Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Extended Lenten Devotional : Days seventeen and eighteen, Tuesday and Wednesday Feb. 26th and 27th "Woe Woe Your Boat"

Gospel Reading: Luke 8-13Devotional Emphasis: Luke 11:52 “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who where entering.”

The big turning point in the gospel of Luke occurs in 9:51 as Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem. Up until this point we have seen Jesus fulfilling what he set out to do: He has brought sight to the blind, good news to the poor, release to the captives. Peter has just confessed that he believes Jesus to the messiah. Jesus is revealed to Peter, James, and John. Now, Jesus begins to tell them that this trip to Jerusalem will lead to his suffering and death. He then tells his disciples that they must daily do as he does and follow him.

Along Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem he takes some time to teach, to heal others, and to hang out with the religious folks of the day. The only problem with the religious folks is that Jesus often had more critiques than he had words of encouragement. In one of the dinner engagements, Jesus told them they were doing six things wrong, designated as the six woes. (1) They give a tenth of their money, but neglect justice and love of God. They need to do both. (2) They love power and to be praised. (3) They are causing people who follow their ways to sin with them knowing it. (4) They load people down with commandments without helping them to be obedient. (5) On the one hand they acclaim the prophets while they live the same way as the people who put the prophets to death. (6) They hinder people who truly seek the knowledge of God because they themselves do no really seek after God.

This is quite a list of accusations Jesus is making and those who invited him over for dinner are quite unhappy with him. Although the times have certainly changed, I am still convinced that Jesus’ advice is sound for the church today in our post-modern context. When I survey current books on Christianity, I see a growing frustration with the way we do church. The frustration seems to be that the church is keeping people from experiencing an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ.

An article that ran this week in the Washington Post sums up this trend well.

One in four adults ages 18 to 29 claim no affiliation with a religious institution.
"In the past, certain religions had a real holding power, where people from one generation to the next would stay," said Penn State University sociologist Roger Finke, who consulted in the survey planning. "Right now, there is a dropping confidence in organized religion, especially in the traditional religious forms."

Lugo said the 44 percent figure is "a very conservative estimate," and more research is planned to determine the causes.
"It does seem in keeping with the high tolerance among Americans for change," Lugo said. "People move a lot, people change jobs a lot. It's a very fluid society."
The religious demographic benefiting the most from this religious churn is those who claim no religious affiliation. People moving into that category outnumber those moving out of it by a three-to-one margin.

The majority of the unaffiliated _ 12 percent of the overall population _ describe their religion as "nothing in particular," and about half of those say faith is at least somewhat important to them. Atheists or agnostics account for 4 percent of the total population.
The Roman Catholic Church has lost more members than any faith tradition because of affiliation swapping, the survey found. While nearly one in three Americans were raised Catholic, fewer than one in four say they're Catholic today. That means roughly 10 percent of all Americans are ex-Catholics.

The share of the population that identifies as Catholic, however, has remained fairly stable in recent decades thanks to an influx of immigrant Catholics, mostly from Latin America. Nearly half of all Catholics under 30 are Hispanic, the survey found.

On the Protestant side, changes in affiliation are swelling the ranks of nondenominational churches, while Baptist and Methodist traditions are showing net losses.

Many Americans have vague denominational ties at best. People who call themselves "just a Protestant," in fact, account for nearly 10 percent of all Protestants.

Although evangelical churches strive to win new Christian believers from the "unchurched," the survey found most converts to evangelical churches were raised Protestant.[i]

The question or questions for us to consider is: Why are churches not reaching post-moderns and what can churches do differently to reach this generation? Could the problem be that the church, much like the religious folks Jesus was talking to, be turning people away from God?

John Burke, in his book No Perfect People Allowed talks about five things post-moderns struggle with which cause them to find meaning in life outside of the church. He says post-moderns struggle with (1) trust (2) tolerance (3) truth (4) brokenness (5) aloneness.[ii] Post-moderns have distrust for authority, which does not play well for the church. This distrust is only heightened when we see pastor after pastor charged with scandals and sex offensive. We see televangelist making millions of dollars by telling poor people God will make them rich if they give to their ministry. In the age of pluralism post-moderns believe that truth is ultimately up to the individual rather than their being an “ultimate truth.” Therefore post-moderns believe we should be tolerant of other people’s faith because it is only a personal choice. Like never before we are seeing people with tremendous brokenness due to neglect from parents, the high divorce rate, sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Our culture is also growing further into individualism and we desperately need to be a community.

Although I am 32 and squarely in the post-modern generation I do not have all the answers. I do think we can learn a great deal from Jesus’ venting to the religious leaders of his day. It seems that the gist of what Jesus says is this: “We cannot change people by making them behave in certain ways; we must allow them to experience the grace of God and change their heart.” John Burke says it like this, “Our responsibility is not to make people grow or change. Our task is to create the right soil, a rich healthy environment, in which people can grow up in faith until the invisible God is made visible through his Body the church.” Burke also goes on to suggest that people do not reject Christianity based on how great the arguments are that we present. They reject it or accept it based on whether or not they want to be like the person who is modeling Christianity.[iii]

I believe this is the hope we have for reaching the post-modern church. I also believe it has been the hope that has driven Christianity through the ages. We have to model our faith is such a way that people will want to be like us. When they see how God has mended our brokenness through Jesus, they will then open themselves up to that same transforming love.
[i] Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life:
[ii] John Burke, No Perfect People Allowed (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2005)
[iii] Ibid

1 comment:

Rev. Keith said...

This makes me think of a report I heard on All Things Considered on NPR. The report talks about Mike Huckabee's frequent use of biblical allusions even though a huge percentage of the population doesn't even know what he is talking about. This is symptomatic of our (church people) to assume that everyone is on message with us.