Are We Ashamed?
It took a long time to tell others my story of how I came to church. Some of you have heard it but I want to make sure that all of you know how it happened.
When I was a little girl my dad was very depressed. He couldn't get out of bed sometimes. During one period, he stayed in bed for three months. He would weep and cry. I used to pray by sending letters to God in my head. "Dear God," I would write, "Please help my dad. Thank you for life, love, Kate."
My first memory of church was of two things, beauty and safety. The people seemed so solid, it was as if that they loved me already. And I just felt that I could relax. It was beyond words, a presence of God that I felt deep inside and it was so beautiful. When my mother, who was a concert pianist, would practice in the church, I would take off my shoes and run and slide down the aisles in my socks. There was no place I would rather be. Church was where there was love and laughter and church was where I found God. It was the single most important aspect of my life, the fact that I went to church. I don't know where I would be, who I would be, without it.
When I meet with parents to get ready for their baby’s baptism, I ask them what qualities they most want to see in their child as he or she grows into adulthood. Most parents say similar things. They want their child to grow to be good and honest. They want them to give something back to the world. But when the parents look deep in their hearts, they realize that there is nothing more important to them than the fact that their child have faith in God and love Jesus. And one of the most important places that can lead them to develop that faith and love is right here in church. In fact, there is nothing more important than coming to church – not going to school or soccer practice or violin. There is nothing more important than developing our relationship with God, and so much of that happens here in this place.
My son Luke is at a boarding school up north, just outside of Princeton, New Jersey. It was his idea to go and I have missed him like mad, but he has learned a lot. You see, it is a different world up north. The winds of secularism blow there with a force. When people ask Luke about himself and he says that he is a Christian, they assume he is male chauvinist, racist, and judgmental. They think he is backward and some kind of redneck from the south, out of touch with reality. They have a chaplain at the school who is an Episcopal priest. He has been instructed by the school administration not to say “The Lord” or “Jesus.” At the end of the service, he says, "Go in peace to love and serve." People at Luke’s school talk freely about the Buddha or Islam or Hinduism, but not Jesus. It is taboo to say Jesus. They mock the name of Jesus. And those who are Christians are, for the most part, afraid to acknowledge it.
Luke is one of only two students in the whole school who go to church on Sunday. He has found a small Methodist church near his dorm. They love him there. I think that he finds the same kind of love and acceptance that I found so long ago – the presence of God in community.
What is happening? The church that I found as a child saved my life. It taught me about the grace and love of Jesus. But up north, people are staying home. As at Luke’s school, many are ashamed to admit if they have a Christian background. The churches are small and struggling. It looks like the end of Christendom. It is no longer normal to go to church – it is counter-cultural and can get you labeled and branded as a bigot or worse. But don’t kid yourselves. These winds of secularism are not just blowing up north. These winds are blowing here, too. As I have said before, my friends, there is a storm brewing, and so many people are living in a pup tent while the hurricane is bearing down on them.
What is happening to our world? Christians are being slaughtered in the Middle East every week. And even at home, we are slowly becoming reviled, considered out of date and out of touch.
And you know what? All of this is a great blessing. Let me say that again. The fact that the world reviles us is a great blessing.
When Jesus spoke to his disciples, he told them that he was going to have to suffer. Peter could not handle that thought, and argued, "No, Lord," you are the Son of God, you should not suffer!" To which Jesus responded with these harsh words, "Get behind me, Satan! You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
Where is your mind set? Is it set on money, power, prestige, friends, comfort? If so, your mind is set on human things. God wants us to not be ashamed of Him. God is calling us back – back to the time of the early Christians when it was not popular or even safe to go to church.
Jesus said that those who are ashamed of him, well, he will be ashamed of them when the time comes. And, for me, the thought of Christ being ashamed of me is a truly scary thought.
If I asked you, I don’t think any of you would say that you are ashamed of Jesus. But do your actions speak otherwise? Are you willing to speak the name of Jesus at work, at play, at any place you find yourself? Or do you find yourself hesitant, holding back, afraid you might offend, afraid that others might treat you differently? If that’s the case, then you have made a strong statement to the world. And believe me, it’s NOT the statement that Jesus wants you to make.
We Episcopalians are a funny breed. We don't want to offend. We don't want to sound pompous. We want others to like us. So we are subtle in our evangelism, IF we even evangelize at all. But Jesus is calling us to speak aloud about what the church means to us and to not be ashamed. Remember, if we are ashamed of him, he will be ashamed of us.
My friends, RIGHT NOW we have the opportunity to really stake our claim for God. RIGHT NOW, when you come here to church, you are choosing to come despite having all kinds of other options – TV and coffee shops, extra sleep and shopping, reading the paper or travel. RIGHT NOW, you are giving up many things to come here. When you start your week with church, you are saying, I give my PRIME TIME to Jesus. I am NOT ashamed. He is the most important one in my life. I would give my life for him.
Now is the time. We must begin to speak about our faith to people out on the streets because they are hungry for the love of God and don't even know it yet.
In London, there is an old historic church called the Steeple Church. They have a big lawn outside their building. The church was aging and small but young at-risk youth would gather on the lawn to talk, bask in the sun, or play music. One day, some of the members of the church came outside with hot chocolate. They did not invite the kids inside immediately, but gave out the hot chocolate and listened to them. And week after week, they would bring hot chocolate and listen. The kids began to call their time together “hot chocolate.” And then, after a few months, one of the members of the church asked them, "If we gave you some rooms in the church, what would you use them for? What would you like to do?" They mentioned just hanging out, playing music. And so the church gave them space during the week. And often, if you walked into the old sanctuary, you could hear heavy metal music being played or teenagers talking and laughing. And soon those teenagers were wandering into worship. They wanted to know more about this place that had opened its arms to them without question.
I don't think any of us would say we were ashamed of church or of Jesus. But if that is true, why are we afraid to admit who we are? Why are we not inviting people inside? Why are we not listening carefully to people's lives and offering Jesus to them when they seem lonely or afraid? Why are we so hesitant?
There is a storm brewing. In fact, it is almost upon us. It is time for us to speak the truth about who we are as Christians. It is time for us to speak the name of Jesus without hesitation. Are you ashamed?
- The Very Rev. Kate Moorehead