The Jesus of Politeness

Earlier this week The Rev. Dr. Carol Flett and I attended the monthly meeting of the Washington Episcopal Clergy Association, or WECA for short.  These monthly meetings are designed for the clergy of the diocese to come together for prayer, to build and strengthen connections with one another and learn together.

The topic of discussion at this month’s meeting was the following question:

“If we believe that God’s Spirit is calling us to a more missional focus in our congregations and our diocese…What needs to be strengthened; what needs to shift; what needs to die/be left behind; what needs to be born/reborn…in us, in our congregations, in our diocese for us to move into closer alignment with what the Spirit is calling us to be?”

Clearly a topic of conversation that had some meat to it.  The clergy broke up into groups of six or seven to discuss this four-part question.   As you might imagine, there were a number of very interesting responses from the active and retired clergy of our very diverse diocese.

The idea that caught my ear and has been in my mind over the course of the past several days came from a response to the “what needs to die/be left behind” portion of the question.  I do not know who said it in one of the other small groups, but the answer was:

“We need to let die the idea that Jesus came to make us all polite.”

What an interesting answer:  in order to live more fully into the mission focus of our diocese and congregations we should let die the idea that Jesus came to make us all polite.

I support that answer.  Jesus was the most “counter-cultural” person in the history of the world.  There are dozens of things that Jesus said and did during his ministry that shook up the world in which he lived, and which still shake up our world 2,000+ years later.  But we often want to err on the side of being polite…I mean, we wouldn’t want to be seen as mildly offensive to anyone, especially if we want them to come to church.   Right?

Where I see our politeness most at odds with Jesus and the missional focus of our parish and even our faith is in our lack of commitment to our baptismal covenant.  The promises we make, either for our children and godchildren, or that we made ourselves if we were baptized as adults don’t call us to lives of politely going along with the status quo.  In fact, they call out to us to operate outside and above the status quo…all of the time.  “Respect the dignity of every human being,” and, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons…” (BCP, p. 305) are both calls to action and to accountability.  They are calls to be an accountable Christian community and they are held up as important and central to our identity as Christians.  The promises we make in the service of Holy Baptism–which made each of us a Christian–are so important that the whole community pledged to support each of us as we grow into our full selves as disciples of our risen lord and savior Jesus Christ.


News flash: Being held accountable is very often NOT polite.



As Christians we have an obligation to support one another in our lives as we continue to “grow to the full stature of Christ” (BCP, p. 302).  This support includes being held accountable for things like attending worship regularly, devoting time to Christian education for ourselves and our families, taking the next step (whatever that may be for us: baptism, confirmation, etc.) in our Christian formation, and giving of our time talent and treasure to the work of the parish.  It means making room for church as a priority in our lives and the lives of our family–as much of a priority as soccer, or work, or studying for a test, etc.  That means when someone who attends our parish regularly, is not in church for weeks and weeks, that we feel encouraged to ask: “Gosh I haven’t seen you in church recently, is everything alright?”  Or, “We missed you at the meeting at church on Thursday night, I hope you’ll be there next week when we meet again.”  It is a fact that when we are absent from church–any of us–that as a worshiping community, we are diminished by that absence.

Taken another way:  when others see us making our faith and our faith lives important, even central in our lives, that centrality and commitment to our faith shows and it sends a message about what we value and what feeds us.  And dare I say it:  others will wonder and want to see and know more about what is so important to us at church.  Going further and daring to dream, but maybe they will even come to church with us to find out what is so wonderful in our lives…IF WE INVITE THEM.

Here is a bit of a challenge, while I’m not being polite in this Daily Cup:  come to the services during Holy Week.  All of them.  Make walking with Jesus in his last week before his death and resurrection a priority.  Worship with us at the evening Eucharists on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 5:45 p.m.  Make it a priority to come to the Maundy Thursday meal and foot washing service on Thursday evening at 5:45 p.m.  If you work, take the day off on Good Friday.   Come to church from 12:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. on Good Friday and then come back again at 6:30 p.m. for the beautiful Taizé service that evening.  Attend the 10:00 a.m. service on Holy Saturday and then revel in the kindling of the fire that starts the single most important church service of the church year, the Great Vigil of Easter, on Saturday night at 8:00 p.m.  Do all of these things…. and invite someone who doesn’t go to church to attend them with you.  I promise you at the end of the week you will be changed by the experience.

Jesus did not come to make us polite.  He came to show us a better way to live our lives, in closer and loving relationship with God and with each other.  He came also to die a miserable death upon a cross to break forever the bonds of sin and death…to free us and for the whole world.  No, not very polite at all if you ask me.

About matthewhanisian

Associate Rector at St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Washington, D.C.
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4 Responses to The Jesus of Politeness

  1. Anton Vanterpool II says:

    This reminds me why I like the Jesus in “Jesus Christ Superstar” over the Jesus in “Godspell.” The music in “Superstar” is bold and impolite which Jesus had to be to preach to Scribes and Pharisees.

    Jesus didn’t “call the cops” when he saw the money changers defiling His Father’s House, he took the Law into his own hands and wasn’t polite about it.

  2. Pingback: Give a Gift to Yourself for Holy Week & Easter | buildingfaith

  3. Ann Ramsey-Moor says:

    Amen! I couldn’t agree more with your assertion. Jesus wasn’t “polite,” and he didn’t come to bring us an insipid, conviction-free Gospel of politeness. He put his very life on the line for us; and he must expect his followers to do the same. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer described it well when he talked about “costly discipleship.”)

    One way of starting to counter the “culture of politeness” many associate with church, is to risk sharing something of our real selves with those in our faith community instead of routinely claiming to be “just fine, thank you.” Recently, a couple of individuals I know unexpectedly shared things I would never have guessed about them in the context of intimate small-group discussion. What they related — difficult as it was to hear — made it obvious that they were struggling human beings, too. Not only did it increase my respect for them exponentially; it made it easier to care about and pray for them as fellow pilgrims.

    Speaking of supporting one another . . . how about “discernment for all of us,” the topic of a Lenten Forum several years ago by VTS Professor Jacques Hadler? How much more faithful could we be as disciples if we had a sounding board of trusted parish friends and associates to hear us whenever we are facing a turning point in life or needing to make a difficult and important decision? Might anyone at St. Alban’s be interested in trying this? It could be truly life changing.

  4. snowlyjam says:


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