May 24

An Advocate for Truth

On this Memorial Day weekend, I want to open today’s message with thanks to God for this country and for those who courageously sacrificed their own lives to maintain the freedom that we enjoy. We are blessed by God’s grace to allow you and me to be born in this wealthy and free nation, where we can be who we are called to be, worship as we choose, and live in peace. Let us always be thankful!

Two weeks ago, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center released a survey showing that the number of Americans who identify as Christians has declined from 78 to 70% since 2007. At the same time, those having no affiliation with organized religion has increased from 15-23%. Over 35,000 Americans were surveyed.

The category called ‘nones’, are those who do not identify themselves with a religion or denomination. They may have never had a foundation of faith or they have left the Church. Some theologians are arguing that these are the people who only attended because they felt it was an obligation that they were ‘supposed to do’. Others say that people used to attend church to demonstrate that they were good parents, or good community members and that church attendance is no longer a valid measurement for those issues. And others contend that the Church has been too rigid, unwilling to discuss difficult questions in contemporary times. It is a complicated issue.

Besides Memorial Day weekend, today we celebrate Pentecost. Red geraniums and the beautiful display in the Narthex represent fire and wind that help us connect to the experience. And Todd read the story from Acts about how the arrival of the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples like wind and tongues of fire.

The streets of Jerusalem were filled with people from all around the region celebrating Passover, Jews and Gentiles from different cultures and languages. And yet as the Disciples (filled with the Holy Spirit) began speaking, everyone could understand them in their own languages. At the end of Peter’s speech, he said, “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

I wondered if there might be a connection between the “none’s” in our society and the crowds in Jerusalem. The Gospel message is not limited to anyone. God didn’t play favorites, offering the same salvation through Christ to the Gentiles as he did the Jews. Truth in Christ is the same for all. How can we help the ‘none’s’ hear that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. It will require the Church to call on the name of the Lord and change its approach.

Later in Acts 2 we read, “Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Considering the difference of emphasis between the original church and today’s church, where the original church was seeking the goodwill of all the people and today’s church tends to focus on the survival of itself, is it any wonder that we are recognizing a decline as the Pew research survey has shown?

I believe the Spirit of Truth is at work in these declining numbers. Christians are being called out. Why are we attending worship? We can no longer get away with the answer, “because that’s what we’re supposed to do”. That answer is why people are leaving. If the Church is to thrive, Christians need to explain why their faith is important to them day in and day out. Maybe it’s a question that we are unsure of ourselves.

The High School graduates are entering into the category of the nones. Congratulations to each of you as you prepare for a new chapter in your journey. For your age group, I’m a bit late. But I want to say that if worship and church activities have felt like requirements to make you acceptable to God, we as the Church have failed you.

You were created in the image of God. He loves you and wants the best for you. He knows that you will make mistakes, and that’s ok. His love for you is not dependent on your successes or failures. Jesus sees you as more than a success or a failure. He wants you to be fruitful, which comes by obeying his teachings and nurturing a servant’s heart. In all that you say and do, bring glory to God. That’s the purpose of everyone here.

Engaging in worship and congregational activities are not necessary for God’s approval. The Christian faith turns that idea upside down. God loves you first, and as a result of his love and grace filling your spirit, he wants you to WANT to participate within the congregation. A worship experience made up of people filled with love and grace, giving praise and thanks to God, is an incredibly powerful opportunity to feel the Spirit.