How many of you are following this hit TV series on PBS?
I’m a recent convert.
There was something in the opening episode of Season Four that caught my attention.
I was struck by how a problem between two characters was resolved.
Mr. Carson, the head butler at Downton Abbey, and Charlie Grigg, a stage performer, used to be the best of friends; that is, used to be until a woman, Alice, came between them.
Mr. Carson had a crush on Alice, but Alice chose Charlie, and the two of them go off together.
And this breaks the relationship between Carson and Charlie.
Throughout the episode, we see and feel the contempt, the hatred that Carson has for Charlie.
And even though others around Carson are continually encouraging him to take the first step, and offer the hand of reconciliation, and telling him that this is “an open wound”, that he needs to “stitch up and let heal,” Carson refuses to budge.
Later, when once again urged to see Charlie for the last time before Charlie leaves for Belfast for a new job, Carson finally relents and, at the very last moment, appears at the train station to see Charlie off.
And Charlie tells Carson that Alice had died some years ago, but before dying, told Charlie that she always loved Carson more, and that she should’ve chosen Carson over Charlie.
A healing, a reconciliation begins to happen between the two old friends.
But it wouldn’t have come about, had not Carson first decided, in the last moment, to get to the train station in time to see Charlie before he headed off to Belfast.
That decision of Carson to blast through his hurt, his ego, and contempt for Charlie, and bring himself to go and meet Charlie face to face, is, in my view, a most bold, self-less and courageous act.
It’s the kind of bold public action that we, as followers of Jesus, are always called to do.
The scripture passages today all have as a theme, this idea of our faith being a public thing.
That our faith isn’t something private and internal, to be kept strictly to ourselves behind locked doors and closed off sanctuaries on a Sunday morning, but rather, something…
…that’s lived out in every-day life,
…affecting our every action toward every person we encounter,
…leading to the greater good, for everyone.
The servant of God, according to Isaiah, “will bring forth justice to the nations”, will be a “light to the nations, opening the eyes that are blind, bringing out the prisoners from the prison…”
These powerful images of good actions for all the world to see, continue in the Book of Acts, of Jesus going about preaching peace, doing good and healing the ill.
Very public acts.
Visible for all to see.
And of course, in Matthew’s Gospel: Jesus’ baptism.
This was no private baptism for family members only, hidden away in a locked church building somewhere.
No, this baptism was out there, in public, among the crowds streaming to the Jordan River, for everyone to see John the Baptist baptizing Jesus in the waters.
Now, of course, we need to admit that Lutherans and other mainline churches, typically like to be quiet about our faith, shying away from more verbal, expressive or public demonstrations of our faith or spiritual experiences.
We’re the “frozen chosen”, aren’t we?
But I’m not sure that this behaviour – however… “respectable” or… “Canadian” or… “sophisticated” it may seem – squares with what we actually hear and read about in our Holy Scriptures, and what the Christian faith, what Jesus calls us to be, and to do.
And this is where we are challenged.
To put our faith “out there” a bit more. Just even a bit more, a New Year’s resolution,… for example:
…to not be embarrassed or apologetic about our faith or faith practices in front of our friends, or spouse, or children…
…to not be afraid to use occasionally the words “God” or “prayer” or “Jesus” while talking with someone…
…to take that first bold step to try to make things right with someone with whom we’ve had a falling out…
…to commit to some public action of service to others in legitimate need…
We pray for boldness, and courage in being more “out there” with our faith – in word and action.
And we know we can be more bold, because how can we not be, if the God of the universe loves each one of us deeply, and takes “delight” in us?
At his baptism, Jesus heard those great words of affirmation: “You are my beloved, with whom I am well pleased, in whom I take great delight.”
Those words are also directed at each one of us at our baptisms. And these are timely words.
We really need to hear that God loves and takes delight in us, no matter what.
Because we live in a culture that promises acceptance and respect only if we are… skinny enough or…. “successful” enough or… rich enough or… popular enough or… exciting enough (not boring) or… beautiful enough or…. young enough.
But in God’s eyes, we are enough… simply in who we are, just the way we are, right here right now.
We don’t have to be something we’re not, desperately trying to be something that we feel others, or society, are expecting of us in order to feel valued or accepted.
In our baptism, God already declares us good enough!
And this is freeing, liberating,… inspiring us, first to embrace ourselves, to love ourselves as we uniquely are, and to embrace others with that same kind of super-abundant forgiving love.
An Anglican church in Edmonton, Holy Trinity Riverbend Church, has been taking seriously the Joint Declaration by Lutherans and Anglicans at this past July’s Convention on Housing and Homelessness, and have been attentive to the growing needs for affordable housing, for a growing number of low-income Canadians.
They’ve been looking at developing their church property so as to build a 60 unit apartment style building adjacent to their church.
It hasn’t been easy, with strong resistance coming from neighbouring property owners concerned with dropping property values, and an initial consultation process that was flawed.
Nevertheless, the congregation hasn’t given up, and is still committed to seeing some kind of project through to its completion.
Our prayer for this Edmonton congregation, and for all of us wanting to live our faith boldly and unapologetically out there in the world, is that we may all rest in the knowledge and experience of God’s deep love for us, a love that will continue unstopped, to bubble over and spill out toward others.