Sunday, June 17, 2012

Marcus Borg in Christian Formation and Education

I have a warning for you before I start. Have you ever turned on your television in the morning, maybe on a weekend morning, seen people talking, and thought, OK, talk show format, and then you see that they seem to be very excited about a particular product: it can be for building muscle or losing fat or learning a certain way, but they are so enthused, and then it hits you, this is not real entertainment, this is a paid commercial program! Now I want to warn you, I have an agenda, this is not a real sermon, just remember, you have been warned. 

Some 35 years ago, towards the end of a fairly noisy party, a friend, a man I had known for a few years, leaned over to tell me that when I had said a certain thing to him (actually quoted a verse from the twelfth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews), it had been a great help getting him through a particularly tough time. I thanked him, punched him on the right shoulder, and realized, as I wasn’t a real big Bible quoter, that I actually hadn’t said that. Doing campus ministry in the 1990s, I had a student come to me and thank me for giving her such valuable advice that I am now prepared to swear that I never offered, but I believe that she heard it from me anyway. And often now, in sermons, people thank me for something they heard from someone else’s sermon while I happened to be preaching. I smile and say, “That’s all right” and it is. It’s even more than all right, because it says something about how God sows his word in the world.

John’s Gospel speaks of Jesus as the word of God, and certainly Christ is the definitive statement, but the truth is that each of us, is, carries that seed, casts out God’s love and God’s life in our lives and in our ministries, sowing seeds of connection and compassion and courage and truth in all we say or do (even if we don’t remember) in all of our meaning and our ministry. That’s one of the reasons we’re here as the baptized body of Christ, to hear the good word, the Gospel, so that we can be good news, so that we can remind and renew the whole creation with the Good news of Christ Jesus.

But for the last half century or so, we haven’t done it real well. (Even early in the last century, I think it was Bertrand Russell who sarcastically pitied “poor talkative Christianity.”) so sometime it seems like the whole party has moved to another corner and we’ve gotten harder to hear and less to say, with all the background sounds and now it’s more difficult to speak out and act out the word, the truth, of God’s love in our lives to our friends, family, neighbors, in our whole world.

So maybe the question is what I said here some six months ago:

How do we witness and work to reignite our church in a world that's fast moving in another direction, What do we say and do where slick slogans and quick answers are shouted at every corner? [certainly]... we don't stay quiet as the greatest ethical, spiritual, wisdom tradition within Western civilization moves slowly towards the sunset… we don't let the last person standing turn the lights out fold up the tent,  but what do we do?

Let me get a little personal here. I was ordained about two and a half years ago but before that I spent almost twenty years as a layperson in University ministry, chaplaincy, with some part-time teaching on the side. I had never planned for that. Actually, when I got to seminary in the 1980s I had no concrete plans, I just wanted to be there. I remember one staff member saying he felt that my most creative ministry in the church might be to go outside the church (and I thought, hmm), and in the late 1980s I worked part-time for Lauren Artress, who some of you know, at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. When the bishop said he wasn’t ready to ordain me, Lauren asked if I had ever thought of University Chaplaincy, ministry in education, and I said I “think it would be too easy for me.” She looked at me and said, “Well, that’s interesting”, and it was.

But it wasn’t that easy. When I started campus ministry in 1991. it wasn’t that easy to try to speak simple, honest words to 19, 20, 21 year old undergraduates, to sow those seeds, to tell of Christ, after all that seminary education, and too many years in graduate school. So I tried to make new sense, to sow new seeds, to speak some new words on the road and in the dining commons and at the cafe and the gym and in hallways and wandering wherever the spirit led, even eventually in classrooms; and I listened a lot and learned to love more  and also found sometimes when I opened my mouth wide, God said, and people heard, things that were better than I knew. But I also found that the more I worked at It, the better it became, and the more real it got.

There’s the paradox, the gift gets better the more you give it. Ben Hogan was once asked how he became one of the greatest golfers in the world, and he said it was just luck. A reporter said, “But, Ben, you practice for eight hours every day”, and Hogan said, “Well, It just seems the more I practice, the luckier I get”.

And so several years ago, almost twenty years later, I got ordained and now one of my tasks in diocesan lay formation and education is the flip side of what I used to do: where I used to tell the world about the riches of the church, now I am trying to help the church share our truth with the world, because that’s where our hope is to be found.

So how do we come to sow our seeds? How do we live out our baptism vows to embody the word of God in our own lives? The simple truth is this; the more you practice the better you get.

For the last several years in the diocese, with St Columb’s Fair and some other offerings, we’ve worked at building places for people to learn more of the heritage we hold; the riches of Christ, the ebullient breath of the Holy Spirit, God’s loving creativity in the world we share. We’ve talked prayer and pastoral care and archiving our records and publicizing our events, and a lot in between. With this plus the Bishop’s Certificate and Education for Ministry (which you do so well here), people are growing mightily in faith, heart and mind, encouraged and encouraging each other in the ministry of  Christ, and now we are going farther to grow our faith and practice.

And here’s what I am selling. For the next six Thursday nights, from 7:00pm to 9:00pm here at St Augustine’s, I am offering a series of two hour gatherings with a systematic overview of Christian belief based on a book called “The Heart of Christianity” by Marcus Borg, Some would say Borg’s a serious scholar and theologian, others would say he’s too damn liberal, and I would say he’s very interesting, and offers a valuable way to see and question and work with  issues of faith and practice anew.

So for six weeks we’ll look at what belief and scripture, and God and Jesus and the community of the Holy Spirit might mean for us today. There will be a small charge for copies of each chapter, while the books are on the way and we can loan you one if that would help; but what we’re doing, and why this is important, is offering a systematic overview into understanding what God in Christ might mean in todays world and how we can get better in sharing this new creation. By the way, if there is any interest after that, we could consider a second  six week series on Christian practices, but that is very much up to you.

But I would bet that each of you, every Sunday, pray for people who are not here. They may be family, friends, neighbors, even strangers; and the very simple truth is that you just may be God’s word for them, and that call needs to be taken seriously, exercised, allowed to be graced (because so much of our ministry is Grace, and so much can be made better by regular practice). So, if you are interested in extending your understanding and ministry in Christ, you might bring them along, or you might carry them carefully and prayerfully in your heart; in either case, I commend this series to you. If you you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me after our Eucharist.

We will now return to our regular programming. In the name of Christ, Amen

1 comment:

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