If you watched the TV show Friends, you might remember a few different opening videos. The first couple included a view of the city skyline that included the Twin Towers. The last couple intros include view of a different part of the skyline that doesn’t include the Twin Towers. The events of 9/11 effected everything, even simple things like the intro video of a beloved TV show. 9/11 was an end of the world as we know it event.
There have been so many end of the world as we know it events in our lives that mark a shift in American life and culture. We all remember where we were when we heard the news that JFK was shot, MLK was shot, the Challenger exploded, a plane flew into the World Trade Center buildings.
What are the events that were end of the world as we know it events for the country that you remember?
There is a song called The End of the World as We Know It by REM. In my freshman year in high school, my favorite radio station decided to switch formats. They stopped playing music of their old style and played the End of the World As We Know It song for a week straight, 24 hours a day. In my innocence, my favorite radio station changing formats was world altering. It had been 4 years since the Challenger exploded and I had forgotten that life changing events were more significant than what style of music 107.9 is going to play at the end of the week.
The Challenger explosion was the event for my second half of Generation X that we remember where we were when it happened. We were all huddled in classrooms around TVs watching it live. I remember the teacher quickly turning off the TV and trying to talk to us about bad stuff happening to good people.
9/11 is the end of the world as we know it event for Millenials, but it is a significant event for the whole nation. We remember a time when terrorism was something that happened over there, not on our soil, to our people. We knew things would never be the same. Many millenials remember where they were when they heard the news. But, they can’t understand what it is like to live in a world of the safety and security felt pre-9/11. Millenials have always know a world where terrorism in America is a real threat.
I have another song reference for us. This might be better known. Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire is about all the bad stuff that has been happening since the beginning of time, especially our lifetime. He names: Red China, Korea, Nixon, H-bomb, Stalin, Nasser, Khrushchev, the Suez, Little Rock, Sputnik, Thalidomide, Castro, Congo, Bay of Pigs, Malcolm X.
We may be tempted to think the world is getting worse decade after decade. It would be easy to argue that whether we’re looking at wars or the advent of addiction to screens. Billy Joel says, “We didn’t start the fire, it was always burning, since the world’s been turning, we didn’t start the fire, no we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it.” It may seem that there are more and more things to fight if it be ISIS or poverty.
Jesus tells His disciples that all the things we have built, like the Temple, will pass away, but His Word will endure. According to Mark the event that will change all of human history, more than any other event in history, is the passion of Christ, the days of crucifixion and resurrection. In those events, we see the Disciples once again reminded to stay alert; the sun is darkened; the Temple ceases to be the center of worship life; the Temple curtain is torn in half. It is the fulfillment of Jesus’ saying that things will happen in the coming days.
Jesus tells His Disciples, before any of this happens, that His Word will endure all these things, even the passing of Heaven and Earth. Even the beloved Temple will not survive. It will be some years before the Temple is destroyed in 70 AD, but the Temple’s influence as the center of worship life begins to deteriorate and power is decentralized.
Perhaps this is all a warning for the church. Our Church, the universal Church, not just us, has been over 2,000 years. It has grown and evolved. Clergy were at times full time, at times bi-vocational, and again full time. There have not always been women’s and men’s groups. There have not always been Sunday school or Christian Education programs. Worship in some form has been the constant, sometimes in houses but most often in sanctuaries.
I am invested in the Church enduring in its current format with regular Sunday morning worship, Christian Education programs, and fellowship groups. I am invested in this model because I have devoted my life to full time service and been trained in those functions. There is some blend of commitment to the preservation of the Church for the sake of the Gospel and the preservation of the Church for the sake of my paycheck.
It can be easy to become cynical about the future of the church with so much published about how the Church can survive and what we need to do to provide life support for her dying body. I met with people who want to be commissioned to pastoral leadership and seminary students are want to be ordained on Monday and Tuesday. They have such fresh perspectives and unburdened optimism. Their experience in the church has often been coddled opportunities to preach in their home congregations sheltered by their minister from the politics of church life.
They all love the local church and are committed to seeing it survive and thrive. This group of students, versus previous groups I’ve met with, have a hope that will endure at least the remaining few years they have of preparing for ministry. They will continue to be coddled in their internships. Their experiments, surveys and new programs will be celebrated because they are students, but would be questioned if proposed by the senior pastor.
A friend was recently asked what her long term goal for ministry is. I reflected on how I would answer that. It didn’t take me long to formulate how I would answer that question. My long term goal is to retire from full-time ministry. 75% of people who enter ministry do not retire from ministry. And, the opportunities for full-time ministry are dwindling as most of the churches in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have less than 100 in attendance. Most are like us just barely making ends meet to be able to sustain a building and a full-time minister.
So, we’re going to give it everything we have and try some unorthodox things to try to grow. We’re doing this for the sake of the Gospel and the sake of the Church. We’re going to do this because we hope that the Church as we know it will endure.
Here’s the challenge. I said it a couple weeks ago, but it’s worth repeating. Many of the people who are unchurched haven’t heard the Gospel. It’s not that they’ve fallen away; they were never here. If we are able to draw them to us, none of this will be familiar. And, if we draw them to us, it is not to make them worship like us; it is to make them Disciples.
In your bulletin, there are a few fliers. These announcements are not included in your announcements bulletin insert. These fliers are for upcoming events that we’d like to invite people to come. These fliers are easy to hand to a friend or neighbor with lots of information about the event. There is all the information needed about the event and the church. You could even hang it up at the grocery store or the café when you go this afternoon.
This is all part of our new open door policy. The Board accepted my challenge to open our door 1000 times by July 1st. We’ve planned to fulfill several of our ministry plan goals this year. We’re planning an ice cream social, senior fellowship, a fundraiser, men’s and women’s fellowship opportunities, and other outreach activities that will invite community members to come to the church for various events.
To keep track of our open door policy success, there is a sign on the bulletin board in the East Room. After each gathering, someone can mark the open doors on the sheet. Each entry should include the number of people who attended, the date of the event and the reason for the gathering. Each person in attendance will be counted as an open door, that is we opened our door once for each person who came to our church. So far, in the month of March, not counting today’s worship, we have opened our door more than 100 times for book club, the food pantry, choir, worship, and the Board meeting.
I don’t know if the church will endure another 50 years. The Temple didn’t endure forever. The Church may not survive, but Christ’s Words will. We need to fight for the Church because it is the way we know to share Christ’s Words. Each Sunday, and throughout the week through prayer group and Bible study, we have the opportunity to read and hear again Christ’s Words and be reminded of God’s love and grace. We will fight for the Church, not because I want a paycheck and you want to sit in your pew for another 50 years, but for the sake of the Gospel.