The other day, Madelyn was studying vocabulary words with Blake and one of her words was Nostalgia. I said, “oh Nostalgia. I love Nostalgia, I am nostalgia for nostalgia.” I am. I can get very sentimental over things that look to be fading away from our culture, or are no longer relevant. Once they are gone, I miss them a lot more than I did when they were there. Lately it seems like more things are becoming less relevant and it’s made me wonder how much longer they will be around.
Newspapers – like with rubber band and the paper boy.
Letter writing. – like with stamp and the envelop
The Mall – like with the cinnebons and dip and dots.
And here’s one that I think has already disappeared. Shop Class. Do you remember shop class? I was terrible in it, but it was required in junior high. Once I made a light out of coke can and brought it hope and plugged it in, I started a small fire in my room. One of the things we made, that I still have, that I was quite proud of was a little three-legged stool. Maybe you made one too. I made it in 8th grade. I loved my little three legged stool. I still have it. Now, the tricky thing about making a three legged stool, is making sure you cut all of your legs to be the equal size, if not your little stool will be too wobbly. Each leg is equally important. I have used this image to explain the Trinity to confirmands when they are trying to understand God as three in one. Each person of the Trinity is equally important, making one body.
I would like to use this image of a three legged to stool to talk about something else that is dear to me, that is also struggling to fight for its relevancy in our society today, and that is church. I wonder what the church will look and be like 30 years from now, when our confirmands are in their mid 40’s. – When this day will be a memory for them and today will seem like a life time ago, but when asked about their faith or religious history, they will remember this day as a significant moment when they claimed their faith and joined a church. I think the church will still exist, but it will function in a completely different way, just as newspapers will no longer be in paper form, and people will no longer go shopping at the mall, the church will look completely different.
But fear not, we have history on our side, and history tells us that the church is always changing.
Today is also Pentecost. It’s the day we read the account from the book of Acts of the birth of the church. The day people from different cultures, different neighborhoods, different socio economic back grounds and they were all in one room and they had a religious experience that could not be explained, in which the Holy Spirit swept through the room and they all starting speaking different languages, and it is this wild moment that the church is said to have been born.
They didn’t have a budget. They didn’t have committees. They didn’t have programming. They didn’t have a building. They just had their hands and feet, their mouths, and their ears, their intention and their hope, and above all they had each other and a common experience that propelled them to be brave and share a story people didn’t want to hear.
Did they think about 2018 on that day? Not likely, but 2,018 years later the church is still striving to receive that Holy Spirit and respond to the calling of being the church. 2,018 years ago, the future of the church didn’t look hopeful either, but it didn’t stop the disciples from teaching, serving, healing, and witnessing in the name of the Jesus Christ.
So, here’s my question, if we can accept that the church has changed and is going to change, what will the church stand on as it moves forward? This brings me back to my three legged stool. If the church is going to be the church it has to stand equally on three primary principles: Belief, Behavior and Belonging. One of these principles cannot be longer or shorter than another – each of them are equally important. A few days ago I was reading a belief statement written by a group of pastors from various denominations on racial injustice and someone replied to the statement saying cynically, “nice try, but I have seen the damage the church has done, I do not trust their beliefs.” There are countries that claim to be a country that is of one faith – a Muslim country, or a Christian country, or a Buddhist country, and while the country owns that religion, many of the people do not necessarily practice their faith in their daily lives. There are people who say they are Christian, but only come to church twice a year.
Likewise, organizations can focus so much on the importance of belonging that they can water down the importance of belief and even behavior. One can overshadow the other, and they are all connected. Our beliefs impact our behavior. We have to know what we believe in order to know how to behave. For example, if we believe that Jesus require us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly, then our behavior should reflect that belief. If our behavior does not reflect our belief then our beliefs are of no value. Our confirmands wrote out their statements of faith – they stated their beliefs, their harder calling will be to live out what they said they believed in how they behave- and the only way that they can be successful in assuring that their beliefs and the behaviors match up, is if they know they belong. Just as the disciples in the room on Pentecost experienced the Holy Spirit as a community, our confirmands need to community to keep their eyes on God, as do all of us. The church has changed, and will change, but the need for belonging will never change.
It's impossible to be a Christian alone. Everyone of us needs to know that we are not alone. Every one of us needs to know that we are loved for who we are, not for what we do. Times will change, but the need for nurturing communities where we live our beliefs in our actions toward friend and stranger, will always be needed.
Baptism is the promise that in life and in death we belong to God.
Confirmation is the individual’s personal belief responding back to that baptism
Both of these moments take place in community… which leads me to wonder, maybe instead of asking our confirmands to write a statement of belief, maybe we should be asking them to write a statement of belonging.
Questions we need to ask ourselves:
- How do we belong to our faith community?
- Why do we belong and to what do we belong?
- Can we be our authentic selves?
- Are we willing to be held accountable to each other and to let others hold us accountable?
This summer, I will be diving more deeply into what it means to belong to a church, what it means to belong to God and what it means to belong to the Body of Christ in the world. I hope you will join me in these questions for yourself and for the future of the church.