What will the world look like a year from now? Ten years from now? Fifty? One Hundred? I bet our ancestors asked these same questions. And I can imagine that some of them were extremely hopeful and idealistic, and some were fearful and critical—just like we are today.
Every now and again there is an article or blog about the future of the Christian Church. Some people believe that Christianity will cease to be the majority religion within fifty years. Others say that religion will play an even larger role in society in the next millennium than it has within this millennium. So how do we find out which future it will be?
If we look at the rest of the world, especially Europe, where Christendom has been predominate in society for much longer than the US, we notice a trend towards a secularization of the young people. Simply put: the younger generations are no longer identifying with Christianity. In fact, they’re not identifying with any religion. Some of today’s polls venture to report that nearly half of young adults in the UK identify as having no religious faith affiliation.
In the US it has taken on a little different form; many scholars call these young people who no longer identify with the church as the ‘nones’, or the spiritual, but not religious. Have we heard of this before? Today’s statistic in the US for young people who identify as having no affiliation is approximately 36%.
When I ask a lot of young people today about their understanding of Christianity, I get a few regular responses. One of which is simply this: why should I be part of something I don’t believe in? My question for those young people is also asked of all of us here this morning: well, what does the church believe in today? What do we stand for?
What will happen to the church in the future?
One of the leading Presbyterian Publications recently had an article I looked at where it stated that the PCUSA has a Public Relations, a PR problem. Today’s headlines in the newspapers tend to be about issues of same sex marriage, relations with Israel, declining numbers, and legal battles over the misuse of national funds and church property for congregations wanting to leave the denomination.
If one agrees with these observations, we can understand how many young people would be turned off by such an institution. A question we can all ask ourselves is this: ‘why would we, or anyone for that matter, want to be part of a church denomination that spends more time on issues that only cause us grief, anxiety, and division, rather than something that unites, equips, and empowers us?’
But there is something within me, that while sees all these negative things that are going on, still has hope for the Church. There is another story that I’m not so sure gets as much media time, energy, or even thought. God is calling us to be something different and unique. I think our scripture this morning can help us with this idea.
Paul didn’t quite know what was going to happen in the future when he was writing this letter to his fellow Christians in Colossae. He has ideas; we read about them in other places. But this letter was about being in the present; living full lives of faith in Christ TODAY.
In his letter we are given pretty clear instructions on how we are to live each day. And specifically, we are told how to live with one another. The answer? We are called to love one another.
In just a few short words in verse 12 we are reminded that we are not just some random people, but we are God’s children. God has known us from the beginning of our existence. We are loved as God’s children, and we have been chosen to live lives in God’s identity.
The rest of verse 12 will give us values and behaviors to live by: clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. These behaviors are not associated with most of the people that the world may consider heroes in our society today, but they are qualities that Christ himself lived and taught as he shared with us the Beatitudes and parables such as the good Samaritan.
Verse 13 adds to these behaviors, especially in dealing with others, as we are told to exhibit forbearance and forgiveness. It is in these two practices that we in turn understand God’s own mercy and forgiveness towards ourselves.
Finally, I would like for us to spend some time thinking about this final portion of today’s scripture found in verse 14: 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. We have learned that in order to love others, we must be willing to see Christ in the other, and to in turn become agents of God’s grace offered in Christ for the world.
But here is the question for us to think back all the way back to our PR problem we mentioned a while back: does love bind everything together in perfect harmony?
In a few moments we will say our goodbyes and leave this wonderful place called church. And the truth is that we don’t know what will happen in the future. We have our ideas of what may happen, but really we just don’t know.
We don’t know what will happen when we get home. We don’t know what will happen next week. We don’t know what will happen next year. We don’t know what will happen with the church, or the denomination, or the future of anyone of these young people we have been talking about.
But we do know about today. We know that we have a choice in how we live our lives today. Today we’re being called to live not by the standards of the world, but to live in the Spirit. We are called to live with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and most importantly love.
We may not know what is coming down the line, but we do know what we have in front of us right now. We have the opportunity to live our lives right now in the Spirit of God. God gives us this gift in Christ to live as God’s children.
And this is where love is able to unite us in that perfect harmony. There is this fantastic commercial that shows friendships of animals that one may never expect. In one scene there is a sheep playing with an elephant. A bear and tiger actually cuddle together. A dog and an orangutan play tag with one another. Now, the final message is what really blows me away: be together; not the same.
As we are called to love one another; as we are able to identify Christ in one another and become agents of God’s grace, our Creator calls us to be together…not the same. Yes, we may not look, talk, or think the same way. We may not vote the same way, read the same newspaper, or even call the same country home, but God does want us to walk together as we seek to live in the Spirit.
And it’s when we walk together that realize that we are called to become not just a child of God, but what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King would call God’s Beloved Community.
This is the Good News today: Living with Christian love means living together as God’s Beloved Community. Be together; not the same.
I think this is something that we can all get behind; this is something that we can point to when someone asks us what being a Christian or Presbyterian is all about: we are called to love, and we love one another not because we are the same, but because we are God’s Beloved Community together.
It’s when we acknowledge this gift of God in Christ, that we realize that we are not alone in this walk either. Christ points us to the table, where we go back in time with Christians of history, where we are present with those around us, and where we go to the future to celebrate with Christ victorious. It’s here, at the Lord’s table, where we have assurance in God’s presence in the world from beginning to end.
Friends, we don’t know what will happen down the road 1, 5, 10, 100 years from now. But one thing we do know is that God has chosen us, God loves us, and God calls us to live as children of God, walking in the Spirit, as we live into God’s Beloved Community here on earth. This, we can all celebrate today!