Pastor’s Perspective – May 2019
We are a post-Easter Church.
We are a post-Easter people.
We should no longer be surprised by the end of the gospel stories. (Spoiler alert: Jesus rises from the dead.)
It is ironic that while the Church was once again telling the story of Jesus’ resurrection, major media conglomerates (Disney and HBO) desperately sought to stop leaks from ruining the conclusions of their (Avengers and Game of Thrones) franchises. In most corners of the world the joy of a story is to hear the conclusion with a sense of wonder and surprise. We live for a twist ending, a revelation that reframes the previous journey, a conclusion that makes the hearing and the telling satisfying. The story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ changes those who have heard it. It gives us hope and reframes our understanding of God and God’s love for us, but we have heard the story before.
Those of us who have heard the Easter story can sometimes misplace the wonder and the surprise of the story. We assume that most people know the story… but do they?
What if I told you that there is an entire generation of people who do not know the story? They have heard about the story of Jesus, but many have not actually heard the story. It is hard to believe that there is anyone who hasn’t watched the Marvel movies, but there are countless people who may know the characters but have never heard the stories. Every year, every day, people hear these stories for the first time. More importantly every day people hear the story of Jesus for the first time. That is… of course, if people are willing to share the story.
The task of the post-Easter Church is to tell the story and share the Good News, but many of us feel ill equipped as story tellers and evangelists. The lay person comes by this misunderstanding honestly. In the years since the Easter story was first told, the Church has sought to let the professionals manage the message of the gospel. As we have relied upon a professional caste of clergy, we have devalued the personal evangelism that typifies the growing evangelistic Church that once transformed the world.
While achieving an expertise in the Biblical narrative is never a flaw, it should be recognized that restricting the teaching and learning of the Bible to “experts” is in fact a major obstacle to the work of the Holy Spirit. Professionals are trained to seek innovation. We can inadvertently place too much emphasis on creativity and professionalism and wrongly eschew simplicity and accessibility. We can often spend too much time chasing our own questions instead of simply sharing the gospel with those who have yet to hear. When professionals lead the Church our mission becomes ever more connected to the esoteric and secret information of the scriptures and removed from the central stories of the scriptures. This injures our ability to reach out and grow new converts and believers and exaggerates our place in the evangelistic endeavor.
In media terms many professional ministers share the story of Jesus as if we were intending to remake a classic movie or television show. Remakes are always fraught with danger. They tell a well-known story, but often times fall into the trap of trying to change too much of the story in order to be innovative. We feel that we should not repeat the past so as not to plagiarize. The story gets told but our desire to place our own stamp on it causes us to stumble over what makes the story great in order to add our own flourish or flavor.
This is one of the ways in which our Baptist heritage can provide us with a clear way forward. Baptists are ‘grass roots’ Christians. We believe in the priesthood of all believers. We thrive on personal evangelism and lay leadership. We value professional leadership but understand that the job of the clergy is not to be the only story teller, but to serve as an equipper to the saints.
I was recently reminded of the power of the laity when I returned home to eulogize my mother’s mother; my Mama. Josephine Brunacini was the first person who affirmed my calling to gospel ministries. To this day I am unsure if she knew that God was calling me or if she actually prayed me into the call. I say this because Mama was not only a voracious reader of the Bible, but also lived a life devoted to prayer. She was the first person that I ever knew to keep a prayer journal. Her prayer lists were dozens of pages long. Alongside my father, who also kept extensive prayer lists and studied the scriptures with devotion and expertise, my maternal grandmother was one of the Godliest people I have ever known.
Mama Brunacini was instrumental in my family being Baptist. I might have been born into Roman Catholicism but I was born again as a Baptist. In many ways one can say that I am a first-generation Protestant, but I didn’t leave under protest. Neither did my parents, nor my grandparents. We didn’t leave because the Catholic Church injured us. We left to find a deeper sense of purpose, calling, and integration of faith in our lives as Christians. Through the movement of the Holy Spirit, we were all transformed by God at the same time. It is odd that my grandparents, parents, and my brother and I, were all experiencing spiritual transformation simultaneously. God seemed to be working organically through my family, reaching, teaching and calling us as one. Serendipitously, the Holy Spirit, working through scripture and prayer, was leading three generations of believers toward a culmination of ideas, theology and transformational change.
My Mama never went to seminary, but she served the Lord with distinction and honor. She devoted her life to following Jesus in all ways and with all of her strength. She did not seek a degree, nor did she ask permission to tell the story. She just did it.
My maternal grandparents shared Jesus with almost everyone they met and everywhere they went. They never met a stranger and rarely failed to share their love of God with those whom they met. My cousin, a Marine, shared the story of introducing his grandmother to a buddy who was going to boot camp with him. Mama Brunacini did not miss the chance to share the gospel with the young man who was not yet a believer. My cousin felt a wave of embarrassment as his grandmother shared the story of Jesus to his high school friend. It was only weeks later that he appreciated her love and boldness as he attended a chapel service while training. There he bumped into his old high school friend, now a Christian. They worshipped together that day. Sadly his friend died overseas, but thanks to our Mama he has eternal life.
Post-Easter Christians tell the story. We tell the story of Jesus and His love. We tell the story of how Jesus changed our lives. We tell it in our own words, with our own accent, and in our own way. It is our story to tell.
Tell the story of Jesus to a friend and do it today.
Easter is Here! He Is Risen Indeed!