I find an interesting phenomenon going on in the world today: It seems that there are people everywhere claiming to be Christian, but the world dose not seem to be any more Christian. In fact, it seems like the world is getting less and less Christian all the time. Is it just me? Do you see it? Maybe I am just paying attention to the wrong groups or something. But it just seems that the concept of Christian is dwindling away.
On the grand scale, I don’t know if there are fewer and fewer Christians in the world. At least in America and in Europe, I do know that the mainline denominations are experiencing declining attendance. But fewer people in the churches does not necessarily mean that there are fewer Christians. But as I said, it just seems like the world is less and less Christian, and by saying that, I also mean that the world seems to be becoming less and less nice. And yet, when we look at Jesus, he seemed like a nice guy! Not a push-over by any stretch of the imagination, but nice! And still, many of the Christians that I meet in the world seem to be anything BUT nice.
Do you realize that one of the most important calls that we have as people of Christ is to bring others to belief? I have known people who though this was just a horrific kind of thing. But if you don’t believe me, go back and look at the beginning of the gospel reading for today. Jesus is praying for his disciples, which means he is also praying for you and for me. And what is he saying? Well, he is asking that God be with us. And God is to be with us not just so that we can feel the love of God deep in our hearts, but with us so that we might bring this wondrous love to the world. Jesus says, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”
What Jesus is saying here is that although God could just swoop in and make the whole world believe, that is not God’s way. Jesus is saying that it is not just up to God to come and open peoples’ hearts to the good news. No! It is up to us to be out and spreading that news to those we encounter on a daily basis! If we remember the reading from Acts last week, Lydia didn’t have a great awakening on her own. It was while Paul was speaking to Lydia that the Lord opened her heart to the word. It wasn’t that she suddenly had a great desire to search out the word, the word was brought to her and then her heart was opened.
Would her heart have been opened if she had heard the word from someone else? We don’t know that. But that is not what we are supposed to gather from the story. What we are to gather is that we are sent out into the world to spread Christ’s love. Period. That simple.
It seems as if we in the mainline denominations have trouble with doing this. We seem to have difficulty telling the world about the love that we have found in Christ. You’d think with our Lord and Savior praying that we might bring others to believe would be enough for us. It would seem that this would be all the prodding we would need to be able to go out and spread Christ’s love to the world. You would think this would be true, but unfortunately, this is not the case. We have not gotten the name “The Frozen Chosen” without some help on our part.
Our Pentecostal brothers and sisters are very good at spreading the message. They seem to have no difficulty in telling the world of Christ’s love. Personally, sometimes I think they are a bit too excited about spreading the faith! But I would rather have a few Pentecostals spreading the faith than have no one saying anything. But, I guess if no one said anything, then the rocks and stones would proclaim the message! But even with our Pentecostal brothers and sisters there is some problems. Remember what I said about being “nice?” I have found some of these folks to not be overly nice in the face of challenges.
So we have us Episcopalians who are very nice but quite quiet, and we have the Pentecostals who are not so quiet, but who can be somewhat, well, socially challenging. If only we take some of each and put them together. If we could do that, I think we could become a force for change that the world has never seen before. Or maybe saw about 2000 years ago!
Some of you probably know that I had been backed into a corner and told that I better accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior, or ELSE! And actually, it did more to keep me away from the church than to bring me into the church. But just because we are afraid our message may be odd by societal standards, or may be uncomfortable to some does not mean that we should not spread the message. What we need to remember is that we are Nice Episcopalians too! We have a way of spreading the message that is unique to us! We can say the message in ways that will make perfect sense to some people. It may not make sense to everyone, but that is ok. There are people out there who need to hear the message that we have to spread. Our message is not different, but our manner of spreading the message is! That is what is important! And we need to trust that if we speak the message, that God will open the ears and the hearts of those who are listening.
This is our call as Christians. Jesus himself calls us to experience his love, peace, and forgiveness, but he also calls us to share this love with the world. You see, we are called to be more than just welcoming; we are called to be inviting. Welcoming is waiting for someone to show up at your door and then being hospitable to that person. And we do that really well! But we are called to go out! To speak the word to the world. We are called to reach out and invite the world to experience the love that we have found in Christ!
We have something the world needs we have the love of Christ and, to be honest, we are really nice people! We can do a lot to change the attitude of society that believes Christians are judgmental. We can be part of the mission that Christ sets before us. Christ prays that we go out and spread the message. And Christ sends us out.