+ Ten years ago I read a book that really changed much of what I believe about the Church. That book was very influential for me in helping me understand what it means to be a Christian. The book—A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren—was a book that blew me away the first time I read it. Now, the title alone might turn some people off.
A Generous Orthodoxy.
Many of us—especially those of us with a more liberal thinking—might find our defenses coming up when we hear a word like “orthodoxy.” Certainly, many people have been using orthodoxy as a catchphrase—a litmus test of sorts to find out if you’re one of “us”—people who think and believe one way—or one of “them”—people who think different than “us.” Certainly a phrase like orthodoxy seems to perpetuate the polarization of the Church. We find terms like “liberal,” “conservative,” “Moderate,” or what have you being thrown around without much serious thought about what those terms mean.
But I think many of us—especially Episcopalians and Anglicans—find ourselves square pegs in the round holes of those terms. A lot of us might be so-called “”liberals” on some issues, such a women’s ordinations, or the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people in the Church, and yet, we are aren’t so comfortable with some of the theology that other so-called “liberals” profess. Others of us might consider ourselves “conservative” when it comes to issues of Scripture, liturgy, the Church, but when it comes to social issues, we find our selves a bit outside what is normally expected of us as “conservatives.” That’s what I love about the Episcopal Church and Anglicanism.
Here, in its purest sense, one can’t really “peg” anyone clearly. Just when we think we’ve pegged someone as “conservative” or “liberal,” we find areas of commonality with them that surprise us. Or sometimes, we find that when we have demonized a group of people, we are disarmed when they are welcoming to us and or just plain nice to us. In Anglicanism, we find that no one can be easily pegged.
McLean explores Christianity from a perspective similar to this. For him, he says there is no reason why one can’t be “orthodox”—a person who believes in Jesus, who believes in things like the Incarnation, the belief that Jesus is truly the Incarnate Son of God, in things like the Resurrection or the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament—and still be someone who is radical inclusive and welcoming without judgment. We can, in other words, be orthodox, without being fundamentalist.
McLean writes: “For me the ‘fundamentals of the faith’ boil down to those given
He goes on to say: “…the way [of God for Christians] is by embarking on an adventure of faith, hope and love, even if you don’t know where your path will lead…The way to know God is by following Jesus on that venture. One doesn’t learn what God is like in the library or pew and then begin to love God in real life. One begins to love God and others in real life. In the process one learns what God is like—and one might be driven to the library and pew to learn more. Anyone who doesn’t embark on the adventure of love doesn’t know God at all,…for God is love.”
See why I love this book so much! It is filled with insights such as this. Again and again, McLean shows the way forward in our journey of following Jesus in love.
In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus giving us a glimpse of what it means to follow him.
“I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus tells us.
The effective branch bears fruit. Our job as Christians is do just that. It is to bear fruit. Bearing fruit does not mean being frozen in the old way of doing things. Bearing does not bearing grudges. Bearing fruit does not mean being frozen in place, unwilling to move. Bearing fruit does not mean undermining the Church or thinking, “I’m going to run this MY way because I know how to do this better than the priest or the vestry or the Bishop!” We can’t bear fruit when we are worried about maintaining the museum of the Church.
Bearing fruit means, growing and changing and flourishing. But we do it here at St. Stephen’s by doing something that might not seem trendy. We do it with our ancient form of worship. We do it with the Holy Eucharist. We do it with taking what we do here, breaking bread and sharing bread with each other, on Sundays, and then going out doing just that in the world.
And in doing that, we make a difference in the world. That is what it means to is to be effective as Christians.
Being a Christian isn’t only about following private devotions, and reading the Bible by ourselves. Being a Christian isn’t about coming to church to be entertained. Or to feel the Church owes me something. Being a Christian isn’t only about our own private faith. And let me tell you, it certainly has nothing to do with feeling safe and complacent.
Being a Christian means living out our faith—fully and completely, in every aspect of our life. And living out our faith as followers of Jesus means that we must be pliable to some extent. And we must be fertile. We must go with change as it comes along. We must remain relevant.
Now that doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater. In fact it means embracing and holding tightly to what we have do well. We celebrate our Holy Eucharist. We celebrate and remember our baptisms. I will wearing these vestments at Mass. We cling and hold to the Book of Common Prayer And to our music. And to our ministries. We respect and honor and celebrate our tradition, his history, our past.
But it also means that we sometimes have to take a good, hard new look at why we do these things and how we do these things. And what these things mean to us and to the world around us.
Being a Christian means following Jesus, and following Jesus means letting Jesus lead the way. It means allowing the vine to sustain us, to nourish us, to encourage growth within us, so we in turn can bear fruit. As baptized followers of Jesus, as Christians and Episcopalians who are striving to live out the Baptismal Covenant in our lives, we know that to be relevant, to be vital, we must be fruitful.
Following Jesus means that we will follow him through radical times of change. And by being fruitful and growing and flourishing, we are making a difference in the world. We are doing positive and effective things in the world. We are transforming the world, bit by bit, increment by increment, baby step by baby step. We are being the conduits through which God works in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
This is what it means to follow Jesus. That is what it means to be reflectors of God’s Light on those around us. This is what means to be a positive Christian example in the world. And when we do this, we realize that we are really doing is evangelizing. We are sharing our faith, not only with what we say, but in what we do.
That is what it means to be a Christian—to be a true follower of Jesus in this constantly changing world. That is what it means to bear good fruit.
So, let us do just that. Let us bear fruit. Let us flourish and grow and be vital fruit to those who need this fruit. Let us be nourished by that Vine—by the One we follow—so that we can nourish others. And let not be afraid of these “new ways” of “doing” Church. Rather, let us be rejuvenated and excited by these changes.
There is a bright and glorious future awaiting us. There is certainly a bright and glorious future awaiting us here at St. Stephen’s. And there is a bright and glorious future awaiting all of us who are following Jesus as his Church. We should rejoice in that. And we should continue to live out that faith with meaning and purpose.
Let us, in the words of our collect for today, always recognize Jesus “to be the way, the truth and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life…”