Posts Tagged ‘resurrection’

Maybe the Church is Dead

May 20, 2018

Today is the Sunday in the Liturgical Season of the church when we celebrate Pentecost. Some say this is the Birthday of the Church. Some of us recall the story from the book of Acts about the Disciples gathered in a room and there is a sound like a rushing wind. And the Spirit like tongues of fire appear and rest on the heads of those gathered and they begin to speak in various languages. When the people outside hear all the commotion and speaking they are in wonder of what is going on and some of the crowd accuse the Disciples of being drunk. And Peter stands up and proclaims they are indeed not drunk but inspired by the Spirit to remind the people God is still at work, young and old, male and female, will prophesy and bring the good news of God’s love and justice to the world through this event.  It is a Birthday Party! The church is being born! Break out the balloons, the wine, the party hats, the cake! Let’s have a party! A 2000-year-old birthday party.

But, then I wonder…as I look across the expanse of the Church and its presence and image in the world….

Is the church too tired? Is the church too worn out? Has the church finally become irrelevant, out of touch, stuck in its stale and ineffectual dogmas and doctrines, stuck on life support and no one has the ability, courage, or compassion to pull the plug? I hear the voices of some colleagues and others who say what the church needs is an old-fashioned revival… we need to get back to the way things used to be, back when the church was new and fresh and just getting started when preachers and lay folks were on fire with the spirit like that first Pentecost and the sounds of rushing winds and the vision of flames and the sound of diverse languages were the norm… we need a dose of the old-time religion. The problem with that is those who often long for, yearn for, the way things used to be… the ones who long for a revival of the church and a fresh outpouring of the Spirit will often tell you exactly what that Spirit will look like and exactly where it will take us, which, is not necessarily something new…

But rather perhaps it just keeps the church on life support longer as we tell it what it should say and do and be. The church longs for the way things were, in the heyday, in the grand old days, in the good old days, when we knew exactly what we believed, how we were to behave, what we were to do… life and faith were simplistic… days when the cliché of “The Bible Says It, I Believe It, That Settles It,” was the mantra…back when we knew what to expect and didn’t have to think and feel so much…. Maybe that’s what we need to do, just we sit by the bedside of the church, listening to the hum of the systems, and wait for a miracle revival to bring it all back. But nothing seems to be happening and sometimes, sometimes, it even seems to be getting worse, more disconnected, unresponsive, more distant.

As I was pondering the church in this light it made me think of the movie some years ago… “The Sixth Sense” the story of a successful psychiatrist who is trying to help a young boy who sees ghosts, but the psychiatrist’s life seems disconnected, his family distant and unresponsive, there is just something not right, it feels like he is just going through the motions with not much success at anything, until the end, when he discovers… he is dead, he just didn’t know it.

And I wondered, maybe for all intents and purposes, the church is dead, it just doesn’t know it yet. Today we celebrate the birthday of the church, but I wonder, maybe it is too late?

You have probably noticed by now, I did not use the passage from Acts and the traditional reading for Pentecost Sunday today. I used the Hebrew Scripture reading for this Sunday, the reading from Ezekiel and the valley of the dry bones. I used it because of the stark image of death, pondering perhaps, is this where the church is today? Dead, Dry, Piled Up, Deserted, Unknowingly Gone, Irrelevant?  I used this reading because it is a national story, it is a national prophecy. It is the story of not individual faith, but of a people, and as I ponder the image of the dry bones of the people of Israel for Ezekiel I have to ask myself, is the church dead and it just doesn’t know it yet.

The Church is certainly tired. The Church is certainly Tattered. And as I look out across the landscape of the church in our nation I have to consider the church is dead.

The Church is dead when it participates/remains silent in the demonization of the poor and the programs of social uplift helping feed and clothe God’s children.

The Church is dead when it participates/remains silent in the dehumanizing of immigrants and the separating of mothers and fathers from children through deportation and punishes children whose parents chose to escape torturous conditions.

The Church is dead when it claims it loves all and includes all and continues to deny LGBTQ persons full access in its life.

The Church is dead when it ignores the cries of those incarcerated unjustly and without recourse.

The church is dead when it refuses to stand for the full equality of women both within its institutions and in society.

The Church is dead when it categorically proclaims those who disagree with its doctrines and dogmas are destined for a hell of God’s choosing.

The Church is dead when it turns a blind eye/remains silent to the sins of its nation and leaders and buys into partisan politics.

The Church is dead when it does not speak up in defense of our school children because of its love of guns.

The Church is dead when it participates/remains silent, consciously and unconsciously in the evil of racism.

The Church is dead when it says everyone should only speak English when Pentecost is testimony against such things!

The Church is dead when it would rather split over who it can keep out rather than finding a place for everyone.

The Church is dead when it would rather cater to its membership than serve its community.

The Church is dead when it is more worried about how things have always been done rather than dreaming about how to embrace new ideas.

The Church is dead when it gives up on being the prophetic voice of change. The Church is dead when it would rather look back on the old dry bones of past ideas, past days, past preachers, past teachers, past unrealized dreams.

The Church is dead when it refuses to listen to new leadership, new innovations, new ways… the Church is dead when it is more focused on surviving than it is on thriving.

Maybe… the Church is Dead.

And then, sometimes things need to die before resurrection can happen…

And you know what? Says God to Ezekiel. God is in…The Church of Jesus is in…

The Prophecy Business…The Love Business…Is in the Resurrection Business!

Because … Love, True Love… Never Dies!

The Church is in the Resurrection business because that is what we do!

You can’t kill a church grounded in…

Steeped in… Saturated in… Immersed in… Dripping with… Oozing with… Wrapped up in… Inundated with… Besieged with…

LOVE… Pentecost is about the love of God for ALL persons! Pentecost is about bringing new life and insight to the world…

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it Lifts the poor and supports programs of social uplift…

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it stands with immigrants and their families…

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it speaks up in support of LGBTQ persons in the full life of the church and community.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it disdains the unjust incarceration practices of its nation.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it votes to support the FULL equality of women in the church and society.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it Uses its prophetic voice to say love conquers any kind of hell that others may proclaim.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it points out the sins and injustices of its nation and leaders.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it puts the lives of our children before the agenda of violence!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it condemns racism in ALL its forms!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it opens its doors to ALL persons!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it serves its neighborhoods and community.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it embraces new understandings and ideas.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it learns from its past but doesn’t live there.

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it finds its prophetic voice of Justice, Compassion, Welcome, Life, and Love!

The Church is in the Pentecost business when it is inspired by the Spirit to remind the people God is still at work and Love is the Way!

The Church or portions of it as we have known it…

The Church or portions of it as we know it…

May be in its last throes of death… or worse…

But, we are an Ezekiel Church!

Prophecy to these old dry Bones… says God.

Live… LiveLOVE

For it is the power of love that will renew and resurrect the best of what is to come…

This is So. This IS So!  Amen!



Questions are Welcome

March 21, 2016

I remember standing in the kitchen with my dad and mom when I asked the questions. I was probably about thirteen as I believe it was confirmation class that prompted the conversation with my dad/pastor/confirmation class teacher. Mom was fixing dinner and dad and I were have a discussion about Christianity and beliefs. I remember asking, “So if Jesus was raised from the dead physically and ascended into heaven, how can we speak of the belief he is always everywhere with us? And if he was raised spiritually and not bodily and the tomb was empty what did they do with his body?

I remember dad answering the question as any good critical theologian might answer such a question, “Those are really good questions son, what do you think?” Which simply prompted more conversation, seeking, questions, and searching, which of course is exactly what dad intended. He was always one who encouraged us to seek out our own path, not to believe something just because he did, but to study, question, consider and make sure what we believed was our own.

As we sat down at the table for dinner that evening I remember mom saying to me, “You know Kent, I believe there are just some things we do not know and perhaps are not even supposed to know; they are a mystery.”

In hindsight I think there is something to be said about the kind of faith environment in which I was raised. There is tremendous benefit in being encouraged to find one’s own understanding and belief structures, to be encouraged to question, doubt, wrestle, and critically practically look at the stories of our faith. I also believe there is benefit in realizing, once we study, question, doubt, wrestle, and critically practically look at the stories of our faith, to be able to say, “I don’t know.”

There are a lot of questions and wondering around our stories and scriptures. Even the story of Jesus’ resurrection differ depending on which gospel account we are reading, they don’t even agree on the details of that morning. I have long appreciated the words of Marcus Borg with regards to the stories of resurrection when he spoke of Jesus’ resurrection as believing what you want about the story, literal bodily resurrection, spiritual, metaphorical, but how does your belief transform you and help you make this world a better place in which to live? Likewise, the quote Diana Butler Bass shared from a “liberal bishop who was asked if he believed in the resurrection,” to which he replied, “Believe it? I’ve seen it too many times not to!”

I believe questions, doubts, wrestling, wondering, and being vulnerable enough to say “I don’t know” are crucial and indispensable qualities of a deep and abiding faith journey. And so, with all I know and with all I do not know, I am still able to cherish this Holy Week with all of its celebrations, questions, difficulties, suffering, betrayal, and darkness. I am still able to embrace all it holds and show up on Easter Sunday morning and celebrate and proclaim with all of us “He is Risen!”

Join us this Sunday at College Hill for our Easter Resurrection Sunday Celebration of Peace come to Life! It is one of the many ways we seek to be mindful of the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the community. Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table. Not Your Ordinary Church. Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.

Peace and Light on Your Journey,
Pastor Kent

Remembering Easter

April 2, 2012

I think I mentioned some time back I was working on a personal journey writing, an extended journaling perhaps or a memoir. It is a personal writing and perhaps book bound if I ever get to that point, a reflective journey through my life and experience and how I have come to understand this path to the progressive theology and life I know and embrace.

I was writing a section on my experience of the days we lost my older brother to a tragic football accident when I was thirteen. The thing that struck me most about recalling those days was what I could not remember. There were huge gaps in my own memory only filled in by what I remember my family telling me about the days immediately preceding his death and the days directly following. I thought of all the memories I have of Chris and the things we did together, good memories and bad. We were typical brothers getting along with many good and fond memories as well as “fighting like brothers,” as my grandpa used to say.

I remember stories told by my mom and dad, my sister, and others who knew him well, even stories in my own mind that on one level or another I know are true and embellished. Sometimes it seems that the memory in my mind and the stories that have been shared over the years paints a picture of a perfect teenager at the age of fifteen when he died. Chris was an exceptionally talented young man, musically, athletically, and according to many of the stories I remember spiritually, and mature for his age. And at the same time I am very aware that he was fifteen, and there are no perfect fifteen year olds, in the sense of a model child who never did any wrong.

I am reminded of the cliché “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” which is often true; I also believe absence can fuel memories that can seem larger than life. That occurs, at least in part, because I want to remember just the good stuff that happened, but Chris and I were close enough to know neither one of us were angels and there were times we participated in less than angelic behavior …together. At his death it was opportunity to place him on a pedestal which I believe, at least to my recollection, we as a family and his closest friends were more than willing to do. Not that the stories do not contain truth, but sometimes I think if he were to come back, even he would have a hard time filling all the shoes we have put on him.

I mention this part of my journey as it is what came to mind as I try to read once again for the first time the telling of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As I ponder the stories we have sometimes I wonder about the telling and how time and fondness did and continues to have an effect on the telling. It is important to do the research to understand the time, place, social, and cultural environment the stories were written in as well as the original audience for whom the stories were written. Based on my own experience the stories cause me to wonder about the remembering of Jesus life years after his death finally being written down. Not that they do not contain truth, but how accurate they are and how much of them are statements of faith and life of the early community of believers as opposed to actual happenings, especially in terms of the resurrection story that we remember this next Sunday.

There are numerous resurrection stories and even more interpretations of the stories. There are those who believe the resurrection was a literal bodily resuscitation. There are those who believe Jesus did not really die but just appeared to have died. There are those who believe he was resurrected but it was a strange new body with special abilities. There are those who believe it was a spiritual resurrection and not bodily. Marcus Borg speaks of not a bodily resurrection but that the Disciples continued to experience the presence of Christ in a profound way. And those who look at the early followers as the body of Christ and this expression and community were raised up empowered by the Spirit.

Reading progressive theological language around the issue this statement appears most often, “Believe what you want about the resurrection, bodily, spiritually, presence, the community of faith, but how does it affect your life here and now, how does it shape your life and faith, does the story give you new life, what difference does it make in the way you treat your fellow human kind?”

I know the experience of my brother’s death and the remaining stories, be they entirely true or not, had and continues to have, a profound impact on who I am and on my own understanding of life, faith, and love, I know this is truth for me.

Here in lies the truth of the resurrection story in a progressive theological framework; does the story move you to love God and neighbor, does the story move you to act justly, kindly, and humbly?

I pray this week brings you hope in the midst of struggle, healing in the midst of brokenness, laughter and singing borne of joy, and moves you from death to life! Join us this Sunday as we celebrate Easter and New Life in and among us all!

It is one of the many ways we seek to be faithful to the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the family. Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table.
Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.