Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Great Commission

I feel like an anomaly in the progressive Episcopalian blogosphere---though maybe I'm not. I came in as a quasi-Unitarian who was drawn by the liturgy and the sacraments. It was people like +Spong and Borg who brought me into the church. But the longer I've been here, the more "orthodox" I've become.

But that's because, like Terry Dyslexia, I've embraced the mystery. Stopped trying to "understand" things in the academic way I analyze everything else. Learned to feel God in the sacraments and in the liturgy. Learned to see God in the faces of those I love---and to look for God in the faces of those I don't even like.

But my movement towards theological orthodoxy has not convinced me that I need to convert nonbelievers or those of other faiths to Christianity. I'll never ask anyone if they've accepted Jesus as their personal savior, because I find that question highly intrusive. I'll never tell a Jew or a Muslim or an atheist that they had better find Jesus, and quick!, or they'll be wishing for asbestos underwear in the afterlife.

In that respect, Christians of a more evangelical persuasion will probably consider me a failure at the "Great Commission" that so concerns them.

But Jesus didn't say we were to make "Christians" of the whole world. He wouldn't even have known what that word meant. He said "disciples"--you know, that group of dim-witted people he constantly told "If you love me, feed my sheep." Take care of them. Shelter them. Love them. Die for them, if necessary.

He didn't say "Get them to say the Nicene Creed without crossing their fingers. And be sure they are 'orthodox' in their belief in the Trinity. And don't forget that bit about the atonement---be sure they get that right!"

To me, the Great Commission is nothing more than Jesus' restatement of his summation of the law: Love God and love your neighbor. Only he was adding, "Get off your butts and DO something, people!"

I think we make disciples of the whole world when we love them, and they, in turn, love others. And I mean practical love. Food, shelter, and education love. ERD and the school in Tanganyika love. HIV medicines and clean water love.

Because I don't think saying "Jesus Christ is my personal savior" is the ticket to salvation (whatever that means...). I know people who say that loudly, every chance they get---and don't do a damned thing for their fellow humans. They are clashing gongs and clanging cymbals in my book.

And I don't mean that we earn our salvation by our good works either. But doing good because we are responding to the call of Christ changes us. Like prayer changes us. We respond to the love of God and, by grace, become more loving ourselves. And when that happens, a bit more of the Kingdom of God is able to break into this chaotic world of ours.

I'll never ask you if you have been "saved." I'll never offer to share my personal "testimony" with you. (I'll tell you my story if you ask, but only then.) I'll never tell you that confessing that Jesus is Lord is your only hope of getting into "heaven" (whatever that means...).

It's not my way.

But I will help build a house for Habitat for Humanity. I will mentor Education for Ministry. I will teach my daughter's 1st grade Sunday School class (God help me!). I will donate my money and my time to my community of faith and to the wider community in which I live. I will pray for you and for the world. I will try to worship God in everything that I do and say---even though I know already I will fail. Every day, I will get up and I will live as if God matters and as if my neighbors matter.

If those things lead someone into the Christian fold, fine. If not, I trust that Jesus will know what I was trying to do. I'm hoping he's a "partial-credit" kind of guy...if not, I'm in a heap of trouble, no matter whether I preach on the street corner or not.

If I am to make disciples for God, it will have to be in the ways that work for me. I will not ask if you are "saved"--but I will show you what salvation looks like in my own life.

It looks a lot like joy and hope and peace---and I'll be happy to talk about it with you, but only if you ask.

If I am serious about my faith, however---and I like to think that I am---I can't help sharing it, whether you ask or not. I'm the former agnostic, Unitarian-leaning, heretic who has discovered that the call of Jesus Christ to discipleship is irresistible. My prayer is that you see something of that call in my life. That is the only witness I feel capable of offering.

But, if I do it right, I suspect you will get the message.