I've been pondering what I've been calling the quotidian [meaning ordinary, everyday, common place] Gospel. It is my experience that God is most spectacularly present in unspectacular moments. We had one of those spectacularly unspectacular encounters some time ago that I only found out about recently.
A member of the parish, Greg, was in Shanghai, China on business (for his company, Hewlitt-Pakard, a major employer at St. Mary's) earlier this year, and the man working closest with him was a Chinese man who was also a Christian. It’s still not a common thing in China to be a Christian, and recently the government has clamped down on open expressions of religion. As the man and Greg were talking about their faith, the man told Greg how he came to be a follower of Jesus.
A few years back, the man had traveled to Houston for a meeting at HP. He flew in Saturday for his Monday morning meeting, I guess to give time to recover from jet lag, and on Sunday morning he decided to get out of his hotel room and take a walk.
He took a long walk, I’d guess three or four miles, and was hot and thirsty and tired. He saw a building on the corner of Eldridge Parkway and Louetta, and decided to go inside for a drink and to call a cab to take him back to his hotel. The place of refreshment was St. Mary’s, the parish where Greg is a member.
When the man arrived, worship was going on. It was Sunday, after all. I don’t know which service or when or who was preaching. It doesn’t matter. I only know that he walked into our building and sat down in a worship service. During that service, this man, who did not know Jesus as his Lord and his Savior, in worship his eyes were opened. He said it all made sense for him. At worship, at St. Mary’s, he became a follower of Jesus Christ.
But there’s more. After church, he was moved by the warm welcome he got and the many kindnesses offered to him, a stranger. A Chinese stranger. In fact one member of the parish gave him a ride back to his hotel.
When the man returned to China, he was baptized and began a church in his home, which is how most Christians gather to meet in China. He has, in turn, introduced many others to his Lord and Saviour, Jesus, and they have become followers of Jesus and baptized.
Do you hear this remarkable story of one man’s own walk to Christ in an ordinary church on an ordinary Sunday with ordinary folks? Who somehow, simply in worship, had everything explained to him by the Spirit of Christ? God worked spectacularly through unspectacular worship--though can we say that any worship is ever unspectacular?
Do you know how unlikely it was that the man in China would then meet a man from Texas from the very church where he found Jesus? Who, except the Spirit, could have put together this Christian man in Shanghai, China with another Christian man from St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Cypress, Texas so that this story could be shared with the people of St. Mary's? To let us know, less we forget, that Christ is here with us. Right here. Right now. Especially spectacularly in the unspectacular.
There are so many pieces of grace in this story, but I believe the whole community of St. Mary's is part of this man’s journey with Christ to Christ, and every person he has brought to Christ in China. It may have simply been by our prayers or our smiles or our presence or our welcome or the shining brass or the tidy gardens. I don't know what the Holy Spirit used to open up the man's heart--so I only assume that all of those quotidian pieces were used spectacularly by God.
This means that without leaving Cypress, Texas, we at St. Mary's have become missionaries in China! The Holy Spirit wanted us to be sure that we know it-- that our life and ministry, on an ordinary Sunday, has touched lives in China in an extraordinary way.
It is our custom at St. Mary's, as a place of mentoring new clergy, to pray daily for the parishes where they go to serve after they leave us. This week we'll add a new worshiping community to our daily prayer---for our brothers and sisters in the house church in Shanghai.