May 23, 2021
"What is Being Reborn?"
Pastor Scott Landis
I recently saw a tee-shirt which had the words printed across the chest, “The Church has Left the Building.” At first, I was somewhat puzzled as I read those words. Then I was kind of shocked at the implication. But the more I thought about it, the more the words actually made a lot of sense to me. And, like it or not – I think, we all can identify. See if you don’t agree.
Having come through this looooong season we know as the Covid-19 diaspora – when we were advised, for reasons of health and safety, that we could NOT be in our houses of worship, those words became real – the church HAD TO LEAVE the building. It didn’t have a choice. Our doors were closed.
When I first discussed this government-imposed mandate with then Council Moderator, Bruce Burkitt, I was stunned when he initially suggested that we might need to shut down for 3 weeks. “THREE WEEKS!” I thought to myself – how would we ever survive being “closed” for three weeks? 13 months later, I’m not sure I have a complete answer to that question, but I have a whole new appreciation for that tee-shirt and the slogan it bears. Indeed, in many ways the church HAS left the building – and now we are in an incredibly vulnerable AND fertile period of figuring out – how do we get it back? That is, “into the building.” Or should we? [Pause]
In the second chapter of Acts, we read a fascinating story of the beginning of the early church. Jews from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem. They had made their pilgrimage there for one of the three primary festivals of the year – this one was the annual celebration of the harvest – aka Pentecost. It was early in the morning – about 9 o`clock, when suddenly a gale-force wind blew into their midst. It was like someone turned on a huge fan. Whooooosh! If you live in Kīhei or Ma`alaea you know exactly what I’m talking about. It seemed to come out of nowhere. Whooooosh!
But this was no ordinary wind.
This wind blew into the lives of the hearts, and minds, and mouths of the disciples and those Galilean Jews began to speak in the mother tongues of ALL the gathered pilgrims. They told them of God’s mighty acts. They were empowered to testify to what would soon be known as “The Gospel” as they were given their message from a power on high. Their speech was not of their own doing.
Believe me when I tell you, we preachers pray for this each and every Sunday – particularly when we know our sermon lacks some zest. But this was different. This was unplanned. Unexpected. Unimaginable. And unknown to everyone – even to those doing the speaking. And as they spoke, everyone who heard began to understand. – Something new was being born. And what was being born would change the lives of everyone gathered AND all those who were scattered. [Pause]
The Search Committee of our church has been meeting every Monday since the beginning of March for approximately 2 hours each time. They are searching for the next kahu who will serve our congregation. At the end of each meeting, committee members are given work to do in order to prepare for the next gathering. Theirs is a labor of love for which I covet your prayers.
An important part of our work is to accurately identify and describe the current state and needs of our congregation. As that becomes clear (and you will have the opportunity to have input in to this description) they will begin to search for the best person available with the requisite skills to address those needs. This is not an easy task, because it requires complete honesty. We have had to take a good long look in the mirror and describe exactly what we see when we look closely at our church. You know, the look where you really notice the additional wrinkles, the extra gray hair, the sagging neck. Okay, I’ll stop. I think you get the picture.
For all the many extraordinary qualities of our church – its `ohana, its grounds (including our hale pule), and its mission, we’ve also noticed a FEW things that may need a little bit of attention -- that involve – as you might have guessed – our `ohana, our building and grounds, and our mission.
Now, I don’t what to be overly pessimistic about all of this – that does none of us any good, but just like every other church on-island, and on the continent – the future does not look bright for Christendom. Given current trends, we could all soon be the curators of some lovely historic buildings formerly known as churches – and all this within the next 50 years – unless things begin to change – and change rather dramatically.
That can be a paralyzing thought. We could simply throw up our arms in despair – to give up and melt into a fatalistic puddle. OR it might just be the thing we need to be transformed – reborn – as we experience a kind of “Second Pentecost.” [Pause]
As I listen to the news, some of our parishioners, and even some of my ministerial colleagues, I a hear a strong desire – as we begin to move beyond the crisis of the pandemic – to want to “get back to normal” or “to return to the way things used to be.” I want to suggest that that just might be our ticket to nowhere. Remember, “The Church has Left the Building.” I’m not convinced that was such a bad thing. Our attempts to lasso it, rein it in, and force it back inside could possibly kill precisely what God is trying to reveal. Perhaps similar to the work of our Search Committee, maybe it’s time for us to consider “what IS being reborn?” What new story needs to emerge? What new song needs to be sung? [Pause]
Folks don’t get excited about “what was” as important as that is. “What was” is our history – our foundation – the reason for our existence. It’s importance is the fact that it serves to identify us. But it’s not our future.
Our future is predicated upon our ability to see the needs of a changing world and to respond – empowered by the Holy Spirit. Our future is based on an enthusiasm (which literally means to be “in God” en theos) to do the work of God. An enthusiasm that needs to capture our spirit – and excite us – to the point where others may wonder “whether we are drunk on cheap wine.” What a high compliment that would be! If they saw us so excited about the mission and ministry of the church that they had to wonder – “who ARE these people?” And, “I want what they have!”
In other words, we are going to have to be willing to take some risks if we are going to be relevant and essential to a world that really doesn’t care whether we exist long into the future. We are going to have to demonstrate that the world will be a lesser place if we were no longer here.
I know, these may be hard words to hear. And believe me, they are even harder words to speak. I have given my entire career to serving this institution known as they church, an institution that appears to be dying in my lifetime. But that doesn’t need to happen.
We must be open to the offering of the Holy Spirit which is still blowing in and around us – everyday – whether we are inside the church with hands folded – or we are outside on the street with hands wide open – serving those in desperate need.
We cannot be afraid to face the reality that the church has left the building. And, I think, it’s a waste of our time to try and figure out a way to force it back inside. How about, instead, we embrace this new reality – a reality that may be calling us to a new relevance as we take love to the streets, grace to the marketplace, healing to new horizons?
Let’s all pay close attention. What is being reborn? How might we be helpful midwives?