Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sunday Sermon

May 6, 2012The Fourth Sunday after EasterBaptismAfter briefly flirting with church attendance, one TV sitcom character chalks up his experience as generally beneficial because "I finally learned what that guy in the end zone holding up the big card that says 'John 3:16' on it is talking about!" (For those who are unfamiliar with the passage, it reads as follows: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might have eternal life.”) It may come as a big surprise to long-time churchgoers, steeped in a biblical, Christian experience, accustomed to hearing religious-sounding words and seeing religious-looking symbols, that we now live in a genuinely post-Christian culture, or what some call the pre-Christian culture. Our society is defined far more by all those people who have no clue as to what that guy in the end zone is trying to say than it is by those recognizing the citation of a biblical chapter and verse. A pre-Christian culture does not mean that there is a lack of spiritual interest or a slacking of spiritual hunger. On the contrary, this postmodern, pre-Christian age has awakened to the fact that it is spiritually starving -- and the hunger pains are leading to a frantic feeding frenzy. Without the table of tradition to offer them nourishment, spiritual seekers have embarked on a smorgasbord of what they hope will be soul-satisfying samples. My research into some possible venues for our Third Order we are attempting to create, has led me to discover much on our pre-Christian spiritual culture. There is a renewed interest in prayer and the state of the spirit in healing and health issues. Native American, Indian, Asian, Eastern European as well as Jewish and Christian Kabbalah traditions have been grafted into the middle of suburban American culture in order to try to inject new depth and meaning into our daily existence. Nature and a new eco-spirituality attempt to reconnect our human spirit to the environment it lives in. Of course, Wicca, New-Age and various Occult methods are sometime applied. Astro-physicists, genetic researchers and computer scientists studying artificial intelligence are increasingly introducing spiritual questions into their technological studies.Today we have a Baptism in addition to all I have mentioned above. We have some parent and God-Parents here today to baptize a child in an age where many no longer bother or have a church who will not allow them to bother. In many ways the Church has failed to keep up. In other manners, society has simply drifted due to the modern ability to learn something in a matter of seconds on the web. It only takes an atheist or a disgruntled church goer a few second to convert someone now-a-days. To turn this tide, Twenty-first-century Christians need to take Philip's evangelical style and enthusiasm to heart. Instead of standing around trying to determine if we should wade into all this haphazard spiritual seeking, let us stride right into the middle of the stream, confident in the strength of our own spiritual tradition. Like Philip, we should not hesitate to go where the spirit sends us, no matter how unlikely the territory or how odd its inhabitants. As much as all of you may need to hear this, I too need to listen to my own words on those days when I question if I can reach people on the search for God in the plethora of manners in which they search. The Ethiopian eunuch embodies a classic model of a spiritual seeker. In fact, by following the same rules of engagement Philip demonstrates in today's Acts text, we can reach out to our postmodern, pre-Christian, the "desperately-seeking-God" culture that is in such soul pain. The first reality Philip accepted was that no matter how spiritually hungry seekers may be, they are not going to come to Christ by themselves. They need an escort, a guide, a messenger. The Great Commission is the mandate, not of religious professionals, but of all believers. Every single one of us is called to "do the work of an evangelist." Faith in Jesus does not come about "naturally." The story of Christ's life and ministry, his crucifixion for our sakes and his resurrection from the dead cannot be discerned simply by gazing at the mountaintops or praying at a river's edge. Christ requires our witness, the excited retelling of the story from one generation to the next, in order for the Good News of the gospel to be heard. One of the great truths of Christianity is its "scandal of particularity." Christians dare to declare that one man, one event, one time, one place made a difference for all eternity. That is why every Christian must be a voice, telling the story, passing the peace along. We are all escorts for a tumbling culture that has lost all sense of spiritual direction. Philip willingly wandered out into the middle of a barren desert roadway in order to offer the greatest words of guidance any traveler could ever hope to hear -- that Jesus Christ is the Way. When Philip saw the Ethiopian eunuch's chariot approaching, he ran after the traveler. Philip didn't expect the Ethiopian to stop and ask him if he wanted a lift. He didn't complain that he didn't have a horse to ride alongside. He simply did what he could with what he had. He used his own two legs to catch up to him. We had better get used to change, for in postmodern culture, it's the only thing that's not changing. Does anyone need to have it pointed out that the future is hardly sauntering along? Indeed, the nature of change itself has changed. Change is no longer incremental, but exponential. The invention of the microchip has had a greater impact on this planet than the invention of fire. The speed of a microprocessing chip reveals the rate of change and development. Increasingly our very lives are being forced to move along with that same kind of speed. If we want to reach out and capture the attention of the spiritual seekers in this age, then Christians also must learn to "run alongside" the fast-paced chariot of postmodern life. After Philip catches up to the Ethiopian's chariot, he doesn't insist that the man stop so that they can have a quiet talk. Instead, he earns himself a seat aboard that fast-moving vehicle by speaking to the eunuch about that which is obviously of most immediate concern to him. The eunuch is reading from Isaiah, obviously musing about the contents of that scroll. Philip doesn't begin by asking the eunuch the state of his soul or what kind of life he is living. Instead he focuses on the matter squarely before this man -- the contents of the scroll: "Do you understand what you are reading?" We must be willing to meet all people on spiritual quests at the point of their own individual concerns and needs. The church's witness will only reach postmodern seekers if it sits alongside them and fearlessly steps into the world they must live in every day. For some, this may mean feeding their stomachs before attempting to feed their souls. For some, this might mean offering a physical space of peace and quiet before revealing to them the peace of Christ. For some, this might mean an offering of human warmth and loving concern before sharing the joy of God's ultimate love and salvation through Christ. We must master a variety of evangelisms: individual evangelism, cell evangelism, social evangelism, niche evangelism, justice evangelism, etc. No matter what tack Philip might have considered the best in order to address the Isaiah text the eunuch was reading, he let the seeker ask his own questions and answered those first. The eunuch asks about whom the prophet was speaking, himself or someone else -- a question that might not seem to point to a personal lesson on salvation. But Philip lets the eunuch ask his own questions and direct the course of the conversation so that he will feel the answer he receives is genuinely directed toward him. Likewise, a 21st-century Christian must deal with the agenda spiritual seekers bring to the table. Christian tradition from an earlier, more confident age declared that "all roads lead to Christ." Can't we have the same confidence in our faith that no matter how theologically challenging or scientifically stated, eventually all questions can find their resolution in the gospel news? In many ways, I think so. This culture is in the midst of a huge "God Rush", not to be confused by the Gold Rush of history. One high-fashion magazine in the world even goes so far as to say that anyone who is anybody, (i.e., a "star") has a new addition to his or her entourage. Along with the requisite agent, accountant, lawyer, chauffeur and bodyguard, there is now a sixth person: a spiritual guide. But like earlier "gold rushes" in American history, there is a lot of "fool's gold" out there. Counterfeit spiritualties abound. While all questions can lead to Christ, all roads don't lead to God. When Philip shared "the good news about Jesus", Philip let the eunuch know that the real God in his own personal God rush, the only real gold in the hills and vales of his own life, was the God of Israel, who revealed the essence of who God is in Jesus, the Christ. Philip "Good Newsed" the eunuch with the message of God's love through Jesus. We here today are called to do no less than Philip did. When the opportunity presents itself, and you will know when it does, just run up next to the carriage and rest will fall into place.God Love You ++ The Most Rev. Robert WinzensPastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic ChurchSan Diego, Ca.