A while ago an older pastor friend of mine was cleaning out his library. I inherited boxes of books that do not have ISBN numbers or barcodes, much to the chagrin of my son, Mark, who was computerizing my library this past summer. More than once, Mark questioned me, “Dad, are you ever going to read these books?” I have to admit; at times, my bibliophilia gets the best of me. I must say, however, that among the faded books covers, there were some genuine out-of-print gems.
A reoccurring theme in the book stash that my friend gave me was how to make faith relevant in a changing time. The books came from the turbulent nineteen sixties when many faithful people were wondering how the church should respond. My friend was a progressive thinker, so you can imagine that the books of his library suggested that the church needed to reform. We needed to change the way we were worshiping, speaking about God, praying, and doing ministry. The answer was not to look back to the past but to look to the future with a bold hope. These books come from the time of Vatican II and the spark of renewal movements in not only the Roman Catholic church but also across the board of mainline Protestant churches.
More than one book jacket suggested that what was needed was to establish a connection between Sunday and Monday morning. In other words, to meet the challenges that befell modern Christians, the church of five decades ago saw that it needed to extend its voice beyond the sanctuary and a one-hour-per-week worship time. The church, which was secure in a culturally reserved and respected SACRED space on Sunday morning would need to engage with the PROFANE (or secular) space of Monday morning if it wanted to remain relevant in the lives of the faithful.
Decades later, as I put my friend’s faded books onto the shelves in my library, it seems to me that the church did not rise to the challenge in the way that the authors suggested it should. Not only has the separation between Sunday and Monday mornings increased but the whole sacred sphere of life seems to have shrunk. Consumerism has increased as attendance on Sunday mornings has drastically declined. Even those who attend church are not as regular in their attendance. As a society, we have let the secular/profane intrude on our observance of the Sabbath. The gift of Sabbath renewal is one that remains largely unopened.
Consumable products that are readily available on TV and online promise to satisfy our spiritual hunger. Unfortunately, the satisfaction is short-lived – like opening a bag of Cheetos. After devouring bags of mass-produced spiritual snack food, all we have to show are the empty calories and orange fingers. People are disregarding the deep-seated wisdom of nurturing Christian faith in the context of a community that gathers around Word and Sacrament in favor of the latest fad and celebrity self-based soul fix. When you fill up on empty calories, it has a negative effort on the body. Most of the time, it doesn’t even fill us up. We are left wanting. Hunger remains.
Once again this week, we look at reforming the church from the viewpoint of reforming the heart and soul of the believer. We look inward not to the exclusion of our connection with the community of Christ but because when we come down to it, if we want to see renewal in the church then we must begin with ourselves. Each of us has the power to make changes this day that will have a positive change in the way that we encounter and respond to God and the world that Christ loves from the vantage point of the cross. I can’t change your heart, but through the power of the Spirit working within me, I am empowered to do some soul searching and soul improvements of my own. I start with desiring and longing for God in my life and I invite you to do the same.
Building on the ideas we discussed last week about moving from transactional spirituality to relational spirituality, this week we look at reforming the way we imagine sacred space. Do we make divisions between our sacred lives and the rest of life? Do we maintain distinctions between faithful living and secular living? How might we integrate our lives so that our souls are nurtured in every moment, whether or not it is on a Sunday in communion with other Christians?
Guiding us through the three blog posts of this week, where we will take up these questions, is a passage from the book of Isaiah. It comes from a time when the people found themselves discouraged by the experience of exile. They wondered whether God cared for them and if God could bring them to a place of wholeness. Isaiah assures them of God’s eternal steadfast love and abiding presence. Though God might get angry over the lack of devotion and the turning away to other sources for spiritual health, God remains faithful. Isaiah holds the promise before our eyes; God will not abandon but will rather comfort and bring wholeness and healing. Desiring wholeness and healing in our own life, we venture forth across the boundaries of sacred and profane.
Today’s scripture: Isaiah 57: 15-17
For thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite. 16For I will not continually accuse, nor will I always be angry; for then the spirits would grow faint before me, even the souls that I have made. 17Because of their wicked covetousness I was angry; I struck them, I hid and was angry; but they kept turning back to their own ways.
Prayer: Wholly and holy God, you are the source of our life. You have created us and all living things to live in connection with you in all that we say and do. Your presence is with us in each moment: at church and home; at work and play; in our generosity and our reserve; in our action and passive moments – always, always you are near. Sadly, we have responded in ways that separate and seek to limit your influence and guidance. We suffer from a lack of peace. Guide us back to you. Let us rest in the sure and certain hope of your presence. Allow for our desire to be focused on the path that leads your way. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Tomorrow, we will look at the need for integration of the sacred and profane aspects of our lives by lowering the boundaries that we construct to separate church from home and work.
Thank you for reading today's blog. If it was meaningful to you, please "like" below, on FaceBook, or share it with your friends. Feel free to leave a comment below. I appreciate and listen to feedback that encourages growth. In Eucharistic joy, Walt.