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.

Doug Pagitt, Evangelism in the Inventive Age

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