed through the Church, for its people—you and me—are the witnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—salvation, which Christ bought with his blood (Acts 20:28). Lewis ends his letter this way: “‘Regular but cool’ Church attendance is no bad symptom. Obedience is the key to all doors: feelings come (or don’t come) and go as God pleases. We can’t produce them at will, and mustn’t try.”
St Paul wrote, Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:19-25
Peace in Christ,
The “Great Commission,” as it is called, is found in Matthew 28:19-20.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matt. 28:19-20
When I have attended Evangelism conferences in the past, this scripture passage set the foundation for everything else. Euangelion in Greek, Evangelium in Latin—this word literally means Good News. Evangelism is the active process of teaching and preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ to a broken and needful world. And yes, we are each called to do that. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ commissioning, we can sit back and admire the Disciples’ fortitude, courage, even their divine appointment. We might even think, “lucky them!” Then we realize, Jesus is speaking to us as well. He has commissioned you.
I have a print that hangs in my office of a beautiful stained-glass rendering of the commissioning. The window used to be above the altar at the seminary chapel in Alexandria, Virginia before it burned, so I’m grateful to have the window preserved in this print. I have used the imagery many times over the years as a teaching, as it was handed down to me when, so long ago, we sat gazing on the real thing in glass: here is Jesus, his hand raised in teaching and blessings, sending out his disciples two by two. At his feet, robed disciples in muted colors and eager poses receive their call. But wait! Why are there only eleven? That’s not right! Did they run out of glass? Artistic energy? Is the 12th figure supposed to be Judas, already absent after the great betrayal? The unfinished number is unsettling, causing one to get involved in the setting, to study it more intently—until you realize what the preacher/teacher I once heard expound on that window revealed. As he looked ceremoniously out over the congregation sitting there gazing up at the stained glass: “There are 11 disciples pictured in the window. The 12th disciple is…sitting in the pew. The 12th disciple is … you.”
When we think of evangelism, I believe this is what we think of—and what we are afraid of. At some level, we each know that Jesus has called us to live life in him, and that at some point this may not be to our liking. Happy to be called, Lord, so happy to be called by you. But, um, could you give me something different to do?
Being told to go out and teach and preach can send anyone screaming from the room! In some circles “evangelical” is practically a dirty word; something us Episcopalians would not want to be associated with. And yet it literally means "of the Gospel". Are you telling me you don’t want to be associated with the Gospel and godly living? Not everyone is called to teach or preach. Evangelism defined this way is the description of a set of specific gifts of the Holy Spirit and the call to use those gifts for Christ. But what if you don’t have those gifts? Are you not being called to witness for Christ? Remember, beloved; Christ’s call is unique to each and every one of us. I do not answer a call extended to another disciple; I answer the one extended to me.
In Acts of the Apostles 1:8, Jesus calls all his followers to a way of life that does not require a special set of gifts; rather he asks for something in our control (and also, sometimes not!): our devotion and love. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” You’ve heard the wisdom in the contemporary observation: “Your life may be the only Bible other people may read;” or in one of the hymns we loudly and proudly sing: “Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love; they will know we are Christians by our love.” The ability to witness is simply the practice of intentional living for God.
To be a Witness for Christ is simply the practice of meeting every day in love with God and giving God credit for all that is. A Witness for Christ simply lives and moves and has their being as they always have, and are, with the addition of the vocal practice of acknowledgment. “It sure is a beautiful day…” “Sure is, and I thank God for it.” Giving Jesus credit for our happiness or our hope, when in conversation with someone who can't find either happiness or hope, invites that person to think in a different manner. This is the witness of every Christian and its potential is amazing.
Witness speaks for itself out of who we are. Witness sits down, is present, listens, and waits for God to act out of our own testimony. Witness walks alongside, lives life with others, and responds to what we see. We are witnesses by being the people of God and sharing the natural way of devotion in which we live.
You may one day be called to Evangelize; in the meantime, you are always called to witness.
Peace in Christ,
Dear Creator Family,
Amidst the blessings and the joyful companionship of our Lord, we are tasked with working through the constant and occasional difficulties of life. These are not “injustices” from the purely human perspective; they are just the expected meanderings of an entropic universe (stuff breaking down). So, I wanted to drop you all a quick note regarding several of the “fix-it” issues at the Church.
The road construction on Rt. 360 continues with the gas lines being moved this week. This piecemeal approach will be with us for a while as they make final preparations for major construction. I will keep you appraised of road closures when I can, but it is an on-again-off-again occurrence.
It all seems like so much, and it is. But it is also the expected and normal process of living in this world. Thanks be to God that we have our Lord to bring joy and humor to the trials of life through which we can see beyond the discord to the love.
Peace in Christ,
Sovereign Lord, we lift up our nation to You. You have blessed us and established us since the beginning. You have been our shield and our covering of protection. You have made us a great nation on this earth.
Our forefathers honored You on historical documents, solemn oaths, and in courtrooms. Songs have been written proclaiming Your glory in our beautiful land. Your precepts have been the very foundation this country was built on. You have been our might, our justice, our freedom, and our victory.
We praise you for your great power. We praise you for your Truth. We are grateful that you have set us free from the clutching grasp of sin and death.
Be with your people, extending your grace, granting your freedom, providing your protection, and empowering them with your strength.
We bow our knees and our hearts in thanksgiving to You for preserving us and ask that You'd bring about an awakening of your presence as never seen before. We ask that your Name be proclaimed, that all plans to silence the Name of Jesus would be thwarted and crushed.
We pray that many would come to know you as Lord and Savior. We pray that many would see your Light, that you would open blind eyes and release those still imprisoned.
We pray that you would unify your people for the glory of your Name, that all who call themselves Christians would rise up, believing your great Truth.
Wake us up, Lord! Remind us to live aware, to redeem the time, to listen to your words, to be willing to make a difference in this land.
We pray for all those in authority, that you would give them your wisdom and discernment as they lead. We ask that you would appoint strong, faithful men and women to serve this nation and our people.
We pray for your great healing on our land. Shine your face on us dear God. We need you now, more than ever before. Our times are in your hands.
Thank you that you are rich in mercy and full of grace. Thank you that you are forgiving and merciful. Thank you that you are strong and mighty. Thank you that you are for us and that you fight for us still today.
Bring honor to your Name, Oh Lord, for You alone are worthy, you alone are our hope and our future. Turn the hearts of all Americans toward You. In the Powerful Name of Jesus, we pray, Amen.
Father Bill Burk†