Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sunday Sermon

November 20, 2011

Sunday before Advent


You see him in television and print ads for prostate cancer Pharmaceuticals. He's looking dignified and not at all embarrassed in a deep-blue, worsted-wool suit, white shirt and silk tie. He's saying: "When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, my first concern was ridding myself of the cancer. But I was also concerned about possible, postoperative side effects, like--erectile dysfunction. I'm speaking out now in the hope that men with E.D. will get proper treatment for a condition that affects millions of men."

Wow! If some guy can go on TV and talk without embarrassment about something like that then we should have no problem sharing with others the simple little good news that God is in the world through Jesus Christ and offers to all of us his love and forgiveness. However, many of us do have a problem speaking about just that. Some would rather do the commercial. Wouldn't you feel your chest constricting just a bit as you prepared to explain why making a commitment to Jesus Christ could provide the much-needed turnaround in a friend's life?

You might be an “EB”, an Embarrassed Believer. But the embarrassment stems not from some innate discomfort with the gospel message, but with the public and media perception of what Christians are like. The media portrays Christians as "backward" in their thinking, poorly educated, and identified with wild, right-wing, extremist agendas. Obviously, this is not case all the time and in all places, but that is how some Christians are viewed. Christians today, while not facing any physical danger for sharing their faith, do face public scorn and media ridicule. We fall for it. We're embarrassed. We're quiet. We don't have answers.

If you suspect that you're an “E.B.”, don't worry. You're not alone. Most people with embarrassment would be surprised to know how many of them there are. Indeed, some have wondered whether or not there should be an AA group for EB's. They wouldn't even need to rent space from anyone. They would not have to find new time in the midst of their already overcrowded schedules. They would not have to develop a new curriculum or set up a new organization. They could just continue meeting Sunday mornings, at 11 AM in the buildings they have been meeting in for years. It's called church.

How did we come by such a syndrome? What has prompted our pathology? What are the marks of our malaise? Maybe part of the answer lies in our belief that religion is a personal, private matter. Religion is our personal faith, and that shouldn't be a public issue.

But not everything personal is private. All of your clothing is personal; it all belongs to you. But not all of it is private; that would just refer to certain garments best left unnamed. But the rest of your personal wardrobe is very public; you share it all the time. We all think of how our clothing will be received publicly when we purchase it. Our clothing speaks, it communicates ... yet it's personal.

So, too, does religion speak, but faith shouts. The best faith is personal, but communicative. Individual and inspirational, a matter of the heart but gushing forth from the mouth. Yet, our tendency to privatize gets in the way of the intensely personal faith that communicates by its very nature.

Maybe the embarrassment stems from the fact that religion is still not "in," a cool or accepted way of belonging in the world, or even in the community. Faith is seen as a barrier, not a bridge; a wall and not a walkway. Yet, if more of us shared our faith and risked the embarrassment, we might discover that we have the power to change the status quo; faith is "in", it is alive and well.

It's amazing how many stories people tell of how once they make some form of open faith commitment, they find agreement from some quarter, affirmation from some coworker, or support from some sector. They were just waiting for someone to make the first move.

Jesus addresses this issue in today's gospel lesson. A day approaches, he warns, when we'll be knocking at heaven's door and the Lord of the manor will turn us away failing to recognize us. Others will be admitted. The litmus test is our treatment of Christ the King himself. When he was hungry we fed him; or we didn't feed him. When he was thirsty we gave him water; or didn't give him water. When he was naked, we gave him clothing; or didn't give him clothing. When he was sick, we took care of him; or didn't take care of him. When he was in prison, we visited him; or didn't visit him.

It says here if we recognize Christ, he will recognize us. We recognize Christ, Christ himself says, when we feed, clothe and welcome "the least" among us, the marginalized of society, the poor and oppressed, those who have been cast off and neglected by others.

This is not politics. This is not right wing or left wing. This is not this coalition or that political action committee. This is a simple mandate to feed and take care of Jesus Christ as we recognize him in our neighbors. How can we be embarrassed to do that? But, when we get right down to it, we have to admit that we are.

Scripture and history give us plenty of examples of those who have been Outspoken Believers, Courageous Believers, Risky Believers, Irrepressible Believers, Turbo-charged Believers. Abraham, Joseph, Rahab, Ruth, David, Daniel, Paul, Peter to drop a few names from the Bible. Polycarp, Ignatius, Cyprian, Hus, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Latimer, Luther, Calvin, and Knox--to name a few from the history of the church. And more recently, what about Mother Teresa, Schweitzer, Jim Elliot, Jim Wallis, Dobson, Colson, King, Abernathy, Tutu, or Graham.

But, we may be missing the point. God does not call us to be famous, but to be faithful. We live in a world where we cannot afford to be EBs. We may prefer a world that is comfortable and calm, familiar and friendly. But the hungry need daring people of devotion. The naked need faithful folks of fortitude, the imprisoned need people who think outside the box and their own solitary confinement. It may be a risk, just as it is to believe in a God whose track record includes healings, miracles and a full-fledged resurrection from the dead.

As we approach Thanksgiving this year, we do well to remember that many of us, even if we live poorly, are still doing better than many others in the world today. Most of us have a roof on our heads and food in our stomachs. Many of us even have mode of transportation and communication. We have clothes to wear and selection of them at that. We have not committed a crime voluntarily or involuntarily and thus are free to walk the streets. Most of us are healthy to the point that we can come to Mass today and/or read this sermon on the web.
No matter what we may be able to produce to try to prove our own disadvantage, there are always those out there that are in need far more than we and we not only should be thankful that we have more, but also treat them as Christ would where and when we can.

God's promise is that the embarrassed believer will never be without help. The EB will never be without support. While our embarrassment may seem to preclude God's working, God chooses to work with and through our timidity to strengthen us to be witnesses to those who are hurting; to those who are struggling to move from welfare to work, to those who do seek a crust of bread, a corner of warmth, a hand up, and a transformative vision.

You have an answer for the ills, suffering and pain of the least, last and lost. Dare to overcome your embarrassment. With the help of God, you can.

God Love You + and may He richly bless you this Thanksgiving!

+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, Ca.