From time to time we will add bites of the sermons presented by our clergy, lay readers, and guests. This will give you an idea of the spiritual food you can find in our parish.
EASTER 3A. THE ROAD TO EMMAUS
Three Sundays in a row and we keep coming back to Easter morning and taking a different route away from it. On Easter Sunday we were in the garden and followed Mary back to tell the disciples. Last Sunday we were on Easter Sunday Evening, in a room without Thomas. This week we are on Easter Sunday walking out of Jerusalem. Each week we start here, at Easter and we take a walk somewhere. Today we are going to Emmaus.
You don’t often see three people walking together. Two. You see two a lot; walking side by side. Often you see a single person, making their way along. And sometimes you see a bunch; A gaggle of teenagers, or a tour group. But three? Three is awkward.
Three abreast, and they keep bumping into each other.
Could be there's two in front and one behind.
However, if the conversation is important the one behind is always saying “What? What did you say?” or “Wait up a minute.” It’s awkward.
So when you see three people together you can figure on less reasons for there to be three than there to be two or one. Three together may mean friends more often than two means friends. Three people together may mean an important conversation more often than this does with two or one. Gaggles of people seldom have important conversations going on.
However in this story, the third time we have begun on Easter Sunday, we begin with two. Two people walking away from Jerusalem, headed towards Emmaus, a town in a land far far away that none of us have ever been to. But let it be like heading down to Palm Springs after getting fired as Premier. Its been a rough ride and you need a break.
All the paintings make them out to be men , but there is no necessity in the text for that to be true. Maybe its a couple of women, or a couple. They are disciples of Jesus. [ See, there may have been “12” disciples for some symbolic role. Jesus probably made a theological statement by the 12 of them about the restoration of Israel. But there were lots of others who came and went over the course of Jesus’ ministry. ]
We see two of them here.
They were around. They were in the group. They were of the following for the week in Jerusalem that came to such an abrupt and messy end last Friday. And now they are off to Emmaus.
Here’s a piece of friendly advice. You need to be friendly with strangers you meet while traveling. You find that on airplanes. People need to be polite or the trip will be miserable for every one. In ancient times, when a stranger showed up, there was no guarantee that you weren’t about to be robbed, or beaten or killed; so making nice was a good policy.
Here’s my little side bar. I hate it when people spoil the joke. Some idiot tells a really funny story and then before the laughter can start, he explains why its funny. Yeesh! t. John and St. Luke are both known for this. Luke is always telling us what the story means before we even hear it. As if he doesn’t trust us to get the punch line. Don’t you just hate people like that? They’re downers at parties. So, let’s just leave the spoilsport with his “too soon information” at home and go to the party in Emmaus with out him.
Our two friends meet up with some one they do not know. And they talk for a bit. And it soon comes out that this person has no idea what just happened in Jerusalem. He’s a stranger to the information. Maybe he was coming back from visiting his salt works by the Dead Sea or something. Any way the two disciples, are gobsmacked.
And as they tell the stranger what happened, it becomes clear in the telling how grief stricken they are. How disappointed, how traumatized by the week they are. Their prophet, in whom they had placed so much hope, had been betrayed and killed, crucified in fact. You can hear the sobs in the telling even after 2000 years.
And here’s the worst thing. Some other disciples been saying that he is risen from the dead. That’s just a sick joke. ( you see what I mean about the people who want to tell the punchline too soon?)
“Are you kidding?” “Risen from the dead?” “Somebody should have taught you manners. You don’t mess with people’s grief like that”
And so the two of them leave town.
I want you to notice somethings here.
The grief comes first. The need comes first, the compassion comes first.
The stranger has been a good listener. People need to be heard before they can be addressed. This is one of the reasons why the Christian Religion has such a bad rap. For some reason we got the idea that “Proclaim The Gospel” meant telling people things they never asked to know. Tell them things we know that they need to know. And by God, we’re going to Tell Them!
NOPE! It doesn’t work like that. Not as a first thing. The first thing is the shepherd. (We’ll go there next week) The first thing is the listener. If you can’t listen, you can’t preach. If you can’t feel, you shouldn’t try to provide solutions. If you don’t love you shouldn’t try to heal.
The stranger listens first, and then, in response to what they have said, the story they have told; he talks. In response, his words come not as an imposition, but as appreciation, and as help.
The stranger shares what he knows. Apparently he knows more about the week end’s events than the two disciples thought. “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” he asks.
And then he teaches them about what is says in the Scriptures. We don’t get in on that particular walk through the Torah, but I bet it was interesting.
Now. Here’s the thing. A resurrection from the dead is a very sick joke to some one who is bereaved. The Anglican Burial Office is focused on the assurance of the Resurrection to Eternal life. That Was the Purpose of the Office. It was an assurance that was supposed to be comforting.
The two disciples weren’t in a place to be comforted by the idea of resurrection to eternal life. Most people didn’t really believe in eternal life in those days. And in modern times, we’re not much different. People in our culture are either convinced that eternal life, and heaven, and the immoral soul, and fishing up in the sky with Grandpa for ever, are all about the same thing, AND AUTOMATIC. Everyone gets it, regardless. In which case what need for consolation or any talk about a resurrection? It all means the same thing anyway. Or else they think that it all a load of bunkum, and when we die we’re dead. In which case assurance of Resurrection to Eternal life is a waste of everyones time.
Anglican Funerals need to be re-thought.
But here’s what the stranger did. He used their grief as a map to read the scriptures, to move through the depths and shallows, and weave for the two broken disciples a possibility. Because he was trusted with their grief, and had responded to it with welcome, his response was listened to with respect, and felt to be a genuine offering to them.
Scriptures don’t have to be literal to be literary. They do’t have to be historic to be healing. They don’t need to be provable to operate in people’s souls and hearts and spirits. They don’t have to be testable science to have a valuable, a redeeming action, a re-creating action. Scriptures used like this are in fact a kind of proclamation. But it is not strident. It comes as possibly in a trust. And that is all it really takes for God’s Spirit to act.
The stranger is finished and he says, “OK, you all have a good night in Emmaus, I need to get on to Nazareth to see my Grandma, she’s been a little worried about me lately.” But they urge him to at least stay for supper. “ Your grandma wouldn’t be happy, if we let yo go on with out a good meal.
( Vat ver they thinking, those schmucks? At least they could have giv’n you zome chicken zoup. hmm? )”
So the stranger stays for dinner. And at dinner, he took the bread. Ah... You’re all christians. YOu’re going to get ahead of me aren’t you. You know what he did with the bread. But the point is that having entertained the possibility, and now entertaining the person, the act of breaking the bread went to the base of their cerebellum like a baseball bat. Bam! And their eyes were opened.
See, the resurrection is something that happens in us. The stories are told for that reason, to build the architecture in our imagination/in our souls so that when the moment comes our eyes will be opened too.
The stranger wasn’t just a stranger after all. The stories of the resurrection were not just stories after all. The grief and shattered dreams of the disciples weren’t the end after all.
We have these stories, the call for compassionate proclamation, the call to love, so that other hearts can burn.
Now, Let’s let that spoilsport back into the room. Because now it’s time for him to tell us what he’s been dying to tell us for the last 15 minutes.
IT WAS JESUS. IT WAS JESUS. IT WAS JESUS ALL ALONG.
Yes, Harvey, it was Jesus. You’re right. It really is good news.
Fresh Expressions of church: more than just a facelift
November marks a whole year of writing these articles: a good time to recap what we have been
considering. I have been writing about our mission context: that we are not in Christendom anymore and therefore re-learning The Forgotten Ways (title of the book written by our clergy conference speaker, Alan Hirsch). In Christendom the majority of people came to Sunday services and believed in God. That is no longer the case. Thus, being bearers of the message of the love of God that Jesus has called us to share, our missional context requires that we re-learn how we share that love. It is now imperative that we ‘go.’ In fact, our context reminds us of a vital truth that became blurred in
Christendom. To share Jesus’ grace, truth and love, being a ‘sent’ people who ‘go,’ living Jesus-shaped lives, is the calling of us all.
Last month, I mentioned the Anglican Mission Shaped Church Report of 2004 which highlighted the (now not so) new phrase of ‘Fresh Expressions of Church.’ We looked briefly at what a Fresh Expression is and is not. Now to go deeper. What is a Fresh Expression of Church? A Fresh Expression is any venture that
works mainly with non-churchgoers and aims to become church for them. A Fresh Expression is a way of thinking afresh of connecting in new ways with those in our communities. An authentic Fresh
Expression of church has the following four qualities: 1. Missional – it is intentional in its focus on non-churchgoers. 2. Contextual – it seeks to fit the context of the people with whom it engages. 3. Formational – it aims to form disciples. 4. Ecclesial – it intends
to ‘become’ church. The key here is that it is not seen as a bridge
back to ‘real’ church (i.e. getting people to attend Sunday morning
services), but is church in its own right. Fresh Expressions are
brilliant in helping people who have been disillusioned or damaged by the Church, or want to belong to a good, loving community where they can explore matters of God, Faith and Christian values without having to first walk over the threshold of a traditional church on a Sunday morning, with all its customs and rituals. There are many different types of Fresh Expressions: Messy Church, Older-people’s Church, Cell (small groups) Church, Cafe-Church and
many others. In fact, a recent survey of over 1000 Fresh
Expressions, some of whom have been in existence for ten years, has fascinating results. How do they work? That’s where we will pick it up next time.
May God bless you richly,
Our Context: why people aren’t coming Sunday mornings
So here we are! Back at it after the summer break. I hope it was a good summer for you. We have spent the last few articles looking at our missional context. We saw the importance of being welcoming and having a wide open ‘front door’ in our churches, while ensuring we close the ‘back door,’ too. But what about the vast majority of the population who will not come through our doors at all? How can we connect with them? To help aid us with this conundrum, a piece of
research came out in the Mission-shaped Church Report (2004). This report swept across the Anglican Communion and, although somewhat dated now, it still contains good information.
The research sought to identify those who no longer come to church. It described the situation using four headings.
The Fringe: These are the people who come along to church occasionally; Christmas, Easter and
perhaps several other times during the year, but no more!
The Open De-Churched: These are the ones who used to come but have stopped. Perhaps this is due to a change of circumstance such as their work schedule, or they’ve had a new baby, that
makes getting to Sunday morning worship too much of a challenge. Perhaps they have moved to a new neighbourhood and simply haven’t found a new church home. These are open to return given the right event at the right time or on the right day that works for them.
The Closed De-Churched: These people have stopped coming to church and for very serious reasons. Perhaps a crisis of faith, disillusionment with church, an argument with a church
member or the priest; something has resulted in hurt, pain and withdrawal. Going back to the place where the hurt was caused is unlikely without at the very least a great deal of love, care and reconciliation.
The Un-Churched: This is exactly as described. It’s not that they choose not to come to our services. The idea simply does not occur to them. As each day goes by in our post-Christendom
world, so the percentage of the Unchurched grows. I can perhaps illustrate this most simply by describing how I met someone last year who came along to a Christmas pageant. It was her first time in a church. It was the first time she had ever sung Christmas carols. She was 27 years old! So when we think about arranging our church services and events in the hope that people will come, who exactly are we hoping will arrive at the door? The Unchurched won’t – why would they? The Closed De-Churched won’t, for they are hurt. The Open De-Churched
won’t if our services are the usual Sunday mornings. This leaves just The Fringe. So as we can see, the old ways will not work anymore with the vast majority of people. This is why we must
move toward ensuring that our discipleship is truly a fully missional discipleship in which each of us is living our faith and engaged with our family, friends and community. It is essential,
along with exploring more inventive ways of being Church. We’ll pick this up next month.
May God bless you richly,
Why Mission? Because we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto
Come with me to the Sea of Galilee. It’s the year 30 AD or so. It’s a beautiful day and, as we stroll around the lake, we see a young man, a carpenter by profession, begin a movement that changes the world. It is, of course, Jesus. We see him call four ‘uneducated’, honest, hard-working fishermen to join Him (Matthew 4). He models to them a very simple way of living. He asks them to live as he does and share with others the love, wisdom and ‘good news’ He shares with them. His last words to them were, ‘go and make disciples, teaching them everything I have taught you.’ (Matthew 28).
Jesus’ model works wonderfully. The disciples become a ‘self-replicating’ movement. By 100 AD historians think there were about 20,000 Christians and that, 200 years later, they numbered in the millions. This was without professional leadership; without buildings as we have them now; they didn’t even have the New Testament worked out yet. During those 300 years Christians also faced persecution from the Roman Empire and others which reached its peak in the persecutions of Diocletian in 303-310 AD. Then, a miracle! As a result of what he claimed was a vision of Christ just before the Battle of Milvian Bridge in October 312, Emperor Constantine, who won the battle, made Christianity his favoured, protected religion.
This allowed the church to, in safety, develop and organise, formalise the Scriptures and work out its many questions. Good news for the church!... or was it?
It was certainly better than being fed to lions and burnt alive. It set in place a chain of events that led to ‘Christendom’; an era in which belief in God was the worldview of virtually everyone, certainly in the West, and Christian values informed everything. The Church professionalised its leadership, constructed church buildings and became an institution at the very center of life, not just in terms of religion, but politically and socially as well.
But there were some unexpected, negative side effects. Ministry grew increasingly clergy-centered. Indeed, ordained ministry came to be called ‘the ministry’. The result? The majority of Christians tended to become passive, leaving ‘ministry’ to the clergy. Sunday church attendance became the key, and sometimes only, element of discipleship. Everyone came to church.
It was frowned upon not to. In the West at least, we forgot about Jesus’ self-replicating model.
But times have changed. Whether we want to admit it or not, Christendom has ended! It’s happened within the lifetime of anyone 40 years or older. Western Culture has resoundingly rejected Christianity. Every denomination of the Church is in serious decline in every Western country.
All this raises serious questions: are we living our Christian lives and conducting our church programs as if we were still living in ‘Christendom?’ Are we still thinking that if we just get our Sunday content right, people will come again as they used to?
Or... are we equipping ourselves to live out Jesus’ model of being disciple-making disciples?
More next time.
Yours in His Service, Richard
Rev. Richard King
Archdeacon for Mission and Discipleship in Edmonton Diocese
The Messenger - April 2017
Post-Christendom mission means seeing with fresh eyes
Last month we considered the reality that we live in but so often overlook in the life of our churches, namely that Christendom has ended. The era in which Christianity was the norm in western culture started with Emperor Constantine and fizzled out sometime in the late 20th century.
The implications are huge and demand a change in our approach! Yet, through the 25 years of my ordained ministry I have often observed that we are so daunted by the challenge of the times we live in, that we repeatedly revert to Christendom models of being church. These models keep the focus on Sunday attendance and ‘in-strategies’ (ie: What do we have to do to get people to come ‘in’?).
But we do not have to be daunted. We proclaim and minister in the name of the Living God. We have his promise that he will be with us as we ‘go and make disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them everything that He has commanded us’ (Matthew 28:18-20). We just have to be open to new ways of thinking about how we do that. We have to be okay with trying new things and roll with the successes and even (perceived) failures, as we re-learn how to engage with the world around us.
So I want to start with a simple, fun exercise. This Sunday when you attend your church service, try and see the whole experience - from the moment you park your car to the moment you leave - through the eyes of someone who has never attended a service before. Pretend you know nothing of what usually happens. Is everything clear as to what to do and where to go? If you were a newcomer, would the service be easy to follow? Would it be clear where to go if you wanted to stay for coffee? Would anyone speak to you if you did stay?
See whether a few others from your church will do the exercise as well and discuss your observations. Or an even better way to do this exercise would be to enlist a family member or friend who doesn’t normally go to church. Tell them you honestly want to see the whole experience through new eyes… no strings attached.
Next month we start to consider how we grow individually and corporately as missional disciples. We’ll start in small steps and we’ll start with the principle of the ‘Open Front Door’. And on that cliffhanger is where we’ll pick it up next time.
May God bless you richly in all your efforts of being salt and light for Him.
PS. If you would like a book recommendation to help you consider all this further, I suggest ‘The Forgotten Ways’ by Alan Hirsch. A second edition came out in September last year. Hirsch describes the impact on the church now that Christendom is over and how we equip ourselves to be a more missional movement. Hirsch is guest speaker for the clergy conference in May.