2 Kings 5:1-14
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Good morning, it is so wonderful to be here with you all again. I have missed you all so much these past three months but I have also enjoyed maternity leave. I have loved getting to spend time with my kids and family. It has been amazing to welcome Olivia into our family and watch William grow into a big brother, but I was most excited that my maternity leave just happened to line up with the Women’s World Cup tournament. I love soccer, I grew up playing soccer and I find it to be the most exciting sport to watch on TV. In fact in just a few minutes the final game will take place. I have to say, I was a little heartbroken that FIFA decided to schedule the final game on a Sunday morning, but I did find a way to record it and watch it later so don’t tell me the score. As wonderful as my maternity leave has been I am so excited to get back to work and focus on the things God is calling us to do.
For the past three months I have had the opportunity to read more articles and books than I typically do. What else as I going to do during those middle of the night feedings? Many of the articles I read were about religion and specifically religion in this political and cultural climate. The church and organized religions across all expressions of faith are experiencing a decline at rates it has never seen before. Today, less people go to church on what is considered a “regular basis” than ever before. And even what is defined as a regular basis has changed. In the mid to late 1900’s regular attendance at church was defined as 3-4 Sundays a month, now it is 1-2 Sundays a month. We live in a world where less people go to church than ever before and those that do go to church go less often than they used to.
Decline in church membership isn’t a new problem – it was not caused by the 2016 election. The church has been seeing decline on a steady basis for almost two decades and in those two decades leaders of the church have scrambled to figure out a way to stabilize the church. Many things were proposed, things like: the emerging church, pop-up churches, missional churches, theology on tap, and coffee shop churches. Some of these have had great successes in specific communities but more or less what has been found is that what works for one community probably won’t work for another. But new studies are showing that there are specific things that churches universally could do that would help membership.
While church decline is nothing new we are in an interesting position today because we are declining at a more rapid rate than predicted and what is even more interesting than that is the fact that many people are coming back to churches for a few Sundays and then deciding to leave again. When these people come back and then decide to leave again it seems to be a permanent decision. When asked why they said it was not because churches were political it was because if the face of all that is happening churches have been silent. People are flocking to the church looking for answers to understand the things they are seeing and reading about in the news and yet when they come to the place they hope to find God and to find answers that will help them understand the atrocities they are seeing they are met with silence.
There have always crimes against humanity and during those pivotal times in history religious organizations have a distinct opportunity to help make sense of the world and stand up for those who are being harmed. During these times in history the church become known as one thing or the other. They are either speak out against adversity or they don’t. They either provide something holy and relevant to the conversation or their silence is deafening. People of faith are allowed to disagree on fundamental political policies debate is healthy; it should be encouraged and welcomed.
There is a crisis happening right now, this very moment, at our southern border. The Trump Administration has been overwhelmed with a massive number of refugees and immigrants a number that far surpasses the number the Obama Administration had to deal with. Right now in the house and congress there is a debate going on about what needs to be done and I am really thankful that I am not in charge of that decision because I don’t know what needs to be done, I don’t have the answers but what I do know is that what is currently going on with these detention centers is awful.
As a church, it seems to me that in this time in history, what we say matters; it matters what we speak out against, it matters when we say, ‘Putting children in cages is wrong, Separating families is wrong, Children deserve safe and sanitary conditions that include toothbrushes and soap, It is morally wrong to require children Elizabeth’s age to care for children William’s age, Seeking asylum is not illegal.’ But what seems to hold more weight is what we don’t say. If we choose to remain silent at a time like this we will not be able to undo that later in our life. We will do a disservice to our faith if we sit idly by either because we are too afraid to speak up or we are hoping that someone else will.
Our Gospel reading from today speaks to the difficult road we have ahead of us. We are told, “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.” Essentially, there is a plethora of work to do and only a few people who are willing to do it. The work that lies ahead of us is hard and will require more of us than we would probably like to give and yet this hurting world is begging us to do it. People are coming back to churches they haven’t been to in decades because they are in desperate need of Good News. We are at a pivotal moment because if we rise up and preach the Good News that has always been then people will find what you and I have always known is true. God is present, even in the darkness, God loves us more than we could ask or imagine, in God’s Kingdom there is freedom and justice for all, and every life matters to God. But in order for that message to spread we all have to work together and take risks for the Gospel.
One of the podcasts I was able to listen to late one night was a lecture by one of my former seminary professors. Lisa Kimball is a lay-women, she is not ordained and she has spent her life dedicated to the formation and education of members of the church. During her lecture she talked about taking risks and here is what she had to say to a room full of priest, “Let’s consider what it is like to proclaim one’s faith without the armor of vestments, the edifice of a pulpit, the pension fund of the church, or a reserved parking space for doing so. Remember Holy Week, remember the great Commission, remember the fate of all the apostles. The pulpit exists to form disciples who are called out into the world and will take risks for their faith that will likely be more heroic than anything ‘a priest’ will ever do on Sunday morning.”
Lisa is right, the heroes of this story are you, the Disciples of Christ who have the ability to affect real change in the world. Do not forget the trust that Christ has placed in you. There is work to be done and Christ is counting on us to do it. The harvest is plentiful… will you be one of the laborers?