Lord God of hosts, you clothed your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in your Church to be a defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Today is the Feast Day of St. Martin of Tours. As the legend goes, this Roman soldier saw a poorly-clothed man by the city gate one cold, Winter’s day. Move with compassion, he cut his cloak in half and offered it to the man. That night he had a dream in which he saw Jesus wearing the “half-cloak.” He, only a catechumen at the time, took seriously the words of our Lord “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)
The Feast of St. Martin is important for my own spiritual journey because of my connection with St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. A few years ago I wandered into St. Martin’s a very wounded man, ready to give up on faith and walk away from discipleship.Something, I am not sure what, compelled me to try “church” one more time. I walked in and felt first-hand the warmth of that half-cloak in the liturgy, the fellowship, and the Eucharist. I look back upon that experience with fondness because that singular Summer morning many years ago completely changed my life. Little do they know that they created a priest that day. I haven’t been back to St. Martin’s since that day, but I continue to carry them in my prayers.
There has been a lot of conversation buzzing around the Church as to how we “slow/stop the decline” of the Church. While that question frames the narrative too narrowly, in my opinion, what people are really asking is – how do we get people to connect to Church, Christ, and Christianity? My answer – welcome them. I continue to be struck by Henri Nouwen’s words in The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society where he says “Like the Semitic nomads, we live in a desert which many lonely travelers who are looking for a moment of peace, for a fresh drink, and for a sign of encouragement so that they can continue their mysterious search for freedom.” Our churches are places where all travelers should be invited to connect with the Living Water that runs deeper than we can ever imagine. Whether we worship with praise bands in contemporary auditoriums or with surpliced-choirs signing Anglican cathedral music in traditional sanctuaries, the real question that must be asked is this – are we welcoming people? Do people hear in our music, or liturgy, our sermons, and our community a “sign of encouragement?” Do people feel the warmth of Christ’s embrace in our communities of faith, or do we leave them out in the cold? Do people feel connected to a larger narrative of salvation and welcome by which we ourselves have been welcomed?
Imagine what the community of Christ could be if we really welcomed people, as they were, no questions asked.
Holy Martin, Pray for us.
Keep the faith, and make it COLORFUL!