Fall 2010 Chapel - October 27th
Chapel Address—“To the Moon”
October 27, 2010
Good morning. Join me in singing the President’s Cheesy Song:
Did Anybody Tell You I Love You Today?
Now I want to invite you to listen to the lyrics of a song by Sara Groves.
To the Moon
by Sara Groves
It was there in the bulletin
We’re leaving soon
After the bake sale to raise funds for fuel
The rocket is ready and we’re going to
Take our church to the moon.
There’ll be no one there to tell us we’re odd
No one to change our opinions of God
Just lots of rocks and this dusty sod
Here in our church on the moon.
We know our liberties we know our rights
We know how to fight a very good fight
Just grab that last bag there and turn out the light
We’re taking our church to the moon.
We’re taking our church to the moon.
We’ll be leaving soon . . .
Q&A with Chapel Audience:
1. What does this song mean?
2. Is taking the church and flying away to the moon good?
3. What do they want to get away from? Is there a spa on the moon?
What does the song identify?
Get away from what?
For our children
For our/my beliefs
4. What does the song parody?
To be clean because we are apart from
To build a fortress for God and us
(Or a place for us, oh and by the way God is welcome too)
How many of you think taking the church and flying away to the moon is a good thing?
How many of you think staying here on earth with the church is a good thing?
How many of you know churches that are attempting to build a moonscape on earth?
THE CHURCH—THREE PARADIGMS OF ENGAGEMENT (or Lack Thereof)
Let’s take a look at the work of James Davison Hunter, in his book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.
Three Paradigms of Cultural Engagement:
In his work Hunter identifies three different paradigms of cultural engagement practices by the church in contemporary America.
Defensive against the world
Relevant to the world
Purity from the world
Listen to the traits of these three prevalent church postures.
According to Hunter, churches that take this perspective seek “to create a defensive enclave that is set against the world.”
It is their goal and purpose to hold the ground against incorrect belief and win back the larger culture to a place where Christianity would regain its place of privilege.
The Defenders’ Strategy:
1. Evangelize unbelievers (open hand)
2. Attack those who attack the Christian faith (clenched fist)
Main Problem: Secularization
Main Goal: Restore culture via the church.
In so doing “the church would regain its standing in society, the family and local community would recover its Christian character, and the leading spheres of social life—including law and government, social welfare and reform, hospitals, education, and the like—would again, be influenced by the categories and codes of Christian moral understanding.” (Hunter, 217)
Critics of this paradigm would argue that its adherents are pushing political agendas and adopting a protectionist posture rather than pro-actively meeting the world’s needs.
Adherents to the relevant paradigm want the church to engage the world.
Examples include: Seeker-friendly churches and the emerging church movement.
Main Goal: Be relevant. Be connected to the pressing issues of the day.
The Relevant Strategy:
Spend less time defending the faith, spend more time being relevant and connected to contemporary culture in order to have a voice that unbelievers will listen to.
Hunter notes that the “relevance” movement bashes the established church as out-of-touch, filled with judgmental hypocrites; unattractive to unChristians.
In contrast the relevant church seeks to positions itself as aware and in touch with the broader culture.
Critics, however, note that though they’re high on relevance, they are light on matters of belief; it’s as if they are afraid to make declarative statements about things that transcend cultural trends and issues. Relevance is dangerously close to relative, and relativity lacks the clarity of gospel truth revealed in Jesus Christ.
The “purity from” church is similar to, but different than, the “defend against” folks. Those who seek purity from the world believe there is little that can be done for world because of its fallen state; it’s irredeemable prior to Christ’s return. Therefore, they’ve washed their hands of the situation, live in their separate world, and believe God will provide new believers to their numbers. In effect, they have kicked the dust of worldly culture off of their shoes.
For them, “the church has been compromised by its complicity with the world’s sinfulness. [Main Goal:] The central task of the true church, then, is to extricate itself from the contaminating forces of the world and . . . return to its authentic witness.” (Hunter, 218)
New monasticism. Separate communities of righteousness—utopian enclaves—the real church—set apart—more pure than the ‘institutional’ church.
Critics of the “puritans” identify their purpose as their weakness. The “purity from” folks engagement strategy is to disengage the world. In effect, they are having a bake sale and raising funds for fuel, they’re taking their church to the moon.
So fellow followers of Christ…
What are we called to do?
What hope is there in the present age?
Each of these three paradigms contains components that are attractive to me and to different segments of the church. None of them are completely wrong, but none of them are completely right.
I want to go on record as stating that God does not call us to escape this world, to take up residence in some spiritual cocoon. This is not his plan for His church, or His world. Going to the moon is not an option.
Go with me to the Gospel of John, Chapter 17. This passage is known as The Priestly Prayer, a prayer that Jesus prayed for all His disciples, including you and me. I hope these are familiar words to all of us. In fact I hope you return over and over to John Chapters 13—17 and visit and revisit these passages; for here, in the last week of Jesus’ life on earth He is summarizing His redefinition of reality.
As Jesus prays for His disciples He maps out fundamental things. The way the world is, the way the world is intended to be and the relationships and conditions that will make all things new. Immediately after this prayer Jesus found Himself in front of the rulers of the world, Pilate, and Herod, and by association Caesar. The comments He makes reflect realities He had foreknown and planned “before the world was.”
In the days leading up to His crucifixion, Jesus was providing a glimpse of the manner in which He lived, resident in one world while being guided by another. Played out in that week, in the starkest of contrasts, are the values and differences of two worlds, worlds in which He resided simultaneously. Jesus speaks from an earthly experience all the while being guided by His heavenly reality. Listen as He prays to the Father about His disciples:
I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.
They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.
As You sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world.
John 17: 15-18
This is the “tipping point”; Jesus looks at His disciples, and across the centuries to you and me, and says, “you are not of the world”.
Like Him, His disciples are part of a two-world paradigm. This is what He has known and intended all along.
Verse 16: They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
Verse 18: As You sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world.
In, not of.
In it, not of it.
This sounds like either a clever play on words or a question on a philosophy test doesn’t it? That’s why I checked my logic with philosophy professor, Dr. Joseph Bankard. Here are the options based upon what Christ says:
Submitted: Two worlds/two kingdoms exist, world A and world B.
According to Jesus:
1. We can live in A and live of A.
2. We can live in B and live of B.
3. We can live in A and live of B.
4. We cannot live in B and live of A.
Jesus lived in world A while living of world B.
THE MISSION: HIS AND OURS
Our human temptation is to think it’s up to us. God is depending on me. It’s up to me and me alone. So what do we do? We develop these self-styled attempts to shore up and protect and even escape with the church, as if it’s our mission. Go build a version of the moon—a far off place—fight culture with your own might, cozy up to culture or run away from culture and be pure. That may be the best we can come up with, but that’s not God’s plan.
It’s His mission, His plan, and we have a part in it.
Jesus is praying about the establishment of the Kingdom of God in the kingdom of this world. B comes to A and transforms A into B. Jesus lived His earthly life in this reality; He lived in the midst of His enemies. He didn’t dilute or water down truth in order to be relevant. He knew He’d be rejected by many, and warned us that we too would experience rejection. Yet His prayer underscores the fact that He intends for His disciples to behave in the same way, we, the citizens of world B, are to be used by Him to transform world A. He doesn’t offer a life of escapism—live in and of world B—he calls us and equips us to live in A, while living of B. Don’t abandon this world, transform this world. He prays, “I don’t ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one.”
Let me make the point by using my granddaughters as an example. Here is Lizzie, all dressed up for church. Here’s her little sister, Addie. Both wearing the dresses “mom-mom” bought them. Don’t they look perfect?
But here’s reality.
Lizzie and Addie and the ice cream sandwich.
Life is sticky. Life is messy. To stay here, on this earth, is to live in a place filled with muck and mire. As Gene has been sharing from Romans, a world operating with a sin paradigm.
Yet this is exactly where God intends for us to be. Right in the middle of the muck and the mire. The sticky, mess of sin.
N.T. Wright, in his inspiring work, Surprised by Hope, reminds us that first God calls us to be transformed, then he calls us to be agents of transformation, and to always remember than this can only be accomplished with and in the person of Jesus Christ.
Remember this scene, early in Christ’s earthly ministry:
“And as He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alpheus sitting in the tax office, and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ And he rose and followed Him.
And it came about that He was reclining at table in his house, and many tax-gatherers and sinners were dining with Jesus and His Disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him.
And when the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax-gatherers, they began say to His disciples, ‘Why is He eating and drinking with tax-gatherers and sinners?’
And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Mark 2: 14-17
God calls us, calls His church to be His hands and feet. Not to be compromised by the culture, but to be citizens of a Kingdom with boundaries well beyond the beliefs and limitations of this age. A Kingdom established on Easter morning, when everything changed forever. Not to rely on our power—to battle, to flee, to play pure without Him—but to become agents of His grace.
God calls you and me to live a life in Him and His love, and to in turn, share His love in the life we lead.
You see, my cheesy song isn’t so cheesy after all. It’s a call to live out the essence of His call, to be and share His love, in this messy, sticky, dirty world.
Just might sound like we’re being called to be God’s creative and redemptive agents. Where have I heard that phrase before? The NNU mission statement?
James Davison Hunter. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
N.T. Wright. Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. New York: Harper Collins, 2008.