I don’t know how many of you know this but Caitlyn and I have recently made the decision to start taking the bus pretty much everywhere we go. It began when the BMW, revered and beloved and very, very old vehicle finally started acting its age at 300k+ miles and stopped running, but it also echoed Caitlyn’s weird love for riding the bus. She digs it for reasons that escape me but I have to admit that I actually have begun to like it for a number of reasons.
For one thing, I like the limitation that it places upon me. I can no longer just jump up and go somewhere, drop of a hat. I know, it seems like something I would never ever want to let go of but stick with me for a minute; when you are able to go anywhere at any time, that’s what people expect of you. Suddenly it is expected of me to drop everything and hop up and go do things, the expectation becomes that I will react to demands instantly, because I can.
Well, I can no longer do that. And that is fine with me. Suddenly, I am in control of my schedule again; it is planned and plotted rather than being at the whim of myself and others. I can act, on purpose, rather than only react to external stimuli.
The same thing is true of my “second office” the ubiquitous cell phone, once you have one everyone thinks they have a right to speak to you whenever it is convenient for them. In a country that prizes as much as we do the rights of the individual to determine their own destiny, that is a lot of concession of control over our lives that we have given up for the sake of something of so little and so fleeting value in the final analysis as convenience.
That is why, you know. It is convenient to be able to jump up and get a five pound bag of sugar when you run out instead of having to check and make sure you have everything you need before you start baking. It was okay for me to not bother packing a lunch because I had the option of just going out and getting something, or going home and having something so I never bothered packing a lunch, never.
Now, I have the blessing (and it is a blessing), of being subject to the restrictions of a schedule. I schedule things to happen and they sort of have to happen when I schedule them because I cannot just jump up and change things or accommodate surprises. Don’t get me wrong, if someone ends up in the hospital or has an actual emergency, I can call a cab and get there pronto and still have it be cost effective on balance.
But one of the things that struck me recently was the relative invisibility of the Christian in our society. I think I made the reference about a year ago to the Arrested Development episode where the girl asks where she can “get one of those necklaces with the t on it?” the male character says “its a cross” and she asks “across from what?” I have been thinking about how little I can assume about a person by virtue of seeing the cross hanging around their neck or the old WWJD wrist-bands. They have become fashion statements, clothing memes adopted by the bulk of society without any understanding or interest in what it might mean.
So nowadays I am a constant presence on the bus system in Santa Rosa and across the county in general, and it occurred to me one day when I got into a theological discussion with a woman which turned into a nine minute Bible study involving the entire front half of the Bus; that it would have been impossible for even me, the trained theological professional, to tell in advance of their opening their mouths which of the people sitting there were Christian and which were not.
The necklaces with the t on them were not the best clue. Nobody wearing one spoke up and the best and most insightful comment of all was made by the teenager carrying a guitar case, sitting with what appeared to be his girlfriend, both of whom must have whistled in a stiff wind for all of the piercings they sported on their heads and exposed flesh.
He asked whether or not we ought to just assume that every person we meet every minute of every day is Jesus and act accordingly.
It changed the whole tenor of the conversation and my mind went to places like, “What scholarships are available to this kid to get him to the seminary?” What I asked was, “How do we move from seeing everyone we meet as Jesus to asking ourselves how we can be Jesus to them?”
How do we let the glory of the Lord shine forth in our faces like Moses coming down from the mountain with the tablets of the Law? How do we shine with the light of Christ having been fed by His word and immersed in the scriptures each Sunday?
This <point to the ground where you stand> is the mountaintop. “How good Lord to be Here” says the Hymn and that is true; but this place, this worship, this fellowship is not the end of the meaningful expression of Christian faith, this is not the result of faith.
This is the starting line. This is the mountaintop. How do we emerge from this place, our faces shining with the glory of the Lord?
It was not a complete conversation stopper on the bus that day but it may have been a little too deep for some people. But if we want our faith to mean something more than just what club we belong to and where and when that club meets, <point again at the floor> it is a question that we need to face.
What does it mean to be as Christ to people? Are there concrete steps? Can I get a Checklist? Can I shop around the list, treating it like a buffet line, doing those things that I agree with and not the other ones? Is there an aggregate number of points I have to earn overall to be like Jesus?
This has always been my problem with the crosses and the wrist bands and the t-shirts that proclaim the faith of the person wearing them. When you ask What would jesus Do? it tempts us to forget what did Jesus do?
Gave Himself. All of Himself, all of the time.
If we ask ourselves how we can shine forth with the Light of Christ, how we can be Christ to the people we meet, and greeting them as if they themselves were the Christ we begin to get to the heart of the matter. Because we all know that we are probably not going to die for the sake of the world, so actually being as Christ is out of the question.
The reason this came to mind was that in riding the bus as I do, it is not often obvious to anyone watching that I am a pastor, let alone a Christian.
But I don’t know if you know this, but I occasionally wear a black shirt with a little white tab at the throat, a clerical collar <point for emphasis>, and more frequently than most of the Lutheran pastors in this county, wear it all day long, even on the bus.
Not every day, and not most days even, but the collar makes an occasional appearance in public.
Collar, cleric, the whole outfit makes an entirely different statement than just wearing a cross around your neck, or a necklace with a t on it, if you will.
What is odd is that I have never so much as been spoken to out loud by anyone on the bus so long as I have been wearing the collar. Seriously. Nobody talks to me, nobody approaches me and asks me questions; nobody but Caitlyn, who talks to me all the time anyway, so much as acknowledges my presence when I am wearing the collar.
I held the nine minute Bible Study, which I think is what I’ll be calling it from now on, and it happened while I was wearing a sweater and jeans.
So what marked me as a person of faith? What was it that signalled to the people around me that they could count on me for a faithful response to their questions, that I could enter into a discussion of faith in their midst?
Probably the fact that I have no shame. Same reason, by the way, that I wear the collar around all day sometimes. My internship supervisor insisted that I wear it every day and learn what it was to be seen as a Christian everywhere I went and it kind of whipped the shame, the nervousness of being a Christian in public in a time when that is no longer the mainstream right out of me.
So I jumped into someone else’s conversation because I have professional expertise in what they were discussing.
Not everyone here has a Masters in Divinity, so I understand that not everyone is going to be able to jump right in like that.
So don’t. It isn’t a checklist. There is no right thing that you have to do in order to let God’s glory shine forth from your face the way that Moses did.
Besides, that’s a bad description of what Jesus did. It’s too small for the reality of Jesus and His effect on the whole creation, if you narrow it down to something you do, then you miss Jesus completely.
Throughout the scriptures, through Advent and Epiphany and into Lent, through Easter and into the time after Pentecost (called ordinary time), throughout it all Jesus does what is far from ordinary, far from what is expected of Him.
He goes where he is not expected, or wanted. He intrudes where there is no place set for Him, He crosses boundaries and borders, lines drawn in bright light between the clean and the unclean, between the chosen people and the people He chose.
He enters into the lives of the people around Him, all of them, all the time, bringing the peace that comes from knowing and being known. He risked the wrath of the church, the government, and the crowd as we heard last week to come to the people who needed His peace. He knew the cost and paid it gladly, crossing lines and being with the people He came to save.
When we look at the people we meet every day we probably do not see a whole bunch of the light of God, God’s glory and grace and love, shining in their faces. Most of us are busy and most of us are thinking about something else, the things we have to do and that keeps us from shining with the light of Christ quite as much a we might want.
Things will not make it happen.
You cannot do the thing that Jesus did but you can share in the things that Jesus did, the reaching out, the crossing lines, the risking it all, the bringing hope, the giving yourself, all of yourself, all the time, but in the end, it is not the things that you do, it is the thing that He did.
He overturned the power of death so that you need not fear it when you reach out in dark places.
He fulfilled the law so that you no longer have to. No more are you called to be fully righteous by virtue of your own strength.
He ended the notion that some people are special, or better than others; calling all men brothers, all women sisters so that we might have a family in faith that has no boundaries, no borders, no limitations.
He fulfilled all wisdom so that you do not need to know all of the answers. Instead, you are free to enter into the conversation, with people you know and people who are strangers to you. You are free to live Christian, loving and seeking and daring, instead of doing Christian stuff and always wondering if it is enough, if it is the right stuff.
I saw a man at Mac’s deli downtown have the waitress add an extra sandwich to his bill before he paid it and then took the sandwich outside with him as he left and gave it to a panhandler in the downtown square, sitting and chatting with him a minute as he began to eat.
He got no points; checked no boxes, fulfilled no righteousness. But from his face the glory of God shone. Christ’s light shining in the simple act of feeding someone who was hungry. Not a big risk, to be sure, he could likely afford it The panhandler seemed harmless. But how often do you see that happening? How often do we ourselves cross even that small border.
This afternoon a group of people in this church will go out back and sort out some redeemable bottles and cans, taking them to the recycling center and getting in return a check that they can put to use in helping others who are not as fortunate as they are, who are hungry more often than they are, who are in rougher shape than they are.
It started when someone noticed that there were hungry people, and that the things that we were just tossing in the recycling barrel could be worth money and that we could use that money to help people. One plus one plus one. Small risk. But well over a thousand dollars raised later, it has had an impact not just on the hungry, but also on the folks, the kids who come out and help us. For a brief moment they are shining with the light of God’s love as they stomp cans flat and sort plastic from glass. They learn what it is to live Christian, for an hour once a month, but it leaves a mark that can last forever.
I think that the collar and cross I sometimes wear is like the shining of the light from Moses’ face. It is too bright and obvious for some people to handle and they turn away. It is the everyday light, the small graces, the little ministries that are the true light of faith. They need no collar, no cross. Just a heart willing to risk it all, or just a little, to reach across a border and take a hand.