Aug 26, 2011

Remember, Recall, Reclaim

The following is the text of the Vision talk I gave at the Fellowship of Presbyterian Gathering this morning. Several people have asked me for the text so I will post it as a blog.
Vision Talk at Fellowship Gathering Minneapolis

Two older couples were traveling to a nice restaurant together.  The two guys were in the front seat and the ladies were in the back seat. The fellow driving said, “You know Ralph, you really need to check out the restaurant my wife and I went to the other day. They have the most terrific steaks and their lobster is out of this world! It’s just fabulous.”

Ralph asks, “Oh, really. What’s the name of it?

 “Uh…uh…what’s that red flower that has green leaves and thorns?

“You mean a rose?”

“Yeah. That’s it! Rose? What’s the name of that restaurant we go to?”

I share with you the above story because somewhere along the way, too many churches have forgotten why we exist.

While it may be funny when some old guy forgets the name of his wife or the name of his favorite restaurant, but when the church forgets why she exists, it’s not so funny anymore. When the church forgets her purpose, it’s a travesty. 

Because what is at stake is no longer just a funny story, but the eternal destinies of the people of this generation.

There’s a lot of talk these days of missional churches and missional communities. Heck, there’s been a lot of talk about the need for starting anew and starting New Reformed Bodies.

I can't help but wonder if perhaps what’s needed is not so much something new as remembering, recalling, and reclaiming who the church has always been.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve bought into the world’s accounting of success and we’ve started counting all the wrong things.

Where in the Bible does it ever say that the church is only about the three B’s? You know, bigger buildings, bigger budgets, and more butts in our pews.

I find it highly ironic that the church that claims to be the evangel of Christ is so unlike Christ.

As God looked at the messed up world with our messed up situations, the only way he saw fit to reconcile the world to himself was through the rejection, the suffering, and the death of his Son Jesus Christ. 

I don't know why the cross was the only remedy for sin. I don't know why there couldn't have been another way, an easier way, a way that was less painful and less tragic, more triumphant.

Even Jesus cried out at Gethsemane wondering if there could be another way.

This reality should be quite disturbing to a church that is as enamored with success as we’ve become.

If the only way that the world could be reconciled to God was through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, why do we in the church think that God will reconcile our broken messed up world through any other way?

Could that be what Jesus meant when he said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up the cross and follow me?" (Mark 8:34).

Could that be what God had in mind when he prophesied through the prophet Isaiah:

Is not this the kind of church I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, 
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry 
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — 
when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
Many of us in this place bristle against institutional preservation for institution’s sake.

However, if the truth be told, every single one of our churches are all about institutional preservation. We are all about my church growing and my church having a future.

Perhaps, it’s when we take our calling to be a church that will spend itself for the cause of Christ that we most fully come alive and become a church that impacts the world for Christ.

For Christ has called the Church to be his faithful evangelist participating in God’s activity in the world through its life for others by:
  • Healing and reconciling and binding up wounds,
  • Ministering to the needs of the poor, the sick, the lonely, and the powerless,
  • Engaging in the struggle to free people from sin, fear, oppression, hunger, and injustice,
  • Giving itself and its substance to the service of those who suffer,
  • Sharing with Christ in the establishing of his just, peaceable, and loving rule in the world.

The Church is called to undertake this mission even at the risk of losing its life, trusting God alone as the author and giver of life, sharing the gospel, and doing those deeds in the world that point beyond themselves to the new reality in Christ.

Do those words sound familiar at all? These words which echo the words of the Prophet Isaiah are from our own Book of Order.

This has always been our identity. This has always been our calling.

We don’t need a new vision. What we need is to remember and reclaim and live into the vision Christ has always called the Church to be.

Let me close by saying that the most dangerous adversary that a person can have is to face one who’s not afraid of dying for their cause.

The church that’s only about my church growing and my church having a future doesn’t frighten the devil.

But, I dare say, what the devil fears is a church that remembers who she is and what she’s been called to and determines to be about the ministry and the mission of Jesus Christ even at the risk of losing its very life, trusting in God alone as the author and the giver of life and committed to doing those deeds in the world that point beyond themselves to the new reality in Christ.

That’s our calling. That’s our identity. That’s who we are.

Brothers and sisters, may we be that church!