When I was a kid, I had a Sunday School teacher who would constantly foretell the Second Coming. Though no man knows the hour, she was convinced – every single year – that the Jewish Holiday of Rosh Hashanah would signal the moment for the clouds to open, for the Son of Man to come in triumph. The dead would be raised and the faithful would be caught up in the clouds. The wicked would remain on the earth to undergo tribulations of many kinds, and then we would all go before the Judgement Seat.
I was scared to death, because my birthday falls around Rosh Hashanah almost every year. I really didn’t want all of that sky-splitting, lightning-bolting, and judging to be happening when I was supposed to be unwrapping my presents.
In the evangelical tradition – particularly the Southern evangelical tradition – the Second Coming represents a huge moment for the Church. It’s the Second Coming of Christ, but it’s also the Coming of the Church Triumphant. It’s the time for the Church to finally be proven right, after so many years of living as second-rate citizens in the darkness of the WORLD. We get to watch as our righteousness is proven, our struggles are made worthwhile, and the wicked get their just desserts.
As a child, I never questioned the narrative. As an adult, I haven’t liked it much.
A rapture narrative requires a weakened church, a beaten church, a church that has lost all of its power in the world.
That’s not the church that I’d like to see in 2014.
But that’s the church that we see today.
We see a church that is losing its moral authority in the face of a generation that sees suffering as a cause of evil, instead of just an effect.
We see a church that is losing its witness, because it looks at the brokenness of the world as something other than itself.
We see a church that wants to pray for the hopeless, instead of with them. We see a church that loves sinners, as long as it’s from inside their sanctuaries. We see a church that hates sin, as long as those sins are not endemic to the church itself (or uncomfortable.)
The church of 2013 is defeated, it is resigned. It will not last the year.
To which I say, “Good riddance!”
Because the Church of 2013 was a church that was waiting to die. The Church of 2013 was always waiting for that sweet by-and-by, when all of these repulsive and disgusting sinners would finally get what’s coming to them – while the faithful sit it out in Paradise.
The Church of 2013 was too busy moaning and groaning that no one liked them anymore to notice that 2.6 million children under 5 (http://www.stophungernow.org/hunger-facts) die each year from starvation.
The Church of 2013 was too busy deciding how much they should exclude members of the GLBTQ community from community to notice that up to 40% of GLBTQ teens have attempted suicide. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_among_LGBT_youth)
I could spend all day talking about how much we’ve failed in 2013. (And make no mistake – I firmly say “we” have failed) Our failures are numerous, our sins are as scarlet. What’s a church to do?
The Church of 2014 will be the Church Triumphant. The Church of 2014 will recognize that we’re not the rescued. We’re the rescuers.
The Church of 2014 will understand that you can only love someone when you engage with them, when you sit in solidarity with them.
The Church of 2014 will realize that it does no good to pray for the homeless man, if we’re sitting at a pew or kneeling at an altar. We must pray with him, on his corner, in his alley.
The Church of 2014 will know that it does no good to look at the people who hunger and say, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled“, unless we also feed them.
And, the Church of 2014 will stop “loving” our Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer brothers and sisters in the safety of our sanctuaries. We will love them by standing with them – in the courthouses, in the churches, in the parades, in the face of injustice and intolerance – wherever it might hide.
Most importantly, the Church of 2014 will never again be that face of injustice, or persecution, or intolerance. We promise never again to stand on the side of power and privilege, while the powerless and hopeless are tossed aside. We promise to be the church of the gutter, the street corner, the crack den, the halfway house. We promise to mourn with those who mourn, sit with those who are sick, feed those who are hungry. We promise to be on our knees, our faces, or our feet for the helpless and hopeless of the world.
We promise to be the kind of church who follows our Savior, instead of just giving Him our empty belief.
Join me in being that kind of Church in the coming year.