A Meditation for the Second Week in Pentecost
Street Church Redemption
A preacher’s nightmare: the bishop dropping in on Trinity Sunday. A bishop’s dream: dropping in on a whole congregation having a conversation about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and why any of it makes one whit of difference.
Street Church meets in borrowed space in Fredericksburg. The members have personally experienced life without a home, now or recently. With the Rev. Chelsea Morse, they plan and execute the weekly worship service (and on this day, make the fresh hot breakfast).
A rare break in the formal visitation schedule allowed me to join them as they observed Trinity Sunday: as they connected as a worshiping community, as they wrestled with the story of Nicodemus and Jesus, not to mention Trinitarian theology, and as they prayed. I simply listened and prayed along. This is what I heard.
I heard stories of people who knew where they had been disconnected from God’s desires for their lives. They knew that disconnect was the source of their pain and isolation. They knew that the coping mechanisms they had tried – numbing, defensiveness, nihilism – had led them into deeper darkness for a time. They knew that, because the consequences were dramatic in a part of society with no safety nets. I wondered how much harder it might be, for those of us with stronger buffers against personal disaster, to see the root cause of pain and alienation. The truth here was raw; not glazed over nor swept under the rug.
I heard people able to describe their shortcomings and failures honestly – I would not say without shame, but without blame or excuse or drama or fatalism or rancor. None of that was needful, because they knew something more powerful than all that. When Chelsea asked Nicodemus’ question, “What does it mean to be born again?”, the answer came back: It means to wipe all the pain of the past away. It means a fresh start. It means that life begins today. Another worshiper said that Jesus had died on the cross to save us from our sins, and so we must die to sin, as he died, in order to begin a new life as he began a new life. Salvation happens right away, he said, but sanctification takes a long time (I’m quoting him verbatim); so we die to our old selves and are born again at the moment of letting our sins die with Christ and of letting our new life begin. That, he said, is being born again. Amazed at his theological clarity, I wondered how many of us dare to name our particular sins to another person, or even the sins of history; how many of us trust that telling those truths will lead to the healing of hurts so chronic that they can seem normal.
I heard prayers of gratitude for waking up this morning; for a chance to seek God’s purpose for our lives; for the Micah community (“which has saved my life multiple times”). I heard a congregation willing to see, and to tell one another, the raw truth about their whole lives, knowing that their Redeemer lives and was willing to die so that they might live in spite of all that raw truth, if only they would lay it at his feet. Some of the prayers were washed in tears of the Spirit. I wondered what we bring to the foot of the cross, and what we are willing to leave there.
I have never stood on holier ground.
If you’ve ever wondered what “truth and reconciliation” is all about, or why it is important, there it is. It is the process of redemption. Naming the truth, the whole raw truth, about the past, painful as it is. Not needing to present a façade of perfection, invincibility, or even gentility. Just the whole messy truth. Because there cannot be reconciliation unless both parties really show up, as they really are, and lay it all down. We cannot be born again unless we are willing to die. We cannot walk into God’s future dragging all our skeletons and secrets and bad coping mechanisms with us. Jesus took all that to the cross with him, and we must be willing to die to it, too. On the other side, there is life; there is freedom; there is joy.
Nicodemus, somebody pointed out, couldn’t catch it all right away, either. He had questions; he had fears. Jesus knew and accepted this, teaching and admonishing Nicodemus, but never rejecting him or his quest. And when the hour came, it was Nicodemus who confronted the Sanhedrin over its injustice; it was Nicodemus who bought the expensive burial spices for Jesus. We all start where we are, with trepidation and much weighing of the risks. The question is this: Which is riskier? Telling the truth, or trying to keep it buried?
It’s a question of life and death – and being born again.
The people of Street Church understand that life apart from God is death, and there is no reconciliation with God (because we can’t do it without God) until there is truth. On the earth as in heaven, there is no reconciliation without truth.
May God grant us the courage to risk our lives for the truth, which is the path to life.
Street Church is a component of Micah Ministries, a consortium of nine Fredericksburg churches including St. George’s and Trinity. It was born years ago in the basement of Trinity Episcopal and is now woven in the fabric of the city. Read more at https://micahfredericksburg.org/
Bishop Jennifer Brooke-Davidson
Image: Mary Magdalene at the Foot of the Cross, Wikimedia Commons