Last Saturday evening marked a milestone in my life in ministry. After months of planning and preparation (preceded by years of prayer and discerning by the church before my arrival), St. Andrew’s launched the new Saturday evening worship service that we’re calling “Take5.” It seems from the very onset, God has determined to blow my mind at every turn. When asked the week prior to the launch how many people we’re expecting, I responded with a modesty 30-50 (thinking about the holiday weekend and other various and sundry factors that would prevent someone from coming to church on, of all days, a Saturday!). When the final count was tallied and entered into the Register of Services we had 116. That’s right. One-hundred-sixteen. Let that number marinate for a minute. On a Saturday-night, with a church that has an ASA of around 350-400, we reached 116.
While there were a few hiccups with the first service (as to be expected with anything new), the vast majority of feedback all centered around to awesome experience that was had by the assembled congregation. The music, the lighting, the set-up, everything about the service was set up to create an intimate environment where people could experience a one-on-one encounter with God. Why this is so important is because I believe Take5 represents a fresh expression of God’s grace at St. Andrew’s.
But why does this matter in the grand scheme of things?
The clergy at St. Andrew’s are preaching a sermon series this Advent called “So What?: Seeking the Why of Christ and Christmas.” In the midst of the supposed “War on Christmas,” the increased secularization of the sacred Incarnation of Our Lord, and the growing skepticism with the institution of Church and religion in general, we have to make an argument, an apologia, about why Jesus matters. Exclaiming “Keep Christ in Christmas” is not enough in a world where, too often, “Christ” is no where to be found in the “Christian.” We are challenged by the world to proclaim, and more importantly to LIVE out, why Christ matters.
So at the very beginning of the service we prayed…
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid…
NORMALLY, the Collect for Purity is prayed by the priest on behalf of the congregation; however, Take5 is not your normal Episcopal liturgy. Take5 is not your Grandmother’s Mass. I invited the entire congregation to pray this prayer and then during the message (not “the sermon”) the entire congregation focused on “All Hearts. All Desires. No Secrets.” To me, those three statements outline a life that is completely open and vulnerable to God. I believe that’s what God wants.
Naming this the “Season of Advent” is a misnomer. It’s better called the “Season of Advents.” Not only do we await the second coming of Jesus Christ (something about trumpets and scrolls, apparently), and not only do we look toward the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas Day), but we are called to intentionally reflect on the daily visitation, the daily advent, of Jesus in our lives.
There is some reticence in many mainline churches (The Episcopal Church included) about language around a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” (which has always confused me because the Rite of Holy Baptism contains language that describes Jesus as our “personal Lord and Savior” and talks about us being “born again”). However, there is something that the Evangelical tradition has picked up on that the mainline churches may need to pay attention to: that God is concerned about building a relationship to God’s creation, and that includes each and every one of us on a personal level.
There’s a popular notion that we’re created with a “God-sized hole” in each one of us. This notion is a little problematic for me because it says that God can be confined to one particular area of our lives. I don’t think God an truly be contained to one area of our lives. Through our relationship to God, God takes over our lives. St. Paul refers to this as growing into the “full stature of Christ.” It’s a process and a journey, but it’s one that begin when we respond to God’s grace by inviting God into our lives.
Towards the end of the message, I invited the congregation to think about areas in their lives where they want to experience more of God, to write them down on note cards, and then invited them into a season of prayer where we would ask God to be more present in our lives. Some people wrote “prayer life,” “involvement in Church,” or even “in my family,” but I am convinced that God’s grace is uncontainable. It’s infectious. It’s contagious. Once it enters our lives, it grows. It affects every aspect of our lives from how we treat people, to how we use our resources, to how we care for ourselves.
God wants it all. All of our lives, all of our faults, all of our shortcomings, all of our weaknesses, all of our selves. God wants it all because God wants to redeem and sanctify us to be “whole and complete, lacking nothing.”
That’s why Christ matters. That’s why Christmas matters, because through Christ, God’s grace found an entry point into the world and though small, it grew and grew and now it continues to transform the world around us. Every single time a soul is brought into intentional relationship to God, the world is brought that much closer towards a realization of the Reign of God in it’s fullness. That’s a good news that I want to shout from the mountains!
Keep the faith, and make it colorful!