Saturday, November 3, 2012

Stewardship as Kerygma

All Saints Sunday
4 November 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Propers:  Isaiah 25.6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21.1-6a; John 11.32-44
            In the early summer of 1976 David Hansen, my former supervising teacher during my student teaching internship, called me and asked if I could quickly get a passport.  It turned out that he was leading a group of high school students on a three-week trip to Germany and that his only male chaperone had had to cancel due to illness.  Now I was not about to pass up a free trip to Germany and so I quickly obtained a passport, something that was easier thirty-six years ago, and I was off to Germany.

            During the trip I made the acquaintance of students from both Colorado and Minnesota.  One of the Colorado students, a young man I will call ‘Brian’, became a good friend and we corresponded off and on after the trip.  Our correspondence became less frequent and I then went off to seminary.  In the summer of 1979, however, ‘Brian’ and I met again, but in very different circumstances.

            In those days all American Episcopal seminarians were expected to complete a term of Clinical Pastoral Education, a programme intended to help us understand our pastoral roles and to learn about how we responded to stressful situations.  I was assigned to the adolescent unit of a Denver-area mental hospital where I spent my days providing educational support and some, some, pastoral care.  It was a very difficult summer for me, that summer of 1979.

            I was able to find inexpensive accommodation in my old fraternity house where, to my surprise, I found ‘Brian’.  He was also doing some sort of summer internship and was staying at the house.  One afternoon, after a particularly difficult day, ‘Brian’ asked me why I kept going back, day after day, to work with kids who could care less about education and even less about pastoral care.  “Because,” I said, “I have chosen to follow Jesus who said, ‘I was in prison and you visited me.’  These kids are in a kind of prison and I am one of the only people who visits them.”  That was the sum of our conversation about the hospital.

            Three years later I became the curate at Christ Church in Denver.  One Sunday, early in my time there, a couple came up to me and said, “We’re ‘Brian’s’ parents.  We want to say, ‘Thank you.’”  It turns out that my brief conversation with ‘Brian’ had led to a change in his perspective on life.  He told his parents about our conversation and that he realized that his Christian faith actually meant something and that he was going to have to make some changes.

            Evangelism is a difficult word for most Anglicans.  We associate the term with an intolerant and sometimes aggressive approach to the Christian faith that gets into our faces with the question, “Have you been saved?”  We might even occasionally make jokes about people who seem to have been ‘saved’ or ‘converted’ and who now are quite open about their faith and seem to bring it up at every possible, or even impossible, moment.

            Have you ever noticed that when two or three people are gathered together stories quickly emerge?  We tell stories so that other people can understand us or so that we can lighten the atmosphere of the occasion or so that we can help our friends and families understand the events of their own lives.  What you and I as Christians can tell people is that our stories, the stories of particular lives lived in particular places and particular times, are actually part of a greater story.

            Recently someone asked me why I was a Christian.  My answer was simple:  “I find the Christian story far more compelling than any other religious or secular story that claims to say something about what it means to be a human being and what is the future of creation.”

            Evangelism is about story-telling rather than confrontation.  For example, today we are celebrating the feast of All Saints.  We celebrate this feast and the feasts of numerous other named saints in order to tell their stories.  By telling their stories, the stories of thousands of people, many of them quite ordinary, we begin to see how their stories and ours are connected.  In fact all of our stories, the stories of the Christians who have come before us and the stories of Christians today, are chapters of THE STORY, the story of God’s relationship with all of creation and, in particular, God’s relationship with human beings.

            We are surrounded by people who are living their lives as part of stories that are neither life-giving nor life-affirming.  These stories have various names and themes such as ‘success’ or ‘do it yourself’ or ‘the one with the most toys at the end wins’ or ‘there is no meaning to life’ --- you certainly know some of the titles.  Our story is one that says that the glory of God is a human being fully alive and that God has given us a model of what it means to be fully alive in Jesus of Nazareth.  Our story is one that says that this story has been lived out in thousands, millions, perhaps even billions, of lives over two thousand years.  The story is still being told in the lives of billions of people today.

            So let us tell our stories to people.  Let us not be afraid to tell others about how our story is part of a greater story that God is weaving in the world today.  This is the evangelism that we need to exercise, an evangelism that brings people together as part of God’s saving work for this world in the here and now rather than some form of fire insurance for an uncertain future.  We can do this because we all have stories to tell.  We can do this because the story that we are a part of is truly wonderful, life-giving and life-affirming.

Let us pray.

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.  Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  [Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 304]


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