A Meditation for 3 January 2016, the 2nd Sunday after Christmas (Year C), or (Epiphany of the Lord) based on Jeremiah 31: 7 – 14 (Sirach 24: 1 – 12), Ephesians 1: 3 – 14, and John 1: (1 – 9), 10 – 18
I think that it is rather obligatory to start with some predictions about the future. You know, things like Bill Gates announcing in 1991 that 640 K was enough memory for computer usage or Ken Olson, founder and president of Digital Equipment Company stating in 1997 that there was no reason anyone would want a computer in their home. Of course, everyone does have a computer of some sort in their home and the memory on even the simplest of those devices exceeds the capacity that Bill Gates thought would be the limit.
What we have to understand is that such pronouncements about the future are always based on what we know today; to truly see the future, to see around the corner and over the horizon, requires that we somehow “break” away from the limits of the future. But how do you do that; how do you see around the corner or over the horizon at what is coming when one is tied to the present, whether they want it or not?
The simplest answer, of course, would be to open one’s mind to new possibilities and not simply try stuff that didn’t work the first time in hopes that it will work the second time. Or at least put in the effort to try the new things; often times things are tried once with little or no perceived success and then thrown away.
If you schedule an activity on a night when another major activity is taking place and you are counting on the success of your new activity, the chances are it will fail simply because something else, well-established in the minds of the desired community, will take the people away. Also, are you doing the activity for the right reasons? What reasons are you using? What is the criteria for success? (See my notes on the 1992 Hog Roast at Grace United Methodist Church in St. Cloud, Missouri – “Simple Gifts”)
Our society’s greatest problem today is its inability to see the future in terms other than the present or the past. Society is not willing to invest in options that haven’t been tried because we, as a society, are quite unwilling to try something new. And I think our inability to try something new because we cannot envision its future makes us blind to the failures of the methods we do try.
This is especially true in the church today. So many churches are rooted in systems that haven’t changed in at least 50 years and then they wonder why the church is dying, in population and in faith.
The loudest voices seem to say that we do not follow the Bible more explicitly and that adherence to the laws of the Bible found in the Old Testament would bring us back to God. But this fails for two reasons. First, in today’s society, it would be very difficult to set up a justice system mirroring the Bible because of the injustices and inequities such a system would bring about. Some may echo the words of George Orwell in Animal Farm that some are more equal than others but society today has a sense and is demanding more equality than that. Second, a cry for an adherence to Old Testament laws ignores the presence of Christ and His pronouncement that He had come to fulfill the laws.
Those who seek such an Old Testament system today are blind to the failures of society back then, when it was believed that through the law, one could achieve salvation. I also think that those who seek this sort of system long for a day when they were completely in charge and no one questioned their authority. Again, one of the things that I believe came about from Jesus’ ministry was the notion that the system in place was wrong and needed to be fixed.
The problem with seeing the future is that one has to have the freedom to see the future. If we are tied to the present, for whatever reason, we are not free to see the future or think “outside the box”.
And what do we do to create a church that is very much alive and well in the 21st century? First, understand that we need to see Christ outside the timeline of history (which is, of course, what John was doing when he wrote the opening lines of his Gospel reading, our Gospel lesson for today). When you put Christ on the timeline, He is stuck 2100 years back in the future and cannot be present today. We must see God and Christ in this moment, free from the limits and constraints of time and space.
When you read the verses from Jeremiah for today, you get a sense that the people were joyful and things were going to change. There was something new about to happen. We know now that what Jeremiah was doing was telling his world about the birth of Christ and the new covenant.
And Paul speaks of the outcome of that new covenant, the freedom that comes from having accepted Christ as one’s own Savior. And that is, I think, the key to seeing the future. First, as I mentioned, you have to be free to see the future and not be limited by the moment or the present. And that is exactly what Christ provides, the freedom to go beyond the present, to see around the corner and over the horizon.
There is, in this country today, a need for a fourth revival but this one has to be a little bit different. It will still require that people accept Christ as their personal Savior (that will never change nor should it). But it will require people to see Christ, not as a part of history but as a part of their life today and tomorrow. It will require a new understanding of the church in today’s world, not simply a building but a presence, not simply meeting on Sunday mornings but meeting and doing things during the week that take the people of the church outside the building.
It will require an understanding by all that Jesus removed the boundaries society had imposed on those outside the establishment. All will be welcome to bathe in the Glory of Christ and not be turned away by those who in the past pronounced judgment on others, doing so in the name of God even when God did not do so.
I am not saying that this is going to be an easy task. The old ways are far too entrenched in many churches today but faced with the reality that change is almost a necessity instead of a luxury, change will take place.
Within this fourth revival is a need for education, to better understand what it means when one says they are a Christian and to understand that saying that one is a Christian does not mean that one’s role in the life of a church ends at noon on Sundays. (I am beginning to see those for whom being a Christian as a 9 to 11 job on Sundays in a corporate mode; it is about punching a time clock and collecting your wages at the end of the time period; unfortunately the notion of a corporate church that dominates today’s world was never meant to be the model for the church).
Education is more than simply Bible study but understanding why it is that the verses being read are in the Bible in the first place (and why there are so many verses which were never accepted as part of the Bible).
When John the Seer concluded the Book of Revelation, it was a victory for the church. It was not a victory encased in doom and destruction, as so many people think it was. Rather it was a statement of triumph and rejoicing for all the people and that is how we need to see the future, both for ourselves individually and collectively as a church and a society.
As we start this new year, we have two choices. We can continue on the same path that we are walking on, perhaps living in the corporate Christian mode, knowing that in the end this will only lead to the death of the present time church and one’s own death.
Or will you accept Jesus as your Savior, to free you from the shackles of sin that lead to slavery and death and gives you the freedom to seek new ways in this world?