Active Hospitality

epsicopal_church_welcomes_you_2

I have been known to be critical of some things in my beloved Episcopal Church.  Yes, Virginia, it is true that one can love something and wish it to be better.  I’ve lamented our adoption of Moral Therapeutic Deism.  I’ve pondered our fear of the name Jesus. I’ve asked a lot of questions about our commitment to evangelism given our slogan “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.”  It seems we welcome those who a) can read English, b) can read music, c) can navigate our labyrinthine Prayer Book (and, often, buildings), and d) seek us out in the first place.

Given the ubiquity of The Episcopal Church Welcomes You signage, my disdain for it as an ideal often stays forefront in my mind, and influences the way I engage in the Scriptures.  This was true this morning as I read the story of Abraham and Sarah and the three visitors.  The first thing I noticed is that this story is about Abraham and Saran, not Abram and Sarai.  This means that God has already established the covenant with Abraham.  In fact, God and Abraham have already interacted on a few different occasions.  Beginning in Genesis 12, the story of the deepening relationship between God and Abraham and Sarah teaches us an important lesson about true welcome – hospitality is an active noun.

By the time we get to the Oaks of Mamre, Abraham and God already know each other.  Relationships require work.  One cannot simply sit inside their tent with the flaps closed and expect relationships to grow.  Abraham is out and about, scanning the horizon, looking for guests to welcome, for friends to greet, for relationships to foster.  A sign on the corner that says the Episcopal Church Welcomes You that points to a set of closed red doors on what appears to be a building that hasn’t been occupied in years is not an evangelism tool.  It cannot be a marker of hospitality.  As inheritors of the Abrahamic faith, we are called to be out in our communities acting as signs of the Kingdom, meeting our neighbors, who are know to us because we’ve been out there for a long time, meeting them where they are and inviting them into the feast that has been prepared for them from the beginning.

What makes the Oaks of Mamre story so powerful is that Abraham can recognize God in the three strangers because they are in relationship with one another.  This is why at Christ Church, we’ve made a commitment to getting out into our neighborhood and learning more about it.  Whether it is through meeting our neighbors experiencing homelessness face-to-face, engaging in neighborhood prayer walks, volunteering in our community, serving on local non-profit boards, or some other means, we are making the commitment to be the signs of Christ’s love and light here in Bowling Green such that, when someone new shows up on Sunday morning, maybe we can meet them with a hospitality that is a little more active because there is a relationship already established and a trust already built.

Advertisements

The Call to Go

Tomorrow night, the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky will gather with our Bishop and other clergy from the Diocese of Kentucky at a service called The Celebration of New Ministry.  Our preacher will be none other than my former Rector, TKT, who will bring a word that the service itself really struggles to convey.  As glad as I am that the service has changed from the Institution of a Rector in 1928 to the Celebration of New Ministry in the 1979 Prayer Book, the service itself really lacks that reality.  It is, by and large, still all about me, the 25th Rector of Christ Episcopal Church  (Yes, I know there is a service in EOW, but like most everything else EOW attempts, the SCLM tried to fix too many things and as a result, created far too many problems).

I’ve not read TKT’s sermon, mostly because it probably won’t actually be written on a piece of paper, but I can still be sure that it will not be about Steve Pankey, the guy who’s work it is to be in the tent of meeting.  Instead, he will tell the story of Eldad and Medad from Numbers 11.  Depending on how you read the story, Eldad and Medad were either two of the 70 who didn’t go to the tent, or two in addition to the 70 who were gifted with the Spirit by God to do the work of ministry.  No matter how they ended up back in the village, the reality is that God chose to pour out the Spirit upon them and not just those who made their way to the tent of meeting.  It is a story about how God does the work of the Kingdom through all God’s servants, not just those who wear fancy collars, have calligraphic certificates on their walls, and draw stipends from the gifts of the faithful.

While the sermon will be important, what is more important to me is the effort TKT and his wife are going through to be here.  Not that I thought it would be any other way, but the process of leaving one church and taking a call at another is always a difficult one.  After 9.5 years of working together, there came an end, and rather than being bitter or frustrated, TKT has been affirming and supportive every step of the way.  That’s because we both took seriously the reality that God doesn’t just call people to a place, but there comes a time that God also calls people to Go.  As we both listened for the Spirit last year, it became clear to both of us that our work together was coming to an end, that I was being called to Go, and that both of our ministries would be fruitful if we were faithful to that call.

go-icon

In our Old Testament lesson for Sunday, we will hear Abraham’s call to go.  While the promise of God to Abraham is more than I could ever hope for, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” the hard truth is that God often calls his servant’s to go in order to bless others.  Sometimes, like in my case, it was the call of a professional minister to serve a new congregation, but more often, it is the call of a regular disciple to go out into the world in service.  Whether it is local work with the homeless, the outcast, or those in prison; or international service to bring clean water, education, or healthcare to those in need, God has a call to go for every disciple.  God has a plan to bless the world one person at a time through each of us who call Jesus Christ Lord.  If we are willing to listen, and more so, willing to take the risk and GO, we can all experience the blessing of Abraham; the blessing of following God’s call to go and be a blessing to someone else.

The Landing was Rough and Now the Breaks aren’t Working

In yesterday’s post, I wrote on the difficult lesson from Matthew’s Gospel, suggesting that it was a rough way to land in Ordinary Time. Today, I’ve got a little bit more time and so now having read through all the lessons, both Track 1 and Track 2 (more on that in another post), I’ve decided that the landing might have been so rough as to knock out the breaks as well.

In Genesis, we are welcomed into the semi-continuous reading with the story of a jealous Sarah convincing Abraham to cast off Isaac and Hagar into the wilderness. It is prime example of God’s steadfastness, as he stays with and protects the boy in the wilderness, but I’m pretty sure that fact will get lost in the minds of most hearers as they ponder this odd “beginning” to the story of Israel’s founding family.

Meanwhile, the Romans lesson is, well, a typical lesson from Romans: dense theologically and deeply rooted in the controversies of its time. Since many congregations probably saw a pretty baby in a flowing white gown get sprinkled with water on Pentecost a few weeks ago, the Romans lesson offers us a chance to reflect theologically on the role of baptism in the life of faith. It is helpful that the baby baptism is somewhat removed from the theology since no one likes to think about that adorable baptism as a death to the life of sin. This is another lesson that requires a good bit of back story.

Track 2 preachers, which is where Saint Paul’s in Foley falls this year, are invited into the theme of the day with a lesson from Jeremiah. While it, like the Genesis lesson, gets off a rough start, there is at least no casting off of innocent children. Instead, it is yet another reminder of why nobody wants the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy. Being the mouthpiece of God when God’s people are disobedient is not a pleasant experience, and Jeremiah cries out for help from the Lord. As the passage ends, the prophet has found the solace his is looking for and cries out to God in songs of praise. At least one of the lessons has a nod to the Collect’s theme of God’s lovingkindness.

What I have spent the last two days being snarky about, however, can be a real opportunity for the preacher. The Bible is full of hard to hear passages, and historically, the Lectionary has worked hard to skip past them. The problem, of course, is that when our people do read the Bible, they will see these things: stories of concubines, slavery, murder, and poor life choices; and be totally unprepared for how to handle them. It would behoove the preacher to land in the minefield of Proper 7A and honestly talk about how difficult Scripture can be. Afterall, if we want to create biblically literate congregations, then we have to invite them into the fullness of the story of God’s steadfast lovingkindness to often despicable people.

Go.

The Bible is ripe with commandment to “Go.” Jesus was especially fond of inviting people to go. “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel,” is my particular favorite, but there are others. The idea didn’t start with Jesus, however, God has been calling people to go for thousands of years.

This Sunday’s Old Testament lesson is a prime example. God calls Abram and Lot to “go!” Go, be blessed to be a blessing. That really is the ongoing call of the spiritual life: Go, be blessed to be a blessing. But the first step of that call is to go.

As I sit on the front porch of Cumming Lodge, enjoying the company of my fellow priests, reflecting on the nature of our lives as members of the clergy, I’m keenly aware that of the six of us here, only one is from this area, and he hasn’t stayed in this diocese forever. Inherent in our call is the call to “go, be blessed to be a blessing.” It is a particular call for us, and our going perhaps moves us further than the average person in the pews, but the call to every disciple of Jesus is to “go.”