Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sacramental Theology

One purpose that I feel that God is calling me and our congregation to has only been recently realized. While some of you have heard me discuss this, I would like everyone to know what it is about. Last year, the church paid for me to attend the Fosdick Convocation in New York City where preachers and teachers from all across the country gathered for a week of prayer, preaching, discussion, debate, and inspiration. During one of the lectures from Tony Campolo, an American Baptist evangelist and author, a thought occurred to me that I just couldn't shake. He preached his sermon on Matthew 25:31-46 in which he articulated the Christian imperative that preaching the Good News isn't just about the words we say, but the actions that we do.

Later, as I discussed the impact of his sermon on me over dinner with friends and colleagues at The Mill, a tasty Korean restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, an idea began to form--actually it was less of an idea and more of a startling revelation. Why is it, when we observe the Sacraments that they do not include loving our neighbor? Why are the sacraments, the earthly manifestation of God's grace realized in the Lord's Supper and Baptism, only about a spiritualization and not about a practical demonstration of God's grace to others when Jesus said that feeding, clothing, and caring for the marginalized was so central to his message that whoever doesn't practice it, will most certainly not inherit the kingdom of God?

If feeding, clothing, giving water, caring for strangers, clothing the naked, caring for and visiting the sick and the imprisoned was so important to Jesus as a demonstration of our love for him, why do we treat it as a convenience rather than a necessity?

Over the last year, I have been speaking with a variety of UCC ministers and laypersons both locally and nationally. During my participation at the Central Atlantic Conference in Delaware and at General Synod in Hartford, CT, I spoke with ministers about my idea to pursue making the Care for the Marginalized a new focus for the United Church of Christ. One manifestation of that pursuit is to develop and create a liturgy and theology that challenges us to include Loving Our Neighbor as a new Sacrament for the UCC.

Technically speaking, this can begin at the local level. Individual churches in the UCC and other such congregational churches can decide on their own to sacramentalize this process. Whether or not it is recognized at a higher level is another matter. And, one needs to recognize the negative stigma that participating in a not-yet-approved form of church discipline can have on a local congregation. However, I cannot help but see that pursuing this new sacrament to not only be in tune with the Scriptures but it defines what being a Christian is all about.

Over the course of this year, I will be developing liturgies to specifically recognize Jesus' six imperatives for loving our neighbor:
1. Feeding the Hungry
2. Providing Water or other sustaining liquids to the thirsty
3. Caring for the Strangers (e.g., Immigrants)
4. Clothing the naked
5. Caring for and visiting the Sick
6. Visiting and caring for those in Prison

To help you understand the importance of my pursuit, I would like you to watch the video below. It is about an organization in New York City that serves the poor and hungry in New York and New Jersey. The organization is called God's Love, We Deliver. Many of you know who they are; for those who don't, they are celebrating 20 years of dedication and service. The video highlights their outreach and mission.

What can we do, as a congregation, that honors and engages such a pursuit? What can we do to fulfill Jesus' admonitions to us? I invite you to join me as we begin this most incredible journey to demonstrate God's love through the sacraments and ultimately to the men and women that so desperately need not just a kind word, but food, clothing, and a kind soul to visit with.

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