Yesterday I decided to engage in a task that was a long time coming…cleaning out the youth supply closet. Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with a youth supply closet, I want you to picture your junk drawer in your house; and now it’s a closet. So as you can well imagine there were quiet a few things that needed to make the fifty foot trek to the dumpster. It also happened to be an incredibly rainy day. But on one of my trips to the dumpster I noticed a path being carved in the water before me. After dropping my load I came back to observe a single hornet that was carving the path in the water. He was holding on against the inevitable. Fall is coming…winter is coming…and a deluge of water was pushing against him and yet he still held on stubbornly against the inevitable. Here he was exposed to imminent danger (feet, cars, etc.) and yet he persisted. I almost wonder if he would have been safer to let the current carry him. Would he have found refuge further down the stream and then be able to live out his last few weeks in a better place; an open place?
I feel like we in the church can be guilty of hanging on to things we should let go of. Culture and the winds of change push us so aggressively that we are scared and so we hang on to that which we know/understand. The problem is that this isn’t a new problem. In the third chapter of the gospel of John we read about someone who was shook by all of the newness that was being ushered in. He was anxious about this Jesus character but could not comprehend why he should change or how he could change in order to accommodate his known identity, tradition, methods, etc. Jesus responds to him in part and eventually says to Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8 Those truly born of the Spirit know what it is to move by the Spirit’s leading. They know what it looks like to let go and allow the current of God to carry them into newness of heart and life (that’s a very loaded phrase if you dig into it).
So back to the hornet and hanging on. Sometimes what we perceive in fear may actually be the moving of God. Think about it for a minute Abraham left all he knew, Moses stood up to a god-king, Joshua faced down giants, 3 Hebrew children didn’t bow, Peter got out of the boat, Matthew left his tax booth, Saul forsook all he ever knew (it was rubbish)…they all let go of relative safety, what they knew and the tradition they had embraced in order to be carried by God’s Spirit into something unknown, foreign, scary and unpredictable…and the world would never be the same. So what are you clinging to today? What terrifies you about God’s movement amidst the winds of culture? Where is God calling you to pull up anchor and join the movement of His Spirit? May we be those born of Water and Spirit and not those who cling to dry and stagnant land amidst the current of God.
In the fall of 1996 I was a bright-eyed freshman at Trevecca Nazarene University ready to take on the world. As I collected my books for what was sure to be the most illustrious scholastic career that university had ever seen I was struck by one of the titles for my Biblical Faith class. It’s title A Peculiar People by Rodney Clapp just seemed out of place amidst all of the other books. Then I began to read it and stumbled upon a story the author related from church writer and theologian Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was once a chaplain on a Holland-American cruise line and he related the story of the time the captain found their ship immersed in impenetrable fog. As the captain paced nervously back and forth he bumped into Nouwen, cursed him and told him to stay out of the way. As Nouwen walked away the captain called back after him, “Why don’t you just stay around. This might be the only time I really need you”. Nouwen recalled what it felt like to all of a sudden being displaced and ultimately reflected on the church’s lack of use/need in today’s world. I guess I forgot to mention that the sub-title of Clapp’s book was “the church as culture in post-christian society” And although it was written almost twenty years ago, it has more to say to us now than it ever did before.
What does the mission of the church look like in a post-christian society? Now before you get all antsy and say that we are not living in a post-christian society, let’s just look outside our doors for a minute. Very rarely now do people consult the church for the best way to live their lives. More often than not, individuals aren’t coming to pastors in drones to check their interpersonal relationships and cultural engagements. By and large, I hate to say it, the church has become somewhat irrelevant in modern culture. The church has allowed itself to become alienated from things like science, art, entertainment, music, etc. so much so that we have become like the nonagenarian trying to speak about the benefits of Snapchat (no offense to my nonagenarians). What happened? Where did we go wrong?
Honestly, I think we lost our imagination and our ability to tell a better story. We saw the world heading a certain direction and instead of creatively engaging it for the kingdom of God we railed against the societal ills we saw and alienated ourselves even further. And now we see this behemoth post-christian culture and try as we may we can’t help it change course. But I don’t think it’s too late. I just think we need to tell a better story. Instead of being seen by society as fearful, angry, judgmental, paranoid, and largely irrelevant, maybe we can change our course. I think about Jesus’ engagement with the culture of his day. Often times it began something like this, “The Kingdom of heaven is like…”, “The Kingdom of God is like” and then he would tell a story. And maybe that’s what it is time for us to do. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…a garden planted in an urban wasteland.” “The Kingdom of God is like…a church having a banquet for the homeless”. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…a church that let go of political ideologies in order to embrace their neighbors.” And maybe, just maybe if we start to tell a better story we might find ourselves becoming relevant again and truly changing the world for Christ.