“THE CHURCH OF TOMORROW” ~ John 15:12-17
The Rev. Dr. Doug Lobb (as read by Rev. Scott Turnbrook) June 9,2019
Today, on this significant occasion, I want to share with you some of my thinking about the future of the Christian Church and what I think, the Church should be in this troubling age. I have an apartment which is part of daughter Linda and husband Ken’s home so I see and hear what the young people are thinking from my two academically inclined grandchildren and their friends.
I hear why they have lost any sense of the Church being important. They don’t see Christianity as significant when it does not take science seriously and they are appalled that many see Christianity as the only way one can find spiritual reality. They don’t like the way people treat others simply because their faith is different. They are not disturbed by the idea that God has many meanings and is spoken about in many languages and cultures They want the Church to be more accepting of other points of view and much less concerned about its image or correctness of thought and conduct and they are embarrassed by some believers unbending attitudes; and their opinions are shared by many adults.
So, our kids have moved on claims, friend, Robin Meyers of Oklahoma City. “They want deeds not creeds. They want mission not musings. They think we talk too much. They think not all music should sound like monks in mourning. We say text, they think of something they should not do while driving. We say low down they think download, they watch crime lab and hospital scenes because that’s the only place they hear serious conversation about life and death.” (Jossey-Bass; 2012, Robin Meyers, “The Underground Church’ PG 7) Too often, the Church of today is afraid to be truthful. Too often it is concerned about its own preservation and protection. too often other spiritual communities are shunned or ignored because they are different. Too often the Church is guilty of ignoring the homeless or the addicted. Too often the Church is lily white and not involved in movements to have others of a different color or ethnic makeup accepted more readily. They don’t understand why so many church attenders are afraid of change.
Dr. Meyers tells a story about Fred Craddock, his seminary teacher, and in my opinion, the premier preacher in America until his death last year. In the middle of a lecture, Craddock paused and said, “The other day, I saw a nine pound sparrow walking down the street in front of my house, So, I asked the sparrow, aren’t you a little heavy? The sparrow said, yeah, that’s why I am walking, trying to get some weight off. And I said, why don’t you fly? The sparrow looked at me like I was stupid and said, Fly? I’ve never flown, I could get hurt! I said, what’s your name? And he said, Church.” Thinking people want the Church to take stands. To be bold in a drifting society and to tell people, regardless of who they are or what they are doing, that they are loved and nothing they do can escape that love. That is the message of Jesus and it is powerful. As Paul put it in Romans 8:38 and 39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor heights, nor depths, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It was not long after the death of Jesus that people began talking of the religion ABOUT Jesus instead of proclaiming the religion OF Jesus. That prompted Church leaders to set up barriers and state what one should do or not do to be good or obedient or faithful. Not long after the death of Jesus, Paul began to preach and teach how people could actually do what Jesus asked. Listen to Paul at his best, “Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good, love one another with mutual affection. Rejoice in hope; be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the need of saints; extend the hospitality to strangers.”
O.K. so far so good, but hang on, now it gets tough. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as depends on you, live peaceably with all.’ That is tough!
Sometimes we get up tight and fail to recognize that some great thoughts have come from people who were not Christian and some powerful words have come from sources other than the Bible. Leaders of other faith persuasions fall into that category leaders like, Gandhi, Mohammed and The Buddha, but there are others. I have been fascinated by the words of the Rock Musician Jimmy Hendricks. On one occasion, he wrote: “When the power of love is greater than the love of power, the world will know peace.” That is powerful statement to which I think, Jesus would say. That statement gets right to the heart of what I believe is causing many to lose interest in the Church in our day. Let’s be honest, many have no interest in the Church because it is so afraid to speak against society’s love of power; when it is so negative. They are put off by a Church saying what we should or should not do when they see a world dying of injustice and inequality. They see people denying climate change because it will hurt them financially. They see wars being fought over ideological differences, and horrible acts being done in the name of some deity. They see the poor remaining poor and the rich getting richer by blocking every kind of legislation that might cause them to share. They see, black, brown and yellow people living in shoddy conditions with little hope, while Churches, in many areas do not fight for better conditions and more equal education; more equitable food distribution and medical provisions or global warming. Try selling that emphasis to people who do care but are confused because too often Church people don’t. Many have had it with a Church that believes it exists only to save people from a literal Hell. They have had it with an emphasis that says there is only one way to be spiritually true, or is conditional believing you must believe a certain way or you’ll miss the benefits.
All this got me to thinking, what kind of a Church can Northwood be? What can Northwood be doing to make a difference? Let me share my ideas. I hope you dwell on them and then select what you think the Church of tomorrow should be. One of the major chores of a Church should be the creation of community- a community of love, a community of sharing, a community of accepting and a community of forgiving; a community that creates a place that it is safe. It would be great if this was a safe place for people to express their doubts and fears; their hopes and joys; their dreams and disappointments; a place where all, young, or old, in every circumstance of life know that they are loved while their concerns are voiced. I wonder…... what would Northwood be like 25 years from now IF this was a true community? A community where women are equal to men and never patronized or controlled by others. A community where gays, bi-sexual, and transgendered and straight people work and worship together as children of God. A community where children are cherished in practice as well as in theory. A community where peacemakers are honored. A community where music as seen as the eyes of the soul and varieties of music are cherished and used. A community where scholarship is honoured and science is not the enemy of faith. A community where fear is never an instrument of conversion. A community were learning what Jesus taught about God is more important that what the Church has taught us about Jesus. A community where everyone encourages each other and they are not afraid to hug. A community where the minister is neither criticized nor idolized. A community where the enemy is not death but a failure to truly live. A community of hope and joy. Dear friends, this can be such a church. We simply have to remember that Jesus said, inasmuch as you do it unto the least, you do it unto me.
I close with thoughts inspired by John Pentland minister of Hillside United Church in Calgary - a friend and an inspiration to me. Simple acts of kindness matter - a hug, a handshake, some food, a card. I wonder... do we make religion too complicated? Feed, clothe, visit, accept...remind people they matter That’s it. I wonder…. does it come down to this phrase by all of the world’s great religious leaders. “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” How can we do this?….I wonder
Perhaps it all comes down to those wonderful words in the song: “Lean on me”