Monday, July 29, 2013

Sermon For July 28, 2013

Good News That Connects: Embracing
The community of believers was of one mind and one heart. None of them claimed anything  as their own; rather everything was held in common. The Apostles continued to testify with great power to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and they were all given great respect’ nor was anyone needy among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them and give the money to the apostles. It was then distributed to any members who might be in need. Acts 4:32-37
Acts 4:32-35 is good stuff. Or maybe it’s scary stuff -- all this talk about sharing resources and holding common property. For some, it is a call to serious Christianity. I know people who live in what they call intentional Christian communities. People of all ages buy a house, or a cluster of houses. They share an evening meal together each day. Each member is expected to share in household chores. They contribute to a common purse from which the community buys food and household supplies, and pays for utilities. Most of the people who go for this are idealists. They see it as a way to do justice and seek peace in a local neighborhood. For others, sharing property and co-mingling money is a dangerous call to a life of socialism.  So, which is it: Christianity at its most demanding or Karl Marx on steroids? Or neither? Or both?

Acts 4:34 offers the clearest reason why the early church found it necessary to hold everything in common. The leaders of the church were concerned that there was no one needy among them. No one who becomes part of this new Jesus movement should be deprived or disadvantaged. In the church, we take care of our people.

Six little verses from Acts hold up a high bar for us. I think what was true for the early church, in this case, is still true today. No one among us should be needy. I know it’s hard to imagine, because our systems work in ways that minimize or exclude the existence of those who have little or nothing. We tell ourselves that people who are deprived or disadvantaged are that way because it’s their own fault. They did not work hard enough or they have the wrong attitude. The practice of exclusion is not a rare event in our homes, our schools, our work places, our politics, and our international relations, and even our churches. We all exclude others. We see it in the headlines of our newspapers almost daily:
“Islamic Brotherhood: Exclusion breeds Radicalism
“Decorated Marine Captain Resigns Commission—Blames Anti- Gay Sentiment”
“Military Rape Survivor Says Decades of Failure to Improve Sexual Assault Policies Re-Victimizes Woman”  
“Local Groups Call On Company To End Racially Discriminatory Hiring Practices”
Exclusion of others is part of the legacy of the human race. In our time, exclusion and it’s twin cousin, violence, have grown into epidemics that threaten the lives of men, women and children both here and in every corner of our globe. I don’t think it well get better. In future decades, as the human race begins to feel the increasing pinch of economic distress, environmental degradation, resource depletion, and population expansion, exclusion and violence will probably get worse. That is, unless we can do something different – until we can transform exclusion into embrace!

And if we take the stories of our spiritual family tree seriously, then we might want to begin to reverse systems of exclusion by embracing those who are poor. Because there should be no one in need. A careful reading of the Bible reveals over 2,000 clear verses specifying that the people of God must care for the poor.  Most theologians will point out that God has a preference for the poor. And if God has a preference for those who are poor, then shouldn’t that preference also be at the heart of the church's mission and ministry?

The Talmud, the compendium of Jewish civil and ceremonial law, outlines a few ways to help the poor.  Out of all of them, the Talmud states that the least desirable way to help is the all-too-typical handout. People will take a handout when they are desperate, but they sometimes resent the givers. I see this with our Deacons Fund. We have a charitable fund in our church – those yellow envelopes in the pew. We use the money to help people in our church and community who need some immediate financial help.  We use it a lot. It is helpful. But it does not help alleviate need. If we are talking about embracing those in need, let’s call our Deacons Fund an entry-level hug – you know – the polite  hug where people act like they’re trying to hug you without touching you. It is usually accompanied by the ‘polite smile’

According to the Talmud, the first and best way to someone who is poor is to find or create  a real job. That way the person can escape poverty with one’s self-respect intact.  If we can’t create jobs, The Talmud says we should give the poor what they need. But there’s a catch. We should give, but see to it that they have no idea who it was that provided for them.  That’s the story behind the project called 52times52. A couple  resolved to give $52 a week to charitable causes for all 52 weeks of the year. The brilliance of 52times52 is captured in story in which they describe how they spontaneously decide that their gift for the week should be a $52 tip to the waitress who had been serving them in the restaurant. The post on the site says that after they wrote the tip on the credit card receipt, they decided to run away without watching their waitress's expression as she opened the leather folio. This couple have their critics.Their point is to learn how to give with the  intent of blessing others while seeking nothing in return -- no recognition, gratitude or praise. It’s a form of embrace.

I would add one thing. What’s most powerful, to me is embracing within relationships. If giving hand outs is the equivalent of a polite hug, now I’m talking about the Bear Hug. You know what I’m talking about. This the real thing; you wrap your arms around each other and hold on tight. What does this mean? We need each other. I adore you. I couldn’t wait to see you. It’s the essence of our Christian message. It’s good news that connects.

When people begin to embrace those who are poor in our communities, it can have disturbing results. I read about a group of students from a college in Pennsylvania who became deeply involved with the homeless population of Philadelphia. At first, they took food and clothing to those who lived in the streets in an all-too-typical middle-class way of helping the poor. They came with the handout. Soon they recognized that their new homeless friends were victimized by police who harassed them. Business owners wanted the homeless away from their shops. The students championed the cause of the homeless against the city's establishment. When the police tried to keep the homeless from sleeping in public places, these students slept out in the streets with them. They were arrested. Some of them dropped out of school so that they could give more time to helping their new friends. Some who were very talented graduates gave up professional careers to live their lives with these socially disinherited street folks. Together, these young people rented a house in one of the most derelict sections of the city, where they live in community and run a non-profit where the homeless can come for help.

Obviously, this kind of counter-cultural behavior stirs criticisms and concerns. I’m sure their parents weren’t thrilled. Religious leaders of the city became upset. Some churches kept their youth groups away from these radical Christians, lest their young people get what they consider to be the "wrong idea" of what Christianity is all about.

Here’s what I think: Deep down, we know Christianity is not about keeping a nice building, listening to a sermon, and going to a church board meeting. Don’t get me wrong, I like all those things (well, maybe not all the meetings), but the essence of Christianity is embrace – making sure that all are included and none are in need.

Francis of Assisi, the beloved 10th-century saint, embraced what he called Lady Poverty. He actually thought of the poor as sacramental, not just objects of pity.  What Francis meant by the term sacramental is that the eternal Christ somehow infuses those who are poor so that, as we meet face to face, we meet not only a poor person, but the very presence of Christ. It’s how, as Christians, we transforming exclusion to embrace.

Tony Campolo, the Evangelical social activist and sociologist tells a story about an embrace with poverty. He was walking down a street in Philadelphia when a homeless man approached him. Tony says he was a dirty, filthy guy, covered with soot from head to toe. You couldn’t believe what a mess he was. The man had a huge beard and there was rotted food stuck in his whiskers. As he approached Tony, he held out a cup of McDonald’s coffee and said, “Hey mister, want some of my coffee?” Tony looked at this dirty, filthy man and said, “Thanks, but that’s okay,” and he walked by him. The minute Tony passed him, he knew he was doing the wrong thing, so he turned around and said, “Excuse me. I would like some of your coffee.” He took some of the coffee and sipped it and gave it back to the man. Then Tony said, “You’re being generous. How come you’re being so generous today?”

The dirty, filthy-looking, coffee drinking man looked at Tony and he said, “Because the coffee was especially delicious today and I think that when God gives you something good, you ought to share it with people." Tony didn’t know how to handle that, so he said, "Can I give you anything?" He thought that the man would hit him up for five bucks.

The man said, “No.” Then, after a pause, the man said, “Actually, Yeah, yeah. I’ve changed my mind. There is something you can give me. You can give me a hug.”

When Tony tells the story he says, “I was hoping for the five dollars! He put his arms around me and I put my arms around him. And as I in my suit and tie and he in his filthy garb hugged each other on the street, I had the strange awareness that I wasn’t hugging a bum, I was hugging Jesus. I found Jesus in that suffering man.”

That’s the bear hug of Christian love. Good news that connects. Good news that embraces. Good news that heals. Good news that says, “The divine in me honors the divine in you. We need each other. I love you. Let there be no one in need among us.”

Sources:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/takeandread/2012/11/a-how-to-for-intentional-christian-community/
http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Holding-All-Things-in-Common-John-Holbert-04-09-2012.html
http://www.evergreenuu.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=rlL1uQTrgSA%3D&tabid=198
http://www.ncccusa.org/poverty/sermon-campolo.html
http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/gods-heart-for-the-poor-ken-ritz-sermon-on-poverty-86838.asp?Page=6
http://www.52times52.com/


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sermon for July 21, 2013

Good News That Connects: Including
Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money. Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them. Acts 3:1-8   
An impaired beggar sits outside the Temple courts in Jerusalem. He’s a regular feature at the Temple Gate called “Beautiful.” Don’t miss the irony. The beggar does not live a beautiful life. Because of his disability, he is forbidden to enter the Temple. His stark condition contrasts with the opulent setting where he is left to do the only thing he can: beg for money. I bet the worshippers going to the 3:00 prayer service view him as an eyesore to the site’s magnificence; a beautiful gate offset by an ugly beggar. Worshippers with their offerings for the Temple treasury hurry past him, or look the other way when he asks for handouts. The Apostle Peter may have been among those who turned away from the beggar. Peter had been in the Temple many times. Just a few months earlier he was at the Temple with Jesus. We have no record that Peter or Jesus did anything to help this man before. Peter arrives at the Temple and he’s about to pass by the beggar again. The panhandler asks for money. Any small amount will help buy food, or pay for shelter, or help him get from here to tomorrow. 

I’ve walked by the beggar a thousand times. He is with us today. He stands at the intersections in Silver Spring with a scrawled piece of cardboard that says homeless, please help.  He makes a bed on a bench on Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C. -- it’s one of the safer places to sleep because of all the security cameras, at least until 5 AM when the police rouse him to move on. Yes, I’ve seen this beggar. She looks me in the eyes and says, “Please help me feed my children” as she collects change in a used coffee cup on MLK drive in Baltimore. What do I do? Look away – don’t make eye contact? Lock my car door? Suddenly have the urge to check my Facebook newsfeed again? Give a buck? Give a sandwich? Start a conversation? There are a lot of possibilities. Each choice either humanizes or dehumanizes the other. And each decision either humanizes or dehumanizes me.

For whatever reason, Peter responds to this man who sits outside the religious and political system that is unwilling help him. Peter takes this beggar by the hand and makes him part of God’s good news story. Notice what Peter does not do. He does not give the man what he asks for. Peter does not give money. All Peter has to offer is Jesus. He says, “Stand up and walk.” The lame man gets up and moves around. He leaps and twirls his way right into the very Temple courts from which he was previously excluded.

The crowd is amazed. Some call it a miracle; a lame man hears the good news and gets healed. I think part of the miracle happens in Peter. Instead of turning away and yet again ignoring the pain around him, Peter stops to listen. He can finally hear the need beyond the words. Peter resonates with the need of this man and the wind of the Divine Spirit who seeks to breathe wholeness into creation. The miracle is a change in perspective – the ability to find out what God is doing in the lives of others. It’s about paying attention and making room for the ways God’s story plays out in the lives of others. Finally, the victim gets heard. Finally, the invisible drifter on the fringe of society is humanized because Peter listens and reaches out.

We know this doesn’t happen often. More often than not, our experience is defined not by empathy and outreach, but by rivalry and desire. At least that’s what a French literary critic and philosopher named René Girard says. Imagine three toddlers who play quietly. A grown-up introduces a new toy into the play room.  As one of the toddlers approaches the toy, suddenly all three toddlers want it.  Seeing the toy’s attraction and its uniqueness, each toddler becomes an instant rival for its possession. According to René Gerard, when the supply of desirable objects is limited, we get conflict. Rivalry and violence are visible at the beginning of all human culture. 

To overcome these twin problems, early societies turned to sacrificial violence.  An individual or group was deemed guilty of starting the rivalry. The larger group, the majority, united to sacrifice the ones supposedly guilty of stirring up the original conflict.  After the sacrifice, anxiety decreased for a while. Eventually, though, conflict arose again and the sacrifice needed to be repeated. Someone must be blamed. Atonement must be made. Society coheres around an individual or group it can despise and blame for all its problems. Girard called this figure “the scapegoat.”  Frightened people produce scapegoats -- people who fear rivals for limited resources; people who want things to stay as they are; people who want to hang onto their power.  An effective scapegoat has to be someone weaker, someone more vulnerable.

Here’s the important catch: The scapegoat is an outsider, but still lives inside the border of society. The victim belongs to the community but has traits that send her or him to the edges of the community. Those in the majority are brilliant at creating outsiders: the difficult person; the odd-one out; the member with the "wrong" skin color or sexual orientation; the incorrect gender or religion; too smart, or too rich or too poor. It's difficult to be the one who stops the scapegoating because through this courageous action he or she immediately becomes the next victim in a circular human activity of destroying those who symbolize challenge to the status quo.

It’s difficult to stop scapegoating, but not impossible. Peter does it. He listens to a beggar, an outsider, a victim. Peter offers the outcast what he really needs. And then, like a good apostle, Peter preaches a sermon.  We did not read his sermon in today’s scripture lesson, so here’s my paraphrase of what Peter preaches to the crowd: “Hey onlookers, why are you amazed? You are the ones who create victims and watch innocent people die. You did it to Jesus, and God raised him from the dead. So the healing of a lame beggar should be no surprise! Turn away from your wicked ways.”

So, here is where we are at. Evangelizing, sharing our good news, has to do with including everyone in God’s story. Inclusiveness begins with awareness and deep listening. And listening means not giving answers until we ask lots of questions. If I want to know someone, I need to tune in to the story he or she is living. And i I want to break the cycle of invisible victimhood, I need to recognize the divine in the scapegoats whom society puts on the periphery.

This past week has given us an opportunity to put this into practice. I’ve been trying to listen and listen hard to the voices around the Zimmerman verdict in the shooting of Trayvon Martin.  There is more to this story than any one of us can know. We need others to join in the conversation and show us what we are missing. One set of the voices I think we need to listen to attentively are those in the African American community.

I do not want to get into the legality of the verdict today. I don’t know whether the jury’s decision was racially biased or not. I don’t know Florida jurisprudence any more than the average media consumer has found out this past week. I never heard about Stand-Your-Ground Laws until this trial. Here’s what I do know: The African American community, by and large, hurts. And grieves. I’ve heard stories of African American children weeping themselves to sleep when the jury announced its verdict. Black parents are pulling their teenagers aside and having The Talk yet again. The Talk is the conversation that African-American parents have with their children—mainly their sons—about what to do when approached by an armed police officer or public official.  As a friend and colleague of mine writes, The Talk goes something like this:
Son, I’m about to tell you something that might keep you out of trouble and that might save your life.  It’s something that our sons have been told for generations.  If you are ever stopped by the police or a public official, make yourself as small and as non-threatening as possible.  Make sure they can see your hands, speak very clearly, and respond to them with yes sir or no sir.  Don’t make any sudden moves, speak with a cheerful voice and most of all smile if you can.
Black parents give The Talk because they know that African-Americans have been among the most convenient, the most hated, and most ill-treated of our scapegoats. Enslaved and abused for centuries, Black people who bear the image of the Divine were kept uneducated, powerless, and impoverished. And yet they were feared. They still are. Young African-American males have been among the most feared and despised. This is not political correctness talking. This is not race-baiting. This is not false victimhood. This is the daily reality with which African Americans live in our country, even in the most progressive of places.

Trayvon Martin has become the face of all these feared and often-nameless young men. Whatever the circumstances of his death, I think Trayvon became a victim of fear, paranoia and the will to power. He became a casualty of our death-dealing love of guns and our inability to think of a different way to confront our differences. I think Trayvon became the latest in a long line of young African Americans to die as a scapegoat. 

Before we proclaim good news to anyone, we need to start paying attention to what kind of good news they need. I think our African American sisters and brothers need to hear some good news from Whites. As a faith community, we can start some difficult conversations about race in order to uncover truths that can lead to powerful change. I know we want to think racism is behind us. My listening over the past week indicates to me that it isn’t. So it’s time for us to listen deeply. To reach out sincerely. To think of creative, non-violent strategies for reconciliation. My favorite non-violent response to the death of Trayvon Martin comes from Tom Crabtree, a football player for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He tweeted, “How cool would it be to live in a world where George Zimmerman offered Trayvon Martin a ride home to get him out of the rain that night.”

René Girard worried that without the scapegoat mechanism, our culture would fall once again into rivalry and violence. Vicious political rifts and intractable racial divisions seem to support his fear. There is only one hope of change and that’s the power of non-violent love. It’s the only way to confront our fears and end our dependence on blood and violence. It’s the only way to heal our scapegoating and defy our will to power. I don’t want to be naïve about this. I know humanity’s adolescent love of violence. I know our juvenile addiction to power, especially the power of the gun. But I also know the redeeming power of God. I know the possibility of repentance and reconciliation. I am not optimistic. But I have hope.

My hope begins with listening for brokenness. Can we offer good news to those who are broken, those who ache and grieve deeply? Speaking very personally – speaking just for me – I cannot until I do the difficult work of listening to my own brokenness in the events I wish to condemn. You see, I know something about myself. I know that when I see somebody else do something wrong, I self-righteously call on God for justice. But when I do something wrong, I self-righteously call on God for grace. How can I ask for justice and also be a grace-filled person? When it comes to awareness of discrimination, as a White person of privilege, the problem is not whether I love people who are different than me. The problem is whether I unknowingly participate in and benefit from systems of racism. I need to admit that I have an inner, self-righteous George Zimmerman who has inherited a whole bunch of stereotypes and fears. When I allow myself to take part in an “us versus them” system, if I insist on justice for wrongdoers and forgiveness for myself, then I run the risk of denying my participation in brokenness. There can be no reconciliation within myself, forget about with other people. If I simply denounce violence instead of using it as a mirror to see inside of myself, I’m just externalizing the problem onto a societal scapegoat.

Christ Congregational Church covenants to be an anti-racist congregation. But here’s the thing: Can I promise that our anti-racism covenant and a willingness to explore touchy conversations about race will solve anything? Not with confidence. But, I can pray for it, work for it, encourage it, and when opportunities come I can be part of a miracle. No matter what, I can at least listen to the grief and pain of our sisters and brothers in our family of faith and respond with humility and repentance.

I’m not just talking about dismantling racism. I’m talking about sharing the kind of good news that includes everyone – EVERYONE – in God’s story. Can I promise a physical cure to all who are ill?  Not with integrity.  But I can pray for it, work for it, encourage it, and when God sees fit to bestow it, I might be part of a miracle. No matter what, I can at least offer the hand of healing, the presence of the Spirit, and the kind of personal care that is only possible to those who see the image of God in the face of the other.

Can I offer good news to those who are spiritually impoverished – to those who want fulfillment without transformation? Not with any honesty.  But I can speak about Christ, and rebirth, forgiveness and radical welcome and the rich life of service to others. I might be surprised when God opens my own ears to hear. And, like the Apostle Peter in the book of Acts, I might be astonished at how the Divine Spirit chooses to transform us when I listen for the presence of God in the margins of life, not just the center.


Sources:
http://additionalmarkings.blogspot.com/2013/07/trayvon-martin-as-scapegoat.html
http://jbyas.com/2012/03/26/trayvon-zimmerman-our-hypocrisy/
http://trivialdevotion.blogspot.com/2012/07/beautiful-gate-acts-32.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arthur-d-colman/evil-and-the-scapegoat_b_2863029.html
http://www2.luthersem.edu/fgaiser/Sermons/acts3.htm
http://ubuntuhappenshere.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-talk.html
http://www.consumerhealthfdn.org/index.php/chf-blog/post/benefit_of_the_doubt/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/early-lead/wp/2013/07/14/george-zimmerman-verdict-draws-emotional-reaction-from-sports-world/
Evangelism in the Inventive Age by Doug Pagitt.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sermon for July 14, 2013

Good News That Connects: Inviting
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? . . . Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:1-6, 43-47
In my younger, zealous days, my friends and I used to go to the local mall to persuade shoppers to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. We would approach unsuspecting bargain hunters with their Abercrombie and Macy’s Bags, hand out Gospel tracts, try to share our personal testimonies and begin faith conversations with a lot of talk about hellfire and judgment scattered in. Or we would find someone chowing down on Taco Bell in the food court, sit at an adjacent table, and after an earnest whispered prayer we’d casually ask, “Hi, um, if you were to die right now, are you sure you would spend eternity with God in heaven?” Let me tell you first hand that mall security does not approve of this.

Some people will insist God commands Christians to share their faith to save non-believers. For others, the most tasteless aspect of church life is that dirty little “E” word – evangelism. Evangelism isn’t only a foul word, it’s confusing. We lack clarity on what it means to share faith with others. Some might ask, “What gives someone the right to force faith on others?” Others insist that all must believe the Christian message or risk eternal punishment without God.

The E-word literally means “good news.” But for some reason, evangelism rarely feels like something good. In most of the episodes I’ve been involved with, faith sharing feels like an effort to make a person change. Now that I am in a different place in my faith journey, it turns out I am now the recipient of other’s evangelizing. I guess I’ve gone rogue in the eyes of some of my old friends in the faith. When other Christians evangelize me, they don’t look for common ground. They don’t usually tell me what they love about their faith. They tell me what’s wrong with mine. They don’t share something life-giving or hopeful about what they’ve found. They warn me about the dangers of continuing down my current path.

In one paradigm, evangelism is about conformity to a set of beliefs and practices. In nearly every conversation I have with someone who evangelizes me, there’s an external model of faith they want to impose on me. An approach like this rarely takes into account who I am or what I’m about – my hopes, my dreams, my fears, my passions. It seeks to get my life in line – to fit my behavior into a one-size-fits-all faith.

There has to be something else. There has to be a way to share life-giving, soul-altering, community-building, faith-nurturing, earth-shaking, inclusive-and-inviting news. I think people want it. I think people want to know that churches aren’t all made up of closed-minded, rule-bound, joyless homophobes. And I think churches like ours have something important to offer to the public discussions of the day. Outside of Christian churches few consider faith voices to be relevant to any discussions about the tough issues such as human rights for women, or climate change, or corporate malfeasance, or prison injustice, or poverty or war.  A church like CCC has something meaningful to say in these conversations, don’t we? My experience is that when I tell people who I am, what I do, what I stand for and the kind of church I minister at, many are genuinely surprised and joyful that such a place exists. Why would we ever want to hide who we are and what we stand for?

What would happen if our communities could see and hear alternatives to the feel-good-prosperity-based, exclusive, retribution-supported self-righteousness that passes for evangelism? Instead of demanding belief in a story about a resuscitated corpse who scares people into proper behavior, progressive Christians can witness to what many scholars are telling us was Jesus’ original message: not hellfire and damnation, but the realm of God where distributive justice and compassion rule.

Instead of evangelism as conformity, I’ve been challenged to think of evangelism as resonance. The idea comes from a minister named Doug Pagitt who pastors a postmodern Christian community called Solomon’s Porch. His idea of resonance is based on the idea that everything has a frequency. Everything emits vibrations of energy. Resonance occurs when the vibrations from one object meet up with other vibrations on the same frequency. When that happens, there’s a sharing of energy between the objects. The classic example involves a tuning fork. You hit it and it emits a musical pitch – a particular frequency or wave pattern. Scientists have found that if you take two identical tuning forks, mount each on a wooden box and then strike one fork to make it sing its note, the other un-struck tuning fork with start to sing as well. There’s a sharing of energy between the two forks. One resonates with the other. Everything in all creation is vibrating. Every particle. Every cell. Every flash of light. Every sound. The entire cosmos sings with vibration. What good news! As one poet says:
when two violins are placed in a room
if a chord on one violin is struck
the other violin will sound the note
if this is your definition of hope
this is for you
the ones who know how powerful we are
who know we can sound the music in the people around us
simply by playing our own strings
for the ones who sing life into broken wings
When an idea or an experience hits us deep in our center, we say it resonates with us. Something about what we have witnessed strikes the frequency of our lives just right. And when that happens, we vibrate with the same energy.  If we are going to be people who proclaim good news, we’d better make sure that message resonates. Evangelism is about finding out what God is doing in the lives of others. It’s about listening and commitment. It’s about paying attention and making room for the ways God’s story has been playing out in the lives of others. It’s about speaking faith in languages that other people will understand.

That’s what I love so much about the story in Acts 2. We read this dramatic story every Pentecost. It’s about wind, fire, smoke and heavenly voices. It’s about waiting, watching and wondering. The text also suggests that there’s something important about telling the story of God in every language. Notice that we are never given a transcript of what the disciples say in all these languages they begin to speak. It seems that the content of the words is not the most important part of the message. What’s significant is that each listener hears something that resonates in her own language -- in his own way of understanding. The listeners are surprised and bewildered. Their listening is multi-lingual. Not just the talking, but the listening -- the sharing of stories. When we can listen in the language of others, we have an opportunity to vibrate good news that resonates.

These times we live in surely need some good news. And we know we have some to contribute to the common good. So, for all the times you went through hell so someone else wouldn’t have to, you have some good news to offer.

When CCC opens our church doors to the LGBT community and say, “You don’t have to be alone. We will worship God and do justice together. We celebrate your marriage. We covenant with you to baptize and nurture your children. We receive you as members into our family of faith,” -- when we do that, we send out vibrations of hope and healing. That’s some good news.

How about that time you taught a 14 year old girl she was powerful and the time you taught a 14 year old boy he was beautiful? You resonated good news.

For saying I love you to people who will never say it to us . . .
For scraping away the rust and remembering how to shine . . .
For the dime you gave away when you didn’t have a penny . . .
For the many beautiful things you do . . .
For every song you’ve ever sung whose melodies send sensations of expectation . . .
For all those times and more, you have lived and breathed good news.

The world needs us right now  -- more than it ever has before.
This is our time for saying YES.
So strum all your strings.
Play every chord.
Beat your drum to the cadence of life.
Play loud. Never hush the percussion of your heart.
You have a beat in your chest that can save us.
You have a song like a breath that can raise us.
If you’re writing letter to the prisoners, start tearing down the bars.
If you’re handing our flashlights in the dark, start handing our stars.
Sing out like you know the clouds have left too many people cold and broken and you’re their last chance for sun.
Live like there’s no time for hoping brighter days will come.

Sources:
 

http://progressivechristianity.org/resources/call-for-progressive-christian-evangelism/
Doug Pagitt, Evangelism in the Inventive Age
http://progressivechristianity.org/resources/say-yes/

Sermon for January 21, 2018

How Far Would You Go? 1 Samuel 17 I had a sermon all ready to go today. It was a NICE sermon. You would have felt really good about i...