Sunday, December 17, 2017

Giving Up On Church

Many of us grew up going to church, served as acolytes, endured confirmation classes, and all the rest, but as adults we left the things of childhood behind.  Leaving church behind is frequently one of them.  Maybe people get tired of all the cheap God talk, wondering if there’s any truth to it since most seem to get along without it very well.  Besides, if going to church is no more than something done  only to satisfy parents, a routine doing little more than absorbing a few hours on Sunday morning, then it ranks somewhere below watching NFL football and slightly above taking out the garbage.  

It seems like a good time to announce that it isn’t what church is about.  Church isn’t a place or time.  It’s the gathering of people who know God in Christ Jesus, or who want to know him, and intend to follow him on the path he’s set before us.  It’s about recognizing that God’s ways are not our ways, nor God’s thoughts our thoughts, and that no matter what else is going on in the world, God’s word going forth from him (or her) will not return empty but will accomplish what God intends, so said God through the pen of Isaiah.  They may not be our ways or thoughts, but they have been made known to us through Jesus who put into human terms the overwhelming love of God that proclaims release to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, it sets free the oppressed, and proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor (which is the year yet to be celebrated when all debts of every kind are forgiven).  That’s a little more from Isaiah, but this time in the mouth of Jesus who declared he is the one to do it.

Have we seen any of that yet?  Yes, in everything Jesus said and did.  But we haven’t seen the fullness of it, nor are we likely to in our life times.  It doesn’t matter.  As Christians, we are called to continue in the work Jesus began.  We may be imperfect at it, but we are convinced that everything there is to know about God that can be revealed in human form was accomplished in Jesus’ life, teaching, death and resurrection.  It turns out that the ultimate power through which all creation exists is God’s love for us and all of creation.  Why God loves us defies common sense, but there it is.  What else can we do but live into it, as best we can, which is often not all that good.  

Doing that requires nourishment to strengthen body, mind and spirit.  As Episcopalians, we are reminded that in the Holy Eucharist we physically and spiritually absorb a portion of God’s healing love into our own bodies.  It’s the holy food and drink of new and upending life for us and for all.  We can tolerate a mediocre sermon as long as we get to eat and drink. 

My big complaint about too many adults who have given up on church, including not a few active church goers, is that they entered their adult life with a third rate fourth grade Sunday school education about God.  We wouldn’t enter any other part of adult life with such a flimsy start, so why is God left in the lurch.  Sunday school faith can’t cut it in the adult world.  What is ours as Christians demands adult learning, thinking, contemplation, and action.  Paul, writing to a bunch of malcontents in Corinth said this:
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
The love he had in mind is what the Greeks called agape.  It’s the love that seeks, sees and offers blessings in all and to all things, and strives to be an agent of healing and reconciliation to wholeness of life.  It’s the ideal toward which we are to move, step by uncertain step. 

The Anglican tradition of the Episcopal Church not only affirms the real presence of God in Christ Jesus that nourishes us with holy food and drink, it also honors the ancient practices of early Christians amended to make sense for our time.  For that reason it’s not a very trendy church.  When Episcopalians try to be trendy they often trip over their own feet.  On the other hand, we believe strongly that intellectual reason and respect for learning bequeathed to us from generations past are essential to becoming adult followers of Jesus.  Our tradition is equally bold in asserting that the bible contains, reveals and illuminates God’s word, but it is not inerrant, and was written by humans who, divinely inspired though they were, could and did make mistakes.  Scripture, we say, entices, even demands, that we enter into conversation with it, and in so doing to enter into conversation with God, who delights in a little give and take.  Scripture is not fragile.  It won’t break.  Have at it, and it will have back.

By all means leave childish ways behind.  Get on with the adult adventure of following Jesus into the fullness of life in abundance, and go to church.




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