Thursday, May 17, 2007

No More Excuses

I’m exhausted today. Matt mentioned on Stand Firm that Good Shepherd has hosted Christian Life and Witness Classes for the upcoming Franklin Graham NYPENN Festival in June. We’ve been involved in the planning and praying for this event for the last two years. Actually, there’s been a group of pastor’s praying for God to do something in Binghamton for about 20 years, faithfully every Thursday at something like 6 am. Matt went for a while but I haven’t been able to cope with the children on my own that early, so he’s stopped for the time being. Three years ago someone from the group was at the Billy Graham School of Evangelism (I think that’s what it’s called) for a weekend of something, and someone from Franklin’s team said, ‘Aren’t you from Binghamton? We’ve been praying about Binghamton’ to which this person replied, ‘great, we’ve been praying about you.’ So now, three years later, we’re on the verge of this real live festival.

We’d been seriously focused on Evangelism as a church since we arrived—a necessity given the size of the congregation and the state of the budget. If you want to survive as a church, new people have to come in. And we’ve focused on conversion growth, rather than trying to get Episcopalians from other churches. We’ve had this growth—many new believers, as many as we’ve been able to cope with, really. And now we’re desperately trying to grow these new believers up in the appalling thought that we might have a new influx come June.

I’ve allowed myself to be stressed by this. I’ve been at all the planning meetings since the beginning and I’ve been struggling along in Bible Study and with individuals, trying to help them keep on the right path. And a lot of other things have taken back seat to this work—my house, for instance, my MA program, even atrium life has been co-opted by practicing some kind of weird dances for the Children’s part of the festival (can’t wait to have atrium time back! That’s one reason I’m feeling so off kilter). And then, of course, after all this preparation and work, I manage to be pregnant again which saps my energy back down to zero.

Through all of this, bad moods included, I realized this morning that I really want people to come to know Jesus. I want Good Shepherd to grow. I want the pews to fill up and the Sunday School to actually reach capacity and require some other space. I want more people trained to teach Bible Studies and do some of the work of discipleship. But at the baseline, I would like people to be Christian. Not just in name, but seriously, willing to put everything on the line for the sake of the Gospel, willing to count everything a loss for the gain of Christ.

But the result of this desire, today, is complete and total fatigue. I’m tired. I’m tired of shoving and pleading and cajoling and reminding people that they need to invite their friends to church and to the festival, pleading with them that the most important thing for their children should be a profound and transformative knowledge of Christ, not soccer practice AND, most of all, I’m tired of being given excuses: ‘well, I’m praying for someone but I know they won’t come’ or ‘I don’t have any friends’ or ‘I don’t know if I’ll be free that weekend, I’m probably going to be out of town.’

And then, a few minutes ago, I read Matthew’s parable of the talents, and I realized that we’ve been given a rare and beautiful gift, The Gospel. And I will feel absolutely sick if we, as a church, and as individuals, go and hide it in the ground, bury it up and move on to the next thing. So, even though I’m tired and worn thin, I think I will get back on the phone and keep hassling people—are you praying? Have you invited your friends? Did you sign up to be a counselor? Will you be in church this Sunday? Are you planning to bring your children to Sunday School? And if not, Why? Because time’s a wasting, there’s work to be done, and you need to buckle down and do the work of the Kingdom.

1 comment:

Joyce Carlson said...

Hi. It's me your mother. Hang in there and bless me, Fr. Daughter, lest I die unshriven.
About the anxious question of building the church, and making disciples: one has to call to mind the cartoon of God -- long white beard and long white robe in front of an open oven door with a baking sheet of "gingerbread men" and God is saying, "Looks half-baked to me," and puts the pan back in for more baking.
The fact is, we are all so half-baked, and what looks like the church or what we think the church ought to be is so inadequate, but the heat is still on, so there's hope.
For a ridiculous example of what can happen in spite of one's best intentions to praise God in church and seek the kingdom of God and all sorts of righteousness: tonight we went to an Ascension service at St. Francis in Karen -- maybe 15 people in attendance. Me on the organ completely muffing the second half of the first hymn (five verses and I got it wrong every time), because I was trying to play it from Hymns Ancient and Modern, but in a key that everyone could sing. Happily there were two strong tenor voices who over-rode any wierd note I might be hitting.
Then the preacher, in nearly inexplicable Kenyan English made alot of inexplicable remarks circling around the thought stuck in his mind that when Jesus said to be baptised, that meant immersion, not little drops of water flying around. That's about all he got out of the passages on the Ascension.
Finally, to top everything off, a swarm of flying ants invaded the church because of the new, much-needed rain, and hassled me trying to play the communion hymn by landing on the keys, and flying in my face -- all this while the celebrant kept waving them away from the chalice lest they land in the wine. Finally, we got to the recessional "Abide with Me", and what was abiding with me was a squadron of flying ants who were crawling down my back.