The second half of Dr. Bryan Stone’s keynote addresses to Troy Annual Conference 2008 (read the first half here). As before, I wrote this for the Troy AC Communications team, so the work was already done for (but also by!) me, but this one hasn’t been posted at the Troy AC website yet, so it’s not even hot off the press!
Evangelism through Eucharist
Dr. Bryan Stone returned to the podium Friday morning for his second keynote address, focusing on the Lord’s Supper as a model for evangelism.
Stone stated that, living within the empire, the American church is influenced by the market economy of that empire. Just as we must resist the violence of the empire, Stone insisted that the church must not allow itself to be seduced by the market economy. Giving in to such seduction erodes the offer of Christ.
“The offer of Christ can be beautiful,” Stone said, “when we are shaped by a different market vision, by Eucharistic sharing.”
Stone challenged listeners to reflect on the ways that Christian worship and evangelism resist the power of the market economy. That market mentality seeks to identify people primarily as consumers, and offer salvation as a commodity for which they can trade, rather than a free gift. In this context, Stone said, evangelism becomes reduced to a marketing strategy, and strange or difficult parts of the Christian message are downplayed.
“Are there parts of the gospel that don’t get much attention in your church?” Stone asked, challenging the Conference to remain faithful to the message rather than risking offending or seeming strange. Instead, he reiterated that salvation is a free gift, not a commodity only seen as good news because it satisfies a desire or felt need. To explore this free giving, Stone examined the radical hospitality and sharing embodied in the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper.
“Eucharist,” Stone said, “is an ordinary, regular, shared meal by which a new social body comes into being.” In sharing that meal, we are partakers in a fellowship, and not consumers who expect to give and receive in turn. By giving without expecting anything in return, those who share in the Lord’s Supper resist the prevailing market economy.
The contemporary market economy teaches that there are not enough resources to go around, and that individuals need to compete for those resources. By contrast, Stone said, “A Eucharistic approach to evangelism is premised on abundance and not scarcity. The Gospel is not a commodity. The Gospel is life, abundance, and thanksgiving.”
Additionally, Stone reminded his listeners that common meals of any kind create community and extend fellowship. Eating together, whether in the Lord’s Supper or a potluck, creates a shared time and space, removing spirituality from its modern position as something private, and enacting hospitality, solidarity and unity.
“It is impossible to eat together joyously at the table when those around us are hungry,” Stone cautioned, and so sharing the Lord’s Supper must always be an act of reaching out to the outcast and the poor. To do this, churches must assure that their spaces are welcoming of the other, that their finances are well-managed so they have the resources to assist the poor, and that their policies are aimed at seeking out the vulnerable in our society. All of this springs from an understanding that we too were once the poor and the strangers in our communities. By understanding and reflecting on our own otherness, we can properly relate to the others around us.
As we invite others to the community and the shared table, Stone reminded his listeners to be patient in waiting for a response. “We welcome with open arms, but room must be made for acceptance or rejection of the invitation. If we embrace too soon, the invitation becomes violence,” Stone cautioned.
The radical hospitality of Christ’s table should make us uncomfortable, Stone warned, because it is a place where all are invited. Without exception or qualification, all people are invited to share in this new community and in a new way. It is through this action, Stone said, that those who share in the Eucharist are transformed into the Body of Christ, the community that lives out of abundance, hospitality and unity.
Like the new political reality of evangelism within the empire, this new economic reality of shared abundance is part of the good news. When enacted, the good news (evangelism) is a visible witness and offering, Stone said.
“What the church offers the world is itself as the Body of Christ, a new social order in the world.”
Food for thought
What about that strikes you? Convicts you? I know I had several long moments with his question, “Are there parts of the gospel that don’t get much attention in your church?” Ouch. I’m sure there are. I bet they’re not the ones you might think!
Your turn; ‘fess up!
(I asked another question, but that’s for another post.)