given on Palm Sunday, April 5, 2009
Share the Faith
I just got back from a conference yesterday and I cannot wait to tell everybody what I learned. First of all, I am not alone in the universe teaching the at-risk students to the best of my ability. Then I want to tell them about some of the ideas, especially the 3 R’s: relationships, relevance and rigor. And finally, I want to talk about how a group of educators really want to shift the paradigm and make alternative education one of DESE’s identifiable, accredited program—another words to be accepted as a valid educational program.
Trying to keep up my enthusiasm is difficult, and I was having a hard time trying to figure out how to keep the final life-enriching practice fresh and interesting. I was also trying to figure out how to make the eighth practice fit in with Palm Sunday, the beginning of the holiest week in our Christian faith. Then wouldn’t you know it; I realized that I did not have my book to review. I had been so busy getting ready to leave for the conference and absorbing the situation with my father-in-law going to the hospital, that when it came down to packing 30 minutes before I left on Thursday evening I simply forgot to pick up the book. I had the computer, the Bible, the hymnal and a few other aids, but I failed to pack the one resource I have been using for the entire Lenten series.
Luckily I could pull up the internet and taking my computer I used all my resources to keep the task moving forward. Suddenly I realized that the tools I needed to “share the faith” were right at my fingertips. Armed with the computer and my cell phone, I turned to the net and to phone calls home to get what I needed. When my husband got the book to my daughter, she was going to email me the subheadings but ended up calling me instead. As she was listing the subheadings in the chapter, I realized, or confirmed, that Palm Sunday was one of the techniques Jesus used to share the faith.
You see, sharing the faith is really about evangelism. It is about demonstrating faith in a very obvious and traditional manner so that the Jewish people and the new Christians could see, actually see, that Jesus was their king. They could see how the prophets of the Old Testament were right as Jesus took on the role of a king that final week of his life on this earth.
When Henry Knight defined “sharing the faith” as the eighth life-enriching practice, he provided a plan for United Methodists to follow as they share the faith with others. Knight says that sharing the faith comes down to three parts:
(1) sharing the good news;
(2) welcoming strangers; and
(3) entering the new life as Christians.
Jesus was entering Jerusalem in a manner in which the young Christians could join in and celebrate. He wanted to welcome everybody to follow him in a way that created a sense of excitement. Finally he was openly showing all the non-believers that you can be Christians even when others want to destroy you or to tear you down.
Today is Palm Sunday. Over 2,000 years ago, this week was a celebration week reminding all the Jews of how they escaped Israel and were able to avoid being destroyed. The week was filled with special events, family and friends getting together and feasting. There were traditions to follow, a timeline to follow, and in one week it would be over and life would return to normal.
On that Palm Sunday when Jesus road the colt down the road with palm branches waving and people shouting all around him. No one had any idea that in a few days, the Passover would end in the crucifixion of Jesus. No one expected as the disciples joined him in Gethsemane to pray that the Pharisees and the guards would swarm around them and arrest Jesus. No one dreamed that they would be so frightened that they would run and hide or even deny that they had been with Jesus.
Jesus knew his own story. He was living the model of Christian life that God wants us to live. He was facing death because he knew that his death would give us eternal life. This is the good news. We know that the good news is important, but we are so weak about sharing that news with others. Can you picture yourself so excited about telling others how Jesus died for us that you would go out on a road, find something to ride—like a float or a horse or a motorcycle—just so you could share how thankful you are that Jesus died for our sins? I think the closest thing we have to that is the tradition of the Easter Hat Parade, which is still done on the Plaza in Kansas City. But even then, what is being shared is not the good news of our faith but the latest spring fashions.
I know we all love parades, and parades are a great way to reach the masses, but we have long ago given up parades and outwardly visible signs of our Christian faith. We still wear crosses, but many others wear crosses just because of the design or somebody gave them one. They do not wear the cross as an open sign of their beliefs and engage others in conversation based on the symbol hanging around their neck. My friend wears her symbols with a purpose. She was working as a lawyer, but she wore a cross as a visible symbol of her faith each and every day except on the day she had to walk into the courtroom. When she walked into the courtroom, she wore and angel. She honored the separation of state and church by a simple change of symbols—the angel in court and her cross outside the courtroom. I realize that this is such a small, outward display of one believer’s faith, but it clearly demonstrates our belief in the good news.
Demonstrating one’s faith outside of our homes and churches is one step in sharing our faith, but we must also consider what we do right here inside our churches. What are we doing to welcome strangers or non-believers or seekers to our churches? If they actually step up to the door and come inside, are we there to share our faith with them, to tell them the stories, and to make them feel welcomed into our Christian community?
Maybe we do need a parade. I know that there is a huge emphasis within the conference to make sure that you have clearly visible signage along the main roads and even inside some of the larger buildings to guide strangers to the right location for Sunday School, restrooms, kitchen, and sanctuary. I love to walk into the church here when others are inside. When I open that door, I am greeted with smiles and hugs. It moves from those acts of welcoming and friendship to the simple questions earnestly asking how things have been and comments on how good it is to see us.
Finally, the third part of sharing our faith: Naturally it is the most complex part of Knight’s plan. He refers to this step as “entering the new life.” I have to admit that I had to have Vada read the first paragraph under that subheading to remember, well, to re-learn what that phrase means. Vada had to read even more and this step is a detailed breakdown of what new Christians need to learn to develop a healthy Christian life.
Again, Jesus’ life in itself demonstrates the various steps to enter into the new life as a Christian. First there is the conversion experience. True, Jesus did not have to be converted as he was born into his role, but we have to go through the experience of learning about God and accepting Jesus as our savior. That experience is our conversion. After our conversion, we all are baptized. Again Jesus’ was baptized, too, which signaled the beginning of his ministry.
Secondly, we must begin following the rule of life: the Golden Rule once again. We must learn that we are to love God and to love our neighbor. We must live our lives using that operating system of love. Once we do this, then we must learn and practice the rule of faith: Knight identifies this as learning the Christian teachings through the historical creeds like the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Korean Creed.
The next part of entering into the new life of Christianity is the rule of the spirit. Remember that we have discussed that the Holy Spirit is God’s love in action. The Holy Spirit uses us to put faith into concrete actions wherever we are. The rule of the spirit means we must learn what our spiritual gifts are and how we can use them in our daily lives.
Finally, learning about spiritual discipline helps us to enter the new life. We need to begin practicing the very practices we have been reviewing. Spiritual discipline includes praying, reading the Bible, worshiping and studying in small groups. We are to find methods of developing our faith and putting our faith into practice each and every day.
Three steps in sharing our faith. Jesus entered Jerusalem in a parade with palm branches waving and loud cheers echoing along the way. Can we step out of our safe little box to share the good news with others? Can we welcome the stranger into our house of worship—or make a stranger feel welcome anywhere we are? Can we follow the guidelines needed to enter into a new life as a Christian?
I realize that Lent is almost over; but I have to admit that using Lent to evaluate my personal practices, I am afraid I failed this year. I could not even keep my 7 pm deadline over the past few weeks. I could explain it away, but the truth is there were many days when we did not even finish eating supper by 7 pm. I can tell you that on those days, as I looked at the clock, and then picked up a bite to eat, I had to apologize to God. My spiritual discipline was tested and I did not do so well.
As we go back to our work week and start crossing the days of this Holy Week off the calendar, I trust that this time of reflection for you has strengthened your faith and your resolve to enrich your life through these eight practices. I pray that you are ready to share your faith. I pray that we can work together to share our faith and do whatever we can to welcome in strangers into our church community. And, let us continue to grow in our Christian lives so we can enter the gates of heaven in the same fashion that Jesus entered into Jerusalem—with palm branches waving and crowds cheering. I know one thing, my life now certainly feels like I have palm branches waving and cheering all around me simply because I love Jesus. I know that my life is filled with joy because God loved me so much that he gave his only son that we may have eternal life.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I am saddened to think that Jesus had to face such a horrible death, but I thank you for all the joy that fills my heart because he died. As Lent comes to a close and we work through this Holy Week, help us to finish reviewing our own Christian practices. Help us to feel a sense of empathy for Jesus as we work towards Maundy Thursday, through Good Friday, and even Saturday. Then bring us back together next Sunday to experience the joy of Jesus’ resurrection. Help us move into another year, renewed by the story once again. –Amen.