Envisioning a Holy Balance

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Several years ago, I had a vision of a self-sustaining community that I often think about. On the Tuesday of Holy Week that year, I was alone in my room, praying, or trying to pray. It was a particularly difficult time in my life after my second marriage ended. I struggled with depression, a sense of hopelessness, and an overwhelming sense of failure. The vision I had that day gave me hope for a future different from my past.

The vision itself was powerful. In it, I had created a community of people committed to living together, pooling resources, and serving God. There was a working farm, an outdoor chapel, dormitory-style rooms, small cabins, indoor meeting space, and a steady flow of people. Some came for short periods of time for retreats, spiritual direction, and healing. Others stayed for months or years, finding peace and wholeness in the community. There was a balance of giving and receiving of resources, time, talent, visitors, residents, income, and expenses. The community was a place of peace, of healing, of wholeness. When the vision ended, I yearned for it to be real–a place I could go and belong and be welcomed.

It’s been years since I had the vision, and it has not come to be in quite the way it was in the vision. However, pieces of it have. I have found healing and wholeness. I have found a community where I belong and can use the fullness of my gifts. Maybe someday, the vision will come to be in a more literal way. But it doesn’t matter as much as it once did, because the lessons of that vision have stayed with me. I am often reminded that balance is necessary in all things. As Paul indicates in 2 Corinthians, our abundance should be shared to meet our neighbors’ need, not to create inequity but to ensure all have enough.

This is why I’m having trouble getting excited over celebrating Independence Day this year. Our forebearers might have ensured our independence from Great Britain, but they did nothing to prevent us from replicating the destructive ways of colonialism. We have done nothing to ensure any kind of balance. All our social systems tend to empower those who already have power and prevent those who are oppressed and marginalized from attaining justice or freedom.

I’m horrified by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Travel Ban. Xenophobia should have no place in U.S. policy and practice. Outside of First Nations peoples, all our ancestors (recent or distant) came to this country bringing with them foreign weapons, strange gods, devastating diseases, new languages, or odd customs. Now, after we have claimed land that wasn’t ours to claim, all but destroyed native cultures, and enslaved others, we think it’s okay to discriminate against people who may not have white skin, may not speak English, may not be Christian, and may not live as we do? How is it that so many people have bought into the social myth of a white, Christian United States? Where is the justice and liberty for all people that we claim to value?

As human beings, we tend to be self-protective to the point of often being egocentric. We often react to fear by hunkering down and protecting what is ours. However, if we are Christians (if we follow any religious tradition at all), we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. This means we have a mandate to care for the widow, the poor, the orphan, the stranger, the vulnerable among us. We are called to share our abundance so that the needs of our neighbors are met. You know, it’s all about the Golden Rule–treat others as you wish to be treated.

We aren’t meant to be independent. Left to our devises we tend to be fearful, stubborn, self-serving creatures. God invites us to be interdependent, giving and receiving according to abundance and need to create systems of balance. In God’s Realm all are whole, all are valued, all have purpose, and all share in God’s abundance. Love, not fear or scarcity, rules the day. Imagine how much better off the world would be if each country shared resources to balance abundance and need. How about each city and town doing the same? Each faith community? Each person? Our idolatrous worship of independence would come to an end as would our enslavement to the false gods of our social mythology. Xenophobia would end. Fear-mongering politicians would have no power. Immigrants and refugees would be welcomed and encouraged. There would be no hunger or poverty. No racism or corrupt systems of power.

Maybe this Independence Day you will join me in dreaming ways of making us independent from fear and interdependent on each other. Maybe this Independence Day we can work toward making manifest the Realm of God where our abundance will meet our neighbors’ need, creating a holy balance…

If you are looking for more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year B – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 1, 2018
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 with Psalm 130 or
Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24 or Lamentations 3:23-33 with Psalm 30
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

Photo: CC0 image by Sylvia & Frank

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Do It Afraid

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When I was about eight years old my brother dared me to jump off the high diving board at a community pool. I had passed the swimming test the summer before so I was allowed in the deep end. I wasn’t afraid of the water and I loved to dive headfirst off the regular diving board. However, I was afraid of heights so the higher diving board (maybe 8 or 10 feet up) was pretty scary. If I didn’t jump off that board, though, I would likely never hear the end of it. And I really wanted to be brave.

I went up that ladder one rung at a time. Breathless with fear, hands sweating and knees knocking. Up I went. It seemed like a long, slow climb and I thought that would be the worst of it. Then I was confronted by the walk out to edge of the diving board with nothing to hold onto. On the lower board, I had already mastered the run, bounce, and dive. On the high board, I could barely think about walking to the end and jumping feet-first. I stood with the railings firmly in hand for what felt like forever. Then I heard one voice cheering me on. It was the lifeguard who had given me the swim test two summers in a row, the lifeguard who didn’t believe I was only eight and confessed that she thought I was 11 or 12. I heard her call out to me, “You can do it! It’s the same as the lower board. Let go and run!” She kept talking to me while I tried to breathe deeper and let go of the railings.

The lifeguard moved off her stand and stood over by the ladder out of the deep end. She kept telling me I could make the dive. she said she would count to three and all I had to do was run and jump. She would stay right by the ladder and help me if I needed it. I remember feeling like it was only her and me, everyone one else faded into the background. She started counting and when she got to three, I let go, ran, bounced, and dove headfirst. Then swam over to the ladder where the lifeguard leaned over and told me that I was a “very brave girl” and that she was proud of me.

Fear can overtake any of us at any time. I’ll bet David was afraid as he stood immobilized by the weight of everyone else’s armor. The disciples were clearly afraid while the storm raged around a little boat while Jesus slept in the stern. Fear is sometimes a very reasonable response. As a child I had a fear of heights that was due, at least in part, to having some balance problems and falling a lot. It wasn’t entirely irrational; if I felt like I could fall, I became very fearful in high places. David had every reason to fear Goliath, especially when his movements were encumbered by armor designed for adults. The disciples also had reason to be afraid in that small boat as the storms raged. How could they have known that Jesus could calm the storm?

Fear can protect us or it can limit us. Last night at West Central Regional Youth Event, I learned a song called, “Do it Afraid.” It was a song encouraging justice-seeking even in the midst of fear. This is excellent advice, particularly when we are confronting injustice. Goliath wears many faces today. And the Philistines around us will do whatever they can to keep us paralyzed by fear. Sometimes even our allies will insist that we wear armor designed for someone else. It’s too easy to give into the fear that keeps us locked in oppressive situations or systems. Goliath runs the show and would like us all to believe that one small person can do nothing in the face of giants – racism, misogyny, xenophobia, white supremacy, and all the other isms and phobias that keep those with power in power. Yet, we are not in the boat alone and we have our own gifts that can be used to slay giants.

Jesus is the one who can calm the storms and fill us with courage. Jesus won’t take away the fear so much as he will cheer us on and encourage us to jump into the deep end, like the lifeguard in my childhood. Jesus doesn’t want any of us to be paralyzed by fear, especially when it comes to confronting Goliath. We don’t need to do what other people are doing; their armor may not fit us well at all. We do need to use our own gifts, even if they seem as insignificant as a slingshot, to confront the giants of injustice. We can do this. And it is perfectly okay to do it afraid because Jesus is in the boat with those who seek justice, promote healing, and embody love.

Peace. Be still.

RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – June 24, 2017
1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 with Psalm 9:9-20 or
Job 38:1-11 with Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

Photo: CC0 image by Soorelis

Photo: CC0 image by Guy Dugas

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Out of Control

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The Realm of God is like a weed sown in a garden. The weeds grow where planted and then take over the rest of the garden. They grow and entwine themselves in and through all other plants until the weeds and the crops cannot be distinguished. This is more what Jesus meant when he said that the Realm of God is like a mustard seed. He didn’t mean that there is much potential to grow and blossom hidden away in a tiny seed. Jesus is being funny in a way that might be lost on contemporary ears.

The mustard plant was an unwanted weed in Jesus’ day. No one in their right mind would actually plant it in their garden. It took over and grew into rangy, twiggy shrubs that choked out other, more desirable plants. When Jesus said that the Realm of God is like a mustard seed planted in a garden, his first hearers might have laughed out loud; no one would do such a thing. Jesus was an expert storyteller and he didn’t craft his parables without reason.

First Jesus says that the Realm of God is like seeds planted in orderly rows that grow up and produce grain and are harvested in the usual fashion. And, by the way, how exactly that happens is a mystery. At this, everyone listening probably nodded. This is a nice, orderly, predictable image of God’s Realm. It’s appealing and, from a human perspective, we think we might just have a bit of control over when and how God’s Realm shows up. We like to disregard the mystery part.

Jesus doesn’t leave his listeners nodding in approval, though. He goes on to make his mustard seed analogy. First his listeners laugh, and then they shake their heads and mutter about Jesus’ oddities. Why would the Realm of God be compared to such a pesty, invasive plant as a mustard seed? Ah, yes. To remind us all that the Realm of God is mysterious and beyond our control. It will spring up in both expected and unexpected places. It will grow in well-manicured gardens and it will grow in the wild places. Moreover, it will mysteriously spread so that it can’t be distinguished from what grows nearby. What kind of insidious mess is this Realm of God, anyway?

Most of us like to maintain an illusion of control in our lives. We like to think that we can keep chaos at bay and tame the Holy Spirit. We fool ourselves into believing that God only shows up and offers a stamp of approval when all is well. This little parable reminds us that God has an affinity for chaos. God shows up in the entanglements, weeds, and wilderness of our lives and plants some seeds. These seeds take root and grow in the shape of the God’s Realm more often than we notice. There may be no perceivable change in our experience of the wild places, the deep places, but we live through them. Later, we might realize how changed we are.

We would do well to pay heed to this mustard seed parable. We cannot control the Holy Spirit and we cannot determine where God’s Realm will take root. You’ve heard the stories of how someone’s life was transformed from deep pain and suffering into joy and strength in miraculous ways. Some of us have lived it.

I was born into a family that was unruly, to say the least. No one would have predicted that I would grow up to be an author, a pastor, an advocate for mental health. No one would have predicted that the shy, neglected child I was would grow into a preacher and conference presenter. Yet, along the way, seeds were planted. Seeds that were hope, value, and witness took root and grew into the Realm of God, choking out the seeds of pain, worthlessness, and invalidation. In the middle of the deep, despairing chaos, God’s Realm blossomed and transformed my life. No one could have known such a thing would happen, no one other than God.

This mustard seed parable of the tenacity and unpredictability of God’s Realm should guide us in our interactions with our neighbors. Yes, we need to plant seeds with care and nurture the crops of loving kindness. But in other situations where it seems we have no control and there is no hope for new life, we must look for the signs of God’s Realm unfurling it’s tiny, fragile leaves. The seed of God’s Realm could take root with any act of kindness, any effort to reach beyond what is comfortable and known, any tentative welcome of the stranger, or any tender mercy extended to the most vulnerable among us.

All hope is not lost, even in this violent, self-destructive world. The Realm of God is alive and well, just waiting for us to see it growing right in the middle of our lives, perhaps especially in the wild, chaotic, desperate places. Let’s not underestimate the value of those tiny seeds. They can grow into the largest of shrubs where more than birds will make their homes. Let’s be generous with our compassion, our kindness, our mercy, our patience, and our love. Let’s scatter the seeds everywhere – in cultured rows and in the chaos. There’s no knowing exactly where and when the Realm of God will grow strong and blossom with justice, healing, and grace for all of Creation.

RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 17, 2018
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 with Psalm 20 or
Ezekiel 17:22-24 with Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17 or 2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Mark 4:26-34

Photo: CC0 image by Soorelis

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Parsing “Crazy”

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“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This old playground chant is as false as the Tooth Fairy, and far more damaging. It’s possible that many people told me I was smart and pretty and capable when I was a child. That’s not what I remember, though. I remember the cruel words of classmates, and harsh comments made by family members. These were the things that reached deep into my being and grabbed hold with a surprising strength. It’s taken many years to heal the wounds these words left, while the physical injuries healed in a matter of days.

There is a reason that Jesus is the Word-Become-Flesh. It’s hard to ignore the Word of God when flesh and blood are involved. The Incarnation can remind us that words take on a life of their own as soon as we speak them (or write them). Our words should echo the Word, filled with abundant life and love. However, that is often not the case. We become complacent or ambivalent or even apathetic, and let the words flow without regard to who might be listening.

Some reporting around the most recent celebrity death by suicide shows how apathy (or ignorance?) can create language that is risky. A few news outlets reported the method of suicide. Those of us not at risk for suicide may think nothing of this other than that it is a tragedy. Others who live with suicidality or are at increased risk at this time may have different thoughts entirely, thoughts that can lead to suicidal behavior or another suicide death. Reporting that someone dies by suicide is fine. Naming or describing the means spreads contagion: increasing the likelihood that others may engage in the same behavior. Naming the means of suicide helps no one and, potentially, harms many. Naming suicide as the cause of death breaks the silence and the stigma surround suicide, and may enable someone to reach out and seek help. Our language matters.

Language has always mattered. When we look at the text in Mark where Jesus is accused of “being out of his mind” and being possessed by Beelzebub, we have to wonder how to phrase these things today. We might be tempted to say that people thought Jesus was “crazy.” There was a time when this would have been a fine description. Yet the word “crazy” is not what it once was. It’s a derogatory word for many who carry a mental health diagnosis, even if we choose to use it to describe ourselves or our own family systems. However, when the label is pasted onto us by others, it doesn’t feel good. In essence, “crazy” is a word I can use to describe my own mental health, but not a word that you can use to describe me (unless you, too, carry a mental health diagnosis and we have an agreement that “crazy” is okay to use between us).

When Jesus’ family sought to “get hold of him” because there were people saying that he was not in his right mind, it’s possible that some in the crowd meant the description to be derogatory. It’s also possible that they were trying to protect him because he was putting himself in danger with what he was saying and what he was doing. They could have been saying, “he’s unwell” like we might say of a friend who was engaging in risky behavior because they were experiencing symptoms of mental illness.

On the other hand, when the Temple Authorities accuse him of being possessed by Beelzebub, there’s no question of what they meant. They were saying he’s evil, unpredictable, and dangerous. They were trying to discredit his teaching and his healing in much the same way some people might try to discredit the work of someone who lives with a mental health challenge. The Temple Authorities were afraid of Jesus and what his teachings could mean for the many who lived under Roman oppression. The easiest way to diminish Jesus’ power was to call his sanity into question. In this case, it meant calling his goodness, his godliness, into question.

Jesus, of course, was having none of it. In response, he claimed his own power and authority and challenged those who sought to discredit him. He redefined family and claimed his position as God’s Beloved. This is the Word-in-the-Flesh. This is the Word that heals and brings abundant life.

Those of us who claim to be followers of this Word, need to be ever mindful of our words. Now is not the time to be careless with our language. We are called to care for the vulnerable among us. We are called to confront the bullies who seek to soothe their own fear and insecurity by demeaning others. Let’s pay attention to the needs of those around us and speak words of healing and hope and abundant life.

We know now that words matter. They can wound deeper than any physical injury. Yet, words can also extend hope to the hopeless. It’s our responsibility as the Body of Christ to choose our words carefully so that harm comes to no one. Let’s remember that all of us, maybe especially those who have mental health challenges, are vulnerable to the power of words. May we emulate the Word and speak Truth to power and speak Love to the most vulnerable among us.

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday after Pentecost
1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20 with Psalm 138
Genesis 3:8-15 with Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

Photo: CC0 image by Ralf Kunze

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Is it Lawful?

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Throughout my life, there have been a lot of people telling me that I couldn’t do one thing or another. The first time I remember hearing this, I was six or seven. It was summer and the town had a T-ball league. My mother found this out and realized that for a small fee, both my brother and I could play T-ball for several weeks. She signed us both up. At the team’s first practice, I heard a father tell his son that they would be finding another team for him because “girls don’t play baseball.” Fortunately, the coach was having none of it. He told me he was happy I was on his team. I played baseball for several years and got to be pretty good at it.

Another memorable occasion in which I heard “girl’s can’t” was when I told the senior pastor of my childhood church that I wanted to go to seminary. He said, “Oh, you want to be a DCE (Director of Christian Education).” Without hesitation I said, “No, I want your job.” He thought for a moment and said, “Women aren’t good senior pastors.” The conversation went on from there. I’ve been ordained since 1992.

Fortunately for me, I’ve had a strong streak of resistance since early childhood. As soon as someone tells me that I cannot do something I want to do, I set out to prove just how well I can do the thing. I get angry when arbitrary societal “norms” dictate what a person can or cannot do. Why limit the dreams of children by endorsing gender norms that are outdated and inhibiting, and fail to include the full range of human diversity? Why define people by race as if we haven’t learned that skin color indicates nothing about a person’s skills, talents, or intelligence? Why dismiss a person or fail to see their value because they have a physical disability, a mental health challenge, or embody some form of neurodiversity?

The streak of resistance (some call it rebellion) has served me well. It also makes me bristle at the question the Temple Authorities posed to Jesus. “Is it lawful…?” Apparently, the disciples were hungry enough to gather grain and eat it on the Sabbath. For strict adherents to the Law, the disciples’ behavior looked a lot like work which is forbidden on the Sabbath. Jesus responded in a typical Jesus way by not really answering the question. Rather, he implied with his words and deeds that anything that supported abundant life was lawful enough. The Temple Authorities didn’t approve of this answer, but they probably didn’t ask the disciples or the man who was healed for their opinions.

Christianity has a history of legalism that would make any old-school Pharisee proud. This legalism essentially says, if the Bible says it, then it is true and it must be done. The problem is, of course, that things that were social norms in biblical days are not normative now. It’s impossible to hold up all that the Bible contains for those of us living in the modern era. It really is time to leave literalism and legalism to the past.

Let’s think about this in today’s context. Is it lawful to call police when a Person of Color is encountered in a hallway or in a student lounge or in a coffee shop? Is it lawful to throw racial epithets at unsuspecting restaurant patrons? Is it lawful for police to arrest a Person of Color for no apparent reason? Is it lawful for children of immigrants or refugees to be separated from their parents at the border? Is it lawful to limit access to healthcare? Is it lawful to allow some people to hide their hatred and fear in religious garments? Is it lawful for our refridgerators and cabinets to be full while our neighbors go hungry? Is it lawful to continue a reliance on fossil fuels while the world grows warmer? Is it lawful to use all the disposable plastics we want while the ocean fills with floating islands of trash? The answer to all these questions is, unfortunately, yes. However, it hard to believe that any of this is in keeping with what God desires for humanity.

We have distracted ourselves from the power of the Gospel by confusing secular law and biblical literalism with justice. Jesus clearly indicated to the Temple Authorities that what was good and lawful, even on the Sabbath, is that which supports abundant life on which the Realm of God thrives. When we are faced with decisions about what to do and how to behave, ought we not to be wondering what will facilitate the coming of God’s Realm here on earth? Ought we not to be thinking of loving our neighbors in the same way we love ourselves. Wouldn’t it be nice if set aside the question of lawfulness and instead asked, Is it just and does it bring Love into the world for me and all my neighbors?

RCL – Year B – Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 3, 2018
1 Samuel 3:1–10, (11–20)
Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18
2 Corinthians 4:5–12
Mark 2:23—3:6

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A Poem for Trinity Sunday

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Holy One,

I contemplate the sacred dance
and wonder when I will learn the steps
steps of peace, healing, hope
not just for a few
for all who yearn for freedom

You created all that is
as the Spirit hovered
and the Word spoke
and Wisdom beaconed
and the whole of You delighted in Creation

now we are tangled up in the limits of our language
trying to make You three and one
when You are always so much more
a Sacred Mystery breathing Life
and stirring visions

our lips have been burned clean
our sins have been blotted out
yet we remain outside your realm
(with guns in hand and fear holding us still)
which is close enough to reach
and too far for us to embody
because we have yet to believe
that which has always been:

Your love for us never ends
we can refuse to see it or claim it
we can deny it and avoid it
yet, we cannot separate ourselves from Love

what if the day is coming when our world is shaken
by the power of your glory
shaken so hard that we fall from doubt and disbelief
fear and hatred
apathy and ambivalence
into the truth of your delight in us?

what if we hover with the Spirit over Creation’s waters
and see only Love reflecting
an invitation to learn the steps of the dance
right now?

what if we hear the Word that sears our lips
and speak only grace, hope, and joy
echoing the song you’ve been singing from Earth’s beginning
longing for us to listen?

what if we follow Wisdom’s way
and create justice and offer mercy
until the world finds its rhythm
without violence
without destruction
without division?

God-in-Community,
may you remain patient with humanity
remain steadfast
until we claim your Love
share your Love
embody your Love

continue to shower us with forgiveness
until we know the truth
of your claim on us
and have the courage
to see you
in ourselves
in each other
in the whole of Creation

teach us to seek justice for all people
to love with your patience and compassion
and rely on You when we encounter the limits
of our bodies
of our minds
of our human ways

during this Pentecost season
blow through our lives
and set our holy heads on fire
that we may be the Church-Made-New
born again
born from above
born anew

Amen.

For sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year B – Trinity Sunday – May 27, 2018
Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

Photo: CC0 image by Jill Wellington

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Gardening Tip: Plant What Will Grow

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It’s my mother’s birthday and that always brings roses to mind. They are not my favorite flower. Given a choice, I prefer wild flowers over cultivated roses any day. Unlike me, my mother loved roses. At one point she had planted many varieties all over her front yard. In later years, there were not traces of most of the hybrid, delicate plants. Yet there was one rose bush that flourished. It had started out as a cutting from a friends’ white dawn rose bush. Over the years it had grown up the six-foot chain link fence, over a makeshift trellis, and down the old stockade fence. The last time I saw it, it was wildly overgrown, enormous, and absolutely beautiful in it’s early spring bloom of pale pink roses.

After my mother sold her house and moved away, I was disappointed when I discovered that the new owners had removed the bush completely. Moreover, I was sad that I had not thought to take a clipping of it to plant in my own yard. In my mind, I would have planted the clipping in my yard and repeated this each time I have moved since. If I had done this, I would now have a rose bush growing in my yard that was connected to the glorious one that had grown in my mother’s yard.

Funny thing, I now know it wouldn’t have worked. Eve if I could have gotten the rose to grow in each place I’ve lived since my mother moved – six places and three states in twelve years – it wouldn’t survive in Minnesota. Climbing roses like the white dawn don’t do well with harsh winters. Not only that, but I’m such an amateur gardener that the original cutting probably wouldn’t have survived its first planting, let alone the five subsequent ones. However, in my mind, that same wild, glorious bush that took over the corner of my mother’s yard after several decades of growth, is thriving in the back corner of my yard. Looking into purchasing a white dawn rose bush has proven to me that it’s time to let this dream go. That bush that was such a beauty simply will not grow where I live. I will choose another variety that is more suitable to Minnesota’s climate. It will still make me think of my mother just as surely as the white dawn would have.

As Pentecost approaches, I find myself having similar thoughts about the church. I grew up in a church that was just coming out of it’s heyday. In the 1970s the large, rambling building was still in full use with a busy Sunday School, active committees, choirs, and two services on Sunday. I went on to work as a youth leader and seminary student at churches of 2000 members and more. The first church I was called to as a pastor was over 800 members. These kinds of crowds inform my understand of what church was supposed to be for a long time. And, if I’m honest, I sometimes have to remind myself that this kind of church is a thing of the past. It was beautiful and glorious when it was in full bloom.2018-05-16 16.27.47

I used to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to cultivate church so it would re-grow into it’s former glory. In affect, I kept trying to solve the problems of membership and budget with tools no longer useful. Everything I had learned about church from childhood, college, and seminary were for a different era, a different climate. It was a time when attending church was the expected norm. People went to church because they were supposed to. It was the place to socialize, to network, to see and be seen. It was how you demonstrated that you were a “good” person. Parents brought their children to church because their parents had brought them. Yes, there were spiritual and religious reasons for church membership, too. Yet, it seems to me that a lot of church attendance had to do with existing social norms. Then, the cultural climate began to shift.

Somewhere along the way, the church stopped meeting the needs for community, for religion, for spirituality, for faith formation. A few generations have been clearly communicating their dissatisfaction with church. Yet, we keep trying to re-grow the old without paying attention to climate. What we cultivate or transplant, might be okay for a while, but a close look might reveal new growth too fragile to withstand the rigors of the seasons. Maybe it’s time to stop pretending that the old growth was always pruned well and remains as healthy and vital as ever.

I don’t suggest ripping these old churches out by the roots, though. They have a place, especially for those with long memories. But nearby, we ought to consider planting and cultivating another variety of church, a kind more suitable to the climate. It won’t look like the enormous, cultivated beauty of yesterday. The new variety is likely to be smaller, durable, and a bit wild. It’s time we admit that we have practically cultivated the Spirit right out of the church. But let’s not worry. As we plant a new variety of church, if we are patient, we will notice blossoms in a familiar shape as she grows her own way.

We would do well to remember that the Spirit, whose movement set heads on fire and blew doors open and bubbled up in a myriad of languages, cannot be tamed. If we cultivate and nurture a church suitable for this climate, the Spirit will surprise us with her tenacious, wild, beauty.

RCL – Year B – Pentecost – May 20, 2018
Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Photos CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

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