What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-23-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-22-19

This week’s favorite Scripture comes to us from Nancy Dow. Revelation 22 is the last chapter of the Bible, and the last chapter concludes with the refrain “Come”:

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”

And let everyone who is thirsty come.

Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. 

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:17, 20).

Nancy chose this Scripture because, she says, “It’s important for us to focus on the goal,” which I take to mean the goal of the spiritual life. 

When I hear the word “come” in this context I imagine a posture of welcome, accepting everything, facing everything, rejecting nothing. “Come” speaks to me of God’s posture toward the universe and our faithful response. The goal of the spiritual life is an ever deepening posture of welcome toward all that is.

There’s a receptive aspect to this divine welcome. I experience the receptive aspect in meditation. I sit in resolute silent stillness and receive whatever arises. The deep listening I try to practice in conversation with others is also an expression of this welcome. And there are other ways this welcome manifests. It’s the welcome articulated by the prophet Isaiah: “Those who wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength.” Or by Jesus: “I am the vine. You are the branches. Abide in me and you will bear much fruit.”

I began meditation practice over 20 years ago not only for myself but also for the congregations I serve. I noticed that churches in transition tend not to be particularly receptive.  Passive, yes. Receptive, no. One can be passive while turning away from difficult truths, like, for example, “our church is dying.” The receptive welcome that is the goal of the spiritual life faces reality as it is without judgment so that we can engage reality as it is in effective and helpful ways. 

We welcome reality as it is in order to meet reality as it is. Engagement is the second aspect of divine welcome–an aspect that declining churches tend to struggle with. We can feel the urgent joy of this welcome in the repeated call to “come.” The Revelation image is of the universe calling to itself. I imagine a parent bending down to embrace a child and lifting her up in his arms. “Come to me. I want you here!” It’s active, urgent, compelling.

Every church I’ve ever served has told me that it is “friendly.” And for the most part it’s true, but what they mean is, “We are friendly to each other.” How many times have I noticed worship guests sitting alone in a pew or keeping their own company at coffee hour? Too many. But even if we’re conscientious about guests, the welcome tends not to extend beyond our walls. 

A parishioner has said this to me on more than one occasion in more than one church: “Here ‘friendly’ means, ‘You’re welcome if you come.” This is a far cry from Jesus’ parable of heaven in which the host for the wedding feast sends out his servants into the highways and byways. The host instructs his servants to approach everyone they meet and “compel them to come in.” In other words, the attitude of divine welcome is not “you’re welcome if you come,” but “we want you here! How can we change so this will be a safe and relevant space for you?” 

Or better yet, flip roles. Instead of taking the role of host, be a guest. Learn the culture. Show up for others without any expectation. Just make yourself and instrument of divine love. God will do the rest.

I realize this is a scary challenge especially with all the obnoxious evangelists out there, but in my experience, while you may get some “no thank yous,” most people are just waiting to be invited. And–good news!–we will have an opportunity to be trained by an expert in reaching new people, Rev. Paul Nickerson, September 13-14 at First Church in Windsor.

The goal of the spiritual life is the joy of extending oneself to welcome the other. How do you expect to grow if you won’t stretch? And stepping out beyond our familiar and comfortable walls into the world to engage people where they are is an endless opportunity to stretch. This simple but profound spiritual practice unites spiritual growth, social justice, and church vitality. It’s what Jesus made us for. It’s what we’ve been waiting for. It’s past time we do it.

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