“Paul does not say to the Athenians: This is the encyclopedia of truth. Study this and you have the truth. No! The truth does not enter into an encyclopedia. The truth is an encounter — it is a meeting with Supreme Truth: Jesus, the great truth. No one owns the truth.
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St. Paul is aware that he must evangelize, not proselytize. …. The Church does not grow by means of proselytizing, but by attraction, by witnessing.” [Pope Francis, Homily, May 8, 2013]
QUESTION: If God were designing a Church TODAY, what would it look like?
Several weeks ago I accepted an invitation from a friend to worship with him and his wife. They worship at one of our community’s non-denominational churches, The Water’s Edge Gathering. This faith community “came into existence” a little more than six years ago and first worshipped in a theater in one of our city’s movie-complexes. Since then they have built a place for worship; they have grown from one service per weekend to three services per weekend; and, they have about 1,200 worshippers on a weekend.
I arrived around 5:45 p.m. on Saturday evening to find the parking lot quickly filling up. I noticed youthful individuals and families entering the building casually dressed. Young greeters stood at the door with nametags big enough for a 63-year-old to read. I heard, “Hi, Fr. Henry”, as I entered the building. Worshippers gathered in the lobby drinking coffee, water, and cold drinks ….tv screens in the lobby and a large one in the worship space counted down the time until worship began …13:43, 13:42, 13:41, etc. I joined my friends and got a cup of coffee …… as it was time to enter the worship space, I said “I need to go put my remaining coffee in the trash” … my friend said, “no, you can bring it in with you.” Sure enough, nearly 300 people were going into the worship space with bottles of water, coffee, and soft drinks.
At 6 O’clock sharp, seven musicians entered the worship space … 6 young men and 1 woman. There were 4 electric guitarists, 1 drummer, 1 keyboard player, and one vocalist. One of the guitarist’s had bare feet. We stood and sang 4 songs, what I consider ‘hard’ Christian rock songs … the words with art work were displayed on the screen before us. Prayer was offered by one of the music ministers. Then we sat, and a solo was performed. The young preacher, in blue jeans, preached for about 20 minutes and offered prayer. We sang another song. A humorist video was shown. And, we were dismissed. People left, uplifted and revived, visiting with one another. If you chose, there was an offering box at each door — no collection had been taken up.
I drove in my car, following my friends to dinner at a local restaurant — thoughts went through my mind. I wondered — where were these 300 people six years ago [as well as those who would attend the two Sunday Services]? Surely some were un-churched, but many must have belonged to other congregations. What is it that attracted them to this place.????? The music? The preaching? The relaxed sense of gathering?
There was one line from one of the songs that said: GOD IS BIGGER THAN WE ALLOW HIM TO BE. Wow! God is BIGGER than we allow Him to be !!!!
For us from mainline, traditional faith-communities — could it be, that somehow these folks are finding a BIGGER GOD than the ONE found in our places of worship? Is it this BIG GOD that is attracting them ….re-read Pope Francis’ statement…….. and the question: if God were designing a Church today, what would it look like?
On the first PENTECOST our BIG GOD rattled the doors, the windows, and “blew the roof” off the place — people were in-spired [aka “filled with the Spirit”], enlivened, and FIRED up for Jesus.
What’s so “new” about the new evangelization? New words? New attitude? New packaging of an ‘old message’? new Spirit? Are we defining “new evangelization” or are we going to allow the Spirit to show us what we need to be doing?
Shiner Beer in Texas advertises itself as Not new and not improved. Must be that they believe that the original is as good as it is going to get and there is no need in even trying to improve on perfection. Might be good for Shiner Beer, but I do not believe it will be so good for CHURCH today.
On the first Pentecost, all the believers heard the message proclaimed in their own language …. in today’s world that would be English, Spanish, German, Polish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, etc. Could we also think that they heard the word in the place of life in which they were …. IN OTHER WORDS, I hear the word where I am, and you hear the word where you are, and my brother hears the word where he is?
If …. if …. if …. we believe that the Spirit is alive and still revealing a message to the Church, then we cannot be about keeping the faith … or even worse, keeping the faithful in line …. we must be about sharing the faith and welcoming people into relationship with Jesus.
1. Begin with the person in the mirror — do you see a person who people would want to spend time with? Do you see someone who reflects joy and enthusiasm for life?
2. Listen to the message — the words coming from the mouth — are there words of life or words of death? are there words of hope or words of cynicism? are there words of excitement for life or words that dull the mind and kill the spirit?
3. When we talk about forgiveness of sin — do we only think of confession … or do we radiate a sense of God’s love that wipes out sin and makes people anew? Do we expect punishment and humiliation of the sinner — or a sense that God’s love can make the sinner whole again?
4. Do we speak about peace — or do we create peace by feeding the hungry, welcoming the lost, showing the way to the living Jesus, BEING COMFORTABLE with those with whom we find ourselves? do we build walls or bridges?
The first Pentecost was clearly a beginning … a crossroads …. every Pentecost is a beginning, a crossroads …. Six Pentecost’s ago, the Water’s Edge did not exist in Lake Charles, LA. Now …. some 1,200 people call it their faith home. In strict Roman Catholic teaching, this gathering would not even be a Church …. maybe a faith communion or a faith community …. but not a Church. What would a BIG GOD say? What would a BIG GOD do? With whom would a BIG GOD gather? Maybe we have forgotten, the Christian people were once considered to the “bizarre people.” Mainline-religion were critical of these people who taught a new and different message.
But then, aren’t we all part of one body? baptized in one Spirit? baptized into one Christ?
Are we trying to “tame the Spirit” to fit our understanding of Church? or, are we willing to let the Spirit teach us AGAIN what it means to be Church? or teach us for the first time!
We all know the definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. New evangelization, new Church …. requires someone and something different …..
Is this weekend a remembrance of Pentecost or is it Pentecost? If God were to design a Church today, what would it look like?