In space, astronauts deal with a reality most of us have never experienced. There is no gravity, nothing but man-made tethers or weighted boots to hold them in place. Those of us walking on earth know the results of gravitational pull, but we don’t actually feel it. We know it anchors us to the ground so we don’t float off into space. We know gravity keeps the liquids in our glasses and cups, and prevents the hair on our head from standing on end. But in space, there is no gravity. A human being not anchored by some means would drift aimlessly and endlessly into the black night of universal space.
In many ways, our modern culture may feel like we are drifting in space … rootless and free falling without a sense of our moral center. Family structures are breaking down; people given the task to lead us have failed us. At times, it may feel as though we have stepped out of the safe and restricted environment of the space capsule into a non-restricted, endless drift of a bleak eternity. Where else would we regain our footing, find our place, restore our values, and recognize our mission but in the gravitational pull of God’s grace in our lives? The perfect gravitational field for the human spirit is one that is God-breathed, Christ centered, and Spirit driven.
Though Paul is speaking in another time, at a different moment in history, and to another people, his words speak to us too. Paul talks about this God given, Christ centered, Spirit driven grace, a grace that in these post 9/11 days, can give us hope, hope to pull us back from the great, mindless moral crisis of spirit in which we find ourselves. He invites us to open our hearts to the one who gives, redeems, and sustains our lives. Paul writing to the Ephesians and unknowingly to us too says, “In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.”
For those who claim a faith in Christ, our answer to finding our way again is to turn back to Christ, to put our faith in Christ as the answer to the question, “How do we restore our family structures and our commitment to encourage a government of faith-filled leaders, leaders in whom we might truly put our trust?”
We believe that our faith gives us a moral base, a place to stand on that is solid and certain. By the power of God’s grace, we can hold to our faith when the temptations of the world offer an easier, though less satisfying way to live. If faith in something larger, greater, more expansive, more mysterious than us can us to a life, which brings fulfillment and a sense of purpose, than why do so few hold to any kind of faith or connect to any kind of community, which centers itself in a faith. Most polls indicate that less than 40% of Americans attend a church. A more recent, and far more ominous survey of churches and those attending indicated that the 40% figure is highly exaggerated. The better estimate hovers around 20% of Americans who attend a church with any regularity. Regardless of which set of numbers best reflects reality those of us seeking to offer leadership in the church know that Paul’s words to the Ephesians have meaning for us too. We may not be living up to the call God has placed on us and Christ has modeled for us. How can we be the church of tomorrow? As a body of believers we are in danger of breaking free from the tethers and weighted boots of God’s gravitational pull on our lives and floating aimlessly and without purpose into a dark and brooding place without either receiving hope or being the means through which those in need can find hope.
In the article by Barnes and Lowry, the authors illustrate a measure of hope to address the decline in churches and the answer, not surprisingly, has little to do with filling the pews within a sanctuary. Instead, the answer lies in being the church in the neighborhoods and communities outside our doors. How can we return to the Christ message to go into the world and make disciples? Into not expecting the world to come to us. That’s the challenge and it was no easier for the Ephesians than it is for us.
From Barnes and Lowry, we hear:
“Clearly, the future looks less than bright for the Church in America; nevertheless, countless stories of transformed lives remind us that God is using, and wants to continue to use, the 330,000 U.S. Orthodox Christian congregations to draw others to Him and strengthen believers for His work in a hurting world. In the words of the late author Henri Nouwen, the Church maintains the vital connection to Christ:
“Listen to the Church,” he writes in Show Me the Way (Crossroad). “I know that isn’t a popular bit of advice at a time and in a country where the church is frequently seen more as an ‘obstacle’ in the way rather than as the ‘way’ to Jesus. Nevertheless, I’m profoundly convinced that the greatest spiritual danger for our times is the separation of Jesus from the Church. The Church is the body of the Lord. Without Jesus, there can be no Church; and without the Church, we cannot stay united with Jesus. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has come closer to Jesus by forsaking the Church. To listen to the Church is to listen to the Lord of the Church.”
Paul spoke similar words to the church in Ephesus. “…[God] set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and in earth.” (Ephesians 1:9b).
In Paul’s words, God calls us all to live out, “the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of [God’s] glory.” Rooted as a people of faith as the heirs of a new hope, we as a people, as a nation, as Christians worldwide might yet again find a moral center from which God may breath new life into our world. We worship in a community and in a building, but we live our faith on the out side, in front of others. We live our faith not with a righteous claim to some special status as God’s chosen, but with a full understanding that God, through God’s grace and through the power of Christ living in and through us might draw others to a deeper and richer knowledge of and connection to the work of God in everyone. It is a hugely challenging and exciting adventure and living it well brings us the greatest joy we can ever hope to experience. That is worth sharing! Amen.