By Father Casey Shobe
One of my faith heroes is a man named Frank Weston, Anglican Bishop of Zanzibar nearly a century ago. During his remarkable life, he delivered an address to an international gathering of Anglo-Catholics – you know, the ones who make our worship seem downright Methodist, by comparison – and in it he said,
“I say it to you with all the earnestness that I have, that if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament, then you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slum.
If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done.
You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.”
100 years later and Bishop Frank is as right as ever: religious individualism is a trap. If we think faithfulness is only about me and God – whether or not I have asked Jesus to be my personal Lord and Savior; whether I’ve made my prayers and felt God save my soul – we are making a grave and soul-withering mistake. Just consider the words of the prophet Isaiah that we’ll hear this weekend (58:1-12).True faith is not about what we think in our mind, or believe in the quiet of our hearts. Righteousness is not defined by how many services we attend each month, or whether we can perfectly recite the creeds from memory. Holiness is not about the frequency of our fasting, or the piety of our religiosity. Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple once said, “It is a great mistake to suppose that God is chiefly interested in religion.” No, God is interested in people.
Unfortunately, even as our world convulses with suffering, the confused priorities of Christians have meant that we are part of the problem as often as we are part of the solution. For example, 65 million people in our world are currently displaced from their homes from war or violence. These are people fleeing almost unimaginable horrors. Yet the leaders of our nation and our state have decided that we should welcome none of them, because they share the sentiment of nearly 2/3 of American Christians who feel no moral obligation to refugees.
I know how tempting it is to come to church for the beauty and serenity. I realize how tempting is to seek a break from all the rancor. But religion is not escapism, and what happens within the walls of Transfiguration is not an end unto itself. Because if we keep our light under the proverbial bushel basket, and ignore what is happening in the lives of other human beings – especially the ones who are right now walking through the valley of the shadow of death – then we are actually ignoring Christ. It’s like Dorothy Day once said, “I really only love God as much as I love the people I love the least.”
So, today I’m praying that more of us who have clothed ourselves with Christ will listen to the Bishop of Zanzibar. I’m praying Christians will seek Jesus not only in our churches but also in the streets. And I’m praying that we will loosen some more bonds of injustice, set some more oppressed free, share our bread with a few more hungry, and bring more homeless poor to places of safety.
Frank Weston, “Our Present Duty”
Christianity Today, “Pray for Aleppo? Survey Says Fewer Christians Pray for Refugees“
“I really only love God as much as I love the people I love the least.” Attributed to Dorothy Day.
Fr. Casey became the fourth rector of Transfiguration in October 2014 after having served churches in Rhode Island and Houston. He is married to Mtr. Melody Shobe, also an Episcopal priest, and they have two daughters, Isabelle and Adelaide. Fr. Casey grew up in Temple, Texas, and holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas at Austin. His Master of Divinity was earned at Virginia Theological Seminary and his Doctor of Ministry at the School of Theology at the University of the South (Sewanee). He loves playing golf, road cycling, hiking, brewing beer, and working in his yard. You can contact Father Casey by email.