Sunday, August 13, 2006

Pentecost 10 - Year B

I LOVE email. Think of it, being able to correspond to people all of over the world in a nano-second. However, not everyone shares my love for this wonderful new technology.

A pastor who writes as much as she preaches once wrote a little meditation on why many Christians don’t like email. She says that Christians must mightily resist email because we are a religion of the incarnation. We believe that God has comes to us in the flesh, God has come among us in Jesus. We don’t believe that there can be any true communication, any worthy transmission of God’s message other than through human contact. Email is counterfeit communication. In email we miss the nuance that personal interaction provides.

I guess the same could be said of any written correspondence, but I think her point is well taken.

In a sermon that he delivered about 150 years ago, with the sexy, sexy title “Personal Influence, the Means of the Propagating the Truth,” (I can tell you, that sermon’s a real barn burner) theologian John Henry Newman, one of the great Christians thinkers of the 19th century, noted that most people are persuaded in religious matters not my “garrulous reason,” the arguments found in books and systems of thought, but people are best persuaded by other people.

“Excuse me, Father,” the man said.

“Yes?” I responded in my best pastoral voice.

The rain was coming down in sheets, a typical Halifax spring, and I was on my way to the hospital to do some visits. I was dressed in my clergy uniform as usual, and I was stopped by a fellow whom I noticed was staring at me as I walked in the door.

“Are you a Catholic priest?”

“No, I’m a Lutheran pastor,” I replied.

“Here, I think you need this,” he said, handing me a pamphlet, before quickly walking away.

I looked down and saw the title. “The Gift” and it told the story of a Catholic priest who[quote] “journeyed from darkness to light by reading the scriptures” [end quote]. It was Anti-Catholic religious bigotry.

It turned out this guy was worried that I didn’t have the “personal relationship with Jesus” that was required, I didn’t say the sinner’s prayer, I didn’t use the words that he thought I should. He was worried for my eternal destiny. Yet he couldn’t stop to tell me in person.

This was hit-and-run evangelism.

I would have found the experience funny if it weren’t so offensive. He was suggesting that Catholics and Lutherans weren’t Christians and were therefore condemned to eternal hell-fire, he was dismissing of traditional sacramental theology that has be taught in churches for two millennia, and rigorously defended the King James Bible as the only authentic word of God saying that any other translation was from the devil.

What really got my shorts in a bunch was the fact that this guy didn’t really care about me. I found his tactic – giving me a tract and running away – personally insulting. He didn’t know my name. He didn’t know what I believed. He didn’t know anything about me. He didn’t share good news with me. He threw his “good news” in my face then disappeared.

Contrast this with a friend I had in university. A long time ago, when I was in my third year undergrad I lived with a group of guys in a huge house in downtown Waterloo. We jokingly called the place “The Den of Iniquity” because of all the pizza boxes, weeks-old food, and dirty clothes strewn throughout the house. The place hadn’t seen the business end of a vacuum cleaner in years. One night, however, a housemate made the name a reality.

He met a woman in a bar one night and brought her home with him. He took her to his room and fed her rum and marijuana. When she passed out an hour later he sexually assaulted her, and then was going to drop her outside the door, on to the street, without her clothes or purse.

Me and another housemate intervened and convinced him to drive her home. We followed behind them to make sure he didn’t do anything awful to her along the way. We helped get her into her bed, and then told him in no uncertain terms that his behaviour was completely unacceptable.

He told us to F-off.

Let me say that I had NO IDEA what was happening to this woman while it was happening. If me and my housemates knew that this fellow was assaulting a woman while she was passed out we would have broken the door down to stop it. If I knew then what I know now I would have called the cops. It wasn’t until afterward that he shared – boasted – what had happened between him and this young woman that we understood the gravity of what had taken place.

I shared this story with a fellow trombone player the next day during rehearsal, asking her what she thought I should have done. She listened quietly. Then she prayed for the woman who’d been assaulted, she prayed for the fellow who assaulted her, and she prayed for me and my housemates.

Then she said I should talk to this fellow again, to show him what he did was wrong. Which I did. And it did not go well.

And she said I should try to find the woman who was assaulted to make sure she got the help she needed. I tried to find her but couldn’t remember where we dropped her off. I didn’t know her name.

She also encouraged me to do what I was already thinking of doing – finding a new place to live. So she and a couple folks from her bible study group helped me move my stuff to a new apartment.

When I look back I can’t help but see that she wasn’t telling me about Jesus and demanding that I adopt a set of beliefs, she was being like Jesus to me. The evangelist in Halifax was concerned that I believed all the right things. He wanted to make sure that I had “The Truth.” The woman from the trombone section wanted me to know that I was loved, and she showed me how to live more faithfully as a disciple of Jesus.

In other words, she gave me fresh bread. The kind that lasts forever.

Today’s gospel is a reminder that the Christian faith is more than a set of beliefs, a list of intellectual propositions. Christian faith is about being encountered by a person – Jesus, and a matter of God getting personal with us, taking over our lives, possessing us.

Jesus said he’s the bread of the life. How more earthy and everyday can you get?

For those who were looking to fill their stomachs, or to those who were looking to have a deep philosophical discussion, Jesus says to them both “Feed on me. Be nourished and strengthened. Then you will be satisfied. Then you will find truth. I’m the bread of life.”



Blogger Steve Bogner said...

Wonderful story - thanks for sharing. I've come across skepticism of sacramental theology, and so on and so on (I grew up in the Bible Belt). I remember going to an Amy Grant concert in Tulsa, OK in the mid-80's and returning to my car that had anti-Catholic literature under the windsheild wiper.

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