Like Runners in the Marathon of Salvation History
Welcome back to my blog! Over the next couple of months, I will be blogging on a weekly basis with the Acts of the Apostles as the text for consideration. I invite you to join in the conversation; please espond with your comments on the blog so that others can see what you have to say but keep your comments directed to the discussion at hand!
At annual conference 2010, I invited all United Methodists in Minnesota to read the Acts of the Apostles for themselves and for each church to do some kind of study or sermon series during the conference year. Many individuals (lay and clergy) as well as churches have been studying Acts and others will be in the new year.
My intent is that we look at Acts as inspiration and a comparison between the 1st and 21st centuries. What can we learn from the 1st century that helps us to see ourselve differently in the 21st? I invite you to read the study guide that I posted during the Fall as some background to the scriptures. You can find that at http://minnesotaumc.org/Portals/1199/Bishop%20Corner/acts%20study%20guide%202010-2011.pdf
While I don’t intend to go chapter by chapter, I do want to start with the first chapter this week.
When I read the first chapter of Acts, I’m mindful that it’s a critical kairos moment, entrusted to ordinary and sometimes uncomprehending human beings like Peter but also empowered by God’s Spirit. It’s post-Jesus of Nazareth and pre-church. It’s a hand-off in the marathon of salvation history that hinges on all that has been with all that will be. What a moment!
I don’t want to be overly dramatic here, but sometimes I feel like we’re in a critical moment, too. Our transition is from post-Christendom to pre-something else! This kairos moment is entrusted to us ordinary and sometimes uncomprehending human beings but also empowered by God’s Spirit. Peter interpreted the moment from scripture and called for +1 in the number of disciples.
It’s easy to romanticize or idealize this 1st century moment when in fact the reason that they scattered from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and the ends of the world was because there was persecution. It was a hard and disruptive time for Christians but in the midst of the disruption, Christianity spread to new places, new people, and in new ways.
Today people are scattering, too. The next generation has scattered from the church, often because our forms of worship and our failure to live out the faith has made Christianity irrelevant to their lives. As people move or become discouraged with a local church, they scatter and often don’t become a part of a faith community as readily as before or if at all. There are lots of reasons–many of them very socially acceptable like the increase of travel by many Americans–that makes a connection with a faith community weaker and weaker. While it breaks my heart that there is such a scattering of the people, instead of just beating ourselves up for it, I wonder what we might learn from Acts about what to do when there is this kind of upheaval in church as we have known it.
Phyllis Tickle in her book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, views Christendom from the perspective of major upheavals and how upsetting it was for many Christians and the church at each disruptive time. During these times of upheaval, people had to rethink what was essential in being a Christian but “because of the reconfiguration of those treasures (of tradition) into new shapes and vessels and accommodations, the faith they testify to was scattered across a far broader geographic and demographic area than it had previous occupied. And…(the church) was freed to develop a praxis, liturgy, and theological richness” (p. 27) than before. The church didn’t cease to be but spread wider and deeper than before.
So do you think this is a “disruption” in Christianity that will allow the emergence of a new way of being Christian here in the US? And if so, what treasure do we bring out of our ancient tradition and what do we “bring out” that is new (Matthew 13:52)?
Is this just a discouraging, downward spiraling time as the church or is it actually a kairos moment entrusted to us like those hinge times in the past? Like runners in the marathon of salvation history, are we at the point of a hand-off to an emerging way of being church? If so, what is required of us?
Please share your thoughts with others!