October 24, 2019
For the last few weeks, our Epistle reading came from the Second Letter to Timothy. The goal of the author is to encourage and strengthen the faltering faith of a local house church leader named Timothy. His faith is wilting under the assault of shame, public embarrassment that his mentor - the Apostle Paul - is a jailbird, and his Lord - Jesus Christ - suffered the shameful death of a criminal and rebel. Timothy finds himself in an unpopular and scorned minority accused of harboring absurd and even seditious ideas.
We need to read this letter as if it is addressed to us. Many of us are ashamed of our faith. We are loathe to mention our allegiance to Jesus Christ in polite company. We are afraid that friends and strangers will judge us dimwitted, or worse, as fellow travelers of the negative expressions of popular Christianity which flood the media with bile and hatefulness. To stand out and stand up for an alternative expression of faith that is thoughtful, gentle, inclusive, and inviting would be a terrific gift to country riven by extremes.
As Episcopalians we have prided ourselves on a thoughtful, gentle, and questioning faith. I hope we see this identity as a gift and learn to emphasize the word “faith” as much as we emphasize the word “questioning.” Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is certainly challenging us in that direction and I find his challenge both refreshing and disorienting. The challenge to own my faith in Jesus Christ is disorienting for me because I was raised in liberal Christianity, ashamed of my faith and trained to see myself as the sole authority who judges tradition and scripture against my own conclusions and ideas about reality. I find it refreshing because, in reality, I am much healthier and happier when I scede authority over my life to my faithful guide and steadfast savior, Jesus Christ.
C.S. Lewis said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” While we will always be a church of curiosity, searching, and welcome for folks wherever they are on their journey of faith, we also, by necessity must be a place where the Gospel is shared with confidence in all of its illuminating and life-saving power. The most powerful way to do that is to share our story and to be sincere in our expressions of faith.
One danger of living in a distracted, fractured, and accelerated culture is that lonely people of faith will become rigid and defensive in our minority position. Scared and anxious that we are losing ground, and at risk of losing a faith and an institution we adore, we retrench and resist by staking out rigid positions, lines in the sand. Our faith inspires a more nuanced reaction. We are challenged to become more clear and focused on our mission and the good news we have to share. At the same time, that good news is gentle, welcoming, and full of loving kindness. If not, we have a real loss to mourn.
The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel
Tags: Rector's Note