Date: April 13, 2008
Scripture: Acts 2: 42-47
Sermon:The Church of 2048
Pastor: Rev. Kim Wells
How many of you remember 1968? That is the year that Lakewood United Church of Christ closed its charter and was officially established.
What was going on as this small group of Christians, even smaller than the church is now, responded to God’s call to form a church? What was the context in which these courageous souls made a commitment to go out on a limb and form a new faith community?
As recent newspaper articles remind us, Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. Robert Kennedy was assassinated, as well. Richard Nixon was nominated for president. The film 2001: A Space Odyssey debuted. My elementary school took us on a field trip to see it. Johnny Cash recorded Folsum Prison in 1968. It was the year of the Prague Spring when Czechoslovakia tried to assert its freedom and was squashed by the no longer extant USSR. The Broadway musical HAIR opened. Yale went co-ed. The Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, the war on poverty, the environmental movement were all in full swing.
In 1968 when Lakewood was founded, there were high hopes for eradicating many social problems – like poverty, racism, environmental destruction, and war. And a small group of people went out on a limb founding this church.
In 1968, Christianity was the dominant religion in the United States. Yes, there were Jews, but Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons, weren’t even on the main stream map. Christianity was considered part of day to day culture in the United States. In 1968, Sunday morning worship did not compete with soccer games, fun runs, or charity golf.
Alvin Toffler, iconic futurist published Future Shock in 1970. We learned that the accelerating pace of social and technological change would overwhelm people. They would become disoriented, suffering from what Toffler called “shattering stress” How many of us feel like we are taking a shower in Niagara Falls? As Toffler predicted, we have experienced “too much change in too short a period of time.”
For the most part, the church has been caught in this swirl of change, this paradigm shift and is dizzy and reeling. Conservatism and fundamentalism have become more entrenched and more prominent, and more appealing as people seek stability and assurance in these shifting sands of change. The liberal church became less relevant as its social agenda was increasingly promoted by secular groups and movements.
So what’s ahead for society in the United States and in the church? Population increase will continue from 200 million in 1968 to 300 million in 2006, to a projected 438 million in 2048. We are told that the population will be older, with increases in life expectancy. The US population will not only be older but more diverse. By 2048, 48% of the population will be white Euro-American. The largest non-white minority will be Hispanic. Most of the 52% of non-whites will be immigrants. The economy will be global. The underclass will be larger. Society will be more fluid. Religion we are told will have a growing role in public discourse and world affairs, but will not be monolithically Christian. There will be more technology – developing faster. So younger people today who feel pity for us older folks who can’t keep up, are going to be left in the dust in later years We are told we will have more leisure (sure, that’s what they said in 1968) and no seafood – you won’t be fishing in your free time in 2048 because the world is projected to run out of harvestable seafood stocks by 2048
So what does this all mean for the church as we move toward 2048? Christianity in the US will be a decidedly minority movement, in a diverse culture, experiencing the dislocation and disorientation of racing social and technological change. This is already happening. The shifts and decline in mainline Protestantism have mostly to do with the changes in society around us. And we are in a period of trying to discern a new place, a new role, social events, brunches, etc
Sunday morning your choices were pretty much to sleep, read the newspaper, go to the beach. You didn’t mow the lawn because then people would see that you weren’t in church.
In 2048, the options for things to do other than church will have greatly expanded. So, what will church be like? Here, let’s look back, way back to Acts, when Christianity was a small, fringe movement, in a culture dominated by other forces. In the first century Christians were by far the minority. Christian values were decidedly different from cultural values. Because that’s the kind of context the church will be facing in the decades ahead. In Acts, as we heard this morning, the believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship in the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Day by day they devoted themselves to these activities (not just Sundays). And they shared goods, resources, and money in common. And many signs and wonders were done. We know that the early Christian community was marked by extreme diversity – people of different backgrounds, cultures, and classes mixed together in the individual churches. And their commitment to caring for one another in the spirit of Christ considered strange and dangerous and subversive. Elaine Pagels in Beyond Belief tells us of how early Christians were considered peculiar and threatening.
They welcomed the sick, those without money, those in distress and offered help for free. No dues. No fees. Unlike Roman religious practices. They helped orphans living on garbage dumps. Gave out food and medicine. Helped those in prison. They cared for the sick without fear of contagion. They drove out “destructive energies that cause mental instability and emotional anguish,” Pagel tells us (p.7) their actions were based on a spiritual experience with a God who loves humans and evokes love in return.
And this movement of generosity, compassion and service, was considered “an enemy of the public good; of the gods; of public morals,” of all that patriotic, religious Romans held sacred (Pagel p.11) Christianity was looked upon as a criminal cult. People were kicked out of their families, lost jobs, friendship, and social standing for becoming Christian. So Christians had to depend upon one another to survive.
This glimpse at first century Christianity, as we heard about in Acts shows us the church as a minority, subversive movement, which is the way we are heading in 2048. The basic values of Christianity – love of neighbor, service, other-centered living, generosity, compassion, justice, concern for the poor, the dying, the forgotten – these basic core commitments will be strange and alien in 2048. And yet, this kind of movement, and these values, will be needed more than ever as people experience the disorientation and dislocation that comes with increasing technological changes and depersonalization, and individualism.
As Toffler puts it, looking ahead from 1970, “Society needs people who take care of the elderly and who know how to be compassionate and honest. Society needs people who work in hospitals. Society needs all kinds of skills that are not just cognitive. They need emotional and affectionate skills. You cannot run the society on data and computers alone” (from Wikipedia, Alvin Toffler)
So the church of 2048 will be high touch to balance high tech. People will go deeper in their discipleship because Christian values will be more at odds with society –
by reaching out to the poor,
by giving of money,
by lifestyle changes that are environmental,
by cultivating diverse community,
by advocacy in the public realm
People in church will have more contact with each other, not just once a week or once a month, but virtually daily – to sustain faith and hope and humanity in the face of increasing alienation in the culture. This contact will be more face to face, high touch, and through electronics, high tech. The church of 2048 will involve more teaching, training, and learning, because we won’t be able to assume that people know about the Christian story and the Bible. and church history. And knowing this story and tradition is essential to connecting to God and the hope and promise of Jesus Christ needed as people feel more adrift in changing times. This means we will need to become more comfortable talking about our faith experience without being preachy or pushy. We will need to be able to articulate how our faith grounds us so that we can offer that lifeline to others.
So, in many ways, the church of 2048 will look like the church of Acts.
Alternative life style.
Life-line of hope ,
Counter culture community.
Compassion and service.
Welcoming of the poor, the sick and those in distress.
Definitely out on a limb compared with current Christianity.
If the church is not bringing God’s moral vision to bear on the greed, individualism, separation and anxiety being created in our culture, then it will not be needed. If the church is not a community of support and hope to those alienated by corporate America, advancing technology, and increasing violence, it will not be needed. If the church is not reaching out with a story of love and compassion inviting others to find their place in the drama, then it will not be needed. If the church is not engendering respect for nature and all species, it will not be needed.
If the church is not a community of healing and wholeness in an increasingly fractured and divided world, it will not be needed.
Lakewood United Church of Christ was founded by a faithful community responding to God’s call. This church is here because God needed it and wanted it. This church is the fulfillment of God’s hopes and dreams for a faith community to embody the love and justice of Jesus. And Lakewood has gone out on a limb to be that community. For Lakewood United Church of Christ in 1968, going out on a limb meant being multi-racial. In the 1970s it meant reaching out to the poor by helping to found Habitat for Humanity and working with the farm workers. In the 1980s going out on a limb meant making a commitment to justice and peace and establishing the first sister church relationship recognized by the State Dept. with St. Job’s in Leningrad, USSR, now St. Petersburg, Russia. In the 1990s going out on a limb meant an expansive welcome to all people as seen in our mission statement.
What does going out on a limb mean in this first decade of the 2nd millennium? What will it mean in the teens, the 2020s, the 2030s, and 40 years from now in the 2040s? We’ll never find out, if we don’t go out on the limb now with a commitment to deep discipleship that will transform us and the world. We have the template in Acts. And we have a bold, courageous history from the past 40 years
Zaccheus went out on a limb to see Jesus. Jesus went out on a limb giving up his life for God’s love. Will we go out on a limb to be a community of healing and hope empowered by the spirit of Christ? Out on a limb – that’s where the best fruit is. Amen