Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Third Sunday After the Epiphany

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
-- BCP, page 215


Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14;
1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

We are beginning to have an important conversation in the Education Committee about the kind of Adult Forum programs that can be presented and the expectations we may reasonably have for both presenters and participants.

The context for the conversation is the congregation's shift in attendance patterns. As you'll see when you read the Annual Report to the Congregation (on January 28 after the 10:30 service -- the vestry will provide lunch), our Sunday attendance is smaller now.

The paradox is that we have more people attending services. That is to say, there are more people now who participate in the worship life of Emmanuel and who call this church their spiritual home. So why the smaller Sunday average and total annual attendance? Quite simply, because more of us go to church fewer times in the year than what used to be the case.

I want to be clear about two things: on the one hand, this column is not a guilt trip to beat people up for not being in church; on the other hand, I believe it would be beneficial for each person and for the community as a whole if we all came to church more frequently.

It's not a guilt trip because I am not going to tell you that you're a bad person or that your salvation is imperiled by your lack of attendance. I do not believe either of those things.

I've noticed over the years that fear is an effective seller of religion -- in the short term. But a spiritual life based on fire and brimstone is a poor sort indeed, not one I want to have, much less inflict on other people.

It's like behaving ethically because you fear getting caught and going to prison instead of being ethical because doing the right thing is the right thing, a good in itself. Both approaches may keep you on the straight and narrow road, but the former withers your soul while the latter widens it.

A fear-based spirituality asks, "What do I have to do?" It looks for the lowest possible effort to meet minimal requirements. A sound spirituality asks, "What will be a loving thing to do?" It seeks excellence with maximum effort and a good will.

Emmanuel exists to change lives. We are here because our own lives are in need of transformation. God isn't done with us yet -- and we know it. Removing violence and fear from our hearts and filling them with genuine love and compassion is a life-long process.

We are also here to be agents of transformation in the lives of others. We realize that the conversion of our lives is deeply entwined with the renovation of other people's lives. We have met the Christ who tells us that we are beloved from before the foundation of the world, and that this love is one we share with all people, all living things, indeed with the whole creation. We want to experience God's love. We want to share God's love.

Everything we do at Emmanuel is in the service of our resolve of change lives. Some of these things we may do better than others; each aims to serve this goal.

As 2018 begins, I invite us all to reflect on who we are as followers of Jesus and how we may each renew our commitment to make our hearts open to God's ongoing transformation of our lives and the lives of the world around us.
In this season of Epiphany, we are invited to meet Jesus again for the first time, to borrow a Marcus Borg book title. And, as a wrote last week, we invite others to meet Jesus as well.

To us and to folks who are not connected in a faith community, to those seeking meaning and purpose, to those who hunger and thirst for a better world, to all who struggle for peace in their hearts -- to all we say: "Come!"

Under the Mercy,

Fr. Daniel+

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