Dec15TueDecember 15, 2015
If you want a sneak peak at the future of the church, look to Jesus and his way of sacrifice and self-giving love.
In my small tribe of Christians called Nazarenes, there has been considerable and important conversations about the future of our denomination. Each voice has offered a different perspective on the way forward.
The conversation began when Josh Broward, a friend and a gracious conversation partner for the church, posed the question, who will win the battle for the future of the church of the Nazarene: the conservatives or progressives? And because he is a thoughtful pastor, he of course did not leave us with only those two options but instead offered a vision where “we all win.”
But in my heart I hear Paul, “All I once thought gain…”
I think we can all agree that Christ’s return as Lord over a new heaven and new earth is the future we truly desire. And friends, Christ will return! Now we watch and wait letting our gaze direct our feet and our future.
But where are we looking?
Mary was caught staring down at an empty grave when two witnesses confronted her with a dose of reality, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”
The disciples were zoned out with their eyes up in the clouds after the ascension when two more of those whited garbed witnesses woke them up: “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
And here we are in Advent, when the bride ought to have her eyes fixed on the return of her groom, but we can’t seem to stop staring at the grave and the clouds.
The gaze of insecurity and hopelessness so easily drifts to the grave; a place to remember what once was and grieve what is lost. For some in the church, this is all we can see. The church isn’t what it once was, what we knew, where we were safe and comfortable. Oh, that we could curl up in this warm patch of ground and make the walls of dirt into a barricade from the incessant winds of change. Never mind the dirt slowly falling on our heads, this still feels like holy ground… even if it is six feet under.
The gaze of pride and progress so easily drifts to the clouds. The unstoppable march of progress built the American dream. Whether you grew up watching Star Trek or reading Hegel, the idea that humanity is innately propelled toward peaceable enlightenment is deeply appealing; anything to help us forget about the ugliness back in the garden. We assume that the best of what humanity can be already lies deep down within us. All we need to do is become the best version of ourselves and work together to remove the roadblocks to the future progress for which we were surely destined before our mothers conceived us. Oh yeah, and this seems like something Jesus would get behind.
Christ isn’t coming back from the grave of our past. Christ isn’t coming through the clouds of progress. Christ’s future has exploded the grave and eclipsed the clouds and is coming to us even now. Christ is coming the same way we say him go. The way of sacrifice and self-giving love.
For those who long for real change in the church, praise God you are speaking and shaping and looking to the future. Praise God your passion for Christ and his bride has not been extinguished by the lukewarm waters of status quo. But consider our history. Really stop and look at the river in which you are standing. The revolutions of the church come at great cost.
The future of the church will be paved with sacrifice because this is the way of Jesus. When we are walking the way of Jesus together, no one has to win because our love for one another compels us to lose even our lives. This kind of loving sacrifice looks a great deal like those witnesses who point the way to Jesus for a world caught in a tug-a-war between grave and clouds.
Church, don’t look to the grave if you want to see Jesus. The grave will only show you fear and despair, and that’s not our future. We have nothing to fear and no reason to despair because Christ has conquered the grave.
Church, don’t look to the clouds if you want to see Jesus. The clouds will promise you progress as a road to salvation and that’s not our future. The road to salvation is still a slow march to Calvary.
Who will win? Nazarenes have always been better at sacrificing and leaving the victory to Jesus.
If you want to see the future of the church, look in the manger at the humble king. Look at the path to Jerusalem. Look at the cross. Look at the road to Emmaus. Look at Jesus because he is coming back the same way we saw him go. Nazarenes, may we go the way of Jesus until he returns.