Few things bring a bigger smile to my face than someone experiencing the rush of a surprise encounter with the Divine…when out of the mundane monotony of spiritual striving, someone drinks and breathes and comes alive, swallowed by the uncontainable power of God’s living presence.
Most recently it happened reading this beautiful post, written by our daughter’s friend Melanie. She writes of “the profound hunger, which I find more prominent every day that I am here, to deeper understand and engage with the God of the universe.” Like oh-so-many, though, she finds that hunger met not in church, but in the creativity on display in the Los Angeles Art Museum, in the alive chaos of the streets of South Central, in dialogue, and on a quiet coastal mountain trail outside Malibu.
Yet I smile, pastor though I am, church-lover though I be. I refuse to wring my hands, to pen yet another “millenials leaving the church” lament. I smile and my heart rejoices, because she, like many, is launching herself into the joyful abandon of seeking her heart’s cry, seeking a tangible and touchable and life-giving connection with the One who created us all.
I stand proudly with those in my faith tradition who believe that every relationship, experience, and moment drips with the life changing presence of God. With every fiber of my being, I too say that God cannot be contained in our safe pews or crafted sermons. God is not segmented and segregated to people and places labelled “Christian”, but pulsates and pounds through every person, plant, and planet in all of creation.
There is Life, the Life, calling to us, beckoning us to give into our curiosity and our yearnings and throw off the familiarity and the sameness that deaden our souls. Our cry to the world is not “show up at church meetings.” It is to abandon your life to the Life who makes our lives vibrantly, beautifully, radically whole.
Recently I was given a book that I have little desire to read. The cover says it’s about “the problem of Millennials leaving” the church, and it promises to help me as a pastor to get them to stay.
It’s aimed at the wrong problem.
The real problem is that we in the church have not demonstrated the power of being consumed by the living God…at least not often enough. We haven’t modeled or given permission often enough for the restless curiosity and the questions and the yearning which leads to the search, the search to know and be known by Christ, the great Revealer.
We’ve created the lie that Sunday morning is the pinnacle, that speakers dispense God from a platform. We’re audacious enough to act as if we hold the Eternal One captive and then parse out the pieces only to those faithful enough to sit in a pew.
We can do better.
At our best, we as a community witness to the One who inhabits and gives meaning to each thing and place and person and moment. We gather to share and celebrate how God has been moving in us, and we push and prod each other to go out and discover more…more of God’s love and life. There is a rightful place for gathered, regular community to which we commit ourselves in this faith journey. We need community which recognizes that the Living Presence who speaks everywhere is also who we allow to speak and lead in our Sunday gatherings.
Jesus is the one who created everything.
Who breathes in everything.
Who speaks through everything.
And Jesus is the one who invites us into community.
Who constitutes the church.
And who unifies all things.