24 Jun 2012
“Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor. 5:17) In the name …
Our diocesan acolyte retreat will be held here on Thursday so I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods to buy a playground ball. You know, one of those sturdy, red, rubber balls that can be found on every elementary school playground in the country so that kids can play whatever they want. Well, I found out there is no such thing anymore. There is, instead, a regulation kickball that is sanction by the Kickball Association of America. Who in the world joins an official kickball association? They sit on the shelf right next to the regulation 4-square ball. Again, who joins an official 4-square association? I told the sales girls that you’ve got to be kidding. I think we’re becoming terrified of the unexpected, the unscripted, the new. We regulate and sanction everything!
Church doesn’t do well with new either. We regulate and sanction the daylights out of stuff! And that’s really a shame because new is a part of the definition and substance of our faith. I was re-reading a book called Theology of Hope the other day looking through my high-lights for something I could use in July’s newsletter article. That didn’t pan-out, but it reminded me of a forward-looking theology we often forget about as church. Church isn’t about our efforts to preserve the past. It’s about leading us toward a new and better future. That’s the “theology of hope.” It’s not scripted. It’s unpredictable and often times unanticipated because it’s in the hands of God. We’re not supposed to be in control.
The first day of summer was the first day of summer vacation for the elementary school here in Deerfield. I was on the porch having my breakfast about 8AM dreading the 100° that was just starting, and down comes Thayer Street four young boys riding their bicycles with apparently no plans or rules, and looking like they were having a great time of it. Church is too often like the official kickball association with its regulation kickball when it should be more like a bunch of kids heading out early on the first day of summer vacation and looking forward to an unplanned day. We’ve taken the spontaneity out of church. We’re afraid of that word new so we sanction and regulate everything. Innovation is a good word everywhere except church, and that will sap the life right out of church.
Think about what Paul has said to us today, and I offer a serious invitation to all of you to attend Tuesday’s Bible study class where we have more than a ten minute opportunity to think and talk about these kinds of things. Paul speaks of Jesus’ death and resurrection (5:15). Then, to people in that first generation of the church, people separated from the historical Jesus by only the shortest sliver of time, to them Paul says, “Even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him so no longer.” (5:16) Jesus of Nazareth is barely gone and yet Paul is already reaching beyond the old and embracing the new risen Jesus of the present, the forever present. Even to people who may have known the historical Jesus, Paul points not to the past, but to the present and toward the future. Why in the world then should we in the 21st century go looking for the Jesus of the past, when Jesus is here? Why proclaim the old when Jesus says something new to us every generation? This is what keeps church alive and meaningful.
In one of those exceptionally powerful statements of the Bible, Paul writes: “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” If church has trouble with the new, then we have conflict at our very roots. If we have trouble with the new, I’m afraid that it means we believe in the Jesus of the past, but we don’t believe that Jesus is here with us in the present. Spirituality then stops. We accept where we are as church as good enough, and yet everyone of us knows that it is not, and then people stop bothering to come, others try to be Christian all by themselves, and church suffers and dwindles because the spiritual life can only be remembered, not experienced. All of those good-intentioned attempts to protect church by holding on to the past rather than seeking Christ’s new voice are turning us into a museum.
I don’t know if you heard this past week that the Southern Baptists have elected a new President for their denomination. The Southern Baptists emerged during the Civil War due to their support of slavery. The man they elected their new leader, the Rev. Fred Luter Jr., is an African-American. That first generation of Southern Baptists could never have imagined such a thing. And I’m glad that they’ve elected Rev. Luter. He seems like an amazing man. But 150 years?? Why does the church resist new so forcefully that this kind of statement takes place long after the rest of society has moved on? Why does church have to react to where the people of the world are already instead of being the catalyst to where we should be? Isn’t that what Jesus did? Isn’t that what Jesus’ should be doing? What has happened to the moral authority of the church when we are afraid to speak the new message of Christ?
I wonder if it is even possible to meld church and curiosity? Can church be provocative rather than safe? If we take centuries to react as church, is it any wonder that people are growing more distant from church? My daughters sometimes speak a language that is foreign to me. I popped in one evening while they were watching a basketball game on television. I heard them say: “That play was nasty.” I honestly did not know if that meant good or bad. When I found it meant good, I told Sharon one night after that, that her chicken tetrazini was nasty. I thought she was just being old fuddy-duddy when she didn’t know that was a compliment, but then my girls told me you can’t use nasty like that. It works for sports, but not for food. When this kind of communication separation happens with church, when church isn’t adventurous enough to speak of what is new and keeps repeating what is safe so that society and church aren’t communicating, then church is about the history of Jesus and not the continuing life of Jesus. Then it’s not “new things have come” it’s old things are still here.
Let us pray for the conviction to trust that Christ is still present among us and that Jesus still has something new to say to us. Let us as church look in hope to the future and not rely only on what people saw in the past. Let us be brave enough to experiment, to make mistakes, to once again enjoy the excitement and spontaneity of being church. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo