The Church’s mission is to love. That is the great invitation; the great calling from Jesus. To love with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
I want to tell you all a story about the church and it’s attempt to love. It’s a love story between God and God’s people.
- It started with the All There Is. All There Is was all there was. This presence was pure Light, and Love, but a desire came in the mind of All There Is:
- But in order for Light & Love to experience itself as that, it had to create something that was not that.
- Have you ever heard the expression, “God is a rose that created a nose to smell itself.”
- If only the rose existed, how could its beauty be smelt & experienced?
And so boom! Bang! Out of this Infinite source came what we call creation.
- All That Is- or God- created everything that we can see.
- And this All-loving presence created what we call the relative world, with free will, where humans could choose good or bad, light or dark.
- And though the Presence longed to experience itself as Love and Light, it also knew that great suffering would arise when free will was misused.
- And so the Presence implanted a homing chip, a spark of light, inside every human being, so that no matter how much they forgot who they were, they could always return to this Divine homing chip; to this inherent spark of light.
- We weren’t separate from this light; this chip. It was like we were a wave on God’s ocean. We weren’t the whole ocean, but at our deepest selves, we were one with the ocean.
And this light was implanted someplace humans could forget. It was implanted inside each one of us. This light could be called “soul” or “spirit”, but it doesn’t have a name.
- No matter what we do, nothing can harm that soul. It always maintains the divine blueprint, that divine homing chip, no matter what happens on the surface of our lives.
Things started out okay with humans. But soon, there was conflict. Then there was poverty, and disease, and violence, and war.
- And the All That Is realized that people weren’t paying attention to their homing device. They weren’t listening to the light; to the soul; within.
- And so a man named Moses came, who even with all his flaws, listened to the Spirit within.
- And he heard this voice directing the people with laws to guide them in how to live.
Because the Divine Presence realized that when so many people didn’t listen to their inner divine birthright, they needed rules and laws to guide them.
- This worked for a time, but still people forgot about the laws.
- And a priestly class developed that became experts in the laws. Because there were lots of laws- over 600- so it became tough to keep track of them all.
- These priests saw themselves as more favored by God, because they knew and followed the laws the best.
- Not only that, the people lost touch with the essence of the law. It was like that story about the bus company in the UK. Buses kept flying past people. They weren’t stopping at any of the bus stops.
- Finally, someone got a chance to ask one of the bus people- “What’s going on? Why isn’t the bus stopping at any of its stops?”
- “Well if it did”, the bus employee said, “We’d never be on schedule.”
And so for centuries, God sent prophets to give messages reminding people of their divine birthright.
- Prophets like Jeremiah told the people that God desired the law to be written on their hearts, not simply on tablets, or on stone.
- God reminded Kings like David where people could find their inner light: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
- But still, the people hurt one another, and oppressed the most vulnerable among them.
The priests and people would make sacrifices to God in the temple, thinking that by doing that, they would please God, and make God happy.
- But God would say through the prophets like Isaiah & Micah: “I don’t want your empty sacrifices and rituals. Is this not the fast I choose- to loose the bonds of injustice and let the oppressed go free”? “What does God require of you, but to do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with God?”
So for centuries, the All That Is was like a zealous lover, pursuing humanity. And no matter how many messengers God sent, the people turned away from love; they didn’t listen to their deepest self; didn’t look to the light within.
- And so the Divine Presence had a thought. I’m going to send them myself. I will take on visible form, so that my people will know what I look like, and who I am- and so who they are.
- And so, the Divine Presence was born in the baby Jeshua, or Jesus, or Nazareth.
- And Jesus told people- “Turn away from the dark side” (Star Wars voice) and reminded the people of their divine birthright; of their inherent belovedness. “The KOG is within,” he said. “You are the light of the world,” he said. “You are the salt of the earth,” he said.
- And this Jesus of Nazareth not only taught love, but lived it; not only taught service, compassion, and forgiveness, but lived and embodied those things.
- And yet, like most of the prophets before him, the people in political and religious power rejected Jesus. He posed too much of a threat to the institution of religion that had been built up around the laws. His message was too simple. When asked about what was most important in all the 600 plus laws, he simply said, love God with all your mind, heart, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. In that is all the law and the prophets.
Most of the people in power were confused why Jesus appealed to the masses. And so, they crucified him. They put him to death. They couldn’t handle that much love.
- And the disciples were distraught. That is, until Jesus appeared to them, to show them that love conquers all; that death doesn’t win; that hate and fear don’t have the final word.
- Then, the disciples knew that the Christ presence would always be with them, to guide them.
This passion fueled the first centuries of the early church. There was a burning passion for God and for love that was palpable in people like Stephen, who suffered the same fate as Jesus of death, and yet, similarly to Jesus, cried out while he was being stoned, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
- But then in the fourth century, Christianity became the religion of the empire. All of a sudden, going to church became the popular thing to do.
- All of a sudden, Christianity began to be more about the rules, and laws.
- You had to go to Mass, believe this, or behave this way, to find favor with God. We thought we had to earn God’s love. We thought we could buy it with indulgences.
- And so once again, we forgot our divine birthright- that it was inside us all along.
And so, God sent more prophets through the centuries- like Francis and Clare of Assisi, and Saint Ignatius, and Mother Teresa, and Dorothy Day, and MLK, to remind the people of two things:
- From time eternity, we have been loved unconditionally no strings attached. Saints in every age have reminded us of to to go within to remember this.
Yet what scholars have noticed recently as they looked over the course of the church’s story, is that about every 500 years, we move so far from the core message of love that Jesus lived and taught that, as Anglican bishop Mark Dyer puts it, every 500 years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale, and “the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity, whatever they may be at the time, become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered in order that renewal and new growth may occur.”
- According to Tickle and many others, we are living in the midst of one of those 500 year rummage sales right now.
- We are living in a time where the majority of young people outside the church find Christians to be judgmental, hypocritical, anti-gay, and out-of-touch with reality.
- We are living in a time where churches are closing and declining; where young people are leaving the church in waves and not coming back.
We’re living in what Matthew Fox calls ‘A New Reformation’; what the new UCC General Minister and President John Dorhauer calls Church 3.0. Dorhauer, in his book “Beyond Resistance”, calls the church that emerged out of the Reformation Church 2.0.
- What many religious scholars are saying is that in the midst of this present rummage sale, we are birthing what Dorhauer calls Church 3.0.
- Church 3.0 isn’t all that different from Church 1.0 and Church 2.0. It’s still the same church. It still has love at the core and center of it.
- It just takes a different form, and different expressions of love.
- And because we are right in the middle of it, just like the Reformers were 500 years ago, we don’t know exactly what this new form of faith is going to look like.
One of my church planting teachers says that if we wake up tomorrow, and it is the year 1950, most of our mainline churches are already prepared for vital ministry.
- Yet the problem is, we’re no longer in the 1950s. We live in 2018, in a very different context, in which we ask: what do we need to do to be prepared for vital ministry TODAY, in 2018?
And so what I am doing- creating a new church like Agape Spiritual Community- is simply about creating a new space where people can love.
Now, if you feel fed by worship in Church 2.0; in the church as it is right now, I’m here to tell you, that’s okay! That’s beautiful! Everybody feels fed by worship in different ways. And if you are fed by worship as it is, that’s beautiful!
- Dorhauer would affirm that. I would affirm that. But what Dorhauer would say, and what I am seeking to live through Agape Spiritual Community, is that for many young people, and people of all ages, Church 2.0 doesn’t feed them spiritually.
- And so Church 3.0 and Agape are experiments- seeking to ask what forms of spiritual community resonates with a new generation.
It’s not about making Church 2.0 wrong. When Church 1.0 wasn’t working for many, Church 2.0 and the leaders of the Reformation experimented with new forms of worship, and music, and community life.
- And that is what Church 3.0 is doing, and what Agape is doing. We are experimenting with new forms of worship, and music, and community life.
- At the heart of everything we seek to do is our name- Agape. We open ourselves to receiving God’s unconditional love- to remembering that love inside that is who and what we are- and to seek to make that love real in the world.
- We seek to create spaces in worship and small groups and “taste and see” events where people can open to God and the sacred in new ways, and where people can bring their entire selves, and so love God with all their heart, mind, soul, strength, and love their neighbor as they love themselves.
In that, you might say, even though Agape is new, we are just as old as the early church, we’re just doing church in a different form. Church 3.0 and its many expressions may look different than what has gone before- we may have different wineskins, but it’s the same wine. We’re still seek to be faithful to the message of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus, and to make that love real in the world.
- It’s not about the form that our love and our church takes, but that we remember our divine birthright within, and are faithful to receiving unconditional love, and giving it away.