As we enter this season of Easter, my home church is beginning to work on some areas identified by the Natural Church Development process. (For those not familiar with Natural Church Development, you can go here).
We will be considering the following statement over the next few weeks, “Passionate Spirituality is developing a loving and trusting relationship with God that empowers and gives us the confidence to carry the spirit out of the Sanctuary and into the world.”
One thought we might consider is that between Easter and Pentecost the church began to develop its identity. I am going to be using the above statement in conjunction with the lectionary for each week to develop the ideas that I will be writing about. For those that are interested, I will also be preaching at Dover UMC on April 6th and May 4th.
So, having “said” all that, here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday in Easter. The Scriptures for this week are Acts 2: 14, 22 -33, 1 Peter 1: 3 – 9, and John 20: 19 – 31.
I have always been fascinated by time. I suppose that comes from a video that I showed several years ago about how time, or rather the keeping and marking of time, was developed. In that video, the narrator quoted Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 13 (“to everything there is a season”).
During the course of any twelve months, we marked the passage of time by the seasons. And that is especially true with regards to the church calendar. We are, once again, in the season of Easter. It is that particular passage of time from Easter Sunday to Pentecost, when the new church begins to take on its own identity and prepares to move from a local and limited regional movement to one that will eventually span the entire globe.
And while we are doing that we are also preparing for our General Conference, that peculiar four-year passage of time in the business of the United Methodist Church. We are also at a point in our country’s history where, as someone put it and I cannot remember who it was, the focus of our politics is not on a war fought some thirty years ago but on religion. We are beginning to ask ourselves, as we often should, “what is our religion and what is it that we truly believe?”
The answers to these questions and the outcome of General Conference will speak volumes as to what the future will become.
John Meunier, in his post “Is it the business model not the theology”, asked whether it was theology or a business model that was driving modern church development. There was a discussion, brief in ways of the blogging community, about what was meant by “the church”. Is the church the bride of Christ or is it some institution that mankind has created? It seems to me, as it apparently did to several others, that the church is an institution. I would add to this that we often see institutionalized churches in terms of the building it is in or the people who are there, not the message that is given inside the walls. And if that is the case, then the church has changed or is no longer what we speak of each week when we recite “The Apostle’s Creed” or any of the creeds that are in our hymnal.
There are those today outside the church that have the skepticism of Thomas but have chosen not to seek the evidence. And, because they do not seek the evidence as Thomas did, they will reject the Resurrection and, ultimately, reject Christ.
I do not have the actual numbers but I would hypothesize that the number of people who have read the books by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett equal the number of people who have read the books of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. We are a society that seeks simple answers to complicated questions and, as a society we are quite willing to allow others to dictate how we will answer those questions. Kevin Horrigan, in recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (“Obama Tests America’s cult of ignorance”) pointed out that society in general no longer wants the information that it needs in order to make informed decisions and quite willingly lets others dictate the depth and breadth of the information presented.
As this pertains to today and the discussion of the church, we need to be asking why it is that books by neo-atheists and books by fundamentalists so easily dominate our lives. For the neo-atheist, if one cannot logically prove there is a God, then there must not be a God. But this view rejects religious faith as a part of one’s life and replaces it with a new faith called scientism. Somewhere along the line, you have to develop an answer about the creation and existence of good and evil. Even if this is done with logic and reason, you must conclude that good and evil are inherent in mankind or, as mankind had believed throughout the ages, that there is some sort of god. If you choose the former, then you have several interesting ethical questions to answer. If you choose the latter, then you are faced with the dilemma of mankind about whom or what is a god? In the end, rejecting faith as a belief system and not replacing it with something ultimately fails. There was an interesting article in Christian Century (“Amateur Atheists”) that explores the problems of today’s neo-atheists when their views are contrasted to the classical atheists of history; the conclusion was that you cannot lead a life without some sort of belief system.
For fundamentalists, the only solution to the many problems of the world is found in the destruction of the world, where all true believers are taken away in the moments before that occurs. But if we stand around and wait for the destruction of the world, what are we to do with the sick, the homeless, the naked, and the oppressed? Did Jesus not remind us that those who proclaim themselves as righteous but ignore those in need will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven? How can we stand by and not work for a better world?
For these believers, science must be explained in terms of faith. Logic and reason must be subverted and questioning the basic tenets of faith cannot be allowed.
But we do not live in a world where you can live by logic and reason alone, nor do we live in a world of faith alone.
In these two extreme views, there is a challenge. The challenge is not to find a path that balances the two extreme positions but rather to develop a new path, one that involves a new way of thinking.
The words that Peter and the other disciples spoke to the crowds at the beginning of the church, “We have seen the Christ and we know that He has risen from the dead,” echo throughout the passage of time.
In that meeting in the Upper Room some two thousand years ago, Jesus empowered the disciples to take the Gospel message out into the world. And each succeeding generation has been empowered by the generation before it to do the same. Each one of us knows someone whose life illuminated Christ in such a way that we could find Jesus for ourselves.
Perhaps it was an act of simple kindness or the invitation to share a cup of coffee; whatever it was, it was an expression of the love that Christ had for us and it was something that transformed our lives. It is that which we must do for the next generation as well.
It takes more than insisting that our children attend Sunday School; it will take more than a single invitation to a person to get them to come. It will take people quietly living their lives as an example of Christ. And it will take the people inside a church’s walls reaching out to the neighbors on the other side of the walls.
It will take churches as institutions and as people saying to those neighbors that we are here with you and that we are not going to leave (it will also take church organizations to say the same thing).
Society often demands that we walk several paths at one time. Society places demands on us that we often cannot meet. Becoming a Christian does not remove the demands of society from our lives; it simply places them in the proper perspective.
Becoming a Christian requires that one make a decision, a decision to walk a different path rather than the path that society would have you to walk. When we chose to walk the new path of a life in Christ, we say to the world that we will not allow society to dominate and imprison us or the people we come into contact with. Rather, we will show the world a better life, a life of loving and caring, a live of inclusion and support.
Throughout the ages, from David writing his Psalms to Peter and disciples going out into the world, it has been the same. The message of the Gospel changes lives. It is our responsibility to show those changes so that others will see and know. Some will be like Thomas, asking for more evidence. And the evidence will be each one of us.
If the future is to be a promising one, it will be because we have offered a vision that is promising. It is a vision of Christ in the world through us.
How we move into the future is up to us. What is your next move?