A sermon by
The Rev. John Warfel
Iwas pouring hot waxy water onto the curb when she tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “What kind of church is this?” “this is an episcopal church,” I responded without looking up. “What kind of church?, “episcopal,” I said. “What’s that? she asked combatively. I wasn’t in the mood to explain Anglicanism to this woman; I was busy setting up the altar of Repose for the Maundy thursday Watch, a task I love, but one which triggers all my obsessive compulsive tendencies.
Besides, the women was just killing time before the soup Kitchen opened; and quite frankly, I didn’t like her from the start.
I wanted to get back to the candles.
“So it’s not catholic,” she challenged me again. “It’s not Roman catholic, if that’s what you mean,” I responded. “the Roman catholic church is the one true church,” she declared authoritatively. I was already frustrated–the candles were not setting straight, the flowers weren’t right, and this pesky woman knew that she had just pressed a major button. I repressed the urge to suggest that perhaps, in that case, she might want to consider going to a Roman catholic soup kitchen. Instead I said calmly, “Well you certainly don’t expect me to agree with you, do you?” “but it’s true,” she insisted, hoping for a spirited argument.
That’s when it happened. No, I didn’t snap. Instead, grace flooded my soul and the Holy spirit gave me the right words to say, loving words, not defensive or attacking words. I simply said, “that’s your truth, but it’s not mine.”
Ever notice how difficult it is to share the gospel with some Christians, par- ticularly christians who hold an entirely different understanding of the King- dom of God? Give me an atheist or an agnostic any day. How can we dialogue with someone who ends every discussion with: Ours is the One True Church, (the Roman catholic argument) or God said it! I believe it! that settles it! (the fundamentalist argument)?
How can we share our understanding of the Kingdom of God with such a one? We can’t. We simply can’t. It’s futile to try.
Jesus warned us that this would happen. When we dare to share our vision of the Kingdom of God, not everyone will welcome us or our message.
Jesus says, “Whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you,go out into its streets and say,even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.Yet know this, the Kingdom of God has come near.”
Just wipe off the dust and move on.the woman who hoped to engage me in a curbside debate rejected our vision of an inclusive Kingdom. Yet there are dozens of people walking down Depot street everyday who crave for a personal, intimate relationship with God.
But because many have been spiritually abused by a different vision, an exclu- sive, retributive vision of God’s Kingdom, they doubt, deny or reject the very existence of God, not to mention a God who is intimate with individual souls.
countless souls ache for Divine intimacy; they may not be able to articulate the ache, they may not yet yearn for an inclusive community of faith; perhaps they don’t even know that such a community exists. but it does exist. the King- dom of God has come near.
the Kingdom of God is not about heaven. the Kingdom of God is about a way of being right here, right now; it’s about a way of living, grounded in God’s unconditional love, a way that is tolerant and liberating, not rigid and judgmental.
It’s certainly not for everybody. some people need a belief system that judges and excludes. so let them have it, let them be. and just walk away.
But don’t let rejection eat away at your soul and don’t lose your nerve. When someone welcomes your christian witness, don’t be shy. tell them why you come to church. tell them why you choose to be an episcopalian. share with them our vision of the Kingdom of God
Be specific. Tell them what it’s like to be a part of a church that has fed the hungry every day for the last 34 years. Tell them what it’s like to be part of a church that doesn’t just tolerate gays and lesbians; it affirms them.
tell them what it’s like to be part of a church that welcomes all the baptized to receive Holy communion at our altar. tell them what it’s like to be part of a church that not only allows, but encourages freedom of thought.
One major caveat: Don’t tell them about Grace Church just to increase membership, expand the budget, or get more volunteers. Happily, these will be the fruits of our labor, but they should not be the driving force behind our chris- tian witness.
There is but one legitimate thrust behind our evangelism: To tell the world that the Kingdom of God has come near, that all are invited to enter into it, and that Grace Church, Middletown is a safe and affirming place to explore it.