In the name of Christ, our guide. Amen.
One of the things that I think must sometimes be frustrating for Christina working with me in the parish office is how often I say, “I don’t care.” It’s not that I don’t care about much – I actually care a lot about a lot of what it takes to manage the business of the church. In fact, I can be very particular, about certain things. But one can only care so much – we only have so much bandwidth. So when something isn’t particularly meaningful to me – or if it’s a decision for which the outcome isn’t particularly ‘mission critical’, I’m happy to leave the caring (and more importantly the deciding) to someone else.
Then again, if I do care, I care very much. And I will ride a project or an outcome until it is executed precisely as I’ve envisioned it.
The thing is, the mechanics of running a church can be complex. We never really know, from day to day, what need for decision or consideration will be thrown at us. So, when she knocks on my office door to present some issue to me, the answer could just as easily be a detailed, specific description of exactly how I want her to respond, or, it could be, “I don’t care. Whatever you think is fine with me.”
We’ve been working together now for a little over two years, so I think she’s largely gotten the hang of what sorts of things I will need to shepherd to completion, and what sorts of things I will leave to her – save the odd exception here and there. But even so, I suspect life would be easier for her if I could just give her a list of the things I want to lead, and the things I’m happy leaving to her. The problem, that list isn’t always so clear cut. It could change based on extraneous factors. Or, something that seems routine, might actually be quite a bit more complex – a reality that I would know as a result of my experience, but that she wouldn’t know.
A list of “mine” versus “hers” might be handy – and it might even cover a fairly wide swath of what our typical workdays look like, but as a potentially comprehensive guide, it’s not really practical. It has to be lived out. I can’t just say it and make it so. We have to experience it together.
In the Gospel lesson that we’ve shared this week, we hear the crowds coming to Jesus with a tone of exasperation in their request. “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Enough with the cryptic messages and teachings. Enough with the subtle signaling. Just tell us plainly.
Every time this Gospel reading comes around, these words stand out to me. “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
How often have I cried out to God in times of stress or confusion? If this is my path, tell me plainly. If you want this for me, tell me plainly. To the degree that this decision affects my ability to live into your call, tell me plainly.
Sometimes I catch myself wishing that being an active participant in this faith of ours was a little easier. And it would be easier if we could just know – plainly, clearly, unambiguously – how to be the people God is calling us to be.
But, “tell us plainly” is about trying to think yourself into faith. It’s about trying to reason yourself into salvation and grace. And, as much as we value thinking and reasoning as ways of deepening our relationship with God and this faith, the fact is, Christianity isn’t always completely reasonable. We can’t always think our way into it, in its fullness, at least.
Christianity is experiential. It’s about God experiencing humanity. It’s about humanity experiencing God. The Christian faith is about life experiencing death as much as it is about death experiencing life. These things aren’t reasonable. But they are a part of the truth as it is revealed to the followers of Jesus through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. When we try to understand and explain, we often miss the point.
It’s one of the failures of the way we typically think about evangelism. We usually imagine evangelism as using words and arguments to try to negotiate faith with someone outside the fold. But better evangelism – better ways of trying to share and grow our faith are less about the reasoned arguments we could make than they are about the experiences to which we testify. What does it feel like to share this faith? How does it affect your life? Effective evangelism isn’t saying to someone, “You better love Jesus, or you’re going to hell.” Effective evangelism is about sharing your experience of the living Christ – certainly with words, but even more, with your life. With your joy and kindness and concern for others.
There’s an unattributed quote about this that says, “Evangelism is just one hungry person telling another hungry person where to find bread.” At its core, it’s not about any plainly spoken arguments and perfectly defined thoughts – it’s about recognizing a shared need, and a shared solution. It’s about sharing experience.
And that’s part of what gives this faith of ours value – it is relevant and a real part of our lived experience. It’s not just some promise of a fantasy world, but a strategy and a path for thriving in this world. Yes, there is heaven. Yes, there are things we teach and believe about what happens when we die. But the crux of the message of Jesus is about what happens while we live. We can’t come close to controlling what will come next, but we can, at least sometimes, have some influence on what happens now.
We are often just like those crowds surrounding Jesus, begging to have the mystical and metaphysical truths revealed. Just tell us plainly! Don’t keep us guessing, make it easier!
Jesus answered, “I have told you and you do not believe.” We want to make it harder. We want to make it more mysterious. We assume it’s out of reach. But Jesus tells us again and again that the plain truth is that we are to love God and to love each other. We are to live lives of love. We are to share experiences of love with those who’ve been cut off from them.
It really is that clear. There’s a lot to study and understand about this faith. But there’s even more to experience. Love is more. Amen.