Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ of Messiah Lutheran Church,
Today was Palm Sunday, such a strange feeling to not be processing into the church from the back with the children waving their palms. A lot of the time spent before these services these days is trying to brainstorm technical aspects of projection and sound. We seem to be having an issue with the sound in terms of music; we just can't get answers for it at this point. In addition, I have now put the service on FB live. It's a one dimensional view of me leading the worship as opposed to the multi view we can operate on the web site by including the screens. I had my first Revelation Bible study on FB live and I was surprised by how many viewed it! We will be going forward with that on Monday nights, but if that time doesn't work for you, it can be viewed at a later time. I'm trying to do calls each day to check-in on people to see how they are doing. I encourage you to do the same with each other.
In the sermon today, I spent some time drawing out the phenomenon of the crowds in terms of Palm Sunday and Good Friday. I also highlighted the vision of John in Revelation in chapter seven as he saw the great multitude in the heavenly realm. I've loved to be in crowds ever since I was in my early 20's. However, it wasn't always true in my younger years. I drew out a comparison between what was happening in the nation after WW II in terms of church and worship and what is happening now. I think there is something both of these different times in American life shared--the influence of the crowd. There are academics who saw the worship attendance increase after the culmination of WWII as in part, influenced by social pressure to be in church. It was the thing to do. Many people who had gone through a rough time going all the way back to the depression era, which didn't really end until after WW II, were committed to a solidarity of doing the "right" things as seen in a morality that was focused on the help of the other, not a focus on individualism. In this time period, and for many years, worship attendance increased. It was the social upheaval and turmoil of the late 60's that was the beginning of the end for that phenomenon. We have been reeling ever since. The 70's brought a whole new emphasis on radical individualism, which also undermined any shared moral vision in the culture. I listened to a professor from Cornell speak about the moral aspect of this phenomenon that lasted from 1948-1978, a long time period. He sees the pandemic as an opportunity to bring back some of that shared vision of helping others and being more unified in a shift in morality that really seeks to serve the one in need.
It's not that people in the 50's were "right" about church going and the people of today are "wrong" in the decline. The culture has just shifted so much and things are so different. There are many things which are better in terms of social realities in 2020 compared to 1948. We are much more diverse as a nation in terms of race, religion, and even the ways we view the world. But what I will say is this--the "crowd" is always a danger for the Christian believer. If you went to church because you were supposed to in the 50's or 60's, or if you don't go to church because its not the "cool" thing to do in 2020, both don't address the call of Jesus on your life. The former produced a lot of cultural disciples, and the present day context without that cultural support, actually produces disciples who are probably more invested in their faith. The culture no longer supports or encourages Christian faith. The trick is to avoid the "noise" and the pull of the crowd. It's to be encountered by the crucified and Risen Jesus in every day moments of our lives and respond in discipleship. It's to be called by something other than the crowd--Jesus. The crowd falsely praised Jesus for how they envisioned him; the crowd a few days later put him to death.
What the church needs in 2020 is a gathered-connected body of believers who want to form a people around the only things that matters--the call of Jesus to mission in the world. The end of the resurrection appearances in the Gospels is marked by a call by the soon to be ascended Lord, to go and make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of Father-Son-HS. We exist as the body of Christ to do this important work in every area of our lives. It includes Sunday morning, but it is much more than Sunday morning. The call of Jesus is to live out a vital faith in the days, weeks, months, and years we've been blessed with in this life. We need to equip one another to do this work. Read your Bible, study a devotion, pray throughout the day, and do things with other Christians, including worship. We all have opportunity to BE the church together. Let's do it. Let us not follow the "crowd", but follow Jesus.
Blessing to all of you!