Or click here to listen to the sermon from the 10am service.
6 or 7 years ago – I spent the summer at Bridgeport Hospital learning how to be a hospital chaplain. You’ve probably heard me say that I loved this work – so much that I stayed on for the rest of seminary as a contract chaplain. But like many things we love – it didn’t come easy. At the beginning – there was one thing in particular that I found to be really, really hard.
I didn’t know how to sort of…let myself go – in the room. And what I mean by that is – I’ve been Episcopalian my whole life. I know the Book of Common Prayer like the back of my hand. I think in terms of our language – and our tradition. So – when it came time to pray in the room – I struggled. Because I wanted to have my Book with me. I wanted to use the language that I knew. The tradition I loved. And it didn’t work.
One of the mantras of my supervisor – was “pray the patient’s prayer.” Pray the patient’s prayer. And what that meant was – basically – get over yourself, dummy. And use the words – and the language – that the patient knows – to ask for what the patient wants. To help them say their prayers to God – And in their own tradition – their own language – find some comfort – and some peace.
I have to tell you – that it first – it felt really, really strange. Actually – it felt like I was faking it. I was afraid that I would somehow be less of who I was – And it was scary - Especially in rooms where both their language – and their tradition were different than mine. But I learned. And as I learned – I realized – that I was giving them the same Jesus.
I wasn’t denying any part of who I was - or what I believed – or how I was trained – But I was making it possible for them – no matter who they were – to feel Jesus’ presence in the room. And to find some at least small amount of peace. Pray the patient’s prayer.
Paul sounds a little confusing today at first. But he’s actually making a lot of good sense – and he’s talking about mission. Paul is talking about the contextual nature of ministry. The fact that if we proclaim the Gospel – In word and action – as we promise to in our baptismal covenants – Then we have to take into account the context that surrounds us. And we have to be willing to let go of some of who we are – in order to proclaim the Gospel effectively –
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.
To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.
To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.
To the weak I became weak so that I might win the weak.
I have become all things to all people – that I might by all means save some.
Paul is praying the patient’s prayer – In priest school, the fancy name for this is “contextual ministry.” And what it means is that ministry is different in every context. Easy enough, right? It’s about speaking the language that people can understand.
So when Paul was preaching to the Jews – he talked about how Jesus fulfilled scripture. About the good Jewish carpenter – who honored his parents and kept the law – And was foretold by all the prophets. To the Gentiles – outside of the law – he found ways to embed himself in their culture – Knowing that he wasn’t outside of the law – But also knowing that if he was able to meet them where they were – then he would be able to proclaim the Gospel to them- In ways they would be able to see and hear and understand.
Paul is reminding us that proclaiming the Gospel isn’t about what makes us comfortable. It isn’t about what makes us feel good.
A few weeks ago – at the Annual Meeting – we talked a bit about some ideas for the future. And we asked you to fill out a survey – about your sense of where the parish is now – What’s going well – What could be going better – And where we might want to go together in the future. And there were some really great ideas on some of those pages. Ideas that will get incorporated as the Vestry and I continue to ask some questions- Of each other – and of you – And as we begin to formulate some more concrete plans.
And to do that – we have to pay attention to our own context. Meriden is a city that is really struggling. There are many who are hungry – and poor. Others with abuse problems. Still others out of work – needing help. We are surrounded by people who speak different languages – Spanish – Portuguese – Polish. Refugees from all over the world who have been re-settled in CT.
We are surrounded by cultures – and traditions – different than our own. We have a complicated context. But equally as in need of Jesus as Paul’s own context. And we have to find a way to break in – and to speak to that context – About what we know to be true.
Chances are – that’s not going to look like the church of 40 years ago. And even though there’s always this desire to look back – It’s part of my work – to push you – to urge you – to look forward…
We have to pray the city’s prayer.
To study the context – and to learn to stand with the people we meet. That is the only way to proclaim the Gospel - We aren’t going to be able to just sit here – on the hill – and hope that they’ll come. We have to go out and learn to speak the language of our context. Not just in words – but in action. And once we do that – we have to be sure that we’re ready for people – different than we are right now - to follow us back here – To this hill. To sit in our pews. To eat at our tables.
We must give up some of those things that make us comfortable. We have to learn to let ourselves go a bit - To stop looking into the past – and praying that God will make us plentiful again – in the same way. Because God isn’t in the business of preservation and restoration.
But God is in the business of resurrection. God is in the business of eternal life – If we will submit to God’s will – To God’s imagination – To God’s plan – and not our own.
We have to be prepared first – though – to speak someone else’s language. To learn someone else’s culture. To pray the city’s prayer.
So - for the sake of the Gospel. For the sake of Christ.
Look around you – with Paul’s eyes – at the gas station
At the grocery store –
While you’re driving down Main Street –
In your neighborhood – in your office –
And help us figure out how to pray the city’s prayer.