Called to be funny looking

Live from Mevo from Christ Episcopal Church on Vimeo.

On the morning of the third day after Jesus had been crucified, Mary Magdalene went to the garden tomb where he had hastily been laid as the sun was setting and the Feast of the Passover was beginning. She took with her spices, planning to prepare Jesus’ body for a proper and final burial. There was no part of her that could even imagine that Jesus wasn’t going to be right where she left him late Friday afternoon. When Mary arrived at the tomb, much to her surprise and sadness, she found the stone rolled away and Jesus’ body missing. As she turned away from this most disconcerting scene, Mary found herself face-to-face with a man whom she presumed to be the gardener. The man who stood before her didn’t look like anyone she had ever met before, let alone the man who she had followed and supported for the last three years, the man whose teaching had formed her into the follower of God she had become. There was nothing she recognized in the face of the man, until he opened his mouth and said to her, “Mary!”

Have you ever wondered about how strange that story is? Mary had spent years of her life working alongside Jesus, and yet, in that moment she was totally unable to recognize him, and she was not alone. Later that day, two disciples were sulking their way back to Emmaus when Jesus came alongside them, and they didn’t recognize him at any point during the seven-mile hike. That night, while ten of the disciples were locked up by fear in the upper room, Jesus appeared before them and they were terrified because they did not recognize him. It would seem that the resurrected Jesus didn’t look like the Jesus that his disciples had come to know and love. The resurrected body of Christ looked different. The resurrected body of Christ look odd. Maybe even the resurrected body of Christ looked a bit funny.

In his first letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul had to deal with all kinds of issues in their common life. There were issues of class, power, and privilege. The poor were being excluded from sharing in the Eucharistic feast. Folks who prayed in tongues were looking down on everyone else. Those in need were being systematically ignored. It is clear that Paul was frustrated with how everyone who claimed to be following in the Way of Jesus all seemed to be operating in isolation from one another. Christianity in Corinth was about me and my Jesus, and Paul felt compelled to write a letter admonishing them that true Christianity in the Way of Jesus is a team sport. There are no lone rangers in this life of faith, but rather, the reality of church is that we are stuck together just like the various parts of our body are stuck together, sometimes privileged and sometimes forced to work alongside one another for the common good.

We can’t all be loud mouths for Jesus. Not everyone is called to walk along the margins as the feet of Christ. The thought of being a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on might be terrifying for you. None of that means that you are less a part of the body of Christ as it is made incarnate here at Christ Church, Bowling Green. In fact, without lungs, muscle, eyes, hands, tendons, bones, and a nervous system this body cannot live fully into who we are called to be. While I can imagine that the eye might want to look down upon the descending colon, the hard reality of living in a community of faith is that God has placed each of us here with great intention for the good of not just the members of Christ Church, but for the good of Bowling Green, Warren County, and the world.

Here’s the rub, however. The Christ Church Bowling Green incarnation of the Body of Christ is pretty nice looking. We have a beautiful physical plant that is well-appointed and well-maintained. We are nicely dressed, our music is fine, and our ministry is multi-faceted. We are well staffed with great people who love Jesus. We are very well funded. As a result, we have the real danger of becoming like narcissus, getting stuck admiring our own beauty and forgetting that the call of the Body of Christ is to be messy. One of our real challenges of our health is losing sight of the reality that the resurrected body of Christ didn’t look like people expected it to look.

This week, Laura, Karen, Becca, Kellie and I had the chance to gather with 400 other Christian formation ministers to grow in our vocations. At the opening Eucharist, Dr. Catherine Meeks, Executive Director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing preached. In her sermon, Dr. Meeks suggested that our calling as disciples of Jesus is to follow in the pattern of Jesus and his resurrected life by looking funny. When we dream the big dreams of God. When we imagine that the reconciliation of all the world to God is possible by way of big hairy audacious goals like ending racism, classism, sexism, and poverty. When we dream beyond our comfort zone by engaging in relationship and sharing breakfast with those who are experiencing homelessness in our Cloister Community, Dr. Meeks suggests that it is only natural for people to look at us funny. “We [our institutions, our budgets, our desire for church to be comfortable] are invested in not being funny looking, but funny looking is what we are supposed to be,” she argued. “Jesus was kind of funny looking. Always doing funny looking stuff.”

The resurrected body of Christ was funny looking, and as the Body of Christ still on earth, the Church is supposed to be funny looking too. We are called to live in a way that is at odds with what society deems to be beautiful. As we follow Jesus in radiating God’s love to all, things are going to get messy, and the truth is, they already are. I know in myself how uncomfortable I am when I feel like people are looking at me funny. I know how disconcerting it is to not have all the answers, when the rules seem to constantly be changing, when I can’t simply do a quick cost-benefit analysis and know the single right answer. I know that deep down in my DNA is a desire to conform to the patterns that the world expects of me, but I am also convinced that those patterns that are traditionally defined as beauty are a lie.

True beauty is found when each of us who are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ are utilizing the gifts that were given to us in our baptism for the building up of the Church and the restoration of the world. I am grateful for all those who shared their gifts to that good and perfect end in the year that has passed. For our retiring vestry members sharing their gifts of administration. For our breakfast teams, stretching their gifts of hospitality. For our Sacred Conversations group offering their gifts of mercy. For our pastoral care team utilizing their gifts of compassion. Sunday school teachers offering their gifts of teaching. The Wednesday Community Lunch sharing gifts of hospitality, helps, and compassion. The list goes on and on.

2019 seems to be a year in which we are being called to learn and grow together. Growth is never easy and rarely beautiful. Growing can mean awkwardness, as we get used to new opportunities. Growing can mean pain, as we stretch beyond our normal level of comfort. Growing can mean stress, as we are invited to move in new and different ways. But growing also means increased capacity for love. Growing means new chances to radiate God’s love. Growing means a greater reliance on prayer, a deeper trust in God, and a fuller awareness of our giftedness. As Christ Episcopal Church comes upon our 175th year of being the Episcopal Branch of the resurrected (and sometimes funny looking) Body of Christ in downtown Bowling Green, I am grateful for your gifts, for the chance to stretch and grow, and for the funny looking stuff God is calling us to do. Amen.

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But what should I proclaim?

Implicitly, we all understand that evangelism is a part of life in the Church, but no matter how much we understand that point, there is a nagging part of most of us that says, “no thanks.”  Some balk at the idea of evangelism because it is a word that carries a lot of baggage.  “I don’t want to beat somebody up with the Bible,” they think, “So I’m better off not saying anything.”  I suppose if you want the prevailing Christian narrative to be one of exclusion, anger, fear, or worse yet, a prosperity gospel, then this way of thinking works very well.  Of course, I don’t suppose most Episcopalians would be keen on allowing the Religious Right to have the final say on what it means to follow Jesus.  Maybe we ought to get about the business of evangelism.

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Some are less focused on the negative connotations that seem to come with sharing the hope that is in us, and instead worry about not having the right words to say.  They hear the Collect for Epiphany 3 and think “But what should I proclaim?”  In a world that honors intellectual assent over just about everything else, this is a reasonable concern.  We worry that our argument won’t be convincing.  We worry that their question of theodicy (ex. why do bad things happen to good people) will leave us speechless.  We worry that the intricacies of the Trinity or atonement theory or same-sex marriage will make us make Jesus look bad.

What if I told you not to worry about all that stuff?  Maybe evangelism isn’t about convincing someone’s head that Jesus is THE way, THE truth, and THE life.  Maybe evangelism is showing someone how following Jesus has helped you find the truth-filled way to life abundant.  Maybe the author of 1st Peter was on to something when he encouraged the church in diaspora to “always be ready to give an account for the hope that is in you.”  Hope isn’t an intellectual concept, it is a matter of the heart.  Hope is about story telling not logical debate.  Hope is about TEH FEELZ.

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Once you’ve shared how Jesus has made a difference in your life, then maybe you’ll need to expand on some of the deeper questions of the life of discipleship.  For that eventuality, I suggest following the example of Jesus’ first sermon, which we’ll hear read on Sunday.  Following Jesus is about bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.  You’ll be surprised how once a relationship is established, the deeper questions of theodicy, theology, and apologetics don’t seem so insurmountable.  Share your story.  Share the love of God with a friend or neighbor, and let God handle the rest.