I went for a run last night. I’m trying to be more disciplined physically and run more often – get back into, and all that.
Anyway, I was running last night and on my more common route I run past four Episcopal churches. Now, in most parts of the country some may think that I run for miles and miles and miles in order to pass by four Episcopal churches. Not so; I run a couple miles. Years ago, I would have passed by five churches, but two merged. There you go.
Last night as the endorphins were kicking in, I started praying for the churches. Then I thought, “What shall I pray?” What do they need? I mean, what do they REALLY need? Not just the outside stuff, the obvious, the worldly, but that which they truly need – the “draw all people unto me” kind of need.
I preached this past Sunday. The Epistle reading from Hebrews struck me as timely as I ran.
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
This is what I pray people will sense and know without doubt whenever they enter and leave one of these parishes. The physical structures are what they are. The liturgy, the music, the words are what they are. But, I hope all of it will only contribute to people’s ability to encounter the risen Jesus, the Christ! I have been praying something like this for St. Paul’s for a while now.
See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken– that is, created things– so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
Then, I thought as I ran, this is what I pray will happen for those of us who are charged with the responsibility of caring for the Body of Christ – that we will be shaken to the core, that our will and lofty ideas will be crushed, that we will be brought low by the kind of loving hand that only brings low in order to reveal the true, the beautiful, the good, and the lasting.
All manner of schemes and programmatic solutions float around to save the Church (whether Episcopalian or Roman or Baptist or Assemblies of God) from the controversy du jour, but it is only in the meeting of the soul with the creator of souls is the soul renewed, satisfied, stirred, shaken, awaken, and granted entrÃ©e into the very throne room of the great King.
Most of the time, all of us need to be continually shaken to the core so that all that remains is that which gives life and peace and freedom – all that remains is the essence of relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The accoutrement can aid, but can never replace. Too often, we think the accoutrement is the end goal and in some way will make everything good and right, again. The accoutrement will only be shaken away, and when that happens to our churches, our souls, our leadership, what will hopefully be left is the essence of the faith that Christ calls us to. I fear, too many of us will be brought up short.
So I pray, â€œShake us Lord!â€ Shake the priests, the vestries, the Sunday School teachers first, that we will know, so that we can understand, so that we can lead. Then, shake our churches so that what remains will be that which enables people to come in and go out knowing that they have encountered the living God.