June 2, 2013: Coming into the Life of the World

Terry Pierce on Luke 7:1-10:

We have a Roman centurion, a Gentile.  Who built a synagogue for the Jews of Capernaum - a synagogue the Roman would not be allowed to enter.  This Gentile sends his friends to ask for Jesus' help - he does not come himself because Jews avoided contact with Gentiles. But Jesus headed to the Gentile's house to do as he had been asked.  A second time the Roman sends his friends to tell Jesus not to come to his house - to come into his house would defile a Jew.

The message the Gentile sent was "I see you!  I know that you don't need to be present with my slave to heal him; all you have to do is say the word and he will be healed."

And the Gentile's friends returned to his home and found his slave healed.

There are many ways we might hear this story.  Bishop Doyle suggests that it is a story about the mission of the church and breaks it down this way -

 - The church, like Jesus, is in the world engaging with people who don't belong - the Gentile.

 - The church, like Jesus, engages by coming into the life of the world - Jesus goes to the Gentile's home.

 - The church, like Jesus, listens to what is needed - Jesus heals the slave.

 - The church, like Jesus, discovers faith in the world and proclaims it - Jesus proclaims the faith of the Gentile.

 - The church, like Jesus, works to heal what is in need of healing in the world.

Jesus encountered the one who was different and Jesus did the unexpected.  This is not so much a story about healing as it is a story about relationship...the relationship between the Roman centurion and his friends; the relationship between the Jewish people and the Gentiles; the relationship between the Jews and the Roman and Jesus.  It is a story about our relationships as members of the body of Christ and as persons in the community of believers and non-believers in which we live.   

We've been talking in the Bishop's Committee about new things that might happen at St. James.  Some of our members attended a Jazz Eucharist at Camp Allen several weeks ago and were inspired by the way the music moved them and the community they were worshipping with.  We have agreed to purchase a piano for this worship space because, though we are served well by Anita, we have not been able to find an organist who can stay with us for our entire service.  Perhaps having a piano might open other opportunities for our worship.

When Father Michael was here, he wondered about starting a 1pm service with mixed English and Spanish liturgy and music.   We live in a community that in the 2010 census identified itself as 40% Latino.  We are members of a church whose liturgy is familiar to people who were raised in the Catholic church or attended with grandparents but don't have a church home of their own.  We have an education director whose background presents possibilities for a bi-lingual Godly Play program.  Perhaps we have a call to engage with a broader segment of the community in Taylor.

Earlier this year, I spent an afternoon with a man named Michael Harvey.  Michael is an Englishman and an Anglican.  He's a very funny man and a very serious man.  He initiated a program in England called Back to Church Sunday.  Back to Church Sunday has expanded each year and this year, the Episcopal Diocese of Texas is participating.  Back to Church Sunday is a simple idea - we invite people to come to church on September 15.  Easy, right?  Except that we could be inviting people to come to church every Sunday...

Michael talks about the things that keep us from doing that.  And some of them are -

 - I suffer and I don't want my friends to suffer  (that's supposed to make you laugh)

 - They won't want to come

 - I don't want to be rejected

 - My friends don't go to church or my friends already go to church

 - What if it damages my friendship - they won't want to associate with me anymore if they know I'm Christian

 - It's the pastor's job  (that's my favorite)

 - My friend said no two years ago

 - It will be boring

 - Our church is sort of strange; they won't know what to do

 - They might ask me about what we believe and I don't know what I'd say

 What do all of these responses have in common?  I think they all reflect the fear we feel, I know that I have felt, at being asked to do something unconventional.  And for Episcopalians, inviting is unconventional...we are not evangelical people.  Over and over, Jesus tells us, "Do not be afraid."  Our psalm today says "Sing to the Lord a new song..."  For many of us, singing a new song might be to do something we are afraid to do and see what happens.

When we're talking about stewardship, I always say "God doesn't need our money" but we need to give generously because that's how we're made.  We are created in the image of God who gives generously from the abundance of creation.  God does his work in the world whether we give generously or not.

We talk about growing the church but I want to tell you that it is God who grows things.  We are called to sow and to reap.  What a relief!  Many years ago, at a time when I had little belief in God, I was talking to a friend.  It was springtime.  He was an old Cajun man.  He said to me "You drive out that road aways and I want you to come back and tell me how you're gonna take care of all those wildflowers and make them grow and bloom and make seed."  Have you ever seen a whole field of bluebonnets just growing at the side of the road?  All I am asked to do is extend the invitation.  What happens after that is God's part, not mine. 

I was not a church going person for most of my life.  In 1999, I was in a church on a Tuesday night looking for a meeting.  I heard voices at the end of the hallway and walked toward the voices.  It wasn't the meeting I was looking for but before I could leave, someone saw me.  She said, "May I help you?" and I told her what I was looking for.  She said "That meeting is on Thursday night.  We're having a Bible study - would you like to join us?"  From a great distance, I heard myself say "Sure." 

I don't know where that came from...it surely didn't come from me.  The last thing I would have considered was to attend a Bible study.  The woman who invited me was a priest and the rector of the church.  I have to tell you that I thought Episcopal churches had always had women priests because the first Episcopal priest I ever met was a woman.  She was smart and interesting and I attended church the next Sunday because I was curious about what she did.  The women of the Bible study sat with me at the back of the church and shared books with me because I surely could not have figured out the service otherwise.  I stayed at the very end of the very last pew for a long time, listening and watching. 

Today, fourteen years later, I often think of the woman who extended an invitation to me.  My life was transformed by her question.  "May I help you?"

We will talk more over the next few months about Back to Church Sunday and about our music and about how we might engage with the community around us.  Today, I wonder if you might take a few moments to think about who invited you into the church...If you were born into the church, perhaps that is a parent or perhaps it was someone whose relationship called you to come back at some time when you had moved away from the church.  If you were not born into the church, take a moment to remember how you got here.

Jesus engaged with the person who was different - the Gentile.  Is there someone you have thought about engaging with?

Jesus went to the Gentiles home.  Who came to your home? Is there someone whose home you might go to?

Jesus listened to what was needed.  Who listened to you?  Is there someone you might be called to listen to?

There is someone I have thought of inviting to the church.  It is someone in this community I do not know and have been hesitant to approach.  This week I am going to pray for guidance about the best way to make that invitation and courage to step out and do it.  I ask you to pray for me and for the people I'm thinking of inviting.  I will report back to you in two weeks about how that went. 


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