Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Significant faith…

Sometimes, churches spend all their energy trying to answer small questions. And frequently, that’s because these questions are quite important. For example, if we decide to use a projector in services, or decide against it, that’s unlikely to make a huge difference in whether or not God’s Kingdom will fully come. So in the grand scheme of things, it’s a smaller question, but it’s still significant to us. Answering it could help Plymouth Creek worship better by helping us, say, clarify our church identity, or connect greater to younger people, or enhance our singing and scripture reading. So I’m glad we’ve been exploring it recently, and am anxious for your feedback. Nevertheless, there are bigger concerns in faith and the world around us to which we might also attend.

In other cases, churches focus on smaller questions- the order of prayers, the number of meetings- because they know larger issues can be dangerous, divisive or complex. Better to debate, this thinking goes, the process of communion (trays v. going up front, real bread v. processed hunks) than open a can of spiritual worms that could upset our Christian sisters or brothers. Or maybe it would shake our own embattled faith, we worry. Enough threatens our personal lives and families that we’d prefer church be about better arranging our building and grounds than, you know, the BIG stuff. Less worrisome, that way. Safer.

The problem with that tendency- if that’s all that’s ever addressed- is it smacks of a church grown complacent, grown too comfortable with who they are, how they view God’s world, what they already like and “know.” That’s a recipe for church stagnation, not to mention rather boring, amen? I mean, consider people most likely to seek a new church (and, therefore, change “how things are currently going”)- young families buying new homes, adults nearing retirement or moving closer to grandchildren, folk enduring divorce, bankruptcy or job loss. Their main religious curiosity probably isn’t whether God smiles or frowns about clapping after sermons, right? Not that you often have reason to clap after my sermons! But you get the point, that not-yet members typically ask large questions: Where is God in my struggle? Where can I serve next? Does this community wrestle with the values that I do? And if a church never puts that stuff on the table, it communicates clearly, “I’m sorry. Unless you conform to our current standards, there’s no place for you here. Because we like how we are now, and avoid change.”

Which is why I was so delighted the Board wanted me to develop the fall sermon series about asking Big Questions. I mentioned this in last month’s letter; it obviously excites me. Stuff like, “Why does evil happen?” Or, “Does Hell exist?” Or, “Why won’t God just end war, dang it?!” It shows a mature church, I think, one anxious to develop the gall and the faith to get deep, to get real with each other, with God, and to connect with neighbors in attractive, effective and worthwhile ways. After all, most people ask such questions. Maybe not often. Maybe not after they’ve found decent enough answers…for now. But mostly, Big Concerns are common ground, within the church and beyond. We may not always like others’ answers- or Pastor Shane’s perspective- but that’s our church’s great strength. We have freedom to think different, to believe different, and still, we are one.

So that plan runs September 7 through Advent, sermons on questions you’ve sent me or told me are tough to grapple with, let alone answer. I hope they’re interesting, provocative, and inclusive. I promise they’ll focus on big things of shared concern. Also, plan for Sunday School, 9am sharp. I’m teaching an autumn series on non-Christian religions; Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, then Native American Spirituality, all before Christmas. Guest speakers will join me occasionally. Bring your questions, your curiosity and your faith. And bring a neighbor! Because church that’s doing stuff that’s significant should be like God’s love: you just can’t keep it to yourself! You need to share it, pass it around, and joyfully anticipate how that might change you for good.

Grace and Peace,
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