"How do we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?" That is a question, if not a lament, that comes out of Psalm 137. Reflections on that question were provided daily by my colleagues at our recently concluded House of Bishops meeting in Texas.
The psalmist wrote his lament while in exile in Babylon. One fellow bishop reflected that our church has been in exile for a long time, and that we just don’t recognize that fact. Another talked about violent oppression in Honduras, and how the Lord's song of hope can be sung, even when hope seems to be smothered by fear. Another talked about his experience of witnessing to God's song of mercy in prisons – places where mercy is increasingly a foreign concept, if not outright denied. Still another, in conversations with young people, discovered that many feel a connection to Jesus but find the institutional church to be a foreign land, more interested in self-preservation than the gospel.
Images and metaphors from the psalm flowed at our meeting – and continue to grab my heart and challenge my thinking. What is emerging for me is the temptation to think that the church and the world are inherently foreign to one another.
And yet – I am finding more and more people who are claiming our song – with lyrics from the gospel and a tune keyed in the living Christ.
And yet – more and more people are intent on bridging the firewall between the church and the world. Half of our congregations brought the church into the world with “Ashes to Go.” Our first cohort of clergy, lay leaders, and congregations have started their engagement with The Missional Network – an Anglican Canadian church consulting firm whose purpose is to connect discipleship with mission.
And yet – I am inviting leaders and congregations to join me in a unique engagement with the world on the National Day of Prayer, which is Thursday, May 1. Drawing from the energy and learnings from “Ashes to Go,” I invite congregations to participate in “Blessings to Go.” On Ash Wednesday, ashes were the symbol, marked on the forehead – which had deep and almost instant recognition. For “Blessings to Go” we will use oil, an ancient symbol of anointing and healing, applied on the forehead with the sign of the cross. The diocesan Liturgy and Music Committee will provide resources for prayers and blessings. All that participants will need to do is put up a sign and stake out a place in the local community.
As we continue to venture into the world with the fundamental symbols of our faith, people are telling me that the world is beginning to feel less foreign – mainly because people out in the world seem so eager to be blessed, and literally touched by God's grace; and partly because we are getting more confident at singing our song of hope and freedom.
It used to be thought that a foreign land – be it across an ocean, across town or across some religious divide, was a place to be avoided. Because it was thought that God wasn’t there. As we continue in these community engagements, more and more of us are discovering that God is indeed present, that the territory is less foreign and forbidding – and that the produced harmony can be transforming.
"On the go..."
Whether its ashes, prayers, blessings, or....keep the message moving.
Invigorating and inspiring...
Thank you, Bishop.
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