calendar May 9, 2013 in Assembly, Bishop, Bishop messages, Faith in action, Mission

Show Jesus Fearlessly

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Phillip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:20-21 NRSV)

“The Greeks noticed something about Jesus,” said Bishop Claire Burkat in her address to the 2013 Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod Assembly. “They caught a flash of something, heard a sound, got a whiff of something that got their attention.”

It probably surprised Philip that the Greeks would be interested in what Jesus had to offer, so Burkat challenged us to reflect upon who are the outsiders among us. Who are the last people we expect to be looking for a relationship with Jesus?

“We have untested presuppositions about the people who do not come to our churches, or who have left our churches, who do not seem to have a relationship with Jesus,” said Burkat.

We often assume that those outside the church aren’t interested in a relationship with Jesus, when many of those not affiliated with religion say they do believe in God and engage in spiritual practices.

“I want to encourage the kind of risk-taking that expands our ministry horizons, gets people jazzed up about being a Christian,” she said.

Bishop Burkat spoke of recently accompanying 400 Lutheran youth and adults to the Jersey Shore for Hurricane Sandy clean-up. On a trail in Brick, NJ, she met Trisha who stood on the trail holding a blue sign with the word “HOPE” written in sand glued onto the sign. She, herself, had suffered great loss of not only of her home and belongings, but also the recent deaths of family members. Yet, she showed up to see what she could see and say thank you to the volunteers.

“I’m just here to say thank you because I need some hope and you’re it,” said Trisha.

“We Want to See Jesus” – Bishop’s Address 2013 from SEPA Synod on Vimeo.

“I think in this new century the key to showing Jesus is to be willing to take risks,” said Burkat, “to get out there in the public square, or to the beaches or marshes to go where the difference we believe Jesus makes can be seen by those who do not yet believe.”

She challenged the assembly to reflect upon the imaginative and innovative ways their congregation is showing Jesus presence in the world. She pointed to several congregations within the synod who have started Pub Theology groups, meeting in pubs to explore the role of faith, religion and spirituality in the public sphere.

“The idea in these venues is to create a place where people who are not part of the church can talk with people of faith about life and God in their own culture,” said Burkat. “The key is incarnating Christ in the world, rather than spending all our time trying to get people to come to church.”

We need adventurers because we live and minister in times which are have no road map. That calls for us to live as trailblazers and pioneers. Sometimes congregations get turned inward and discouraged missing the opportunity to show Jesus in their communities.

“What about finding one risky thing to do this year?” asked Burkat. “Put the idea on the calendar now.”

She reminded the assembly that Martin Luther was a risk-taker, opening up the sacrament to everyone and translating the Bible so it also was accessible to all.

“Martin Luther risked his life to answer the call: The call to courage, the call to connect, the call to creativity and the call to lead people to Christ,” she said. “Taking big risks for the Gospel is in our DNA!”

She asked the assembly to consider what is holding them back from leaving the safety of their church building to reach out to the “Greeks” who seek Jesus.

“We need people who by the power of God are not afraid!,” said Burkat.

— Rev. Sue Lang