Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Signs of the Times

It probably wasn't original, and it certainly expressed a commonly held sentiment. I'm referring to a post I saw on Twitter awhile back. It was from a Presbyterian pastor and it said, "If the 1950s ever come back, we're ready."

We church folks do often seem remarkably oblivious to the world around us.  That is especially true of mainline churches which once lived squarely in the center of American culture. If it weren't so depressing it would be funny to watch congregations who think that some improvement will return them to their former glory. If they just had a better preacher, a better music program, or maybe even a contemporary service...

Such thinking often seems completely unaware that church is an optional activity. Even in my own congregation, which is doing remarkably well by mainline standards, there seems to be an assumption that "visitors" are church shopping and they will end up somewhere.  But such assumptions are likely to be off the mark. We live in a culture where an ever larger percentage of people do not grow up in church. Even the notion that the church is a logical destination for someone who becomes spiritual curious is likely false. There are countless other options.

In today's gospel, Jesus blasts religious leaders who cannot read the signs of the times. They do not see God's reign drawing near in Jesus. They are oblivious to the seismic shift that is taking place. Like many religious leaders in every age, they are decent people who have become focused on running the institution, so focused on it that they miss God at work in their very midst.

The Spirit is stirring in our world right now. All around us are signs. Small faith communities are emerging where spiritually hungry people are finding a genuine presence of God. People are being drawn into communities of faithful, spiritual practice where they are transformed and the promise of God's coming reign is glimpsed.

But many of us, busy running our little religious enterprises, imagine all this is nothing but a matter of style, a passing religious fad.  We'll keep doing what we're good at, what is tried and true.  And if the 1950s ever return, we'll be ready.

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