Sunday, May 7, 2017
In today’s reading from 1 Peter, the writer reminds us “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.” I struggle with some of the ways this passage has been used – or perhaps misused – over the course of history. There have been times and places when this passage has been read to justify oppression and there have been times and places when the passage has led some zealous followers of Jesus to seek out suffering in order to become more righteous followers of Jesus. But, despite the risk of misusing the text, I do want to raise up the invitation to follow in Christ’s footsteps because in the era in which you and I are striving to do just that, we are being met with some challenges that, for many of us, feel new and confusing. Challenges that leave us scratching our heads and wondering what happened? And what, if anything, we can do about it?
The first question is relatively easy to answer. What happened? The relationship between Church and Society changed. Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, in their 1989 book, Resident Aliens, describe the change this way: the mainline churches are “an aging dowager, living in a decaying mansion on the edge of town, bankrupt and penniless, house decaying around her but acting as if her family still controlled the city.” You and I might look around and say, “oh, no, that’s not what’s happening. After all St. Mark’s is in the center of town, we have an endowment and a trust fund and our house. . . well, o.k., maybe it needs some fixing up, but it’s not really decaying.” But the fact remains: the relationship between church and society has changed. Technically, Christendom ended when the Holy Roman Empire collapsed but the fact is that for centuries to come “Christianity continued. . . to hold a cultural supremacy in the western world, in influence, authority, and prestige.” Today, there is a segment of Christianity that continues to hold this place of power – white evangelicals. And, I am going to say something very controversial here and it may offend some of you. But, I really believe this to be true: white evangelicals are practicing a Christianity that Jesus would not recognize as a reflection of his life and death witness to the gospel.
Last week, activist, philanthropist, and author, Glennon Doyle Melton had this to say:
“On this National Day of Prayer, the elite of the evangelical-political complex are meeting in Washington and celebrating the impending initiation of policies that would have made Jesus upturn tables in disgust.
“Domestic violence and sexual assault as pre-existing conditions? Granting broad rights to religious conservatives to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people? Opening the door for tax-exempt religious organizations to act as political action committees?
“Dear Evangelical-Political Empire: Go ahead and take away health care for the poor, turn away refugees, forsake the Earth for money, encourage racism, sell out our children and teachers for NRA money, and discriminate against me and my fiancée. But for God's sake don't do it in the name of the one who stood against everything on your agenda.”
So, yes, I stand with Doyle Melton on this one: white evangelicals are practicing a Christianity that Jesus would not recognize as a reflection of his life and death witness to the gospel. But, in many respects, neither are we.
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.” Like the first century followers of Jesus, you and I are living in a time when we must re-learn what it means to follow in Christ’s footsteps. The prayer book revision that resulted in the 1979 prayer book that we use today was an attempt to move us in the right direction. It restored the Eucharist as the primary service on Sunday mornings so that whenever we gathered, we would remember who and whose we are: “Do this and remember me,” says Jesus. And as we drink the cup and eat the bread, we do remember and we ourselves become again the Body of Christ. It was a shift away from the privatized faith that had become the church’s response to the enlightenment. As my thesis director, John Hill, writes, the church was not intended to be nor should it be primarily “a place of spiritual consolation and uplift for those who may feel the need of it.” No, it is a gathering of the faithful – a gathering, a community - remembering who and whose we are and remembering and practicing a way of life that will frequently put us at odds with the world around us. Goodness, can you even imagine what it would mean if “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need”? Can you imagine it?
Throughout the forty days of Lent you and I and the whole Church of God renounced the ways of Satan – the forces that corrupt us. On Good Friday, we prayed that God might “let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made.” And then at the Great Vigil of Easter, we gathered around the font to renew our promises “to serve God faithfully in his holy Catholic Church.”
St. Clare of Assisi, writing in the 13th century, offered “a rich metaphor for what it means to follow in Christ’s footsteps.” In a letter to Agnes of Prague, she wrote that we must prepare ourselves to follow Christ “by gazing into the mirror of Christ.” And as we do so, to see ourselves “in Christ’s humility and suffering, and adorn [ourselves] with the virtues therein revealed” so that we too “can serve as a mirror of Christ’s love and faith to the world.” Today, when non-Christians look into the mirror of our Christian life, what will they see? Will they see our attachment to “decaying mansions,” our reluctance to use the money stored up in our trust funds and endowments for the good of any who have need? Or will they see the very image of the loving Christ?
Annie Dillard in her book Teaching a Stone to Talk, wrote that when we go to church “we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.” This is my deepest prayer for St. Mark’s – that God may draw us to a new place from which we can never return.
“Day by day, as [the first followers of Jesus] spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.” Today we are called to do the same. As we come forward this day to receive the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ, as we become again the body of Christ, as we remember who and whose we are, may we go out into the world as the Church, adorned with the virtues of Christ so that we too can serve as a mirror of Christ’s love and faith to this broken world.
 1 Peter 2:21.
 Quoted in John Hill, “Church and Society: the relationship has changed” in Becoming the Story We Teall: Renewing Our Engagement with Christ Crucified and Risen: The Primates Proposal 2014, Anglican Church of Canada, 2014, 129.
 John Hill, 129.
 John Hill, 133.
 John Hill, 135.
 Acts 2:44-45.
 Stephen Edmondson, “Theological Perspective: 1 Peter 2:19-25,” Feasting on the Word, kindle edition, location 15828-33.
 Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), 40-41.
 Acts 2:46-47a.