Wednesday, November 13, 2019

After the End (Reflections on Pentecost 23, Year C)

Image result for images of church steeples in flood water
“By your endurance you will gain your souls.” (Luke 21:19)

Are you scared about the future? In our gospel lesson appointed in the Revised Common Lectionary for Pentecost 23 (Luke 21: 5-19) Jesus paints a pretty icky picture of the way things are going to turn out. He predicts that the magnificent temple of Jerusalem—which all his buddies have been admiring for its cool architecture—will someday become nothing more than a pile of construction debris. That must’ve shocked the heck out of the disciples.

Hollywood (and some heretical evangelists) have made boo-coo bucks off of scaring us about nasty stuff that is to come. Dystopian epics, a zombie apocalypse, and a post-rapture world ruled by the anti-Christ have proven to be crowd-pleasing money-makers. But what really scares you?

Personally, I’m really nervous about climate change. The Bride and I won’t be retiring to Florida if Florida is under water. As frightened as Jesus’ disciples are of the idea of Jerusalem’s Temple being leveled, I’m scared spitless about the prospect of St. Louis’ Cathedral and the rest of downtown New Orleans becoming a water park. I’m going to miss Long Beach Island when it’s gone, and I’m going to mourn all of those once-habitable places on the earth where we won’t be able to live any longer and those cute species of critters whose habitats will be destroyed because we were too stupid, lazy, and selfish to put a lid on our carbon emissions.

Know what else I’m going to miss? Lutheranism in America. For real. I really freakin’ love being a Lutheran. But I’m watching the congregations here in Northeast Philadelphia fold up like the offensive line of the Cincinnati Bengals. There’s no hiding the signs that the traditional Protestant Church—and maybe all of American Christianity—seems to be on the decline. Will I be around to see the church I’ve pastored for over twenty years be sold, bulldozed, and the lot turned into an apartment building or a 7-11?

It’s certainly something to think about, and Jesus, in the gospel, never lets us off the hook with warm, fuzzy “it’s-all-going-to-be-okay” platitudes. Instead, he reminds us for two important things:

1.      Bad stuff will happen.

2.      It’s not necessarily the end of the world.

Jesus doesn’t tell us to ignore the gut-ripping changes that are taking place. He only warns us about obsessing over them, buying into the hype, and thinking we can get out of it by our own cleverness.

There have been plenty of neighborhood churches, in my area and those I’ve heard of around the nation, that have been existing on a ventilator. Some long-dead Christians donated tons of cash to their beloved congregations. Bucks piled up in bank accounts in those “rainy day” funds. Were they used to feed hungry people? Educate children? Create advocacy programs? Shelter the homeless?

Nah. The cash just sat there and was slowly spent down so a handful of folks could go on having church exactly the way they wanted to have it until the needle on the tank hit “E” and the lights went out.

How much better it would be if, instead of concentrating on our institutions, we were to focus on our relationship with God and our purpose for being in God’s world. And maybe the best place to start will always be with refreshing ourselves in the Word of God. Faith, St. Paul tells us, comes from what is heard. Knowledge, I believe, can build both faith and enthusiasm.

One of my Confirmands recently presented me with her completed take-home quiz. I asked her how she thought she’d done on it, and she proudly told me she thought she got all the answers right. With a smug little grin she informed me, “I showed it to my dad, but he didn’t know any of the answers.” However proud I might be of my student, I have to lament the ubiquitous lack of Bible knowledge I’ve seen in some of the parents. I have to wonder how we expect to see a new generation of Christians when the current generation is so willing to take faith and the treasure of our tradition for granted.

Jesus warns us in this gospel lesson that we’ll never adequately prepare for the things which are to come; nevertheless, we can focus on how we will testify to our own love of God, we can let Christ’s words speak to us in the here and now, and we can trust that he will show us the direction the Church needs to take when the time comes.

If we are truly people of the WORD, what happens to the institution won’t matter.

May God be with you this week, and thanks again for visiting my blog!

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