Seek. Tell. Celebrate.
February 4, Fifth Sunday after Epiphany:
Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
The season of Epiphany is winding down. A few weeks ago we were at the river, watching as Jesus is baptized and next week we’ll be on top of the mountain watching his transfiguration. And then we’ll be back in the wilderness of Lent…
And I’ve been reflecting on community and belonging. And baptism is a foundational part of that. It’s traditionally the beginning of our Christian journey. It’s at the font where we make the vows “to continue in the apostles teachings, in the fellowship, and in the prayers…” that’s a vow to be in community, to remain in community, as hard as that is. But being in communion with others is not only essential for our spiritual health, it’s absolutely vital for true belonging in authentic communities. We have to come together regularly to sing with, and shake hands with, and share bread and wine with people we might not get along with the rest of the week. Otherwise we continue to sort ourselves into factions, and wall ourselves into silos of loneliness.
Our baptismal vow, to be with, and stay in relationship with people who—really the only thing that truly binds them together is Christ—is foundational. It’s foundational to true belonging, which again, according to Brené Brown “doesn’t require you to change who you are, it requires you to be who you are.” “True belonging,” she says, “is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself (I’d add, ‘and God’) so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.” [Braving the Wilderness, p. 40].
And I said last week, that sounds an awful lot like Evangelism, but not in the way we have historically thought about Evangelism. It’s a Greek loan word, you know, and it simply means “good news” or “glad tidings.” A fuller and more practical definition comes from the Presiding Bishop’s Evangelism Initiatives Team. It’s this: Evangelism means that, “We seek, name and celebrate Jesus’ loving presence in the stories of all people – then invite everyone to MORE.”
Seek. Name. Celebrate. And then Invite. Notice the order of that.
Another promise we make at baptism is “to seek and serve Christ in all persons.” Hear that? We seek…we seek and serve Christ, we seek, name, and celebrate Jesus’ presence.” Like true belonging, evangelisms is a spiritual practice of getting curious about our neighbors. Having the courage to be vulnerable enough to move beyond questions like: “where are you from? and what brought you here?” to questions like: “What are the principles that guide how you live your life?” “When have you felt really connected to something greater?” “When have you felt most alone?” “What kind of community do you dream of being a part of?” Having the courage to ask those deeper questions, and then listening…really listening for the answers.
We do an exercise like this periodically in the vestry where I ask: “Where have you seen God at work in the past month?” And then we practice simply listening to the responses. Try asking yourself that periodically, “Where have you seen God at work in the world?” and journal your answer. Or try asking it at dinner with your family. And then just listen to the answers. I guarantee it will be enlightening.
The practice of evangelism—of actively looking for God at work in the world—in people’s lives—is essential to building authentic communities. Because, if you go out looking for all the things that are wrong in the world…I guarantee you’ll find them…it’s not that hard. If you go out looking for all the signs and signals that say, “this is messed up;” or “you’re not good enough,” “you’re not smart enough,” or “here’s where everything went off the rails,” you’ll find them. Those messages are everywhere. But the reverse is also true. If you go out looking for signs that we are are all broken and beloved, that people are struggling, yes, but also living with whole-hearted courage, that even in a world filled with sickness and demons there is healing and hope… you’ll find those too. Negative messages are broadcast and streamed to us 24/7…it’s far too easy to find them. To see God, and grace, and goodness takes discipline…and work, and practice…but it is there. If we have the courage to look for it, and the eyes and ears to see and hear it.
“We seek, name, and celebrate Jesus’ loving presence in the stories of all people.” All people. Everyone has a story. Everyone has hopes and struggles. And we believe that everyone—without exception—is made in God’s image. We all live in a world, created by God, and permeated with the Divine, “in God we live and move and have our being,” (Acts 17:28). But we need to develop our ability and our capacity to SEE God acting in our lives…and it’s rarely going to be in big showy miracles…of course those happen, but we need to learn to be attentive to the slower, smaller—but much more frequent—moments of grace that happen daily.
We need to develop our ability and our capacity to SEE God acting in our lives and in the lives of others…and we need to develop our ability to TELL those stories… because, remember, true belonging requires that we show up.…and our baptismal vows require that we ”proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” In other words, show up and share your authentic self. Tell your story. Tell THE story.
The section of 1 Corinthians we heard today, has this famous passage, “To the Jews I became as a Jew…to the weak I became weak…I have become all things to all people.” Please don’t mishear this. Paul is not claiming to be a chameleon so that he can trick people into converting. He’s saying, “meet people where they are.” Listen to their stories…hear their stories, and tell your story—tell THE story—in terms they can understand.
“Seek, name and celebrate Jesus’ loving presence in the stories of all people – then invite everyone to MORE.”
We are all part of God’s Story—the story that begins with creation, and moves through, loss, heartache, suffering, sacrifice, and ends with redemption, salvation and ultimately reconciliation.
That’s our story…from the waters of creation and baptism, through the wildernesses of temptation and the subjugation, to the mountain tops of revelation and sacrifice, and back into the communities where God dwells with us.
One of the resources on Episcopal evangelism that I will share when I post this sermon ends with this.
“Practice telling the stories of God’s goodness in your life – journal them and practice with others. Then, ask people for their stories.”
We “are not selling Jesus or the church, nor are we in charge of whether anyone follows Jesus. That movement belongs to the Holy Spirit. Still, the more we’re in tune with the loving presence of Jesus, the more we’re experiencing the fullness of a loving, liberating and life-giving relationship with God, the more it wants to overflow. That overflow is evangelism.”
That overflow is how we build beloved communities of true belonging.