Monday, April 19, 2004

Cultivating Boldness

I preached at a Seabury Eucharist for the first time today, on the feast of Alphege.

Did you hear it in the Gospel today? Do no be afraid. The first graders in my Sunday school class up in Kennilworth could tell you that that is what an angel always says. I always thought this greeting of choice had to do with the fact that suddenly seeing an angel would be a frightening experience. But I think what is really frightening is the earth-shaking, life-shattering news the angels always seem to bring- Unto to you is born this day… Why do you look for the living among the dead?…
Jesus news for us today is also life shattering: We have nothing to fear except our God, and that God is one who knows us so intimately that the hairs on our head are counted. I don’t know about you, but that is better than I know myself. We are not even to fear death itself. Now, most of us do not likely live with the fear that our Christianity will get us killed. Persecution and death are simply not high on my list of fears. Yet, I am afraid. When we are out and meeting new people, I have been known to dodge the question about what I do. You know this conversation: So, what do you do? Oh, I’m in school. Really, what do you study? Well…
What am I afraid of? It varies. With my conservative sister-in-law’s family, I didn’t want to be condemned by them, or even start a fight at a nice dinner. At the symphony with our artsy friends, I want to avoid that awkward moment, when people stop talking to you because they don’t know what to say to a priest. I don’t want to say the wrong thing, or be the wrong person and somehow give Christianity a bad name or accidentally turn someone from the Church. Do any of these fears sound familiar? Yet, I want to be the kind of Christian who – when brought in front of tribunals and magistrates- will be solid in my faith. Martyrs are not made at the moment of their death. That kind of bold faith is only built over time. Boldness cannot wait until we are faced with a dramatic choice – we must cultivate it daily. We are here in training for leadership in the church. We will be a community that encourages boldness in proclamation? In some ways, we already are. Some of us have put great strain on friendships and family relations by following the call to serve God in this way. In this place we have begun very difficult work in our efforts against racism. We strengthen our faith and our relationship with God each time we take a risk to support a classmate, to resolve conflict rather than hold a grudge, or seek to include a voice that is not being heard. And we weaken our faith each time we fail in taking risks to spread the Good News, when we allow negativity to become our entire outlook, when we fail to welcome visitors or our fellow community members because we are afraid of what the alternatives might look like. Do not be afraid- our God knows us well enough to count the hairs on our head- certainly that means knowing us well enough to know that we will miss opportunities, that we will fall short in our proclamation. There will always be room for improvement as we cultivate boldness among us. But what better Easter message than “Do Not Be Afraid”? Because, when we do stand up for grace and for love, we will encounter the loving, surprising God and we will be able to say Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

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