Lately, I’ve noticed my writing has revolved around responding to sermon statements I hate to hear.  When said out loud they sound pretty shallow.  When considered with depth they just sound futile.  Perhaps I should create a top 10 list?  Any suggestions out there? Just send them in!  But for now here’s # 10 of “Blanket Sermon Statements Sure to Smother the Mind“.

#10- any blanket statement that solely places the decline of Christianity’s influence in American culture on the shoulders of postmodernism, abundance and/or technology.

Geographical Management

(also a good sermon starter for January 26)

If Mama Aint Happy...well, you knowI remember my first lesson in “geographical management”.  Simply put, Mom was mad at Dad, so I stayed out of Mom’s way.  I was about three.  I successfully repeated that well learned tenet throughout my life.  When trouble is brewing, go the opposite direction.  Sounds simple enough.  The end game included plausible deniability and avoiding guilt by association.

Jesus never really caught that childhood lesson.  He ends his 33 year career as a carpenter and begins his ministry in a hotspot:  Galilee.  Any wise preacher would have avoided letting roots grow in this town.  Galilee was ruled by tetrarch Herod (named after the King Herod that chased the Holy Family at Jesus’ birth).  Like his namesake, tetrarch Herod overreached his power by arresting, imprisoning and beheading John the Baptist who lived and preached in Judea, not Galilee.  In addition to that staggering fact, Galilee was an ancient dumping ground of cultures.  Whenever Rome had a disturbance in the country, they geographically dispersed the ethic group by sending a portion of them to Galilee.  The hodgepodge of cultures and language greatly reduced the possibility of a united uprising.  Perhaps that is why tetrarch Herod had the time and energy to seek out John the Baptist, who criticized his marriage to his brother’s wife.  Of all the places available, Jesus sets up shop in Galilee.

Jesus leans into the discomfort of Galilee and being green.  He is a young man from a no-name town and no-name family preaching good news to a group of oppressed misfits with little to no support.  If ever there was a time for tetrarch Herod to squash him, it was now; before the crowd gathered to listen, before the healings, before the miracles.  For the adult Jesus, this is vulnerability.  And for most of us this is what we avoid (sometimes at all costs).  Would we ever follow Jesus by taking such great risks and feeling vulnerable?  Imagine sharing a new idea at work (in front of everyone), holding a family member accountable for bad behavior, or purposely including an awkward person in a group activity.  Yes, things could go horribly wrong and your nerves will probably be on edge the whole time, but welcome to the world of human vulnerability. Success is not guaranteed.  If anything failure will be your guide.  However, let your strength come from knowing that Jesus walked the same emotional path as he trudged through the streets of Galilee for the first time (these people could reject me!), when he heard his cousin, John the Baptist, had been arrested (is Herod coming after me too?)and when he invited the first disciples to follow him (will they accept?).

The vulnerability of Jesus (from conception to the cross) explains to us why Christianity is growing in third world countries.  For example The United Methodist Church actually grew by 25% between 1999-2009, and remains on an increasing growth pace worldwide, just not in the US or some parts of Europe.  Many preachers have blamed the decline of Christianity on our country’s loose morals and/or our economic luxuries.  My explanation is rooted in the vulnerability.  Christianity best serves those who are vulnerable.  Those in third world countries have unstable governments who cannot provide safety, food security is always an issue and some sovereignties persecute Christians by violent means.  These situations illustrate vulnerability.  If I were in these situations, I would take great comfort, strength and peace following a Jesus who endured and ultimately overcame.  While we do not share the level of vulnerability our third world Christian brothers and sisters experience, we can follow Jesus by leaning into the vulnerability that lies outside our front doors of our churches as well as those near and dear to our hearts.

Church and postmodern cultureLeaning into the discomfort of  being vulnerable is defined by risk taking for individual Christians as well as faith communities.  We will fail (as well as succeed) but we will learn.  And those lessons will lead to future success, personally and collectively.  As far as our postmodern culture, American abundance and technology (often blamed for Christianity’s American decline) I encourage postmodern people to express gratitude for what we have and make use of the resources God has seen fit to send our way.  Gratitude and vulnerability is the path, not guilt trips and shame fests.  The path Jesus sets in one of risk taking vulnerability.  Do we dare follow?