Though the lack of Sunday worship services during Lent makes it feel less real, today is Good Friday. As we remember Jesus’s great sacrifice for humanity this Easter weekend, I wonder how the church will stand against injustice as Jesus did. Whether we choose to be counter-cultural or comfortable will determine our ability to follow Jesus, make disciples, and transform the world (The Great Commission).
God spoke to me this morning
As I type this rough draft on April 6, 2020, I just finished my prayer + Bible reading time. [See last week’s post to learn more about how this looks.] In my prayer, I specifically asked God to “speak to me in ways I can understand, which is mostly through what I read.” Also, I had this vague, nagging feeling that a post idea was on the tip of my fingers as I prayed; I even paused and blinked for a minute, tried and failed to grasp it, then reverted back to my prayer.
When I got to my reading, I *just so happened* to be on Psalm 112. As I read it, I found comfort for uncertain times as I read of the righteous: “Their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord. Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid.” Amen! I went on to read 113 and 114, and what do ya know? The footnote says Psalms 113-118 are considered “Hallel” because of their association with the Jewish Passover…which *just so happens* to directly correlate with Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, when Jesus entered Jerusalem FOR THE PASSOVER CELEBRATION (and His impending murder).
Then, I skipped forward to Isaiah, which I’ve been chipping away at for months. I *just so happened* to be on chapter 52, and some of you may know where this is going…the servant song of chapter 53. Holy wow. Some read it as a prophecy of Jesus, while some simply see Jesus reflected in it. Either way, the passage provides a stirring picture of sacrificial love.
Finally, I read my NT passage for the day, which was the last chapter of Romans. As Paul spoke of UNITY in the church, I was reminded of a prophetic–even to the point of disconcerting–quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Perhaps this is the post idea I felt tingling on my fingertips. God moved me to write this immediately.
Jesus wasn’t status quo; what about the church?
When Dr. King was arrested during a peaceful protest in 1963, a group of white evangelical leaders came together to write him a letter discouraging his “untimely and unwise” fight for equal rights for black people. His response to them, jotted in the margins of a newspaper article about the letter along with pieces of paper smuggled in to him, articulates grace along with biting truth. Some of that truth disturbs me in its continued significance. Or, in 2020 vernacular: I’m shook. The letter is long, and even this excerpt is lengthy, but I feel compelled to share this:
There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.
Ouch. The truth hurts. Has the body of Christ become weak, ineffectual, defenders of the status quo? Have we become an irrelevant social club? Are young people so disappointed with us that they’ve become outright disgusted?
I find these premonitions scary. Why? The fact that churches are dying all around us and suffering from a lack of younger demographics shows many have worsened rather than improved with the symptoms Dr. King identified almost 57 years ago.
Lessons learned from attending a mega-church virtually
Yesterday, I attended a virtual church service through Elevation Worship, one of those sometimes-vilified mega-churches that is growing while so many others sink. Even I have pointed out issues with mega-churches, such as lack of intimacy, which is still a fair point. However, as I watched the service, God opened my heart. [Sidenote: I’ve also prayed God would continually sanctify me and make scales fall from my eyes.] I realized people–even myself at times–miss the full picture when we say things like, “Young people just want a big concert!” Yes, the praise music was led by a band on a stage. But the sermon was fantastic…which, ironically, dug into a Psalm (I posted about Psalms last week).
Throughout the service–the music, the message, a video they showed praying with teachers in this pandemic, everything–I felt the Spirit moving. I realized young people want to be where the Spirit is. Oftentimes, sadly, people who have been set in their ways a long time reject new ideas, mission projects, etc. and exclude the Spirit from their churches.
The Spirit moves people to have compassion, love justice, and be bold. We absolutely need to be unified in these traits to bear fruit; otherwise, God might just curse our fig tree. Remembering the incredible sacrifice Jesus made for me, I want to be courageous for Him. I’m thankful for opportunities in my local church and at the district level to really step out in faith, especially through United Methodist Women, a mission organization that is authentically counter-cultural.
I pray we will remember all these things as we move into the future. Who will we be and what will we stand for? Also, as an excerpt from my Psalm reading today says: This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Thanks for reading. 🙂 Have a wonderful Easter weekend.