For the last two consecutive Sundays Pastor Jared Stahler has preached boldly on two challenging topics – death and stewardship. I have heard it said that most people pre-ferred the former over the latter. In any case I am certain that it is a simple coincidence that Pastor Stahler is now outside of the country – which leaves me with yet another challenge, particularly for Lutherans, and that is the call to evangelism.
I knew at the early age of three or maybe four that my son, David, had indelible Lutheran traits. One morning as Debra and I were getting ready for work while also getting David ready for school he asked, from his seated position on the couch, “Mom can I have some juice.” Debra, seizing on the opportunity to encourage David’s emotional and cognitive growth as well as make our mornings a little easier said to David, “you know David, you are old enough now to do that yourself.” I was impressed with her appeal to pride and competency but somewhat taken aback by my son’s response. “Mom,” he declared, “I am not a doer.”
Now the joke, of course, is quite tongue in cheek. Lutherans have a long history of service to those in need in so many different areas that it would take a series of adult forums to do them justice. But where most of us struggle in the doing department – is evangelism. In sharing our baptismal faith with others. In sharing the presence and promise of God in our lives; a presence that brings us the gifts of the spirit: peace, as-surance, hope, love and joy.
It seems odd, doesn’t it, that we would have such difficulty sharing what is such a positive experience. So the fundamental question is this - what keeps us from doing so? Either we have not really taken into our experience God’s promise or we have taken it in, it has positively affected our lives but we are reticent to share it. While the reasons for this are complex one thing is clear. We hesitate to share our faith out of fear; fear born out of the experience that what we once had both so joyfully and spontaneously experienced and expressed has in some way been taken from us, stolen really from a less than loving environmental response – leaving us feeling rejected, abandoned and even ashamed.
You see our authentic human experience when things excite us is spontaneous expression. Infants and toddlers and young children do this all the time unless and until they learn that such expression leads to emotional pain.
Another story about a boy named Nicky. Nicky’s first challenge in life was to withdraw from his heroin addiction he inherited from his addicted mother. I met him as one of the eighteen boys living in East Wing, a residential treatment center for violently acting out emotionally disturbed boys where I worked for several years doing childcare. I never found out anything else about Nicky’s mother. No one seemed to know where she was. I did know, however, that he had a father and I knew a lot about what his father did because Nicky talked about him all of the time. His father was his hero. Most of the boys would make home visits on weekends usually twice a month. Nicky never did. He was one of a few boys that had no home to go to. But once a month there was a parent’s visitation day. For the week or so before that visit Nicky would talk to me with excitement about his father’s coming visit.
That Sunday morning he would wake up and sit on the outside doorstep that led to our picnic tables his eyes filled with hope and expectation. And he would wait and wait and wait. For the three years that I was associated with that institution Nicky’s father came once.
If statistics reach you more than stories consider this: in this country more than 5 chil-dren die per day due to abuse, 54% of girls under the age of 16 have experienced some form of unwanted sexual attention. 24% of those girls have experienced sexual assault and 17% have experienced incest. The most extensive study of child sexual abuse in Canada was conducted by the Committee on Sexual Offences Against Children and Youths. Its report indicates that, among adult Canadians, 53% of women and 31% of men were sexually abused when they were children.
If and when our spontaneous experiences and expressions of childhood joy were met with abuse, criticism, ridicule or even indifference we learned either not to take in any more promises of hope or if we did take them in, we kept it a secret.
My friends the Gospel is this; that no matter what your experiences might have been God reaches through life’s pain claiming you as his own beloved child, promising his presence in your life every day, resurrecting you from life’s defeats, cleansing your wounds and making you holy. Yes it is difficult for some of us to believe, to take in and even more difficult for others of us to share. But God will continue to gives us opportunities to do just that and even the courage to try.