(A sermon preached on 1/15/2012 at All Saints' Episcopal, Littleton, NH)
There are certain words and phrases that should be used with great care: especially when considering those you are speaking to.
For example, adults speaking to teenagers should be careful before saying “When I was your age....”
No matter how good your intentions, the teen is likely to think:
- You were NEVER my age
- You are speaking only as an authority telling me what to do
As an Episcopal priest, I try to be very selective with the word “must”.
Like the phrase “when I was your age”, “must” within church has too often been used to express unquestionable authority.
“You must go to church on Sundays”
“You must give your money to the church”
“You must obey these rules”
“You must hold these beliefs”
So it is carefully, with great thought, that I used these words to close my current newsletter article:
“We must invite others---skeptics and believers alike---to “come and see”.
These words, “Come and see”, are used in this morning’s Gospel (John1:43-51). They are first used a few verses before our excerpt this morning:
Jesus turns and sees two men following him:
“What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.”
Soon afterwards, Phillip is called by Jesus to “Follow me”. This leads to an exchange between he and Nathanael:
Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
In the tradition of Jesus in the Gospel of John, we must invite people to “Come and See”. We can no longer sit idly by and hope that people will come to visit us and stay as members of our community. Jesus did not simply walk around hoping people would form a long line behind him. He went and asked people to “come and see” where he abides: what kind of new life he is living and is offering to others. (From the Diocesan Come & See manual)
This DOES NOT mean that we are to tell people that they must join our church, or believe as we do, or even become Christians....
The must is the invite.
We are not only called to live out our faith by loving God and neighbor as ourselves, but to share that we choose to live this way.
We are to demonstrate our faith, and even at times do the thing that many of us are most afraid of: talking about it with others!
Many of us have been scared off by those who share their faith with an “in your face” style: usually with a not so veiled message that failure to comply means punishment in hell. We are right to recoil and reject so called evangelism that threatens and condemns those who are “outside” of whatever has been declared “in”.
This type of so called witnessing hasn’t just hurt the groups and individuals deemed outside, but they have been devastating to the name of Christianity. The negative view they have created has not only been hurtful to Christianity: they have prevented many Christians from sharing the truly important aspects of our lives with others.
After all, our faith opens our hearts and minds to see and experience:
the beauty of creation
love of our neighbor
the promise of good news for the poor
movement towards justice and peace
hope for the world
If these are indeed the things that we value, and if this is the community where we come together to celebrate these ideals and work towards their realization, then it is critical that we learn how to share the impact that they have on our lives with others.
If we fail to try and talk about our values, giving into fear and worry over potential awkwardness or offense, we will prevent ourselves from forging honest relationships with others, and we will be leaving Christianity to be defined by those who would use it to exclude and condemn.
It’s not easy, but it’s that important...
So: how do we share our faith with others?
It believe it begins with honest awareness: Old Eli tells young Samuel to listen and respond to the Lord. Eli then tells Samuel to honestly share what he has heard: don’t be afraid and don’t hold back.
Awareness refers to being fully present with those with whom you interact. While sometimes we might enter a conversation with the intent to share our values, more often than not, the right time to do so may is within a conversation where we are carefully listening to what someone is saying and we are invited to respond.
The key to these conversations is openness and vulnerability. Genuine sharing is risky because it allows for the possibility to be changed, as well as rejected. It’s worth remembering that none of us are finished products: we all have new ways to encounter God and learn from each other. If we ourselves are open to transformation, we will not only continue to learn and grow, but others will better hear what we are saying, regardless of whether they agree or not.
And finally, when the spirit moves you do so, be willing to invite people to come and see your church community:
Come and see why All Saints’ holds a place in your heart, what it offers you and the community, and why it receives your time, talent and treasure.
Remember: the invite is only to come and see. By doing so, the hope is that those you invite will, at the very least, better understand what one community is doing in the name of Jesus.
And, perhaps, they will want to see more...