Here are my thoughts for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 13 June 2010. The Scriptures for this Sunday are 1 Kings 21: 1 – 21, Galatians 2: 15 – 21, and Luke 7: 36 – 8: 3.
As I was thinking about this piece at the beginning of the week, a comment was posted to last week’s post – “What Are You Afraid Of?”. While I had spoken of the church being a moral voice in support of civil rights, “Jeff” reminded me not all churches, especially in the South, were such voices for the Civil Rights movement. And he was correct; for every pastor who spoke out against the Viet Nam war or for Civil Rights, there were probably two who were in favor of the war or thought that the church had no business getting involved in civil rights. And that is probably still true today. For all those in the church who speak out for civil rights for all and against the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Middle East, there are as many or more who oppose equal rights and see the vindication of God in our military triumphs.
Still, as I thought about it, it occurred to me that I have no recollection of any pastor speaking for or against either topic until I was in college.
With one singular exception, I cannot think of anything any pastor said while I was growing up that had a profound impact on me. When I was in confirmation class at 1st E. U. B. in Aurora, CO, my pastor, George Eddy, said in reference to the pending merger of the E. U. B. denomination and the Methodist denomination, “they are joining us.” That didn’t make any sense to me until a later pastor, John Praetorius (who grew up in E. U. B. churches), characterized the merger as the best example of a hostile takeover he ever saw.
Could it be that I do not remember anything at all about what I was taught those early years of my life, now some sixty years ago? Could it be that whatever was said and done in those myriad numbers of churches and Sunday Schools that I attended (and there were quite a few) was so meaningless to my life that I recall very little?
In one sense, it is a miracle that I continued with church when I started going to college. I had the opportunity to not go to church but, as I have said many times before, something inside of me kept tugging at me to seek a church to call home. I suppose that I have my mom to thank for that as she insisted that we find a church wherever we lived and that we attend the church every Sunday and that we be a part of the church. As I look back to 1966 and the opportunity to “do my own thing”, I see that it was that internal insistence more than anything that I learned in Sunday School or church that kept me going.
And I wonder what the youth of today might say. I see and have written that we are losing our youth because they have no reason to continue coming to church after confirmation and graduation; for example, We Are Eating Our Seed Corn and The Lost Generation. But could it be that they see no relevance to the church today; could it be that they see no foundation for action in the world today?
Could it be that those who have been in the church cannot remember what it was like to be that age and to champ at the bit to get engaged in the work of the church, only to be told to “wait your turn”? That may have been the case sixty and seventy years ago and the elders (by age, not position) may have forgotten how they felt. But our youth today have a different world, a world in which time is fleeting, and whether we care to admit it or not, not part of the equation.
For other reasons, I read the recap of the Memphis Annual Conference session that took place last week. But in the recap, it was noted Reverend Leonard Sweet spoke to the delegates about the TGIF world in which we live, where “T = Twitter, G = Google, I = Iphone, and F = Facebook. He spoke of a faith that must grow in the world we have, not a world we wish to have. This is the world that the youth of today live in and we have to understand that world.
I am not saying that it is the world in which we live. I have no desire to Twitter and wonder about the nature of communication when it is limited to 140 characters. A world in which our friends are the ones we have in Facebook is a false world and one in which reality is fleeting at best. A world in which our information comes to us through some hand-held device is nice but the very nature of the device limits the information that is received and it doesn’t provide us with the ability to use that information. And until every piece of information ever created is somehow electronically stored and easily available and every piece of information that is on the Internet has been verified should we even think of Google as the ultimate source of information.
Technology is great; if it weren’t, I wouldn’t be sharing my thoughts through this blog. But technology is only a too; it can never be the end all answer to our problems. Those who presume that technology will solve the modern church from extinction need to rethink the nature of the church. You have to understand the technology and what the technology can and cannot do in order for it to have an impact. I remember one notable politician speaking of T-2 connectivity at a time when the party line was still the dominant form of communication in that area– and this was in 1999. Even today, there are a number of churches that I visit as a lay speaker where the Internet is just a word spoken by people; in fact, there is one church where I go where my cell phone doesn’t work. If we go to a technology-based church, what will happen to those individuals?
The decision to begin a blog and to post thoughts based on the lectionary every week was a two-fold one. First, I had been writing a sermon/message every week for some seven years and I didn’t want to get out of the habit. It wasn’t until a couple of years into the process that I began adding thoughts about chemistry, education, and politics.
Second, and most importantly, I saw it as a tool for spreading the word. And if the statistics are any indication, more and more people read these words every month. (It has been a long, slow climb up the evolutionary chain of bloggers but I never expected to be at the top immediately – an approach by the way that doesn’t go over well in so many churches where if it isn’t immediately successful, it is considered a failure.)
All I have ever tried to do is put the ideas that I find in the lectionary and other topics out there and challenge individuals who read this blog to take what was written to heart and to act upon what was written.
And whether or not I remember it, somebody in a place that I have forgotten said something to me and I paid attention to what was said. I may have seen church and Sunday school in my early days as a social exercise but a seed was planted and it was watered and nurtured and cared for. And when it came time, I saw church as a place that was a part of my life, not just someplace to be on a Sunday morning.
The summary for the Memphis Annual Conference also included a note describing the conference’s Young People Message. Darrah Clark, a 13-year-old member of South Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church in Hazel, KY, delivered this message, and with modern references that echoed the message of Sweet, said, "We need to know how the lessons of a very old book can help guide us and the choices we make." From the report of the Memphis Annual Conference
I think it is fair to say that all youth have sought meaning to the words of the Bible. But the youth of today are not buying the answer that was probably given to us, “this is what happened two thousand years ago”. It is no wonder that the youth have “called the bluff” on the church when it comes to the words of the church and the actions that the church takes.
As I read the Scriptures today (and the one nice thing about writing from the lectionary is that you read most of the Scriptures every three years and it forces you into an organized Bible study), I see instance after instance that tell me that we don’t really remember what it is that we read or what we were taught when we were young.
Go back and re-read the passage of 1 Kings for today; don’t the words “eminent domain” jump out at you? And yet, there is and was very little outcry from the populace when the Supreme Court expanded the concept of eminent domain from what it had traditionally been used for to include the seizure of lands for corporate development. (From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelo_v._City_of_New_London; I believe this to be an accurate reflection of the case). Is it because we are blind to the domination of corporate interests in our lives (to paraphrase Horace Greely, “Look south, look south!”) or do we not recall the number of times that kings and queens in the Bible used the power of their position for their own benefit and greed? (How can you justify the prosperity gospel so prevalent on cable television today if you do not twist the words of the Bible?)
And when are we going to listen to the words of the Gospel as they were written, not as someone interpreted them for their own selfish interests? I noted a few weeks ago (“Rethinking the Church”) that our understanding of Paul and his attitudes is not supported by the majority of his writings. There are those today who proclaim Paul to be misogynist at worst and sexist at best, but his early writings (the ones we feel certain are his and not the work of a student using his name) do not reflect that. If we are to speak the truth of the Gospel, shouldn’t we make some sort of serious effort to understand who wrote what?
The Gospel reading for today is unique in that it is the basis upon which Pope Gregory, in 591, proclaimed Mary Magdalene to be a prostitute. But nothing in the passage states that the woman was a prostitute or that it was Mary Magdalene. Yet, until 1969, the Roman Catholic Church supported the notion that they were the same person. And even though the Catholic Church’s view may have officially changed, it is still part of the basis for inequality that exists in various denominations today; a basis that is not supported by Biblical writings or the actions of Jesus.
The church, unfortunately, is more like Simon the Pharisee in today’s Gospel reading. It chooses who it wants as its guests, though it doesn’t always welcome its guests as it should. It welcomes those who could give the church honor instead of honoring those whom it should welcome. And it trivializes persons who somehow do not meet the standard of the righteousness that they feel is appropriate.
The words of the Bible, be they the words of Jesus, the disciples, or Paul are there before us but it seems as if we either do not want to hear them again or we do not want to remember them. Paul pointed out to the Galatians that it is our faith by which we are justified, not our adherence to the law. Yet, it is the law that we seek to follow, as if we can somehow work our way into heaven.
I return to a conversation I had in the spring of 1969 with Marvin Fortel (“Our Father’s House”). At that time, I saw what I did as the necessary requirement for getting into heaven. But Reverend Fortel quietly and calmly pointed out that I would not gain my entrance through my works; it was my faith. But, because of my faith, I was required to work for justice and freedom, the very words that Paul spoke to the Galatians.
This is the time when we gather in our Annual Conference, to renew old friendships and rejoice in the success of others (a friend of mine, Gail Bruno, was ordained as an Elder in the Memphis Conference – way to go, Gail!), to hear the state of the church (it would seem that it is not good but then again it is not terrible) and to hear of the challenges that face the church and the denomination.
If we are to meet the challenges that we face, then we must remember the Good News that was brought to us so many years ago. Instead of worrying about the technology that is creeping into society and perhaps overtaking it, instead of doing things that make technology the message instead of the medium, perhaps we should focus once again on the message that we were taught and have long ago forgotten.
Instead of trying to do what we think the people of the early church would have done, let us do what the people did. Let us put the Good News, the Gospel into practice. Let us make the words of an old, old story alive and new again. The means to bring the message may have changed but the message is still the same. If we remember the message, then the message will live. (See the comment by “Dan” to my post, “Rethinking the Church”; his is but one of many churches who have decided to take the worship service outside the walls of the sanctuary.)
Let us not just remember what happened; let us again begin to make the memories reality. Let us renew our commitment to Christ; let us again be empowered by the Holy Spirit and let us remember that our faith has the ability to move mountains.