October is the time when many congregations have their stewardship campaign. It is the ideal time for members to make a pledge of what they plan to give in the coming year as the congregational leaders embark on setting a budget for the next year. In the three-year lectionary cycle, there is always a Gospel text that deals with money, like the one today. I was planning to talk about stewardship and giving today. But, in light of my recent God sightings, I decided to take a different approach to wealth.
In our text, we read about the rich, young ruler’s encounter with Jesus. In the Gospel of Mark, the man is called wealthy. The Gospel of Luke tells this story as one of a ruler and the Gospel of Matthew calls him young. Therefore, the Christian tradition sums this man up as a rich, young ruler.
You know I don’t like it when the text doesn’t give us the name of a person; so, let’s name him, we’ll call him Richard. We know Richard is a faithful Jew. He has kept the commandments of God since he was a youth. Now, Richard comes before Jesus and kneels at His feet. He asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus perceives Richard’s question is about more than just eternal life. Richard recognizes Jesus’ authority and wants to know what to do next. Jesus answers his question in terms of the Kingdom of God, not eternal life. Jesus responds to Richard with instruction for living in the Kingdom of God. This requires new behavior. Richard must move past obeying the commandments.
Jesus asks Richard to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and come follow Him. Richard leaves Jesus sorrowful. Some Bible commentators suggest he left grieving because he was not willing to give away his wealth. David Howell has another perspective. What if Richard walked away sorrowful because he had decided to do just as Jesus asked?
Deciding to give away all you have and follow Jesus is a big commitment that would evoke great emotion. Richard, having decided to follow Jesus, would mourn the life he had lived as he embarked on a new way of living. The decision would be “an emotional letting go of all that he” possessed as well as the relationships he had. As the Disciples already knew, becoming a follower of Jesus and joining Him in kingdom-making ministry is not an easy life.
Richard’s new commitment will be life changing. His life in the Kingdom of God would require transformation of who he is and the ways he thinks. Rather than being committed to the commandments of the Law, he will be guided by the value of caring for and sharing with others. Richard will be a part of a new community that will nurture his faith and do ministry with him.
It seems to me that Jesus is asking the church to make a new commitment.
The Church has accumulated the wealth of status. By Church, I mean the universal, Christian Church including Catholic, mainline Protestant, and other Christian movements. The Church has enjoyed the prominent place as religious authority in our private homes and for the nation for hundreds of years. The Church faithfully reads the Scriptures, serves others, and participates in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Church is good and does good.
But, perhaps, Jesus is calling the Church to move beyond what she is doing and take the next step. I think the Church recognizes that and many in the Church are sorrowful. Follow me on this point, I think we will find ourselves among the sorrowful. The Church is mourning that she no longer has the status she once had among American families. Membership among most denominations is declining. We have fewer youth and there are more empty chairs in our Sunday school classes. Jesus is calling us to something new and we have walked away sorrowful mourning the loss of our status.
Now, the Church has before it the painful work of transformation.
Last week, I was at the Pastor’s Conference of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Louis. It was a gathering of about 200 pastors from across the United States. We had 2 great worship services and a keynote speaker and fellowship with colleagues.
One of the preachers, Rev. Otis Moss III, preached what he called the blues note Gospel. He said that the Church is singing the blues. We remember the way things used to be in the Church. We can also rejoice that we await the resurrection of Christ’s Church. We cry for what has been and shout for what is coming.
The keynote speaker spoke along the same vein. Her name is Phyllis Tickle and she is a church historian. She talked about the Emerging Church. Phyllis noted that the whole of culture is changing. We see it in music, art, technology, democracy in the Arab Spring, the new American dream. The world goes through changes in era, like the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. We are in the beginning of a new era called the Postmodern Era. In this new era, the Church must transform in order to be relevant. The Church has to move beyond what it has been doing and respond to the needs of the emerging culture.
Ms. Tickle called the people on the forefront of this changing era Emergents. Emergents are not all young adults. There are older adults who have joined in the movement to see the Church transform into a renewed Body of Christ. There are several characteristics of Emergents that the Church should be aware of as it seeks to move into ministry in the new era.
Emergents don’t believe in hierarchy. They see the value of greater lay leadership in the church. They want to learn and study together rather than be preached at.
Emergents are not as concerned with facts as they are with truths. Facts, numbers, and statistics should be boiled down into the truth. They don’t want the knitty-gritty details of Noah’s ark; they want to know the truth that God spared life.
Emergents are deeply missional. They are less concerned about attracting people to the church and are more concerned with serving others. They don’t view humanity as us and them. They see one human race and are committed to social justice for all.
Emergents are deeply incarnational. They was to know what sacrifice and commitment are, not just hear about it.
Emergents are deeply liturgical. There is a great return to monastic life and appreciation for the simplicity of the worship of the 1st century church.
Emergents are deeply narrative. They don’t believe in doctrine, dogma, or creeds. They just want to hear the story of Jesus.
These are the people who will be the Church 20, 50, and 100 years from now. The Church as it is today has a 20 – 30 year life span and must grow in order to meet the needs of the emerging Christian. In the midst of this reality, local churches find themselves in conflict. Either they’ve gone through it, are going through it, or will go through it. It’s not a matter of if but a matter of when the congregation will face the truth. Churches who work through the deep pain and emerge on the other side will survive and thrive as communities of faith in the next era.
I know you’ve gone through a great deal of turmoil. I don’t know all the details, but I know you exposed your deep hurt and went through great healing. The Good News of that healing is that you recognize the value of the relationships in this room and the need to move outside these walls and into the community.
This weekend, I went to the Regional Assembly of the Christian Church in Illinois and Wisconsin. I saw Rev. Scott Woolridge, our associate regional minister, Rev. Phil Nevius, our regional elder, Rev. Sandra Anderson, and many friends and colleagues from around the region.
Our regional minister and president, Rev. Dr. Teresa Dulyea-Parker spoke about the values of the Christian Church in Illinois and Wisconsin. She named those values as deep discipleship, relationships, creative ministries, and mission. She reminded the assembly of something that the general minister and president, Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins says about the Disciples. Sharon says that the Disciples are what people are looking for at this time. Like the Emergents are looking for, the Disciples are missional, relational, spiritual, and value lay leadership.
That describes us. And that’s why we have a bright future ahead of us.
While at the assembly, churches throughout the region were honored for the growth and their giving. You can imagine my surprise when I saw our name on the screen and heard our name called. First Christian Church Bethany was recognized as having the most growth among churches with 50 or fewer members. On your behalf, I accepted this award.
In the very recent future, you were a declining congregation. In a very short time, you turned around to be a growing congregation. You have a lot to be proud of. We may still mourn the time when the Church had a greater place in society. But, you are shouting with joy for what God is doing and what God will continue to do in the life of this congregation.
 FotW, Year B, Vol. 4, p. 166.