Years ago a friend who had served very
effectively in a United Methodist Church moved to another city to join
the staff of a nondenominational megachurch. He is gifted in youth
ministry and music and became a worship leader in the new setting. When
I was there for a meeting later I joined them for worship on a
This week is the Second Sunday of Easter, aka "low Sunday." There
is in the life of a church a movement and momentum toward Easter Sunday, and
then inevitably a scattering, a rest after the intensity. And yet the gospel
lesson does wrestle with the implications of belief, unbelief and doubt.
For several years I was an associate pastor on the staff of a large congregation. I often found myself preaching on the Sunday following Easter, a Sunday that's sometimes called "low Sunday." In the rhythm of life among God's people, low Sunday is the calm after the storm.
I was in Nashville with colleagues, and a few of us had made our way to the Bluebird Cafe, which might be called the mother church for country music songwriters. A quartet of men and women sang and played guitar for about 80 people from 9 p.m. to around 11. The music was beautiful, and I wandered out of the café with the honest testimonies of human nature and destiny stirring within me.
We are in the interim between Easter and Pentecost. Of course, we live
in an interim in other ways: we anticipate graduations, new jobs, the
resolution of dilemmas. In the U.S., it is as if we are suspended
between an old world--a disintegrating empire--and the emergence of
The reading from Acts offers a foretaste of Pentecost, only two weeks away. After Peter receives a vision
telling him that nothing is unclean, the same revelation is given to
the community—this is the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Where once we lived in a vital relationship with the earth, now we
obtain our daily bread by filling shopping carts and running a plastic
card through a scanner. This lack of connection hurts us—and the same is
true in our spiritual lives.
William Sloane Coffin once noted that just as there is ultimately only
one hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," there is also only one psalm,
the 23rd. You might select a different hymn, but the psalm that is on
the hearts and lips of most believers—and even those who reside at the
edges of our communities, emerging only on rare occasions—is the 23rd.
I remember a man at a congregation I once served who was an accomplished
house painter and a member of the choir. He was also a man of few
words, but when he spoke I listened. One day he said in passing, "You
know, Ken, on big services like Christmas and Easter, you don't need to
try so hard.
The Christian faith is never lived, taught or preached in a vacuum. There is always an alternative to it: another philosophy, another religion, another ideal. “I see that you have many gods,” Paul noted when he looked around first-century Athens, and indeed the Greeks had a god for everything: for wealth, beauty, fertility, immortality, warfare and more.
I am weary of parish consultants who offer pronouncements of doom, demise and decline; forecast futures based on generic assumptions about generations of people or styles of worship; or describe some congregation that is doing things so right that it is worthy of adoration and praise.