Our Lead Team has been exploring what inspires our deep commitment to this church, and what it is that we have to share with our neighbors. We’ve also been wondering how to put our congregation’s values and experiences into meaningful words.
Just as these questions were swirling around my mind, I came across something that former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Omar Bradley wrote. Fighting in both WWII and Korea, Bradley had commanded 1.3-million men, the largest body of American soldiers to ever serve under one commander; he also is one of only nine people to rise to the rank of five-star general. A decorated man of war, this is what he wrote:
We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount…. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.
Things have not improved in the decades since he raised this alarm. Genocide and war continue unchecked in many parts of the world. In our own country, racism, sexism, slander and distrust have been fueled by a growing sense of paranoia.
Troubled Churches From California to Maine, churches feel caught in the middle of our tense national divide, and are unsure how to provide spiritual leadership.
While some congregations want to send members to picket lines, others hope to avoid conflict by only talking about “spiritual matters”. But everything is spiritual, and much of what we are seeing played out nationally are spiritual issues because they are projections of unresolved issues, national sins left unconfessed, and an artificial divorce between “Christian life” and “public life”.
It is hardly surprising that a growing number Americans see church life as less important than in past years. Nationwide, not only is church membership down, but so is attendance of long-time members. There are many reasons for this, but the essential point is that about half as many people now attend weekly religious services (approx. 20%) as were reported two decades ago.
Many express dismay that the face of American Christianity has become moralizing, judgmental, anti-science, and increasingly exposed for its hypocrisy and disconnect from Americans’ lives.
Unfortunately, that sullied reputation is what many people assume they would find if they were ever to walk into their neighborhood church. And with so many other options – from Oprah, to meditation groups, to podcasts – people wanting a spiritual life may never consider checking out a nearby Sunday worship service.
Thy Kingdom Come At this critical moment in history, how many have come to think of church as a purveyor of “religious services” rather than an invitation to experience God’s Kingdom come to earth? How many find their church community a reflection of Jesus’ life? Thus, General Bradley’s concern that we have lost the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount at the very moment our destructive powers have never been stronger or more ominous.
All of which makes our church – and communities of faith like ours – more important than ever.
First, because each of us needs a safe and nurturing place where we step back from the anxieties and pressures of the world and recharge. We come together as a congregation of Republicans, Democrats and Independents who can listen to one another and love one another despite our differences. We come together as old and young, straight and gay, women and men seeing beyond superficial differences to the precious child of God we each are.
Second, because we need a transformative community where we can experience forgiveness and healing. Through Christ-centered worship, study and service, we become more like the people God created us to be … and this is not just idle talk or good intentions because a Spirit-filled community is life-changing; it is the reason many of our eyes fill with tears when we sing Amazing Grace.
Third, because we need healthy communities from which awakened, Spirit-led people step into the world living the values of Jesus. Our world doesn’t need more self-help books or charismatic evangelists; it cries out for people who live as the people our faith calls us to be – because that is our hope as a country.
Living Fruit of the Spirit The country needs mature Christians who are loving of all people, whose joy for living is infectious, who are calm, peaceful and patient in the face of turmoil, who – in the midst of hate and suspicion – find kind, good solutions that reflect Jesus’ teachings, and who model gentleness and self-controlled in a frenzied world caught-up in melodrama and national paranoia (Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-23)
Faith communities such as ours are more needed than ever before, because, as General Omar Bradley warned, we need to recover the Sermon on the Mount – and this we can only do one heart at a time. Another book on spirituality or a new spiritual-hipster podcast won’t make much difference. But millions of people taught by and supported by healthy, Christ-led, Spirit-fed communities like our own – people who live a Jesus-modeled lives in their families, among friends, and with work colleagues – they are our hope.