I recently started listening to a podcast called Two Priests in a Pod. It’s a conversation between two priests in The Episcopal Church, sharing thoughts, stories, jokes, reflections, and faith. They are good at chatting humanistically about heavy topics – I highly recommend it.
One topic they addressed was the need to preach the doctrine of the Cross – perhaps more archaically described as preaching Christ Crucified, for those of us that enjoy reading the Oxford Movement Fathers as much as I do 😉
Their consensus was that the Church needs more preaching, talking about, and living the teachings of Jesus Christ the Son of God: that He suffered and died for our sins. The Church needs a stronger awareness of this, of what it says about us as people redeemed through grace in Christ. It needs this especially in a time when we do not like to talk about sin. We do not like to talk about unworthiness. So, they discussed, we need to more honestly and humanly approach this doctrine – so that we don’t avoid it and make our Christianity a shallow, superficial one. Absent this, we see declines in church membership and attendance.
I don’t entirely disagree with their thoughts. When discussing this with another priest whom I know and trust, I found another perspective. My friend has gotten to know many parishes and communities in his time. He has seen many communities grow and shrink. For those that were shrinking, he posed, is the shrinking really due to their preaching? Are they preaching differently than they were years ago (when they were larger)? He didn’t think so. Are they not preaching Christ Crucified, or skimming over these sides of the Gospel? He didn’t think so. Yet… some congregations are shrinking and some are growing. Sometimes, we agreed, this is for reasons only to be found in that community, and in that context – the factors for which cannot always be generalized to the larger Church.
I’ve thought over the podcast again, as well as our conversations. Perhaps there are grains of truth to it all. But perhaps none of the issues are centered exclusively on the rector him/herself. Perhaps the question – do we preach Christ Crucified? – is best posed to the whole congregation.
Three areas of reflection seem useful to this end:
(1) Reflecting on Myself – What does my prayer life and my daily life in all its facets, look like? In prayer, worship, and reading the Bible (hopefully all play a role 🙂 ) have I encountered Christ’s message of suffering and redemption? How would I describe Jesus’s message of love and forgiveness, for a fallen people, for all of us? If I don’t see or feel any of this, what might I do differently in my prayer or daily life? What questions might I ask? Why will this help me grow closer to Christ and to my own humanity?
(2) Reflecting on Myself and Others – How do I live Christ’s teachings in my daily life? To what degree do I love my neighbor as Christ has loved me? In what ways do I order my life upon the Gospel’s message? How visible, if at all, is this to others? How might I show the love of Christ to others in how I interact with them. How willing am I to talk about my faith? Or how do I let my faith inform what and how I speak? How willing am I to invite someone into my spiritual life, or to know that side of me? If these things are not taking place, what changes might I make? What questions might I ask? How will this help me (and all of us) grow as the Body of Christ?
(3) Reflecting on the Bigger Picture – This one might happen automatically, with the first two. In all that I do, and in all that we do collectively, how has it helped me know Jesus better in my life?
In this way, the Good News of God in Christ is lived inside and outside of the church walls. While the sermon is one of the most deliberate times when we listen and reflect, the spreading of the Gospel and living in Christ are ongoing. My small joy has been to realize this anew, and to see the potential it holds for the renewal of the Christ’s body, his Church.