Last night Dr. Thomas Long spoke about the trouble the church is in - decline and so forth. He talked about how people in some quarters are beginning to act in ways that are akin to preparing for death. He had three categories which come from an author names Arthur W. Frank: 1. The reaction of becoming more disciplined. A patient who is ill unto death at first might react by becoming a very disciplined patient - faithfully taking their medication and doing everything they are told to do by the medical staff. So too areas of the church become very disciplined about doing things the way we always have done them. Well 20 years ago we did this and it worked then. That kind of thing. 2. There is a reaction to mirror the healthy. So the sick patient will imitate and act like those around him/her who are healthy - they will mirror healthy behavior. So too the church - we look at Saddleback and say - wow, that program really works there let's do it here (even though our demographics are nothing like theirs). 3. The opposite of #1 - the patient becomes dominating and uncooperative and hostile. Hence, groups of true believers separating from the sinful larger body of the church (read sarcasm). The formation of knee-jerk groups (like CORE, LCMC and LCNA or these Anglican splinter groups) who are so intent on being the true body of Christ that they miss the point of the Gospel.
Dr. Long finished up with a 4th response - and that is the desire to tell the story. A dying patient will start to want to tell their story. The church has a story to tell as well - an important story. And this story is not a story of an exclusive, judgmental group of true believers - it is a story of the body of Christ who is called to reach out to God's people and care for God's creation; it is a story of the incarnation of God into the midst of a fallen world out of love; it is a story of call - call to follow, to serve, to love as Christ loved us; it is a story of crucifixion and resurrection. Which prompts me to this final reflection. OK - the church is dying and like physical death it is moving towards transformation. But so what else is new. The church has always been in the process of dying. It has always been in the process of transformation. There is nothing new here. The fact is that human people are profoundly uncomfortable with death and dying and so we do everything we can to avoid and prevent it. So we create rigid structures, we judge those we don't agree with, we exclude those who are "not like the rest of us" so we can hold on to the rail of our sinking and dying ship. But just like in physical death we believe that God is a God of resurrection, and that death is not the last word. From death will come life - "abundant life" (from last Sunday's Gospel). And this life is beyond our ability to imagine. The church we know is dying and being transformed - yes, and it has been like this since the church emerged back in the first century. God is at work.
Dr. Long used the illustration of the falling dream. He was sitting on an airplane next to a man who was sleeping when all of a sudden the man reached up to grab on something - the man was having a falling dream. That is the reaction isn't it. If we feel like we are falling into the abyss we desperately try to grab onto something to hold on. But God says to us - Let go - God is there and will catch us. Our calling is to be faithful.
In the name of the Father, +Son and the Holy Spirit.