by Lara Crutsinger-Perry
As many of you know, last week my family traveled to rural Arkansas for attend
my wife’s mother’s funeral. (Thank you for your kind words and prayers) I had
forgotten how far away Arkansas is from here – it felt like light years away, at
times – geographically, economically, politically and in almost every way. In many
ways, this week has perfected highlighted the of tale of 2 countries that this
week’s election exposed. In its over simplification, the election reduced us to red
v. blue. Progressive v conservative, Love v hate. And what we are experiencing
now a gut wrenching reaction to a divisive and polarizing past 18 months. But in
truth this tale of 2 countries is not so new. The the issues that divide us, the fears
that paralyzes us are not new. It may have gone underground, it may have found
more acceptable outlets but it has been a part of the fabric of our country since
the beginning. But the grief and uncertainty created for so many this week is real.
And we must be ready to respond. I am thankful to live in Washington State, but
it’s easy to become lazy here, complacent here, or as the Bible says, idle. Is that
why this week hurt so much? Could it be that we thought we had come further
down the road of acceptance and inclusion? So many people have told me this
week they feel like they don’t know our country anymore. Has the bubble of living
in the Pac NW shielded us from so much of the pain that has festered in the lives
of millions of Americans across our country? And where is the Church in this?
The scripture today says that God hears our cries and answers them. That in
God’s vision for the earth, the wolf and the lamb shall eat together but while we
wait for that sweet day, we have to keep working.
Let me tell you a tale of 2 churches.
The first one is in Arkansas, but it could be located in any state of our country.
It’s big. There are many members, they run a private school. They participate in
the church volleyball league. There are drums on the chancel and a big cross
hanging behind the preacher. And the pastor went to the same seminary as me.
But at this church, women can’t preach. At this church the voice of the Other has
been taken away. They teach a narrow theology and people are happy not to
grapple with the mess and muck of this world. They set themselves above the
human suffering by taking black and white stances on important and complex
issues. The legacy they are building is one of conformity and exclusion based on
sex, gender orientation and expression, race and political affiliation.
And there’s another church…a church that when I am sad or confused, or feeling
outcast that I want to attend. It’s located in Texas (and I attended this church
when Beth and I lived in Texas) but it could be located in state in our country.
And maybe it’s because I experienced these 2 churches in such close proximity
of time that the difference are so profound. For in our grief of last week, we found
a portal to God at this church, a place where heaven on earth is as real as you
and I. A places created out of pain and exclusion but designed for the joy and
celebration of all people and for the worship of the still living, all loving, gender
bending, ever-faithful God. In this church,the pastor is gay, the music is fantastic,
the big screens project the service, services are live streamed for those too far
away or isolated or sick to attend, you can text your tithe, where the youth who
meet in an adjoining room come in and are served communion first and so many
worship traditions are layered and respected that it is hard for anyone not it find
something comforting and familiar from their background brought into the present
in a new and modern way.
Today was set aside by the centennial committee to honor our youth. And as I
think about our children and youth and what they will need from us, a few things
from the scripture have popped out to me.
#1 according to the prophet Isaiah, we are all youth! So that’s good news. (Isaiah
So really we are one giant youth group. So maybe we should get rid of the pews
and bring in old sofas. But if you aren’t ready for that consider this. This
sanctuary was built in the 1950s but our worship must be 2016 (or even 2020) in
its application and presentation. Which means we need to keep our progressive
theology and fabulous music. Use technology that is modern and recognizable to
young people. And even prophetic. Youth need words of hope. Restorative words
of justice. This is a place for those who are hurting, navigating all stages of life,
love and loss. A place of safety and a place where the beloved community of
God flourishes and looks like a Oasis in the world but not of the world. That the
sanctuary our youth need.
#2. If we take away the generation gaps that divide us we can see church not an
older v younger endeavour. The older generation do not build this for the young
to inhabit. One does not plant and another eat. This is a great myth of church.
That the older generation is supposed to pass the battalion to the younger
generation at some undetermined time and the youth will know what to do with it.
This is a disunifying view of church. 2 Thessalonians shows us a pattern of
church that is built on imitation. The process of learning by being in close
relationship, close proximity, in mentorship, in respect and love. That what we
build we build together. Using new models of partnership and inclusion.
Sometimes we sit back and say things like we need more young families, we
need more youth, and where are those millennials we hear so much about. Why
do we say this…because at some primal level we believe that there must be
people in the church for the church to be. We can dive into that big question later
but for practical purposes our church demographics give us hope or concern for
our viability in the future. We want to be here in the future. So if this is true we
must value how young people learn, worship, view God and church. It means we
have to place their need to experience God above the way or model that worked
for us. It means making room for new things, new music, new technology, new
models of discipleship and ministry and even membership so those who aren’t
here come here, so our children and youth want to be here and bring their
friends, so they are grounded as they go off to college and so young families see
this as a place to build new traditions.
#3 The Isaiah passage is about hope. For all the fear mongering at present in our
world, the heart of the Scripture has always been hope. And here the prophet
writer says the ever creating God is creating out of joy. (Isaiah 65:17-18, for I am
about to create Jerusalem AS a joy and its people AS a delight!)
It’s like when cook with family and friends, maybe a Thanksgiving scene
develops in your mind. You are there in the kitchen and the process of cooking
itself becomes a joy – maybe you sip on some wine, and the music is on,
grandmother’s recipe book is out as well as that board of new recipes you have
pinned on Pinterest. There is laughter in the kitchen. The sweet aroma of your
favorite dish warfs through the house. The oven heats the room. And then when
the meal is ready it is so beautiful that you pause to bless it, to thank God for
friends and the hands that prepared it and you post a pic on Instagram before
loading up the plates and sitting around the table to savor it. This is how God
creates! This is how we were created -out of God’s joy! God’s people it says are
a source of gladness to God.
So my question today is, What is our joy building?
This beloved community has stood for peace and justice and God’s love for over
100 years. We are just as needed today as we were then. We received calls this
week from folks needing places to pray, places to be safe, accepted and loved.
The teaching of Jesus mandate that we do these things, that this is not a place of
worship unless we do. We get to decide what kind of Church we will be in the
future. We will be called in the days to come to defend are progressive theology
of inclusion and asked to sit stand in solidarity with the other. this is what our
youth need to see in us. This is the legacy we need to leave for the future.
As part of that legacy we can not ignore people’s pain and fear that this week has
caused for so many.
If you pastor, lead, or attend a church that claims to be about the
Gospel and to love diversity, I hope you’re putting together a specific
and practical plan to protect the marginalized members of the
communities in which you minister, and plan to speak explicitly to
your people and community about bullying, harassment, and
Silence now is not an option.
Be the Church, Church (john pavlovitz)
#4 So lastly, if this all sounds like too much work, we are reminded today, do not
grow weary in doing what is right! God is still creating, still here with us,
answering our prayers before we can even say them, ready to help us.
Beloved of God, we can not say we are too tired, that we have put in enough
years, that it’s time for others to do the work. The epistle writer warns us against
idleness and division caused by busybodies (his words not mine). This the
temptation to work against the church’s progress. This is no time for us to fight,
be scared of risk or change.
The cloud of witnesses risked everything even death to establish Christ’s church.
And we are called to today to choose which kind of church we will be and the
status quo isn’t going to be good enough moving forward. Not if we want youth
here. So the writer tells us, do not be weary, carry on together, be united in
God’s love and grounded in the model of ministry seen in the life of Jesus and let
the Spirit of God inhabit us.
This is what our youth need. This is what our community needs. This is what we