Jesus' Call to Mummified Churches and to You
Many of us feel like it's too late to save Christianity. Church doors are closing, and pews are emptying because of policies which exclude LGBTQI+ people from full participation or even simple welcome. Stories of conversion therapy torture camps, child abuse by priests, and sexual assault and harassment of employees by megachurch pastors make us question whether churches can or even should survive. Evangelical church leaders who support anti-Christian behaviors, speech, and decisions made at the highest level of government don't help. We despair that nothing can be done. It looks like the church is a dead corpse, a mummy, stinking from it's own rot. We are like the siblings of Lazarus who mourned his death. We lament that God must not be with us because if God was, the church could not keep falling to so many horrible new lows.
Jesus wept with Mary, Martha, and their friends. How he must also weep today.
Churches and pastors which don't engage in the social justice issues of our era are like Lazarus; bound tight in funeral clothes and hidden behind stone. They'll be mourned over by some but quickly forgotten by most. Many pastors feel bound by the expectations of their congregants, fears for job security, and the drive to keep peace. Their churches might currently have people in the pews, but the congregations dwindle as the population becomes unable to travel to church, and eventually, dies.
This past weekend I was reminded that some brave pastors are rising up to meet Jesus' call to shake off death. Pastor Joshua Noah heard the news of the synagogue slaughter in Pittsburgh on Saturday, and stayed up until 3:00AM to rewrite his sermon and revise the order of worship. On Sunday morning we joined together in a prayer of lament, sang a hymn of mourning, and listened to the sermon which centered around the murders. (You can read it here.) In our conservative mid-west small town, he had the courage to call out the mad reliance on guns as savior; decrying the "good guy with a gun gospel" and citing statistics about the ineffectiveness of armed citizenry in violent intruder situations. He described a bumper sticking featuring a cross made out of firearms which read "In guns we trust," and discussed the idolatry we've developed around gun ownership. Sighs and disgruntled rumbles could be heard as the sermon unfolded, but my wife and I were rooted; profoundly grateful to hear the heartbroken anger of Jesus being spoken from the pulpit.
Pastor Joshua had placed twelve candles on the altar. As the first eleven were lit, the name and age of each victim of the weekend's holocaust was read. The last candle was designated for the perpetrator, and Pastor Joshua reminded us that we are to pray for our enemies as well. Tears welled as we listened to the call to return to mercy in our era of righteous, sustained, fury.
This is the way to bring the dead church back to life. This is the way to get the young, the disenfranchised and marginalized, the people who view Christians as dangerous hypocrites, to believe that good can be found in churches.
Peace keeping won't do it. Jesus never told the disciples to keep the peace, and he certainly isn't telling today's clergy to do so. He wants priests, pastors, and ministers of all kinds to rise up, to shake off those things which bind them like funeral cloths, and to come out of their tombs. He wants his church alive again.
We have to help these pastors remove the grave clothes so they can proclaim not only the good news, but the call Jesus has for us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. To stand up for those who are being marginalized, to denounce politically-driven hatred which motivates white men to pick up AR-15s and go on killing sprees. To decry the lies being spoken by the highest office holder in our land.
Here's how the Lazarus story ends:
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:43-44 NIV) You should read these words as your own call to help bring the church back to life. We all play a role in how the clergy in our parishes respond to Jesus' command to come out. Jesus instructs the people to take off the strips of cloth which bind Lazarus. You and I are those people. We are called to help tear away the constraints which hinder our pastors from speaking truth.
So ask them to do it. Thank them when they do. Speak to your church's governing council, session, or board about the need to address the horrors facing our nation.
You have agency and power. You can make a difference. You can step beyond your fears of what might happen, unfetter your pastor, and let them step out into the light.
Our nation is being shaken, our churches are in trouble, and our clergy carries more weight than any of us sitting in the pews understands. Help them. Encourage them. Advocate for their bravery.
Jesus is calling you, right now, to do your part in bringing the mummified church back to life.