Written by Pastor Mark
We are entering a new era in the Christian faith in the US. Diana Butler Bass in her book Christianity After Religion points out that the church as we know it is going away.
A Newsweek poll found that the percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 points, while the percentage of people who claim they are unaffiliated with any particular faith has doubled in recent years, rising to 16 percent. The number of people willing to describe themselves as atheist or agnostic has increased about fourfold from 1990 to 2009, from 1 million to about 3.6 million.
This is not news to those of us who live in the “none zone” where respondents are more likely to answer none of the above to questions of faith. This is not aPacific Northwestphenomenon. The trend is spreading even to the Bible belt. Why are people opting out of the faith? One answer might be the dogmatic way in which the church has gone about teaching the faith. As a young person growing up in theLutheranChurchI was taught the importance of right belief. We believe that we are saved by God’s grace through Jesus Christ. People who don’t believe that are going to hell! (We just never seemed to see the irony of those two statements.) In this system “new members” must be assimilated into our way of believing. They must make a public statement of their right belief as presented to us in our creedal statements.
Another problem facing churches of all stripes is an inward focus on the needs and wants of it’s own members. Butler Ross describes one young woman who: “. . . criticized the churches for being too inner-directed and institutionally absorbed. Religion, she contented, fails when it forgets the oppressed, the marginalized, the poor and the dispirited.” So what is the answer? Turns out it is relationships. Today on Holy Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the unity of God, the parent, God the child, and God the Holy Spirit. In John 3:16 Jesus announces his intention for “the world”. God so loved the world that God gave God’s only child to earth. “Loved the world” not hated it. We believe that God loves all parts of creation in it’s dazzling variety.
In the Galatians passage Paul directs the people ofGalatiato forgive easily and to save our critical comments for ourselves. This is such good, practical advice for relationships. He also asks Christ’s followers not to compare themselves to one another, and to make a careful inventory of our own lives. And the place to start this life centered in relationships is right where we are, by loving people right where they are in the midst of their struggles and humanness. We are also called to work for the good of all people. Why? Because God has universally loved us in Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Holy Spirit and God the creator are united in an intimate relationship. We are called to join in that relationship, but we do so not by searching only for God, but by following the example of Jesus and entering fully into the mess of humanity.
Quotes for the Week
Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh!” he whispered. “Yes, Piglet?” “Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.” A. A. Milne
The most effective way to achieve right relations with any living thing is to look for the best in it, and then help that best into the fullest expression. Allen J. Boone
It’s surprising how many persons go through life without ever recognizing that their feelings toward other people are largely determined by their feelings toward themselves, and if you’re not comfortable within yourself, you can’t be comfortable with others. Sidney J. Harris
In Genesis, it says that it is not good for a man to be alone; but sometimes it is a great relief. John Barrymore
A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark. Woody Allen
1st Lesson: Galatians 6:1-6, 9-10 (NRSV)
1-3 Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore them, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived. 4-5Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. 6Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience.
9-10So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.
Gospel: John 3:1-17 (NRSV)
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Questions for the Week
Do you agree with the concept that religion as we have known it is fading away? Why, or why not?
What is the most important relationship in your life? How might you nurture that relationship more fully?
What do you think the future will look like for those who follow in the way of Jesus?