Recent conversations have called to mind fond memories of ministry with one particularly witty colleague. She got the nickname “The Terminator” because we noticed that in her premarital counseling, a number of couples decided to postpone or cancel wedding plans. She approached the counseling with, how shall we say, a directness that suffused all of her conversations. I remember driving with her past a 10k road race. She remarked to me: I’ll start running when the people who are doing it start looking like they’re having fun.
We could say the same about church. Way too often clergy and the congregations they lead seem to have cornered the market on “more miserable than thou,” living into H.L. Mencken’s definition of a puritan, i.e., someone who is unhappy because someone somewhere is having a good time. In our beloved denomination, the term “frozen chosen” only generates laughter because it reflects some truth. Joy is not always, but too often, in short supply in the church these days. In a world where you attract more with honey than vinegar, the church often serves up vinegar.
The recent conversations I mentioned in the first paragraph had to do with evangelism, not a word often associated with Episcopalians, for some good reasons. But it’s a word I’m not ready to surrender, because at the root of evangelism is the Greek word euangel which means good news. And we all need to hear good news.
After watching yesterday’s Sunday news shows, reading the Sunday paper, spending way too much time on news websites, I’m having a hard time identifying the good news. (A personal note: Of course, this does not include the miraculous news that the Cubs are in the World Series.)
The recent conversations included a question posed by Chris Yaw, a great Episcopal priest noted for creativity and innovation. He wrote a wry and witty book called Jesus Was An Episcopalian. He leads a ministry called ChurchNext, which provides wonderful learning opportunities online. Google it. End of commercial. In a presentation last week, Chris posed this question to our group:
How is Jesus saving you right now?
I may be projecting if I say the group would have liked another question. Maybe I was the only one who felt that way. It felt personal. Awkward. A bit threatening. I don’t often enter into discussion of how I am being saved.
Beyond that, often in the current religious climate, we equate being saved with getting a reserved spot on the express bus to the pearly gates, some future event we anticipate. That’s language Episcopalians don’t often use. Chris was asking us to think about how the good news is bringing hope and healing right now. In other words, he was asking: What’s the good news in your life?
If we can’t find a way to think and talk about that good news, evangelism isn’t going to go very far. Chris’ question was hard, maybe even intrusive, as provocative as it was evocative. But maybe we need some hard questions.
It got me thinking about how Jesus has become my teacher. About how brave he was in the face of complacency and unkindness and injustice. About how his power to heal can help me heal places where I’m broken. How on the night before he died, he gave thanks when his closest friends were about to betray, deny and desert him. How he paid attention to those who had been cast aside. How he paid attention to me, with a grace that lets me know that all will be well, that our crazy, broken world will be set right. That’s saving language.
What’s the good news for you this morning? Where are the sources of joy? How are you being called to share those things? How are you being saved this day?
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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