Here are my thoughts for Christ the King Sunday, 22 November 2009. The scriptures for this Sunday are 2 Samuel 23: 1- 7, Revelation 1: 4 – 8, and John 18: 33 – 37.
On this day as we complete another cycle in the church calendar and prepare for the beginning of Advent and the church’s New Year, it is perhaps fitting that our scriptures today speak of a beginning and an end. But in light of the discussions taking place, some on the internet, some in churches, some in families and some in the minds of many, I want to put into words some of those thoughts and what I think they mean for the future of the church.
And God said to John the Seer, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” I have heard this translated as “I am the Beginning and the End”. For many people these words offer a vision of a violent end to the world. It is part of a discussion that that began some two hundred years or so ago and continues today about how we began.
There are those who speak of the beginning only in terms of the Creation written in Genesis while there are those who see the beginning only in terms of the “Big Bang”. It is almost as if you must accept one or the other of these two views and are required to see the other as sheer foolishness.
This isn’t a discussion of Creation, Creationism, Intelligent Design, and/or evolution. It is, however, a discussion about the end of the church.
For me, the beginning comes in three stages:
1) The beginning of the universe,
2) The beginning of mankind, and finally
3) The beginning of one’s own consciousness and awareness.
The physical data tells me that this world is several million years old, not some six thousand years. The evidence is there and if it has somehow been tampered with so as to make a six thousand year old rock seem like it is several million years old, I want no part of any god that would do such a thing. And those who would argue that the evidence is only probable evidence need to examine how it is that such evidence is gathered and checked.
God created us in His image and He gave us the skills and ability to reach out and seek these things beyond our earthly limits. I cannot conceive of a god that would create beings in His image and then turn around and limit what humans can and cannot do.
It is humankind’s ability to think and envision that allows us to find a way to explain things. If we did not have that ability, we would not have ventured far away from our homes to find lands across the sea; we would not have looked at the stars and asked how we could get there. We looked at the moon from far away and wondered how to get there. We see things and asked why.
That is part of our own individual consciousness; in asking why, we created gods to create, explain, and seek answers. That is our identity. But our ability to explain only applies to the physical world; we are still at a loss to explain good and evil as a facet of the world around us.
Our existence comes not just from our physical presence on this planet but from our ability to think and reason, to know what can be explained because of the physical evidence and what must be understood through faith and belief. Our own existence has allowed us to understand that good and evil are not parts of our physical being but parts of our soul.
It is our ability to reason and think tells us that there is a something “out there” that we need to know more about. It has been a part of our being from the day we began to reason. It is the part of our being, our ability to reason and think that we ask “why?” Why did God give us the reason to think and reason? Why did He give us free will?
One day, some three thousand years ago, a young person had the audacity and the temerity to ask an elder to explain who we were and why we are here. It is a story that had been told many times in many places. One such story took place in what we have come to call Israel and it is the story of our being and our souls. Instead of rebuffing this young child, the elder gathered the young of the community together and began to explain those questions. And that is how we arrive at the third beginning.
I was raised in the church, though I would think that mine was a pragmatic upbringing. We went to the church that was closest to where we lived. But wherever we were, we went and it would have an impact on my life.
When I was twelve, I made a choice to seek a better understanding of who Christ was and where I fit into things by earning the God and Country award in Boy Scouts. This would thus lead to my membership in the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church (now the 1st United Methodist Church) in Aurora, Colorado. There may be some who saw this as a culmination of a journey; perhaps even I saw it that way as well.
But over the years, I have found myself in many situations where my background and knowledge has not prepared me as some would say it should have. I have found myself questioning my beliefs, sometimes because of what has happened in my life, sometimes because of what others have said. I have seen others questioned their beliefs and leave their faith because they could not answer the questions or they did not like the answers.
I have seen others leave their faith because they were not allowed to question their beliefs. And by the same measure, I have seen others who will not allow their faith, their beliefs to be questioned. And unfortunately, I see too many people today who are in this latter category, not allowing others to question their beliefs and themselves refusing to question them as well.
But questioning is, to me, the hallmark of belief. For, if we do not question our beliefs, if we do not seek to find the answers, then we risk having a faith that is rigid, inflexible, and incapable of truly being alive.
And that is what has happened to most denominations today. The elders of the church today say things that sound very similar to what the elders said when Jesus walked on this earth. Like the elders of the church then, they are bewildered and amazed when a child speaks words of wisdom and creativity. That is, of course, if there are any children in their church today and if they allow them to say anything.
The church today attempts to dominate the thought processes and daily lives of the people, some just in the local church, others nationally.
Instead of fostering thought about who Jesus was and what His message means to the people today, they hold onto old and often incorrect ideas, they argue points that don’t even exist in the Bible, and they make policy that has no relationship to the way Jesus worked with those who followed Him, both in Galilee and then throughout the Mediterranean after His death and resurrection.
It was evident in the amazement of the elders when the boy of twelve challenged them in the Temple during that Holy Week. It was evident in how the establishment condemned Jesus and his followers, calling them rebels and heretics, rebels against the policies of the lands and rebels against the leaders whose only interest was in their own self-preservation. It is the same today.
There are those who would stifle thought and creativity in order to make their story of civilization factual. There are those who would seek to impose religious law in ways that it was never intended.
I have been reading Robin Meyers’ new book, “Saving Jesus from the Church”. He offers some interesting thoughts about the state of the church today and I anticipate adding more comments over the next few months. But his comments and his thought reflect and echo some other things going on, some which are close to home, and some which are far away.
They are reflection of David’s last words and Jesus’ words to Pilate and what those words mean to each one of us. They are a reflection of reports of the people leaving the ministry because the denomination is more interested in the letter of the law to be the spirit of the law, because the denomination insists that typewriter is better than the word processor as the means to prepare sermons and reports and because the denomination doesn’t even see, let alone understand or use, what social networking is about.
And there are those in society today that say that the church is not only outmoded but the whole concept of religion is as well. It is a society that seems to place faith and reason into separate spheres of thought and which will not allow them to interact. And it is not just one side of the spectrum or the other that will not allow this to take place; it is both sides. Those whose life is faith and faith only seem to feel that there is no room for reason in their lives; and those whose life is reason and reason only have the same disdain for faith.
These are not the End Times that so many fundamentalists would have you believe but they very well could be the end of the church, in form and denomination. I don’t think that religion as a means of expressing faith will end but it will, if has not already, become a very difficult time to express one’s faith openly.
The problem at this point is that Jesus pointed out that His Kingdom was not of this world. To understand what Jesus is saying requires a new way of thinking, of thinking perhaps outside the box that the world and society seeks to place each one of us in. That is why it is so difficult for those who live lives in faith alone or reason alone have difficulty with the other concept; they have locked themselves into one box and they cannot escape.
The Gospel message hasn’t changed over the years; hope exists beyond the boundaries of time. It isn’t the translation that offers the message; when someone tells me that the King James Version of the Bible is the one true translation, I have to wonder how it was that Jesus, the disciples, Paul, and their contemporaries spoke in Elizabethan English while everyone else was speaking Aramaic. If the words that one says are true to the message, then the translation is trivial. And the words speak of a Christ that offers hope, not rejection. The works speak of a promise for all, not just a select few. The words speak of redemption and a release, not limits and imprisonment.
The one thing that I have discovered in my own personal journey with Christ, from those days in Montgomery, Alabama, when I made the choice to seek Jesus and God in my own mind and soul to these days is that the Jesus in the Bible is not the Jesus spoken of today. The God of today bears no resemblance to the God of the Bible. And the time has come to turn the church back, not in time, but to its roots and its original and true thoughts. We do not need to discover new writings; the ones that we have tell us what is going on. All we have to do is look at what we are saying and how that compares; then the change will take place.
There are going to be those who hear what I am saying and read what I have written here and they are going to call me a heretic and an unbeliever. But I know in my heart what I believe and I know in my heart that I have been called to say these words.
There are those who will hear these words and read these words and echo agreements, for these thoughts are their thoughts as well. The question for these individuals is “are you called to seek the new church, the church that John the Seer really envisioned?” How will the church end? The decision is not in the literature or the words of individuals, it is in your heart and your mind.