Kairos-Milwaukie United Church of Christ

iStock Image 1278765757 by SmileusAs my younger son begins his senior year of college, as the days grow shorter and the trees brighten into their autumn colors, I’ve been thinking about impermanence and how we learn to love what doesn’t last.  

You don’t have to pay close attention to cultural trends to know that the role of religious organizations is changing in American culture.  Across the whole spectrum of Christian denominations membership and participation have been in steep decline for at least the last twenty years.  (There is a slight upward trend among Mainstream/liberal Protestant denominations like ours in the last five years, but not a rebound to mid-twentieth century levels, and that’s another article…)  It’s easy to look at the religious landscape and long to go back – back to how things used to be – to cling tightly to the past. 

But I wonder if there is another way to live faithfully amid changes we did not anticipate or desire. I wonder if we can get curious about the way Christianity has changed across its whole long history and imagine what possibilities the current moment holds. 

In 2014 Fr Richard Rohr wrote: “Much of what Jesus taught seems to have been followed closely during the first several hundred years after his death and resurrection. As long as Jesus’ followers were on the bottom and the edge of empire, as long as they shared the rejected and betrayed status of Jesus, they could grasp his teaching more readily. Values like nonparticipation in war, simple living, inclusivity, and love of enemies could be more easily understood when Christians were gathering secretly in the catacombs.”  And then, almost overnight, the church went from the catacombs to the great Basilicas, from the margins to the very center of Imperial power.  

Perhaps in our moment the church is being cracked not apart, but open, so that we can find our way all the way back to the teachings of Jesus, and to the original creed of the church: “now there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, for we are all one in Christ.”*  Perhaps we are being called to let go of all our precious markers of identity, become traitors to our ethnicity, class, and gender and become a new people.  A people motivated by the transforming love Jesus taught and lived.  

As we continue our fall worship series on “revolutionary love,” I invite you to think about the saints in our community who have loved others, opponents, and themselves well.  Because even as the institutional church has often lost its way, saints and prophets have risen up within it, to call it back to itself.  Some of them right here in our community.   Who are or were those saints?  What did you learn from them about loving well?  What lesson of theirs shall we carry with us into the bright, uncertain, beautiful future?  

Will you share your memory with the whole community during our November All Saints Day and Thanksgiving celebrations?  Let’s gather and lean on our great cloud of witnesses.


*See Stephen Patterson, “The Forgotten Creed: Christianity's Original Struggle against Bigotry, Slavery, and Sexism,” 2018