Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Church isn't dying, it's just under 40

Last night at our Pub Theology entitled "Church for the Under 40 Crowd,” we discussed the ways the Xers, Millennials, and “Boomlets” are positioned to change the Church. We thought about the particulars of being under 40 at this time and place, and our relations to the Church. We then went on to dream about what the “Next Church” will look like.
And somewhere along that ride we came to the conclusion that the Church isn’t dying (contrary to what many experts both inside and outside the Church will say), it’s just dealing with all the same stuff that the under 40 crowd is dealing with—wage stagnation and instability of all kinds, most notably unstable schedules.

We concluded that the best thing pastors can do (as opposed to run after each new fad or become the new hyper-manager/cruise director) is to be with the people pastorally through every change. Also, congregations ought to do more “one off” events, fully aware that some of them will fail and that's okay.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Keep awake

I’d struggled and sweated over my Master’s thesis through many a long night and finally submitted. I’d kept awake.
          I got on a plane back to the US and wrote the sermon for my best friend’s wedding on the 11-hour plane ride from London to Los Angeles. I’d kept awake.
          I wrote my Best Man’s toast and a speech about brotherhood, and friendship for the bachelor party, on the plane from LA to Eugene, Oregon. I kept awake.
          Kevin—my friend who was getting married—picked me up at the airport and took me straight to the bachelor party. I kept awake.
          Everyone showed up at the house down by the river—a bonfire was lit, a few golf-balls carelessly hit into the Willamette River. Drinks were poured. I gave my little speech about bachelorhood, brotherhood, and continued friendship. I kept awake.
          The party was roaring, such a celebration. I began to talk to a friend who I hadn’t seen in several years. We sat down on a couch…

          Then I was woken up by someone vigorously knocking against my sternum,
“Dude,” he said, “I’m glad you woke up. We’d talked to you, poured water on you—I even slapped you in the face a couple’a times. I can’t believe you slept through Kevin’s bachelor party, man. I can’t believe you couldn’t keep awake.”
          And that’s the bottom line for Matthew today—Keep Awake!


          They sometimes call the Gospel of Matthew the Church’s Book, or the Church’s Gospel, because it is the only Gospel that explicitly mentions “The Church.” Matthew, more than anyone other than Paul, wrestles with what Christian community looks like…
Matthew is also the most cynical and critical, of Church-folk. He consistently points out that there will always be those inside the church who are angels, and also those inside the church who are devils. We’re a mixed body—the church is an admixture of these two groups, and we’ll never be able to judge who among us is the angel and who is the devil—that is for God alone.
He writes about ONE flock, filled with both sheep and goats.
He writes about ONE field, filled with both wheat and weeds.
He writes about ONE wedding party—10 bridesmaids—all 10 have lamps and all 10 are in the same place, but 5 are wise and 5 are foolish.
In this case the only difference is one set of bridesmaids are prepared and keep awake.

Similarly, today Amos preaches frightening words to those who rested firmly in their own righteousness.
He hears his people praying for the Day of the LORD. The people remember back to the time of the Conquest of Canaan, when the LORD God of Armies was on the march and smote those who stood against His people.
The Day of the LORD when the weather, and elements and the Cosmos itself, battled against the enemies of Israel.
The Day of the LORD when an astronomical impossibility held the sun in place, so there would be daylight and time enough for Joshua and his army to slaughter the Amorites.

Amos hears these words from these insiders—and says in effect:
“I see your religious acts, and I have some bad news.
Most of it is pagan nonsense—your worship literally stinks (verse 21).
Where, in form, you’ve managed to be orthodox, I look beyond what you do in worship and into what you do in life.
I see you have built a dam to shut up justice and made righteousness into an irrigation ditch.
Your public officials take bribes,
The little the poor have, is stripped away from them,
The vulnerable immigrants—you hate them.”
You think you’re God’s people—but you didn’t keep awake, you’ve went off into a dream world and are sleep-walking into disaster.
You are expecting me to bring light so you can crush those you hate… it’s going to be darkness for you, those enemies will crush you—one disaster after another.

As those of you in the Thursday Afternoon Bible Study know, a very similar message is preached by Jeremiah—that God has quit going to the Temple and won’t hear the people’s prayers, because the people don’t hear God—they aren’t awake to their multitudinous idolatries and injustices.

This is a theme throughout scripture—that the religious insiders fall asleep, and manage to sleep-walk out into the wilderness, and go from being God’s people, to being not God’s people.
In fact, that great Theologian of the Church, St. Augustine, coined a phrase about this, “Many who seem outside the Church, are actually within it; many who seem within the Church, are actually outside it.”
Or to say it again with a different translation, “Many whom God has, the Church does not have; Many whom the Church has, God does not have.”
(Does that make sense? not all outsiders are outsiders, not all insiders are insiders.)

And to this reality, we must again shout, Keep Awake! Keep Awake! Keep Awake!
This refrain is almost like a police siren.
Think about it,
When you’re going 45 in a 25 a police siren is bad news.
But when someone breaks into your house, nothing sounds better than that siren and those blue and red lights.

So too, keep awake has a dual edge—it has two sides.
Keep awake here Church-folk, among Church-folk. People far more pious than you have fallen asleep, and taken their position as God’s people for granted, and gained God’s scorn. They’ve asked God to hail down wrath upon His enemies, only to find they themselves are His enemy. Be awake when you consider your religious practices, and the way you live in society.

Keep awake there Church-folk, out among a whole host of peoples every day. Look around you and see what God is doing, and not just here at Church, not just among Church-folk, but everywhere
—it’s amazing what God is doing in this, His world, among all kinds of people who are his people, even when we don’t expect it.
Keep awake to what God is doing, there is grace hanging everywhere—at this feast of the bridegroom, this bachelor party for the Son of Man.

Two quick examples:
This last Wednesday a relative of one of our Church members called me up offering a weeks worth of unopened meals, he thought they could help someone. Because of this non-Church member, a shut-in on Hospice Care won’t need to worry about where her meals are coming from for this week. Keep awake.
That same day, I was going through a fast-food drive-up, and after I paid for my meal, the cashier said, “could you hold up a sec.”
I was dozing through life, and assumed he’d forgotten napkins or something,
but then I looked up and he asked me to pray for his father who is suffering with Scoliosis—and we prayed right there in the Wendy’s Drive-through. Keep awake.

Keep awake so your heart does not grow cold, and your faith faint.
Keep awake so you see your sisters and brothers when they come to you.
Keep Awake. A+A