When I was a young person I remember being told by those just slightly older than myself to not trust anyone over thirty. For some reason, and I believe it was associated with the establishment, the time of youthful insight ended at the age of twenty-nine. There was nothing worse, nothing more unreliable, two-faced or manipulative then the previous generation. They had given up on pursuing any meaningful change and had now become a part of the problem. I know that there is a measure of observational logic to this warning and I suppose there is even some truth. I also confess to believing it to some degree although not in the same areas that its prime proponents were referring.
I have spent my life within the church. It has always needed reform and in my experience it has been the energy of youth that produces this needed change. Age brings settlement, an acceptance of what is along with a weariness for fighting. To be sure there can be wisdom in this but there can also be resignation. Change just for the sake of change was appealing in our youth but now we have to have some solid reasons to just get off the couch.
My thoughts this month are about the changes that are needed in our society and whether or not the church is willing to step up and have a part in crafting them. Will we participate in the call for social reform or withdraw to our comfortable place of non-involvement?
I am not talking about who you vote for in the election this November. Presumably you will all vote and that decision will be based on how you weigh the issues as well as the candidates. But this is not as simple as affiliating with a particular political party. For example, probably the primary issue for many Christians for the past fifty years has been the opposition to abortion. To those who believe that the fetus is already a human being cannot justify the taking of this life for any but the most serious of reasons. Yet in voicing protection here we often find ourselves in the company of those who don’t see poverty, gender equality, racial justice, or environmental protection as being part of a pro-life agenda. Somehow economics always seems to push its way to the forefront and it becomes the determining factor for all other political questions. I have always been troubled by that as a seemingly clear contradiction of the Biblical message to care for the poor, the weak, the sick, the alien, the disenfranchised. Wealth is something Christians are to store up in heaven and to trust God to care for us here. When did the church become so protective of the status quo? I suppose the answer to that is when we became people of status.
But my real concern for us as a church moving forward is not with the big ticket issues. It always seems like any meaningful change that addresses them are beyond our reach. But we can deal with the personal and the local. We can seek to deescalate the intensity of the conversations. We can seek to understand why a person holds to a particular point of view. We can gather our information from people directly impacted by proposed policy decisions. We can befriend those who are different from us. And we can do more than simply quote a verse or two from the Bible, we can seek to grasp the overarching themes which permeate the gospel. Regarding this it has been stated that “almost certainly the most significant political declaration of the early church was that Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord.”* What kind of ramifications does that simple statement have for us in our world today?
The church has always been made up of more than one age group and more than one viewpoint on practically every matter. I believe that all are needed for us to clearly hear and respond to the Christ who calls the world to himself. So I quote the words of the Apostle John.
I write to you, dear children, because you have
known the Father. I write to you fathers, because
you have known him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men, because you are
strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you
have overcome the evil one. (1 John 2:13-14)
This reminds me that it is the children who know that relationships are the most important element in life. It is the seniors who have lived and experienced life the longest who have gained the wisdom of years. They are best able to determine which battles can and should be fought and which ones it is better to let pass. The young folk are the ones who have the energy and the determination to fight evil. And let’s be clear, we cannot be blind to the fact that there are evils to fight. Can we do so without losing the simplicity and purity of our childlike faith, and can we incorporate in the battle the wisdom of those who have walked the longest with Jesus? We can do so only if we live in community. May God help us. See you in Worship.
*Ron Sider, The Scandal of Evangelical Politics, (Baker, Grand Rapids: 2008), p.28.