SERMON NOTES — October 31, 2021
The animating question: why are our children’s and grandchildren’s generations mostly missing from church? Who will come after us?
A proposal for addressing the problem: reframe and recenter our message that better fits the revitalization of our mission. We’ve been revitalizing mission in ways supported by our Sunday messaging in sermons, but we still lack revitalized framing and recentering of the message. The five hundred year-old Protestant version of the Gospel — “justification by grace through faith” — no longer works effectively in our time and place. We need to go back to Jesus’ clear version in the Gospels — The kingdom of God is at hand — and find Paul’s version, since for him God’s reign had already begun on the first Easter. It was present tense for him.
I believe that one which works especially well for us in our time is: “For Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one. . . . He has abolished the law . . . that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace. . . .” (Eph 2:14-15)
In previous weeks, I told a Brian McLaren story about converting from Justification by grace through faith to The Kingdom of God is at hand (from his book A New Kind of Christianity, pp. 137-38). This week I share the story from McLaren’s latest book Faith after Doubt (pp. 132-34). He tells of an encounter in recent years with a young woman named Charis. He had been presenting to a group on matters of upgrading our faith through revitalized message and mission — what Brian borrows from Paul as “faith expressing itself in love” (Gal 5:6). Charis came up to him after the talk and invited Brian to coffee, where she began, “Look, I’m almost thirty and I’m dating someone and it’s getting pretty serious. And eventually, we want to have children. And I know what I don’t want to teach my hypothetical future children, but I have no idea what I do want to teach them . . . and I guess, more personally, I wish I could find some group of people who have sifted through all the best from the past and use it to help people like me get a little more of that harmony in our lives that you talked about this morning. For all the problems I have with what I was taught growing up, I do feel that having a faith community was worth a lot to me. And I think the world will not be a better place unless we can find a way to have healthy faith communities without all the ______.” (Expletive deleted)
Brian began to respond, “When angsty post-conservatives like you show up with all your questions, these faith communities don’t know what to do with you. . . . They’ve debugged their software of fundamentalist belief systems, but they haven’t installed a love-driven program in its place. They’re like a bicycle that runs on a front wheel of ambiguity and a rear wheel of institutional momentum. Meanwhile, a lot of these faith communities are aging and declining numerically. It’s been a long time since they’ve had experience with younger people. They want you, and they need you, but . . .”
Charis interrupted, “I get it. I get it. They want the ‘millennials’ like me to come and save them. But really, they want us less as members or partners and more as fuel to keep their operation going. So people like me give up on church entirely and join the ‘nones’ (her naming of folks whose church affiliation is ‘none’). . . . Look, I do all the nones stuff. I do yoga. I go to therapy. I do these online self-awareness-unleash-your-inner-goddess courses and stuff like that. But I’m not an idiot. I know about climate change and nuclear war and economic inequality and all that. And the world is in such a mess, I don’t just want to be a good, happy, fulfilled, spiritual consumer while it all goes down the toilet. I want to be part of a group, a movement, that’s trying to . . . you know, save it. There. I said it. I want to be part of a community that isn’t obsessed with saving their own damned souls, but that actually wants to try to save this world that we’re on the verge of destroying.”
Does this sound at all familiar with any of the under-forty crowd in your lives? Are they hungering for ways of not just saving souls for the afterlife, but for saving people and God’s good creation here in this life?
This is our message, if we drop the afterlife lens. Two examples. First last week’s Gospel:
Jesus continued, “When the Son of Man (or, “New Human Being”) comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the nations one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. . . . Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, . . . ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into a time of hellish consequences, but the just nations into life in God’s new age.”
We read it as a sorting of individuals in the afterlife. Jesus offers it as a sorting of nations in the history. Those nations which fail to prioritize the least of Jesus’ family will end up on the trash-bin of history. Like Rome or Nazi Germany. What will be the fate of our nation? Our children and grandchildren have a lot at stake with this very question which Jesus has an answer to!
Second, in today’s readings: the Temple in Jerusalem — built by Solomon 1000 years before Jesus and destroyed by Rome thirty years after Jesus. In John 2, Jesus is not only prophesying that destruction, he is anticipating the Good News that now God’s presence in the world will no longer be in a building but in God’s people. God’s presence comes through us!