Monday, October 31, 2016

Who Moved My Church?

John 8
Reformation Sunday
October 10, 2016

Do you know this book, “Who Moved My Cheese?”
Apparently everyone in the world read this book in 1998,
but I hadn’t read it until Beth told me to in our Mutual Ministry meeting.

The book is basically a fable or a parable,
There are lots of lessons in it,
but the basic story is simple:
There are four creatures living in a laboratory cheese maze. 
Two are mice and two are kind of little humanoid,
I’m not sure why.

Their job was to find the cheese in the maze.
For a very long time, the cheese would always show up
in Cheese Station C. They would find their way there,
get their cheese, eat their fill,
and come back when they needed more.
The cheese was always there.
It went on for, it seemed like forever.
They got used to it.

Then one day, they woke up and went to Cheese Station C,
and the cheese wasn’t there.
It just wasn’t there.
Then they went back the next day,
it wasn’t there again.
When it didn’t show up the second day,
the two mousy creatures decided
that they needed to go looking for more cheese.

The maze was big and scary and there were parts
they hadn’t been to in a long time since
they found the cheese in Cheese Station C,
but they knew they needed to just go.

But the two humanoid creatures,
they just sat there. And they sat there.
They came back to Cheese Station C every day,
and they cried and they yelled and they complained.

They longed for the days
that they would just come to their place,
Cheese Station C and they would just find it.
They wished those days would come back.
The cheese never showed up again,
But they wouldn’t go anywhere else.
They just kept coming to Cheese station C.

They said they had been doing it so long
that they deserved it, they were entitled to it,
and how dare they (whoever “they” were)
not bring cheese to Cheese Station C.
But they wouldn’t move
and they were getting more and more hungry
and weak and sad and depressed every day.
Just sitting around asking “Who moved my cheese.”

Eventually, one of the humanoids wises up
and decides to go and leave Cheese Station C.
While he’s looking for the cheese he learns a lot
of valuable lessons, until he finally arrives at
Cheese Station N and he finds that’s where the
cheese has been moved to.

He found that the two mousy creatures
had found it a long time ago and had been enjoying it.
We never find out what happened to the
last humanoid, he could have been looking,
or he could just still be sitting there
complaining, waiting and starving.

I bring up this story, because it’s Reformation Day.
Obviously, you see the connection, right?
This is a day that we celebrate the beginning of the
church changing drastically 500 years ago
when Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses on the door.

At the time of the Reformation, the church was thriving,
it was more than thriving, it was actually
the most powerful institution in the world then.
But in its power, it was causing people pain,
and dividing people from God instead of bringing them closer.
So much so that Martin Luther, a pastor in the church,
couldn’t stand it, and did something about it.

And today, we are poised for another Reformation,
another big change is afoot in the life of the Christian Church.
But this time, there’s no Martin Luther nailing something to a door
But this time, we all know that something is wrong.
Because the church we know is dying.

I don’t want to overstate that too much.
There are still millions of people engaged in Christianity,
Millions still attend church every week,
the church is still growing huge in Africa and
other countries outside of the US and Europe.
And I don’t want you to think that Christ’s
church message will ever die, or that Jesus is going away.

But the institution we know, the church we’ve known, is dying.
The church that we understand and love
and expected would be there forever
feels like it’s slipping away.
In other words, they have moved our cheese.
(See the connection now?)

At one time the church that had
unquestionable influence in modern western society.
At one time, we just assumed every church would be filled every week,
There were days when you could build a church in a new
suburb and know that it would succeed in a few months.

Just a couple of generations ago,
It was assumed that most everyone you met would
know the stories in the bible, know the story of Jesus
and that most people in America would commit their
Sunday morning to coming to church building and worshipping.
And we assumed that the next generation would just
do the same thing that we had been doing.
Those assumptions are dying, that church is dying.
We’re watching it happen.

We’re seeing more and more churches closing,
less and less people going into the ministry.
Seminaries are closing or restructuring.

Fewer people deciding to go to church.
More people identifying themselves with no religion at all.
We’re seeing more people outside the institution of the church
dismiss the church’s relevance to the rest of society.
The church as we know it is dying.

And a lot of people in the church seem to be
sitting around and saying “Who moved my cheese?”
We’re complaining about other people,
“why don’t they come to church regularly like they used to?
Why isn’t the church a priority in their lives?
Why can’t it be like the old days?
Why don’t the young people like and value
what I like and value?
You have no right,
Who moved my church?”
And like the humanoids in the maze,
we’re also hoping, if we just sit here
and do the same thing that we’ve been doing
maybe do a little cosmetic work,
Get more comfortable lounge chairs,
Add a banjo and maracas on Sunday morning,
and update the worship service,
maybe it will all come back to be like it once was.
Just stay constant and the world will catch up again.

We keep blaming society, and wishing that society
would change and  go back to the way it was,
But society never “goes back.” Does it?

So either all is lost, and we’ll never find the cheese again,
Or maybe this dying is the work of the Spirit.
Maybe everything is not working like it once was,
so that we have to get off our keisters and
do something different.

Maybe God wants us sniffing
around the maze again so that we can find
our purpose, find our meaning,
find our relevancy again,
be forced to listen to the people we’re hoping to reach,
and find Jesus gospel again for the next generation.
Maybe God wants a new Reformation.

I’m reading this book by Brian McClaren,
one of the most influential theologians of our time.
It’s called “Everything Must Change”
In it he talks about taking a trip in 2004 to
Burundi and Rwanda in East Africa to talk to a bunch of pastors.
This was just after the time of the time of the terrible civil wars
between two warring tribes the Tutsi and Hutus
which had gone on for 4 decades.
Neighbors and families were killing each other
with any weapon they had, garden tools, knives, hammers.
in 1994, 800,000 people were killed in a 100 day period
and at the time he went, random fighting was still happening.

They brought about 50 pastors and church people from all
tribes together to talk about this.
And the host pastor said to the group,
“I’ve been part of the church here since I was born,
my father was a pastor, so I would go to church up to
5 times a week and in over 50 years,
I’ve heard one basic sermon:
You are a sinner, you need to repent in this life
and believe in Jesus or you’re going to hell after you die.”

Everyone laughed in recognition that this was the only sermon
they ever heard either, it was all about what would happen after death.
He said that his whole life had been lived against
the realities of hatred, distrust, poverty, suffering, corruption, injustice,
He knew Jesus had a lot to say about that,
but he had never heard a sermon that
addressed those realities.

He asked the crowd, “have you ever heard a sermon that told
Tutsi people to love and reconcile with Hutu people?
or for Hutu people to love and reconcile with Tutsi?”
Only two new Anglican pastors raised their hands
and they were the ones to preach the sermons.

Jesus does have a lot to say about enemies loving each other,
and about poverty, distrust, hatred, suffering, and corruption.
And how much could the church have done in those places
to change and alleviate the situation?
But they were stuck on that one message.
“Believe so you don’t go to hell.”

The main idea of the Reformation,
that we are justified by God’s grace alone and not our works
was an amazing and earth-shattering revelation in 1500.
It literally changed the world when Luther brought it out.

The idea that God loves us no matter what we do or don’t do
is still astounding, it’s still good news, it has freed us to take risks
and do great things for God and for others.
but we can’t just stop at what was amazing 500 years ago.

That was the Reformation the 1500’s needed.
In Luther’s times, most people were worried about
whether they were going to hell and purgatory after they died.
These days, hardly anyone is worried about that,
but sometimes we’re still just responding with the same answer,
and basically doing church the same way they were then.

We have a world that is screaming out from poverty and violence,
from disconnection and isolation,
lack of meaning, fear, distrust, anger . . .
and we have a savior with a story
that speaks to all of these things.
But how will anyone know unless we tell them?

Like the title of McClaren’s book:
Everything must change.
The message that Christianity emphasizes
the way we’re sharing the message,
The way we do church, the way we reach people,
the way we share the good news of Jesus.
Those are the things we have to think about.
The world has changed and we need to change too.

Maybe the best thing that could happen to us is that
Our cheese is moved, then we have to leave the comforts
of our church and go out and find out what happened to it.
Maybe the best thing that can happen to us is dying
so that we can rise again.

Today we are in the middle of a new Reformation.
You can feel it.
God is doing something new in our world.
Don’t dread it, don’t complain about it.
Just get in on it!

Now here are the things that will never change:
God loves us unconditionally.
And Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead
just to reveal that love to us.
These are constant.
The church may come and go.
The church as we know it may die.
Our cheese may be moved or look completely different
but we don’t have to fear.
God’s love is everlasting.
Christ has saved us,
and the Holy Spirit will lead us where we need to go.

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