"Here's what I've decided: the very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. What I want is so simple I almost can't say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither destroyers nor the destroyed. That's about it. Right now I'm living in that hope, running down its hallways and touching the walls on both sides. I can't tell you how good it feels."
--Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams
Did you read the latest Pew Report? Church attendance is shrinking. Christian nation? Well, sorta. But the number of the “none’s”—who have no faith—are growing. Atheism is on the rise. Church attendance for the most part is sagging and people of all ages are saying: “I’m spiritual—I’m just not in to organized religion.” Sound pessimistic—well, yes.
Almost every mainline church I know is wringing it’s hands asking: What are we going to do? What are we going to do? Good question. We have a whole cottage industry of experts which you can hire for a big bucks to come in and sit with your folks around the table and take your church’s pulse. I can’t be too critical. I’ve been there and I have done that more than once. So I have to quietly put my rocks back down and admit my frustration like everybody else I know.
When the money starts to sag here and there members whisper,” This Pastor thing is not working. We’ve got to get someone in here…who____________(fill in the blanks of the wish list of the One who could come and make it right). Sometimes the voices get louder: “Are you he/she that comes or shall we look for another?”
So in our anxiety we tinker. Down the street that hot shot that is still packing them in must be doing something right. Well, yes. He wears blue jeans and Nike’s. He swoops his hair up like he really is a millennial. He talks the Dude language. The music is so loud it hurts you rears and the kids love it. There will be nary a Christian symbol in the place—and the old hymns that have kept the faithful going for centuries have been scrapped.
Technology will not bring in the kingdom. Gimmicks and tricks will not wow the outsider very long. After spending a week texting and staring at the computer and all its accouterments—who really, seriously needs the same thing on Sunday? Christian Netflix—forget it.
One of the Old Testament words that the prophets used a lot was whoredom. They warned the people about the whores. They preached about whoring after strange gods. We are not in the entertainment business. We are not supposed to be here to please the crowds. We are not supposed to give them they want. Remember how Jesus shook his head when they wanted more and more.
We need a place that’s quiet enough for us to hear the beating of our own troubled hearts. We need a place that’s honest about everything and doesn’t tiptoe around all those issues we talk about when we play golf or sit around the bridge table. Yeah, church ought to be relevant—but relevant to what?
Which brings us to Pentecost. Who brought Pentecost in to the troubled church? Jesus was gone. The Romans were mean as hell and Christian kids were dressing and acting like Romans! That was the culture. These fledgling Christians needed something to stick to their innards. Something that would help them deal with the dark side of their lives, their time, their country and world. A place that would turn you inside out—or the reverse--so that you have something to hang on to. No slogans. No gimmicks. Something deeper. Jesus said he would send his Spirit. And unless I miss my guess…God still sends the Spirit. I think in our anxiety we really do think it depends on us and if this is the bottom line—we’re headed for a fall. This still is God’s thing.
I’ve got a lot of retired preacher friends that mutter: “I sure am glad I’m not having to deal with all that stuff.” I have days like that. But I do miss it on other days. I have no answers for the troubles of the wayward church. But if this really God’s thing then we can to open ourselves up to the infilling that this Spirit brings.
Maybe the Spirit will bring an ensmallment campaign. Maybe the none’s will grow and so will the unbelievers and the spiritual ones who are scared of the church. Maybe if that happens we will turn to a Book written by resident aliens--to resident aliens. Strangers a strange land. People in little clusters that had to hang on to one another for dear life on their good days—and believed what happened to them and their world would depend on God. The comforter would come—the one who would make sure that in a hard world they need not be so troubled. Not wishful thinking—but hard reality.
If we lose our center—if we lose the idea that God will be with us through and thin--we might as well join the none’s or those other crowds. But the old tom-tom beat from Genesis to Revelation was: “I will be with you…” That’s Pentecost. Whatever happens to you or your church or your friends or the world…that “I will be with you" is not us. God's Power comes from outside and it fills us with enough energy and hope that we, too will really keep on keeping on.
Lest we forget our history—our founding fathers (and mothers)—Peter, Paul James and even Judas—not George Washington, etc—has ups and downs. “...through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger…” (II Cor. 6.4b-8a) The early church was not a piece of cake. Incest, heresy, cruelty, apostasy and false prophets beset them. Falling away was their central problem. Yet—the Spirit knowing them through and through came anyway—despite their whoredoms. What was this all about? Peter defined Pentecost: Sons and daughters shall prophesy…young men (and women, too) shall see visions…and old men (yes, and women) will dream dreams.
It’s been happening for two thousand years this strange spirit coming and demanding the weirdest of things. We need some prophesy—somebody to take the pulse of our time and hold it up to the lightGod, that would be painful. We need some visions—that lift us out of the doldrums of our time and remind us God is not finished with us—even us—yet. And we need some dreams—big enough to move an old crusty two thousand year institution into a new age still telling the truth, still trying to remain faithful, still believing even after all we have been through—Pentecost—God’s thing really will become true again and again. But why wait ‘till next year?
--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com
1st photo was by Faisal Akram Ether / flickr
2nd photo from Lourdes, France / flickr