November 7, 2017

The Whole State of Christ's Church


Grayson Warren BrownMy Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Welcome to my very first blog.

I must admit when OCP approached me with the idea of doing a blog, my first question was, “what exactly is a blog”? I meant I had heard the term, but wasn’t exactly sure what it was. I must admit they were very patient in explaining it was a way to share your thoughts and ideas with your fellow travelers on this journey called life. Having just finished my first one, I find I am kind of jazzed with the idea that from time to time, I would have the privilege of sharing some personal thoughts and ideas with my fellow Christians, in fact, it’s an honor.

 

About the name.

When I was growing up in the Episcopal Church, we would come to a part of the Sunday service that would parallel our “prayers of the faithful.” The minister would always begin those prayers by saying, “Let us pray for the whole state of Christ’s church.” I always liked that phrase and with my sister’s permission (she’s a retired deacon in the Episcopal Church), I would like for that saying to be the name of my blog.

The late Wayne Dyer once asked an audience this question, “What do you get when you squeeze an orange?” The audience responded, “Orange juice.” He then asked them, “Why do you get orange juice?” They answered quite obviously, “Because it’s an orange.” Then he asked them, “What do you get when you are squeezed?” There was a curious pause, and he continued. “And what are the things that squeeze us? Fear? Anger? Frustration?” He said that it was in those moments when we feel those emotions, that what comes out of us can truly tell us who and what we really are.

I have often remembered that talk Wayne Dyer gave that audience. And it often made me first ask this question to myself as well as to my fellow church goers whenever I was conducting a parish mission or workshop, “What do you get when you squeeze a Christian?” But just before I would ask that question, I would first ask my audience, “What religion are you?” Some people would say Catholic or Lutheran, at which point I would smile and gently correct them by saying “I used to say that too until someone reminded me that there is no such religion as “Catholic.” Catholicism, along with being Baptist or Episcopalian or Pentecostal, are all denominations, but the religion we practice is Christianity, because we profess to follow the teachings and practices of Jesus Christ. And every clergy person worth their salt will tell you, that whatever Christian denomination we are a part of, that church we attend is only as good as it facilitates helping us to be true believers and followers of Jesus Christ. And as a Catholic, I would like to think there isn’t a bishop in the world who would want us to believe that somehow we could be good Catholics without being good Christians. And what is a good Christian? The long answer you can find in millions of books (including three I wrote). But the short answer is quite simple and direct. As Christians, we are called to love God with all of our hearts, minds, strength, and souls. And as though it is the flip side of the same coin, we are called to love our brothers and sisters, no matter who they are, or where they come from, in the same manner in which we love the Lord, period! The Lord says we are called upon to “love our neighbor as we would ourselves.” (Matt 22:37). And the reason I call this the short and direct answer, is that Jesus makes it clear that on these two commandments rest everything else. Everything else! So if you want to know what being a Christian is, it is about love, love, love. Learn to love God with enthusiasm, and learn to love your brothers and sisters with as much enthusiasm as you would love God himself. And so if Wayne Dyer were to address most of us with the same question though slightly different, what would our answers be?

What should you get when you squeeze a Christian? The answer should be, love.

Why would we get love? Because we are followers of Christ, who tells us love must be at the heart of all things.

But what do you get when many of us Christians are in fact squeezed? When Christians are confronted with fear, or anger, or frustration? I think it is in those moments that we can begin to see if we are true believers or simply good attendees at our churches. And scripture takes a dim view of people showing up just to perform lip service to God rather than truly seeking repentance, and a plan of action for helping us to love more completely in an ever increasingly complex and dangerous world. (Isaiah 29:13, Mat 15-8)

I think most people in America witnessed the events that happened in Charlottesville. During a demonstration, a young man filled with anger drove his car into a group of protesters killing a young woman. The woman’s mother appeared on television, and as was obvious, was devastated by the loss of her child. And yet in that moment of being squeezed beyond imagination for most of us, she refused to speak with hatred in her heart towards the man who killed her daughter. Both she and later the young woman’s father both said that they hold no hatred in their hearts for their daughter’s killer, and said they would pray for him and his parents.

What did the world get when this Christian family was squeezed? Remarkably, love.

Last year another young man walked into a church in Charleston, South Carolina filled with African American congregants. He sat through most of the service, and then proceeded to take out a gun and kill several of the people attending the service. When the man was arrested and sentenced, several people from the congregation said they did not wish to see him put to death, and said they would also pray for him and his family, citing that the mother of that young man had also lost a love one.

What did the world get when some of the surviving members of that Christian congregation were squeezed? Remarkably love.

Now those are major examples of love triumphing over hate, but hopefully most of us will not have to face something so traumatically challenging in our lives. But challenges will still come our way. And so I invite you to ask yourself, what comes out of you the Christian, when someone simply annoys you, or cuts you off on the highway, or comes up to you asking for any spare change? What comes out of you the Christian, when dealing with issues like immigration, or welfare programs for the poor, or people from other religions, or other colors? Those are the kinds of things that can squeeze us on a daily basis.

Now of course, we are never going to always act lovingly in stressful situations. But I guess one of the biggest lessons I learned in my fifty plus years in ministry, is we get ourselves in the most trouble when, because of our failures to love, we start to decide that Jesus needs to start moving closer towards us and our way of thinking, rather than realizing that we need to constantly be moving closer to him. I have seen whole churches operate on the idea that when it comes right down to matters of loving one’s neighbor, Jesus’ way of thinking isn’t really practical or realistic. And while people would never actually say out loud that they think Jesus is wrong, they often act in such a way that clearly suggests that what Jesus says could and indeed should be amended by clearer thinking minds.

One such example was a sermon I heard from a very prominent preacher on television who wanted to make some point about righteous retribution, and he said, “We are tired of turning the other cheek, and will do it no longer.” When I heard that, I thought to myself that here was a Christian preacher who felt comfortable challenging what Jesus laid down as a fundamental law in the Sermon on the Mount. It was like he was saying to Jesus, “Look pal, I know you’re the Messiah and all, but this turning the other cheek business is stupid, and you need to rethink your ideas.” He believed that Jesus was simply wrong about this “turning the other cheek” business, rendering him incapable of ever truly accepting Jesus as his Lord and Savior, (even though if you were to say that to him, I am sure we would protest vehemently, because after all, he is a minister). But Jesus says quite frankly in Luke 46: that no one can call him “Lord” if they decide to ignore his commandments saying, “Why do you call me Lord, if you don’t want to do what I say?”

So, if we don’t like the “juice” that comes out of us when we are squeezed, we are often left with just two real choices. We can decide to change through God’s help and the help of the Spirit (Romans 8) or we can try and get God to change, and allow us to hate, destroy, and in general be far less loving than the Lord would command us to be.

OK, this being my first blog, I don’t want to overstay my welcome, but I did want to share one of the great lessons I have learned in ministry. What Wayne Dyer challenged his audience about squeezing an orange I believe was dead on the mark. Another common saying that expressed that same sentiment for the Christian was the old question; “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would they have enough evidence to convict you?” And nothing keeps us from getting closer to God, then somehow believing that the Almighty occasionally gets it wrong, and if he would only come to see it our way, he might learn to get it right.

I have a new CD coming out, called Praise the Lord in Many Voices (A Celebration in Song of a Journey in Faith.” It is a collection of music celebrating some of the many different cultures I have encountered during my travels both here and abroad. It also has some songs that were previously recorded that I wanted to re-introduce, and which we added additional instruments to give them a fresh sound.

Other popular offerings from Grayson

  • Shout Praise: An Evening with Grayson Warren Brown
    • Concert event filmed live in Las Vegas
      This special DVD presents Grayson Warren Brown in an uplifting musical event with combined gospel choirs from the Las Vegas area.

  • God’s Liberating Justice
    • This revised edition of a classic work examines a variety of social justice issues and provides a scriptural basis for building a fruitful ministry of social justice.

  • The Transformative Power of Faith:
    • This inspirational book features scriptural encounters and personal experiences in an exploration of faith and its power in our lives.

 
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Grayson Warren Brown at the 2015 Los Angeles Religious Education Congress