Reflections to start the week
Monday, March 23, 2015
In the course of recent travels, I had the opportunity to have lunch with two motor-cycle riding French priests, Roman Catholics serving in a vital congregation marked by daring and creative ministry in the suburbs of Paris. Their description of their community ran counter to my stereotypes of religious observance in Europe, which I have assumed for years to be post-post-post-Christian. My impressions were first formed on Sundays during a semester abroad in Italy decades ago, when I’d visit a church in Italy and find swarms of tourists circling the periphery of the nave during mass, while just a very few worshippers participated in the liturgy. I could only imagine that spiritual engagement had declined.
Enter these French priests, who spoke of lively, youthful congregations, engaging and challenging preaching and teaching, daring ministry to the most marginalized in the city, offered in the spirit of Jesus. As I inquired as to the secret of the vitality of their ministry, they described a willingness to learn from unlikely sources, case in point, a recent trip they had taken. Twenty of them had traveled from France to Southern California to study non-denominational mega-churches, to see what they could learn. The visual of a busload of French priests, clad in long brown robes, navigating L.A., meeting pastors in flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts, it all made me smile. And wonder. So I asked what they learned. They said that the churches they saw did three things. They extended welcome. They expressed promise. They expected commitment. I surveyed my own experience with religious communities over the years. A few of them did none of those things. Some of them did one or two. Few managed to do all three. Those that did seemed to exhibit vitality. Reflect on the faith communities with which you have associated, those that have sustained you, those which you have helped to sustain. How did they do these three things? And since congregations are basically aggregates of individual members, think this morning about how you are personally engaged in these three practices.
First, how do you extend hospitality and express welcome? In some ways, it’s the central Christian virtue. I find it expressed in the story of the Road to Emmaus (Read it in Luke 24). It’s a post-Easter story (sorry if I’ve gone a little rogue on the church calendar, since it’s still Lent). In this story, Jesus is invited by two disciples to have dinner. He accepts their hospitality, and in short order ends up sitting at the head of the table. He becomes the host, breaking and blessing bread. And because they invited him into their home, they see who he is. What will be the opportunity today to express welcome, hospitality, inclusion, grace today? Who knows, you might just see something of Jesus.
Second, what promise guides you on your journey? Do you have a sense of the possibility that life could be different, that it could be transformed by God’s spirit, God’s power? Are you on that search, or have you given up hope? From its earliest pages, the Bible holds out promise: the promise of the blessings of descendants, the promise of a new home or a return from exile, the promise that Christ will come, and that Christ will come again. Have you heard a promise in your own journey of faith? Do you expect God will do something new in your life? As Jurgen Moltmann said: Where would we stand if we did not take our stand on hope.
Third, how would you describe your commitment to your faith journey? What is being called forth from you in your life? Where in your life do encounter the cost of discipleship? Is the cost worth it? A wise counselor once said to me, at a crossroads, in a moment of discernment, that in the journey of faith there is always cost and promise. Do we have the commitment to the journey that will see us through to the promise? We come to the closing days of Lent, a season rich with meanings. Take some time in this fifth week of Lent for the discipline of self-examination. How are you expressing welcome? Where do you see the promise? What is the character of your commitment to the faith journey?
If you think those are excessively tough questions, don’t blame me. Take it up with these two French priests.
– Jay Sidebotham
Welcome: Welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. -Romans 15
Promise: Now you, my friends, are children of the promise. -Galatians 4
Commitment: If any one would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. -Mark 8
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.