Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Who is this Jesus, and why do I have to know him, or else?

One of my god-daughters is traveling with her family in Australia. She has a blog she posts to and is offering to the world, and to us, her reflections on the impressions that country/continent make on her during their sojourn. There is a lot about the weather, about the different way things not only look, but are and how she is reacting to them. I am truly enjoying her lucid and honest offerings. If she likes something, she likes it. If she doesn't, she doesn't; and she tells us so. I wish I were that honest with the world, but then there is a big difference between a teen on an adventure and a middle-aged interim rector. Much of what I say is often and necessarily cloaked; but too often I find those "names changed to protect the innocent" moments actually quite compromising. Cloaking for protection is, though small, a dishonesty...and as Mark Twain offered in his 1894 notebook:
If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything.

Great words, and a continual object lesson for all of us who hold authority in the world. I guess that is why priests are called to discretion and the custody of the truth of people's lives while the people who write television dramas have the luxury of "adapting" a story for dramatic purposes. Jesus told parables and was somehow able to embody honest and universal truths without creating particular indiscretion...at least, I think that was his skill. Those who would object, who would have said, "Oh MY! He told THAT story!?!" are all long gone to glory. Still, though I am sure there are many adventures ahead for all of us regarding telling the "truth" I would like to segue into the thought I had today after reflecting on my god-daughter's post about going with her family to a church service in Sydney.

There are no cogent details about which church they visited that would make my recount of her experience any more powerful other than to say that through her eyes, I got a lesson in how churches too often miss offering an authentic and inclusive invitation to hearing the Good News of God in Jesus Christ and instead err and pass into places where the Gospel of Exclusion is preached instead. It doesn't take much at all. Just a few words from the preacher, the intentional separation of generations at moments when the whole Body should be together...or just the ability of a community to let newcomers know that they are "welcome" to be there but that they should not expect to "be welcomed" warmly until much later.

The parish she visited with her family may have a very different view of itself, and perhaps it is quite different from what she experienced that day. All the same, she left that liturgy feeling like she was not a part of something that she should have been given access to as a seeker after truth. That got me thinking about purportedly honest, open places that should be that way in life...and how I as a priest have a long way to go in my walk with God to craft, support and preserve those places and moments of integrity in my own life and in the community of faith I lead. When it comes to the proclamation of the presence of Jesus Christ in the world, there should NEVER be a time when anyone steps away thinking that they aren't welcomed explicitly by the Church to service, worship and reflection on and to His Holy Name.

It would be an easy thing if Jesus was the only way people experienced being close to God our creator. The truth is that we live in a multi-faith world and our society is no more Christian in its ethos than it is anything else at base. People of faith may have been our Founding Fathers, but the root aims of our society are upon civil liberties and for the governance of a society that is pluralistic and diverse. So, to proclaim the Gospel to a world that for the most part does not know it means we can't expect to be judged "THE TRUTH" just because we say we have it.

When challenged in the past to defend Jesus as "THE" way, truth and life, I have joined with many who side-step the issue and I say, "Well, for me, Jesus is MY way...and is for many others; but as for some they do find their way in their own paths to God." It is polite and preserves me from being a bore at parties, right? I suppose...but is it also a bit dishonest, when in my vows as a priest I state that my belief in Jesus as sole Savior of the world is firm? Simply, yes. As much as the other expression of exclusion is if you don't believe the way I do on the Name of Jesus (ref., my god-daughter's experience), I am also not being faithful to Jesus if I dial it down so low as to be a religious relativist.

The real truth of life in Jesus is that when we do let him into our lives without condition or pretense, when he is able to walk with us, guide us and love us without the conditional junk we insist on packing for the journey then great and wondrous things take place. I have a friend/colleague who offers this when asked how one might live an evangelistic life without projecting the exclusive and proselytizing pressure we too often presume is regular habit of those who go about proclaiming the Good News: "Live your life in such a way as to let the question 'Why do you do things that way?' to be asked...then you can say, I am glad you asked...it's because I follow Jesus, would you like to know more?"

When the Church fails to open up and let Jesus do His work of healing and reconciliation, when we hide behind social conventions and expectations, when we place conditions on who gets to hear the Good News and whose Good News is better than another's we miss the point. As much as I/we stumble when we try to hide the truth behind little twists to "protect the innocent," we just flat out trip when we forget that the Gospel isn't just proclaimed in "appropriate places" like pulpits to people who already "get it." It is a gift to be offered out there to a world that hasn't yet heard it, and that doesn't know that the invitation to salvation doesn't come with conditions. It has already been accomplished. That is why it is called Good News. Time for us to remember that and stop applying conditions to anyone who asks of us, "Sir, we would see Jesus......"

Thank you, God-daughter...thank you to those who love me as I struggle to be a honest and joyful proclaimer of the Gospel. You remind me how to return again and again to deeper understandings of that amazing grace that saved a wretch like me......

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