I attended a destination wedding last weekend where 80 guests squeezed into a tiny historic chapel. My pastoral identity was still a secret at this point in the weekend, so I was free to eavesdrop on nearby conversations about the architecture, the denomination, and the wedding program anonymously.
“What’s the difference between Episcopal and Methodist?” someone asked, “because I grew up Methodist and we didn’t have these little kneeling benches in the pews.”
“I think Methodists are more, you know, methodical. And Episcopals like the Epistles, the letters. Wait. No. I just Googled it. The word Episcopal means Bishops. That’s actually not that helpful.”
My husband gave me a look as if to say, “Are you going to drop some knowledge on these people?” But I just smiled and shook my head. Besides, I would need Google for most of those differences, too. And I’d be saying grace at the reception in a matter of hours, which would let the cat out of the bag in due time. Sure enough, several guests introduced themselves to me during the dance, wanting to share something about the faith tradition that raised them, what they believe these days, and what they wish the church could be.
No matter their story, they all had a few things in common. They needed a witness — someone to really see them, to hear a word about where they’ve been, to tell them on behalf of the church that they are worthy of love, they belong in community, and they are called to something bigger than themselves. That’s the word we’re all craving, asked a million different ways that can be heard as confessing, questioning, venting, weeping, laughing, testifying, or reminiscing fondly.
People want to hear that we are One Church, made better by our many expressions, clear and always united about a few things: that all of us are worthy of love, we belong in community, and we are called to something bigger than ourselves.
So Church, when was the last time you felt like we were leveraging the full weight of our human strength and divine commission for the sake of something dangerously sacred, something so good that the audacity of our action upset earthly expectations and powers?
Since the Reformation, we have become hundreds, thousands of different church bodies around the world, each inspired by disagreements, ultimatums, and the desire for more distance between each other. Most of these schisms happened centuries ago, and the average member doesn’t know what set the split in motion or feel strongly about the issue either way.
The late, great theologian Phyllis Tickle said that God has a global church rummage sale every 500 years, taking a gentle but firm inventory of what is necessary for the next chapter and releasing what is not. You see, the Holy Spirit was sparking joy and tidying up long before Marie Kondo, honoring and thanking what has been good and useful so far without being buried alive underneath it all.
We are in the midst of one of those rummage sales now. The Holy Spirit is stirring up every faithful and sentimental, easy and terrifying thing about being the body of Christ, chipping away at our old assumptions and well-worn patterns about Church to double-check that we do, in fact, know what matters most of all —
That the same Spirit who had the power to raise Jesus from the dead is alive in you. In you! Right now. And that is not to be cluttered or disregarded or dormant. Because this is the day the Lord has made.
My dream for this rummage sale is that we find our way back to one another and that which is most certainly true. Not as a cheap, watered-down compromise of collective values and doctrine, but as an urgent and sacred gift for the world, a glimpse of heaven through the courage it would take to confess, to care, to connect, to cherish, to challenge a road toward peace that is extravagant and deep — where there is, otherwise, none.
My dream is for the church to act stirred by the God who stirs everything up: We have softened and settled the incarnation story, forgetting that Jesus has swooshed and blurred and bled the lines that once separated heaven and earth and death’s captivity in hell. In Jesus, God made a mess of our clean lines, moving through holy chaos to pour out spiritual gifts all over the place. Heaven rained down callings beyond our own self-interest and tribal comforts. We were given the strength to be fools for Christ — and no one else.
“Dear Church: A Love Letter From a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S.” by Lenny Duncan
“Dear Church, we are the ones we have been waiting for. No one else is coming. You are the generation that has been chosen for this time, this place, this moment in human history. Stop waiting for some sort of transformative leader to arise from the body politic or the body of Christ. It is you. You with all your flaws, fears, doubts, brokenness, and downright utter humanness — you are called for more…
“Our role in the revolution was started in a synagogue in Galilee, when Jesus unfurled the text from Isaiah. He read to those gathered:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because God has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
“Don’t you get that the text is fulfilled in your hearing? You have been given a post, armed with grace and armored in love, and you are being drafted to wage peace on the world. When someone gives you hell, you are ordered to give them heaven. That is a radical and dangerous act. If our places of worship really are the nerve centers for the souls of hundreds of families and the wider community, then this can be a shock to the system. Waging peace is more dangerous than waging war.”
We can hear Lenny and Phyllis in this ancient and desperate letter to the church in Ephesus. It is the call today because we are the church today. Not next week. Not once we reach milk toast compromises that poll well. This is the day that the Lord has made.
Church, we are not the first generation of Christians who have needed help dreaming beyond personal location and nerves. The Spirit has long equipped artists, teachers, prophets, leaders, lovers, healers, listeners, and peacemakers. We are those witnesses and the text is begging us to live a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called, daring us to leverage the full weight of this One Baptism, this One Spirit, this One Church, for the sake of what could still be!
There will always be kneelers and bishops and fuzzy details about what divides us, but keep your eyes on the wild and holy things. They are rumbling even now because there is power in what we have been given, in our witness to Jesus in the world… and it will not be held captive or buried ever again.