Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Churches are like families, wait, that’s not right. Churches ARE families. I have attended several churches in my adulthood and these families tend to fall in to 2 groups. The Country Club Church and the Old Hippies. Now, these are not two actual churches, but rather conglomerations of several churches I have attended.
The first is the “Country-club” church. They are concerned with having proper liturgy with nice expensive vestments and ornaments and most concerned with having a large endowment. Every square inch of the building is covered with a plaque commemorating the person who donated the window, wall hanging, hymnal, whatever. In one church they even had a book published detailing the history of the stained glass and finery. They had literally turned their building into a museum.
The roof above the organ leaked. Now this was a large old slate roof that would have to be completely replaced. Here the parish leadership was split. Half said we have to protect the organ, it’s one of the finest instruments in the state and was donated by some of the finest industrialists this town has ever seen. Others said, we have to protect our endowment; that money has been around since the 20s and was donated to us by some of the finest industrialists this town has ever seen!
This church had forgot to worship God. Instead, they worshiped their finery, they worshiped their building, I’ll dare to say that they even worshiped their liturgy. Most of all, they worshiped their money! GET BEHIND ME SATAN!!
The second kind of church is the old hippies. This church uses its money and its building for many programs to benefit the wider community. The soup kitchen has taken over the old parish hall in the basement. The special classes for kids with severe autism meet in the old choir room. The clothes closet is in a former adult education room.
This church was known for doing great work in the community but let me tell you a secret. Few members of the church actually did that work! The soup kitchen had become an autonomous organization ran by others, and the clothes closet was managed by the paid secretary. The good works of the church had turned into people who rented space from the church and Vestry meetings were like charity board meetings.
This church had started out doing great things, but they forgot that any “works” we do must be rooted in our faith, in our desire to conform ourselves to Christ. They forgot that whatever they gave in the way of charity to the community around them was first given to them by God.
Churches want a return to the “glory days” of the 1950s. Most people say that Christendom is dead. Some even say that many church institutions will cease to exist in 50 years…… Let’s put that idea over here and ponder it for a second.
In the passage from scripture above, Jesus gives the disciples a stark warning. The way of Christ leads to death. For the Apostles this was a literal death. Church tradition holds that only one Apostle, John, escaped martyrdom. The rest were brutally murdered for their faith. There are still many people dying as a result of their Christian faith around the world.
So, why am I in church; why are you? Why did I spend 3 years in seminary just so I could give up almost every Sunday morning (and many other days too) for the rest of my life for an institution in decline? I mean, there are certainly some mornings, especially in September, where I would much rather be at the lake fishing.
The answer for me, and I’m guessing the answer for many of you, too is that at some point in our lives when we most needed it; we had some sort of encounter with the living God where the things that bound us were destroyed and we felt perfect love, perfect acceptance, and perfect freedom. We want others to know this feeling too! And right after that moment, we had a choice. Do we go back to the old way of being, or do we allow THAT version of us to die so we can move forward into a new life in Christ?
You say that Christendom is dead and that many church institutions will be gone in 50 years. I say let it be. Am I saying to close our doors and disband our churches? NO. Instead, we need to undertake the work before us of reform and reconciliation and learn to put serving a living God before our notions of what the Church should be.
Let us remember that the person to whom Jesus said “GET BEHIND ME SATAN” was Peter; “the rock” on which Jesus built the church. Like him we can change our attitudes and our lives for the better.
Let us move on from outdated, and frankly imperialistic notions that bind us. Let us reclaim Christianity from Christendom. Let us learn to give up our own power and to put people before institutions.
Now how do we do this? What will the future hold for our churches in Kansas? I don’t fully know!! And frankly I’m kind of excited by that. It will be fun to find out! What I can tell you is that I have FAITH. I have faith that if we have the courage to tell the FULL history of our individual churches and our church as whole, we, our descendants, and the communities around us will be changed for the better.
I have faith that if we allow ourselves listen to the Holy Spirit with open ears and open hearts, she will guide us. I have faith that if we nurture our souls and conform our lives to Christ as individuals and as church families, great works will pour forth from us from a place of humble thankfulness into a world in desperate need.
I have faith that if we allow old ways of being to die, we will gain the freedom to follow Christ into NEW life and our spiritual descendants will still be around serving God in this place.