Temptation. Something about that word just sounds so…juicy. It’s seductive. It’s alluring. It’s mischievous. It’s naughty. I guess that’s why it’s called “temptation”. This week a pastor friend of mine was sharing a story of one of her parishioners who said, “When I get to that line in the Lord’s Prayer that says ‘and lead us not into temptation’ I always say ‘and leave us not in temptation’. I have no problem getting there on my own, it’s the getting out of temptation that I could use God’s help with”.
When Jesus is tempted with the offerings of the devil, he is faced with worldly goods…food, power and even immortality. And yet, Jesus is able to resist these temptations. The Spirit had led him into the wilderness, and the Spirit is with him when he emerges from the wilderness, ready to do ministry. The lesson here for us is to model Jesus’ behavior when tempted. If that’s all there was to the story, I could stop there, end my sermon and we could move on.
But it’s not. When I think about modern day temptations, most of us struggle with the need to keep up appearances that all is going well…we are tempted by products and services that make our lives better, richer, fuller, happier. And sometimes we give into these temptations. Just think of all the “As seen on TV products”…their consumer marketing is based on the need to give into the temptation of quick fixes to a better life.
But what about when temptation isn’t based on goods and services? What about the temptation to continue on with business as usual?
For the last couple of weeks I’ve been speaking about the five marks of mission and the changing nature of the church. These ideas call us to a place where “business as usual” is challenged. Evangelism being less about street corners and knocking on doors, but about making proclamations in line with our moral and ethical beliefs. The mission of the church being less about what happens within our walls and instead about our ministry in our communities. Yet, when faced with the challenges of change, the temptation is to dig our heels in and keep doing “business as usual”.
So what are our temptations? Where is it easier for us to continue with “business as usual” instead of answering our call to ministry? Again, I’m going to look at the five marks of mission and explore some possibilities.
Mark 1 is to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. “Business as usual” calls this evangelism, so we get scared off and decide we can’t do this. We’ve given into temptation. But if we reframe this mark and accept the challenge to proclaim, then we find that in our words and deeds, we are making the Kingdom known to others.
Mark 2 is to teach, baptize and nurture new believers. “Business as usual”, or the temptation, says this is the work of the priest only and that it’s focused on getting more people in the pews. Yet, it’s really the work of all of us. How are we raising our youth? How are we welcoming the stranger and guest? Are we nurturing one another as beloved children of God?
Mark 3 is to respond to human need by loving service. “Business as usual” is to feel overwhelmed by the need and ignore it. The temptation is to think “it’s too big to deal with; what can I do?” For those of us who participated in the World Awareness dinner that taught us about food scarcity, or for those of us who participate in Adult Education and learn about the struggles of poverty and lack of education in the Third World…these challenges seem so big! And yet, when we overcome the temptation to ignore it, we become advocates for change. We give of our time, talent and treasure to FISH, the Warming Shelter, the Emergency Voucher Program, to Episcopal Relief and Development, mentoring programs and we respond to God’s call to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Mark 4 is to seek to transform unjust structures of society. “Business as usual” is to separate out our political and religious lives, to leave society outside our church doors. But our call is to address these injustices and work to bring about justice and peace…this is Kingdom work. So whether it’s signing a petition for better gun control, legal protection of women against domestic violence, immigration reform, writing letters to the editor or attending a public policy advocacy days, we are responding to God’s call to “do justice and love kindness”.
Mark 5 is to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. “Business as usual” says that we can keep living the way we are...not being concerned about the impacts of global warming, fracking, coal and other pollutants to our environment. The temptation is to think that this will be our children’s children’s problem. But it’s not, it’s our problem now. And the challenge is to see that we have a moral imperative as stewards of God’s creation to honor and protect our creation; to see that we are all part of a delicate life system that is dangerously out of balance and work to change this.
When faced with the many temptations that we are presented with on a daily basis, it’s easy to go about with “business as usual”. But what would have happened if Jesus had given into the temptations the devil offered him? Yes, he would have broken his fast with bread. Yes, he would have had power. And yes, he would have achieved immortality. But those things were ultimately not life giving for him, those who would become his disciples, or even for us. His refusal to give in to temptation, his ability to respond to God’s call as the “beloved”, connected all of us in generations past , present and yet to come, as children of God, bearers of the Kingdom, and partners in mission.
Individually, we can’t accomplish the five marks of mission or overcome our daily temptations. But we can with each other and with God’s help. When Jesus was lead into the wilderness and when he emerged from it, he was filled with the Holy Spirit. The good news is that he was never alone in facing those temptations, and neither are we. As children of God, we too are filled with the Holy Spirit and are called “beloved”; we are not alone.
Instead of giving up something for Lent this year, perhaps you’ll take on the challenge of one of these five marks of mission. Perhaps you’ll take on the challenge of moving beyond “business as usual” and instead work towards a new understanding of your ministry in the community. May this be a blessed and reflective holy Lent to you.
With awareness comes transformation, and transformation is on the horizon. For the last few weeks of Epiphany, we’ve been reading about change… at Jesus’ baptism, he is called the Beloved and is re-membered, when Jesus goes out into the wilderness and returns, he is filled with the holy spirit and claims proclaims his mission, and now on the mountain top, he is again, changed. All of these events in the life of Jesus are ultimately pointing the way to Jerusalem, where he will undergo suffering and death, only to be transformed again in the resurrection.
No one likes change. We don’t like to be in a state of discomfort or unknowing. Sometimes in the church (and in our lives) complacency is easier than change. And when we become too comfortable in our complacency, then any kind of change seems dramatic and scary. But change is necessary and important to not only personal, but institutional growth. Think of a child perhaps. While as infants we coddle and make silly noises, we know that it won’t be like this forever. The child will grow up, they will learn to tie their own shoes, ride a bike, drive a car, experience romantic love, leave the home, and start their own adult life. There is change in this process…some of it welcome and some of it not. But if the parents of the child try to stop this change, they ultimately stop the growth and maturation process. And no one wants that. So why is it that when we talk about change in our churches or in our social institutions we all get nervous and filled with anxiety? Is it because we don’t know how to express our grief over what we might lose as a result of change? Is it because we might somehow destroy or defame our “traditions”? Is it because change is ambiguous and sometimes uncomfortable? I don’t know.
The story from Exodus for this Sunday (34:29-25) is about change. Here we have Moses who has come face to face with God (or at least as close as one can to God), and now he returns to the people to share with them what God has taught him. The text tells us that when the people saw him, “the skin of his face was shining”. In the experience with God, Moses is changed. He is transformed. And this transformation not only allows him to continue his teaching with those early Israelites, but it also serves as an invitation to continue to be in the presence of and in relationship with God.
In the Gospel (Luke 9:28-36), Jesus takes Peter, James & John up to the mountain top. And there in that moment Jesus is transformed and is joined by Elijah and Moses. While Peter thinks that it’s appropriate to build tents for the three, what we realize is that he’s trying to make this experience last. Tents would confine the Law, the Prophets, and the Fulfillment in such a way as to make them subject to time and place. Again, human constructions. Instead, God breaks in and says “listen to him”. Up to this point in Luke, Jesus has been experiencing various transformations as he sets his sights on Jerusalem to fulfill his ministry. Jesus’ death and resurrection will mean change. And change implies that there will be loss, fear, ambiguity and vulnerability.
But see, we know the “end” of the story and the disciples don’t. We have the ability to say, “well of course Jesus had to die and be resurrected…it was how the Kingdom was going to happen…it was a necessary change”. But we’re not in the shoes of the original disciples. They didn’t understand how the death and resurrection of Jesus would change the world. They didn’t understand how it would empower them for ministry, to become the prophetic leaders, to heal, preach and teach. They didn’t understand how necessary change was to their mission.
And sometimes we don’t either. The church needs change in order to continue in the role of prophet, preacher, teacher and healer. For those of you who were part of the church before the ordination of women in 1978, maybe you didn’t think there was anything wrong with all male clergy. But I stand here today, because others before me were willing to risk the change of allowing women at the altar as representation of the full body of Christ. Even in our more recent history with the consecrations of Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool, there were those who were resistant to change and those willing to take a risk. Bishop Robinson’s election and consecration have since allowed the door to be open and the conversation begun about our gay brothers and sisters. These changes have not been easy by any means, but they have allowed us to grow in our mission and ministry, and I believe more changes lie ahead.
So what do those early Israelites, Moses and the disciples do after these incredible moments? They engage in their ministries. They don’t stand around looking up to heaven, or hang out on top the mountain. They continue on. Where exactly their journey takes them is unknown at the moment. They have been changed.
And what are we to do when we’ve experienced God’s revelation and been challenged to make changes? What do we do when we’ve come face to face with God? Do we hide under a veil or stay on the mountain, or do we engage in the relationship with God and do our ministry? My hope is that we continue our journeys into unknown places, not always having the answers; that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and engage and embrace the transformation.
When I say the word “evangelism” or “evangelist” what comes to mind for you? Perhaps it’s someone knocking on your door to tell you the “good news”. Or maybe it’s someone on a street corner shouting at passers-by about the coming wrath of God. Somehow, the idea that someone who wants to share their passion for God and God’s Kingdom, has become almost as bad as a four-letter word in our tradition. And when we think of being an evangelist, for some of us, that makes us sick to our stomachs…what will be required of us? Will we have to hand out pamphlets? Do we have to put up a booth in front of Wal-Mart?
The word “evangelism” at its core means “to proclaim”. However, over time, it has come to imply a winning over of souls…and somehow that’s become scary to us. So let’s not worry about that right now. Let’s start with “to proclaim”.
Last week, the Gospel lesson from Luke had Jesus reading the scripture from Isaiah to those gathered at the synagogue. In the passage Jesus read from, he proclaimed or evangelized, that he was sent to tell the good news, heal the blind, set free the captive and the oppressed, and to tell of the year of God’s favor. In reading that passage from Isaiah and then telling those gathered that day that “this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”, he is claiming his voice as an “evangelist”…someone who proclaims.
When in your life have you made a proclamation? Maybe for some of you, you took a stand on a particular social justice issue and protested, wrote a letter to your congressman or senator, or participated in a boycott. When we do these things, when we make a proclamation about our beliefs, we are being evangelists in the most basic sense of the word. And when we do these things because they are in line with our morals and ethics as Christians, then we are being evangelists of the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
When Jesus claims his voice as an evangelist that day in the synagogue, he was met with unexpected results. While at first the people are amazed with his teaching, eventually people began to criticize him and they pushed him out of the synagogue, out of town, and to the edge of a cliff. So what went wrong for Jesus the evangelist?
The stories he told pointed to how God often uses the “outsider” to bring about the Kingdom. God used Elijah and Elisha to proclaim through word and action to a widow and a leper God’s grace and healing, and then they went on to make believers out of others from their own belief and transformation. God was doing something new through these people. They weren’t the local religious leaders and priests, but were people who had experienced transformation and love. And when Jesus tells this story in the synagogue, he is reminding the religious elite that this is how the Kingdom of God works…new things happen through the most unlikely people; not necessarily through appropriate temple sacrifices and public acts of piety. So of course the people get mad! Jesus is telling them that something new is about to happen, change is on the horizon! He’s proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God; he’s being an evangelist. This is scary stuff!
For years now the church has been wrestling with declining numbers. Theologians, scholars and religious leaders have been scratching their heads and trying to come up with solutions to the problem. Last fall, USA Today published an article titled “As Protestants decline, those with no religion gain”. In the article, the reporter stated that in the 1960’s, two out of three Americans claimed to be Protestant. In 2007, Protestants (both evangelical and mainline) made up 48% of Americans. At the time of this article, one in five Americans (19.6%) claimed no religious affiliation. They are known as the “Nones”. This group is now the second largest category of Americans only to Catholics, and they outnumber the Southern Baptists all together.
And so, with this information, we continue to operate as we always have…we open the church doors on Sunday and hope for the best. But this is not what Jesus modeled for us, and it’s not Biblical.
In the reading this morning from Jeremiah, we learn that God puts the words needed into Jeremiah’s mouth that would help to tear down old structures and old ways of being, and also build up and plant the Kingdom of God. In the Gospel, we see that Jesus has come to do the same, using the words of Scripture…to change the old ways of being and build up the Kingdom.
When I was in college, I remember going to the city to go dancing with my friends one Friday night. While we were waiting in line, a ragged looking man who was carrying a cross, passed by us, telling us how we were all condemned to Hell for our sins. My thought then and now is, while this may be his understanding of the Gospel, for me, it isn’t helping build up the Kingdom.
So what are we going to do about this word evangelism and the “nones” and our call to proclaim the Good News? I don’t know that there’s one answer to this question. I think it varies from church to church and location to location. My priest friends in Chicago stand out on the church corner on Ash Wednesday imposing ashes on those who pull up to the curb. This might sound crazy to us, but it’s meeting the changing need in their area…not everyone has a lunch break to come to church and receive ashes, but it’s still an important ritual to them. My priest friends in New York have served as chaplains to the Occupy Movement…not because they all support the movement, but because they wanted to be available to those who were seeking prayer and guidance. But these are big cities, not Hood River.. So what are we going to do?
Last week and in this month’s newsletter, I reviewed for you the “Five Marks of Mission”:
~ To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
~ To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
~ To respond to human need by loving service
~ To seek to transform unjust structures of society
~ To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
My evangelism, my proclaiming of the Good News has been focused particularly on these last three, which influence my ability to proclaim, teach, baptize and nurture. I am committed, as a Christian, to practice evangelism in terms of my work with the Warming Shelter and the Emergency Voucher Program. I am committed, as a Christian, to practice evangelism every time I sign a petition for better laws on domestic violence, marriage equality, and equal pay for women. I am committed, as a Christian, to practice evangelism every time I attend an Earth Care Summit, attend a Riverkeepers meeting, or support environmental stewardship efforts. I do these things, and offer my testimony on these issues, as a Christian because I feel that I have a moral and ethical responsibility, and a Biblical call to do so. Evangelism is not a bad word for me anymore. But I also realize that I may not be the most popular woman in the room when I practice my evangelism in this way.
So once again, I am inviting you to consider these “Five Marks of Mission” and the idea of evangelism. How do they call you to respond in our community? How might you be an evangelist?
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.