The Church at Work

~Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…and [by] distributing the proceeds [of sold goods] to all, as any had need. ~Acts 2:42

From the very beginning, Christ’s Church has been involved in teaching, community, worship, prayer, and care for others.[1] It’s easy to feel nostalgic while looking back on this early Christian community from The Acts of the Apostles. It also may be a bit disturbing to our libertarian notions that (at least in theory) these early Christians deemed it important to hold “all things in common.” If we compare our small parish to such devotions, there may be a sense of both admonishment and envy – Who do they think they are behaving in such utopian sensibilities? Whether one perceives nostalgia or disturbances, it is important to remember God’s Spirit of grace working through the early church. It is also important to remember that that same Holy Spirit continues to breath new life into the Church today.

As Episcopalians we could easily puff ourselves up and use the characteristics of the early [Jerusalem] church to pat ourselves on the back; after all, Anglicans claim apostolic succession through our bishops; our liturgies make room for teaching and for the breaking of the bread every Sunday; and although we do not hold all things in common like our monastic brothers and sisters, we do pool our time, talent, and treasure together for the mission of the church. So what are we to do with this reading from the Book of Acts this morning?

Bishop Wright, in his For Faith Friday message wrote these words when contemplating Christian worship and prayer; he wrote, “Fellowship without the meal lacks sustenance; the meal without the work is superficial.”[2] The bishop’s statement, I believe, may be a nice place to start. First, fellowship without the meal lacks sustenance.

I would consider myself a son of the South. What I mean by this is that I take my cues on all things regarding manners from both of my southern grandmothers – from my Memom and from my (soon-to-be-100-year-old) MawMaw. Both sets of grandmothers taught me to take my hat off when I’m inside. Once indoors, to participate in polite conversation, and to eat or drink whatever is placed in front of me out of respect for the hostess. To this day I try to uphold these various behaviors along with other unspoken modesties as a tribute to these two southern ladies. But what would happen if all these pleasantries were suddenly turned upside down? Could we still find fellowship in it all? Is there something sacred in the mundaneness of a meal? To help explore these questions, I’d like to reference a line or two from Lewis Carroll’s, Alice in Wonderland, specifically, Chapter 7 – A Mad Tea-Party.[3]

`Have some wine,’ the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.

Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. `I don’t see any wine,’ she remarked.

`There isn’t any,’ said the March Hare.

`Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,’ said Alice angrily.

`It wasn’t very civil of you to sit down without being invited,’ said the March Hare.

`I didn’t know it was your table,’ said Alice; `it’s laid for a great many more than three.’

`Your hair wants cutting,’ said the Hatter. He had been looking at Alice for some time with great curiosity, and this was his first speech.

`You should learn not to make personal remarks,’ Alice said with some severity; `it’s very rude.’

The Hatter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he said was, `Why is a raven like a writing-desk?’

`Come, we shall have some fun now!’ thought Alice. `I’m glad they’ve begun asking riddles.–I believe I can guess that,’ she added aloud.

`Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?’ said the March Hare.

`Exactly so,’ said Alice.

`Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on.

`I do,’ Alice hastily replied; `at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.’

`Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. `You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!’

This back and forth goes on and on until at last, Carroll concludes with Alice saying,

`At any rate I’ll never go there again!’ said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. `It’s the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!’

For the record, Alice was offered tea and breads throughout the conversational nonsense, but she never had any thing of substance. Also, it may be a stretch to say that this is a good example of fellowship. Although philosophy and clever rhetoric are used throughout, and these two devises usually carry us into deep conversation, at this tea-party contemplation remained surface level. I wonder what would have happened to the conversation if the table were set for 3 instead of for a banquet? I wonder what would have happened to the fellowship if tea and bread were actually consumed? Literary critics point out that this scene could quite possibly be an interpretation of what a child experiences when invited to such adult functions that cater only to grown-ups.[4] All the ways in which adults pose and posture with one another must seem silly to our little ones. Here, in lies the wisdom from the early church. It is childlike not to posture. It is childlike to want to play and eat. It is childlike to accept others as they are. And are we not asked to accept Our Lord and Savior as a child? God doesn’t want us posturing in our pretentiousness. He wants a playful faith filled with wonder for all God’s creation. I believe the early church had it right. Fellowship and the sharing of a meal must go together. But let’s not stop here.

Bishop Wright’s second point is this, the meal without the work is superficial. While it can be argued that the word “work” here has to do with the work of the people (lived out sacramentally in the liturgy), I am reminded by The Reverend Julia Gatta that the work found in our sacred meal begins and ends in Christ. In other words, both the work of Christ and the supper of Christ is His “gift and action among us.”[5] This propels us into the realm of grace; and out of this grace, and out of the work that Christ has already done for us compels the church to baptize, to teach, to fellowship, to worship, to pray, and to care for others.

Four days after Easter Sunday on April 20th, 2017 death-row inmate Ledell Lee was executed via lethal injection by the state of Arkansas. As has been customary sense at least the middle ages, those sentenced to death by the state are given a last meal. Ledell refused his last meal, and instead opted to receive Holy Communion. Although what Mr. Lee was convicted of was a heinous crime and is inexcusable, I cannot help but be reminded of the thief on the cross next to Christ. St. Luke captured him in this way. The thief cries out to both the other convicted criminal and to Jesus saying, “And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” It can be assumed that Ledell Lee was baptized, and that he was familiar with the breaking of the bread. We can also assume that at some point in his reconciliation he discovered the teachings of Jesus and the prayers of the Church. Like the thief on the cross, I like to imagine Ledell Lee experiencing the grace of God in his last moments, choosing to turn to Jesus in a gesture of faith. I do not tell you this story to make a political statement on whether or not the death penalty is just. I tell it to you as a reminder of God’s grace in fellowshipping one with another while also finding sustenance from Christ’s Body and Blood. I tell it to you because the work of Christ is to be honored among his followers through tangible acts of forgiveness, mercy, and love.

In a moment, we will do what the Church has always done. We will receive, experience, and know Christ in the breaking of the bread. At the end of this ritual, we will pray these words, “And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do.” And what is this work? “To love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ of Lord” (BCP, 366). The work is already there just as the meal is always here, and each points us to Christ our Lord. Together, let us devote ourselves to these things, and by doing so finding the grace in it all.

[1]                 The Jewish Annotated New Testament, NRSV, Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Ed., Oxford University Press: New York, 2011, note 2.42-47, p. 203.

[2]                 Bishop Robert C. Wright’s For Faith Message (5/5/17): https://connecting.episcopalatlanta.org/for-faith/?utm_source=Connecting+e-newsweekly+and+For+Faith+blog-updated&utm_campaign=56712adf63-For_Faith_preview__0624166_23_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_065ea5cbcb-56712adf63-108305893

[3]           Taken from: https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~rgs/alice-VII.html

[4]                 http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/alice/section7.rhtml

[5]                 Julia Gatta, The Nearness of God: Parish Ministry as Spiritual Practice, Morehouse Publishing: New York, 2010, p. 43.

Progress is Starting Over

Sometimes progress is simply sticking with it. Rolling up sleeves, dirt on the hands day in and day out breeds grit and determination met with much grace, hope, and love. The former things point us to character, the latter – virtues. These are what you’ll find every Thursday evening and Saturday mornings at Starting Over, a court appointed supervised visitation ministry, held on the campus of Saint Julian’s Episcopal Church.

For close to 20 years, Starting Over has provided a space where separated families can put aside their differences, come together and show a sense of normalcy with their children by playing games, talking, and simply allowing kids to be kids. Volunteers serve as supervisors and watchful guardians of the visiting children, and then report back to DFCS (The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services) whether or not the visitation was successful.

The backbone of Starting Over, her matriarch, gatekeeper, and heart is Diane Campbell. Diane might describe herself as hard on the outside, but soft inside – much like an M&M candy. Her hardness comes from the heartbreaking stories of children who have been neglected, abused, and forgotten by families and an apathetic society. Her softness comes from her faith where she remembers Jesus’ words to, “let the children come” (Matt. 19:14). Diane understands the facts. She knows the high rates of teenage pregnancy, and thousands of children caught up in the foster system. She recognizes the stress put on social workers, and why the turnover rate seems to increase year after year. She has moments of compassion fatigue, but she also experiences divine love. Like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings, Diane is willing – willing to protect them at all costs (Matt. 23:37). Willing to stand up for what is right. Willing when no one else seems so.

It’s been said that raising a child takes a village. How will history judge the village we call Douglasville? If the system is broken, are we willing to come together and repair it? If a family is fragmented, are we brave enough to serve them? If a social worker is overwhelmed, can we rise up in support? These are not questions of stagnation or apathy; rather, they are questions of progress, and questions of holy curiosity, neighborly love, and gifted grace.

Let us not be distracted by many things (Luke 10:41); instead, let us collectively roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of reconciliation day in and day out. For Diane and her army of volunteers, it is children whom they serve. Who or what are you called to serve? Spend a lifetime living into this question, and progress along life’s road, in your heart, and in your soul will be revealed.

~This article will be featured in the Douglas County Sentinel’s Profiles in Progress section in Sunday, January 22nd’s paper. To learn more or donate to Starting Over’s ministry, please find St. Julian’s address here.#LoveLikeJesusEDA diane-campbell

Loss, Intentionality, and Grace – Part I of II

A sermon (somewhat redacted for this blog) that was preached on Sunday, November 6 at St. Julian’s Episcopal Church in Douglasville, GA. The lesson was Luke 20:27-38.

Loss

The Christian tradition teaches God has gifted humanity with great freedom. We have agency (sometimes referred to as free will), but agency does not necessarily translate into control (Gen 1:27-29; Gen 2:16-17). Rules, laws, and boundaries are created, but as any parent, or grandparent, or citizen knows, control of the situation is oftentimes an illusion, a farce, a wicked game that demands loss. Ironically, with the various experiences of loss, we find ourselves not only like broken containers – emptied; yet full – full of grace: A grace not dependent upon ourselves, our faculties, or our resources, but a grace utterly dependent upon God. It is at those times when we begin anew, and create out of the chaos new ideas, new evolutions of the Spirit that point us to transcendence, yet include what is important here and now (Gen. 1:1).

The fallacy of the Sadducees’ question was that their hearts were in the wrong place (Luke 20:27). Jesus saw right through their questioning. They were more concerned with the technicalities of the Law of Moses instead of the Spirit of the law. These technicalities led to a morbid sense of the finality of death; yet as Jesus pointed out, “God is the God not of the dead, but of the living” (Luke 20:38).

The Christian Church is a church that honors death, and allows those who must mourn to mourn. Mourners are gifted with prayers, liturgies, rituals, and an intentional community to walk alongside. These are technicalities that do indeed help, but at the end of the day God has the final say. When the noise of loss finally settles, and silence starts to stir, one gets the feeling of utter abandonment (Luke 22:42; Matt 27:46). It is with this feeling of loneliness where; ironically, God is closest to us. The Scriptures reveal that, “Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning,” but those of us who understand significant loss oftentimes pray not for joy, but for relief (Psalm 30). When we find ourselves on the opposite end of grief, there is a childish temptation to give advice to those who mourn thinking your good word, deed, or even intentionality will be enough to stop the pain. This way of thinking reveals an ignorance of the self instead of the other. Any family, church, or society that does not let the mournful grieve, will be hindering the griever more than helping. Again, it goes back to God – not us. Just about the time we think we cannot take more, our empty and cracked container, our broken heart begins to be filled once again. Relief seems to come from outside ourselves and a sense of peace beyond our understanding is graced upon us (Phil 4:7). “I am with you always,” Jesus said, “even until the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Hope, grace, gratefulness, and yes – maybe even joy – start to return once our sense of God has been restored, or better, deepened through our experiences of grief and loss.

Intentionality

Last Monday, the Church marked its 499th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. This gradual and grace filled re-formation released the stranglehold of the status quo built around the illusion that the Church was “too big to fail.” The Episcopal Church’s theology is rooted in this protest, and is forever thankful for the reforming work of John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Thomas Cranmer – to name a few. Because the Protestant Reformation was such a fulcrum in world history, it is little surprise that another movement within the Church did not get the same historical attention; however, both contributed heavily and influenced all manner of life that brought about a Renaissance of art, culture, religion, economics, science, philosophy, and politics. The beautiful nation we live in today finds its roots firmly planted in this time period history labels, The Renaissance. But what is this other movement that does not get much play? Historians have labeled it the Counter-Reformation. The Counter-Reformation was a Roman Catholic response to the protesting Protestants, and the Counter-Reformation can be summed up with the phrase, “an inward turn” or as some like to say, “an inward move” (Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations, 336).

Carter Lindberg, in his book, The European Reformations sums it up this way, “What unites the various forms of Counter-Reformation spirituality can be said…to be the stress on the individual’s relation to God,…whose first object was not to ‘reform the Church’…but to order their own lives to the doing of God’s will and the bringing of the benefit to their neighbor. It was exacting, in that it demanded continuous heroic effort at prayer and self-control and self-improvement and good works.”

So how is the Roman Catholic Counter Reformation different from the Protestant one? Luther was more concerned with re-forming the theology of the Church. That was his starting point – if you will. The Roman Catholics put their emphasis on moral and ethical renewal. There was a desire to live a more devout life (Lindberg, 336). What branched out of this movement within Catholicism was a deeper look at the individual lives of the saints, as opposed to grouping them all together. Ignatius of Loyola, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila all became extremely popular during this time (Ibid.). Also, the Counter-Reformation way of thinking eventually influenced Roman Catholics in this country within the 20th century. This movement, at the quarter of the last century, was called the Catholic Workers Movement, which emphasized the sanctity of the family, and how a healthy, working family is the basic building block towards a great society.

With all this in mind, let’s take a look at intentionality. Luther and the Protestants said intentionality begins with having the right theology. The Counter-Reformers said, ‘no,’ it begins with morals, ethics, and character because the individual has been baptized into Christ’s Church. To put it in philosophical terms: Each group was trying to describe the starting point for the good life. Catholics said the good life was lived out ritualistically through the sacraments of the Church that by their very nature teach us how to live. Reformers put more of an emphasis on faith and belief. Anglicans, with the help of Thomas Cranmer’s, Book of Common Prayer (1549) split the difference: Because of our turn to God through faith (i.e. Baptism), we participate in the Body of Christ through intentional acts of prayer, worship, and meditation that assist us in learning how to love God, self, and neighbor. Without the intentionality of living a life of faith through the rituals of the Church, and bearing witness to Christ through their actions, one was considered lost, one had forgotten God. Put another way, one was not living out the good life because it was a life stripped of intentionality.

With all this history in mind, I believe the Church at its very best models for society what it means to limit itself for the greater good. Within these limitations freedom is found, humility is remembered, and dignity is experienced. The Church can remind us to focus on what matters, mainly the eternal; otherwise, we’re like the Sadducees who got too caught up in the anxiousness of processes, speculation, and hearsay. “God is the God not of the dead, but of the living,” reminds us that a life of faith requires getting comfortable with loss, wanderings, and doubt, but when a life of intentionality is lived out, the good life also remembers resurrection, and teaches it to others through one’s own intentional actions. The very best evangelism a Christian can perform is through their actions, their morality, their character, and their faith. This is what both the Reformation and Counter-Reformation can teach us. Put this all in a biblical phrase from Matthew’s Gospel, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt 7:16).

On Tuesday, our nation will elect its next president. On Tuesday evening, many in our nation will experience profound loss and grief. On Wednesday morning, Christians have the opportunity to show others what a grace filled faith full of intentionality looks like by answering the call to walk alongside our fellow countrymen as they grieve and heal. Put another way, make up your minds now to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Give one another space. Grant each other grace; and may Lady Julian of Norwich’s famous maxim that all shall be well start in our minds, and with time, love, and care reveal its truth within our hearts.

Open Doors, Open Hearts

The parish where I serve as priest is named, Saint Julian’s Episcopal Church. We have a parish hall where members can gather and rehearse choral music, cook up delicious food in the kitchen, and fellowship while breaking bread with one another. St. Julian’s also lends meeting space out to community groups like political parties (Republicans and Democrats), Master Gardeners’ of Douglas County, and the Girl Scouts of America. This past “Super” Tuesday, St. Julian’s was a polling place, and about 600 folks walked past the church and into the parish hall where they could cast their ballots in the presidential primary race. This was not unusual. St. Julian’s is normally a polling place in Douglas County. What was different; however, were the doors of the church. They were not closed. They were opened. Not only were they visibly opened up, I parked myself outside the doors of the church on one of our porch benches dressed in my cassock and clergy collar reading a book. I was not there to suggest anything political. I was just present; and the doors of the church were simply opened up for any and all who passed by to get curious, wonder, and possibly explore a space that had not been opened up to them before. Through this simple act, I was able to listen, overhear, and take part in conversations and actions that I never would have been gifted had I decided to read my book behind the doors of the church that day. Below are a few of the things I witnessed. Thank you for making my Tuesday truly a “Super” one. I am forever touched.

“May we come in? We’d like to see how your church compares with ours.”

“Can I stop in and pray?”

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

“Look, the church doors are open. Maybe we should go in and pray?”

“I need all the prayers I can get.”

“This country needs all the prayers it can get.”

“Can I stop by and clip off some fresh rosemary next time I’m cooking?”

“God bless you.”

Someone, upon seeing me in a cassock,

“Are you from this country?” She then continued, “I am from Paris, France. I joined a Roman Catholic convent to escape the Nazi Army in WWII. They had us wash their clothes. They were nice to us, but not the Jews. My husband is Episcopalian…how do you say it…Episca?… Epis??…such a hard word…Oh well; now, we’re both Baptists.”

“Now that’s what I like to see…a man of God outside the walls of the church. Good for you, brother.”

“Nice socks…my mom would love them…they are her sorority colors…have a blessed day.”

“I think what you’re doing is just great.”

One man, upon seeing a hopscotch board outlined on the pavement in chalk, jumped through the game like a child in play. He then turned to me, and simply smiled, waved, and went on his way.

Finally, what a little girl said to her mom while pointing to the building, “Mommy, what is that?” Her mom replied, “It’s a church, sweetie. It’s a church.”

Even though the people I came into contact with on Tuesday were truly amazing, if I am completely honest about that day, I would have to say that I’ve been haunted by the image of those open doors. I’ve been haunted by them because although I would like to say that the doors of the church have always been open; in reality, I know that they have not. Upon deeper reflection of those doors, I’m reminded of the Church’s long, long history of shutting out, shutting down, and shutting up prodigal sons and daughters everywhere. This saddens me, but I also have faith and hope in the Church’s future. Here’s why:

We now finds ourselves in the Season of Lent. Lent calls us to repentance, but it is also begs us to remember: To remember all the isms and phobias and illusions we create that separate us from God, ourselves, and others; but like the doors of an open church, we are also called on to remember that God’s grace and mercy are the same grace and mercies that can be given out and gifted to ourselves and others as we try to live into the abundance of God’s love; or better, to live into the reality of God’s love. True repentance is turning from what we are doing, and turning to God. Turning around, and with God’s help, we are called to the discipline to contemplate how we possess, and try to be possessive (and controlling) of others – How we label others as “less than” in order to build ourselves up because our illusions of scarcity might be mitigated by fear, anger, and anxiety. Once we start contemplating these things, we are invited to pray for forgiveness, and once we start praying for forgiveness, we are then invited to start practicing forgiveness, grace, and mercy as we listen to others tell their stories, come together and work for social change, and take prophetic action against racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, xenophobia, and all the rest.

Last Tuesday was a day to remember, to seek forgiveness in a stranger’s smile, and to practice loving like Jesus loves. For a moment, the world was not divided up into parties, tribes, or ideologies. For a moment, tender hearts were opened, and new doors remained unlocked.

~The Rev. Brandon Duke proudly serves Saint Julian’s Episcopal Church in Douglasville, GA. In this season of the Church, he is trying to #GrowForLent and #LoveLikeJesusEDA.

Faith. Not Fear.

“It started out as a simple idea,” said my friend and colleague, the Rev. Stuart Higginbotham, priest of Grace Episcopal Church in Gainesville, GA. “The idea is this…What if Christians started a Nativity Movement?”

Movements always start with a good question, but what exactly is The Nativity Movement? It’s very simple. When Christians display their nativity scenes, they take a picture, and post it to social media under #NativityMovement. Why is this simple act considered a movement?

Those who participate in the #NativityMovement are recalling the fact that a tyrant named Herod instigated fear in his people by committing murder and infanticide throughout Bethlehem. This was the reason why Joseph, Mary, and Jesus became refugees, crossed the border into Egypt, and stayed there until Herod ruled no longer. The #NativityMovement also recalls Christianity’s meager beginnings. Jesus was not born in a palace, home, or even a hotel. He was not born with any privilege or power. His parents could have been considered disgraceful because Mary was having a child out of wedlock, and Joseph had originally wanted to dismiss her quietly.

For Christians, having these facts on our minds while setting up our nativity scenes can be an exercise in prayer: A prayer for every refugee family who seeks peace in another country, instead of persecution. A prayer for every baby delivered out of wedlock, or in unstable conditions. A prayer for every father who has considered leaving.

I’ve found, when I take the time to pray in this way, touching the figures and figurines from the nativity set, I am touching Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, as well as the created order such as the stars, the animals, and boxes of frankincense and myrrh. But on my deeply prayerful days, I am not only touching Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, but also all the men, women, and children that they represent. And on my deeper than deepest prayer days, or even when I’m singing, “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,” I must ask myself if I am truly being a good neighbor to my brothers and sisters in the world whose stories are very similar to this holy family’s?

Our faith is deepened when it is lived out of love instead of fear. The simple act of putting out our nativity scenes in the compassionate way I just described is one way of setting our hearts and minds on peace, love, and joy – those eternal virtues of this time of year. Happy Advent and Merry Christmas to all. May your #NativityMovement be a movement within your body, mind, and spirit during this sacred season.

Relationship Over Rules. Love Over Laws.*

An amazing fact about the God we serve is that God chose to limit God’s self in the person of Jesus Christ. Now we don’t usually think of God as limited, do we? But the truth is, the all-knowing, all-powerful God freely choose a limited body, a limited context in history, and a limited creation in order to express to us those limitless aspects of God’s divine love.

The great mystery of the Judeo-Christian God is that this God who is all-powerful, and all knowing chose to speak, specifically to Abraham, and in doing so, started the process of limiting himself to be part of a people’s history. This same God freed an enslaved people from Egypt, brought up prophets and kings in Israel, and seems (according to my reading of Holy Scriptures) to be very fond of the widow/widower, the orphan, the migrant, the oppressed, and the enslaved. But God didn’t and doesn’t stop there. God chose to come among us, to be with us more fully (not more powerfully…but more fully) to be with us in a way that changed history. God, through the person of Jesus Christ, came among us to live, to suffer, and to ultimately die not for a cause, not for any rule, but for a relationship. For love: A love so powerful that three days later, death could not hold to it.

The small salvation history I just revealed is revealed further to us every time we release ourselves into the mystery of God’s love. Its results are always the same, although its situations are without end. And what are the results? Relationship. Love. Humbleness before our God, to name a few.

The best example of God asking us to limit ourselves in the name of relationship and love is found in the words of Jesus in Mark 8. Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves (or quite possibly, let them limit themselves) and take up their cross and follow me.” Notice here, we must give up something in order to follow Christ. We must limit ourselves in order to be in full relationship with God. I don’t think God would ask us to limit ourselves if he didn’t do this himself already? And because he did this through the person of Jesus Christ, God is revealing to us what love looks like: When we look upon our Savior Jesus Christ, we are looking at a God who limited God’s self for the sake of love, so that we may do the same. Why? Because it’s about relationship, not rules. It’s about love, not law.

A great example of this happened early last week. Pope Francis called upon all European churches (starting with the two within Vatican City) to host Syrian migrant and refugee families who were fleeing their country because of Civil War. Now, the secular rules talked about quotas, and space, and policy and procedure, but in the freedom of God, the Pope reminded us that if we all start from an ethic of care, compassion, and relationship, then the refuges would be taken care of. Rules (in many situations) are put into place because the relationship is not fully there from the beginning; it’s torn and tattered by sin and complex situations.

But let’s look at the order of correct relationship for this type of Christian hospitality to take root. The root of Christian hospitality does not start with an ethic of care, compassion, and relationship to our fellow man. No. The root of Christian hospitality starts with the ethic of care, compassion, and relationship we have with Christ. In the negative sense, if that relationship with Christ is broken, then the relationships we have with one another (be it biological family or church family or refugee family) are also broken. To be fair, this isn’t totally our fault. I mentioned sin earlier, and the complexities of sin I’ll have to write on another day, but the bottom line is that our relationship with Christ is key to our relationship to ourselves and to others.

Jesus again, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” So what are the European Churches loosing? Well, lots of things: They may see community as a loss. They may see status quo as a loss. But what Christ reminds us is that in His freedom, in God’s freedom to love, we are set free to lose the life we think we should have in order to live a life of full freedom in Christ. If we give up some things, if we take up our cross, if we lose and let go of things we think are precious – be that a tangible thing, or a ideal, or a politic – what we gain is Christ’s love, and the Gospel of Christ guides us to salvation. The classical word for all of this is repentance. We repent, and turn to God. Repent is best translated as “turning around”. So we quite literally turn around from something to something, and that “to something” is God. Then and only then are we completely free to love God, self, and neighbor (in that order). Now, the frustrating thing to me is that this is not a one-time deal; instead, repentance happens constantly, and confession and reconciliation are part of the process of salvation. But, we can only turn toward God if we experience the grace of God inviting us to turn away and repent, or give up what it is we must give up to experience His Love.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury before Justin Welby said that meditation on the Gospels is a matter of “coming to know ourselves through Christ.” So, in order for Pope Francis to call on all European Churches to take in folks is assuming that all these church bodies are on a continual path of “coming to know [themselves] through Christ.” So, there will probably be resistance if this isn’t the case for these churches. Why: Because the ethic of care, compassion, and relationship is out of order, and people don’t actually believe, or experience, the love of Christ in their lives.

That’s why the universal church founded in Christ is so important. That’s why receiving a prophetic call like the Pope delivered last week is so important to pay attention and live to. The church, through its liturgy, proclamations, and actions reveal (to all) the importance of relationship over rules. It is bold when it proclaims justice to immigrants, whether that be from Mexico, Latin America, or Syria. That is why we will never hear the Church talking about building walls. Instead, it is about breaking them down, and not for the sake of rules, and not even for the sake of order, but for the sake of relationship because the Church, and only the Church reveals to the world the love of Christ in the stranger, neighbor, and even to its enemies. Now that’s crazy. That’s counter-cultural, and we are certainly not hearing this kind of talk in the marketplace of ideas.

So picture this: What if the clarion call sent out from the halls of the Vatican actually catches on worldwide? What will the churches in Europe look like? How, by giving up some comfort, how, by loosing a status-quo life, how, by taking up Christ’s cross will they look? If the churches in the America’s catch this revival of putting Christ first in order to serve the world, what would it look like over here? What do we have to give up in order to follow Christ? Is it something tangible? Is it an ideal? Is it a philosophy? All the above?

Well, I believe we will be better equipped to answer what the church will “look like” if we continue to repent, and continue to turn around and constantly face God. If we are constantly turning around and facing God, then eventually we see Jesus, and if we see Jesus, we have relationship, and if we have relationship with Jesus, we experience true freedom, and if we experience true freedom, then we are free to freely love God, ourselves, our neighbors, and even our enemies.

So, I’m excited. I feel revival in the air. I feel God’s love spoken and lived out in high profile Christian leaders like Pope Francis, Archbishop Desmund Tutu, the Episcopal Church’s Bishop Curry, and Bishop Wright, but also in everyday people such as you and I. And all of these leaders, be they known or unknown, get their charisma and boldness from Christ, and they (like us and as sinners) must continually repent, to turn around and to lovingly limit ourselves, in order to take up our crosses, and follow the God of Love.

So, is there revival going on? My faith points me to Christ to help answer that question, and hope is always pointing me to God’s answer of, “Yes.”

*This is a redacted sermon preached on the Eve of Holy Cross Day, September 13, 2015.