"Will you proclaim by word and deed the Good News of God in Christ? I will, with God's help." (Book of Common Prayer 1979, p. 305)
This past weekend, we welcomed the Rev. Gerry Skillicorn to St. Peter's to lead us in a workshop on "Holy Conversations." This was an effort to continue a deepening of dialogue and prayer around a concern raised by one of our wardens several weeks ago, as she offered testimony during Sunday services. We live in politically, socially, theologically challenging times when conflict seems to threaten outbreak at a moment's notice. The news, our social media feeds, our personal relationships are all qualified in major ways by the wider, global tensions between being "one" humanity and/or committing to regionalism, isolation and polarization. Breaking that down? It means that it seems that right now the very things God wants us to talk about in regard to living in God's will (politics, money and religious practice) are the very things that right now are dividing communities, households, even the most intimate of relationships.
If we are called to proclaim by word and deed the Good News of God in Christ, how do we do that when divisions drive wedges into the very connections we are called to forge and with the words by which those connections are formed and have their being.
Fr. Skillicorn brought us a moving account of how to approach those opportunities with a refreshed awareness that it is not OUR work to effect the Kingdom of God. Instead, he asked us to join in the Apostles' prayer from the Book of the Acts, Chapter 4: 24-30--
When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant:“Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers have gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah.” For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’
That, he offered, was the key to our dilemma. Our job as Christ-followers is to proclaim with boldness (a boldness we seek from God) to bear witness to what God is doing in the world around us. Our BIG JOB is to proclaim, and thus to serve as vessels of the Good News itself. We are to bear witness.
Our charge, though simple, is wide-ranging in impact and trans-formative power. Committing ourselves to being in dialogue, and in the relationships that are the fruit of those moments of dialogue and connection, means becoming open first to God working around us, then to God working in the person opposite us...and ultimately to God working through us. In the fullness of that realization, we begin to see and realize that it is not us alone, but God working fully through us, that healing, justice and light are coming into the world.
God's full mercy, love and presence are already at work in the world around us. Our discernment is to bear witness to that activity...to give it airtime and to work hard to lense EVERYTHING we do to its use.
I spoke to our children as I preached on the Baptismal Covenant promise yesterday. My first question as I finished proclaiming the Gospel to them and began to preach was, "What makes a good person?"
A good person is:
Then, I asked, "What makes a bad person?" A bad person is:
- a bully
"What do we call people who are neither very good, or very bad at all?" I then asked.
So, if we are asked to proclaim by word and deed the Good News of God in Christ, who is it we are called to proclaim that good news to in the first, and last, place? Who needs that good news?
The people who are good need to hear it, so they can know hope and be reassured. The people who are bad need to hear it because they are broken and need to be invited into healing. The indifferent need to hear it so they can find their way into goodness and away from being not one thing or another.
So, I asked, who are we called on by God to be in relationship with in the name of Christ?
Their eyes, literally, went wide....
Jesus entered into full communion with a Samaritan woman from Sychar when they met at a well at midday. She heard him give testimony to a living water that, once she experienced it, would mean that she would never thirst again. That living water was the Good News of God. She took it, bore witness to it, and then led her people into relationship with Jesus. There was no moment at all, after the Good News was shared, of recrimination or of holding back. Sychar was one of those "true" moments in the Gospel of John when Jesus' proclamation of the inbreaking Kingdom of God was not only received and celebrated, but was received by people OUTSIDE the fold of Judaism, OUTSIDE the realm of propriety, AGAINST the tides of division and conflict that ruled the region in those days.
Relationship, understanding and the love of God's work being done made bearing witness (as Jesus did, as the Samaritan woman did and as we are called on to do) the vehicle by which estrangement was overcome and healing and restoration became the experience for ALL.
May God give us boldness to bear witness to the healing of the world being done in our midst TODAY, and may conflict, division and despair fade away as the light of God's love shines around and through us.