Not long ago I brought communion to one of our members who was in a rehab center. The member shared a room with another patient whose television was on and on rather loudly, tuned to Fox News or CNN, I’m not sure which. I wanted very much to ask the other patient to turn it off or at least hit the mute button on the remote control, so distracting it was. But I didn’t, didn't dare to really, and so with the prating of some political pundits filling the room I set out communion, placing a wafer on a little, round plate I have and pouring wine into one of those small plastic cups we use on Sundays. Then I began to read the words that introduce communion, trying to compete with the voices coming from the television. The pundits gave way to a news anchor as I began to speak the words of institution, speaking them as the anchor spoke his words, nearly drowning out Christ’s words. The anchor continued on as we continued on with the confession of sins and when I came to proclaiming the good news of God’s forgiveness, the anchor was proclaiming the not so good news of the world. And it was at that moment that I wanted to laugh, laugh at the craziness of it, and laugh too because I couldn’t help but think that this was precisely what churches, and Christ himself really, are up against day after day — trying to be heard in the midst of all the distractions, all the voices, all the loud words that fill the air. Not even in the relative peace and quiet of a rehab center could I escape the truth that we are in competition with so much in our culture and we are losing.
But then another thought hit me: maybe this is exactly how we should do communion now and then to remind ourselves not only of what we are up against but also, and more importantly, what the challenge is. Maybe we should do communion with a television turned up loud, with cell phones turned on and ringing and texts coming through too, and with iPads logged on and continually getting our attention. Because this is the challenge for churches in a culture in which people are distracted non-stop, bombarded day after day with a million words, frightened by all the not so good news, confused by loud voices voicing fear, and a culture in which more and more people — young and old alike — feel less and less need for church: the challenge is to speak a word into this shipwreck of a world, to speak a word to a world that is hurting and to people in need of good news, a word powerful enough to be heard. There is no mute button for the world. Churches will always be in competition with culture and the challenge is to speak the word the world most needs to hear and to speak it in a way that it is heard. And the word we and this world need to hear more than any other word is a word of hope.
According to one author, beneath all the lesser reasons people have for still coming to church there is a deep reason and that reason is hope. They come to find the hope that God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ means; they come to be lifted in hope, the hope that God can rescue this shipwreck of a world, even transform it and bring peace, even transform them and grace them with peace down deep inside, the peace they long for; they come to find hope for the children, the hope that the children might come to have a belief and faith that would guide them along right paths in this dangerous and scary world; they come seeking the hope and healing of new life; they come seeking the hope that is Christ. And it’s what those who no longer go to a church seek as well in other groups or spiritual movements or belief systems. And if more and more people are seeking such hope apart from churches, then that means churches are not doing their job very well. Our job as a church is to proclaim the hope of Christ and to be that hope in our bringing and being Christ to others, to be people through whom the Spirit can work to bring God’s kingdom near. And churches should be able to speak this word of hope better and more powerfully than any other group or movement because there is no better or more powerful hope than Christ.
It’s the very challenge we face as a church: to live up to our name and develop new ways to proclaim the Christ who is our hope and to be the hope of Christ to others, especially to the children and youth and young adults in our congregation and community. And we are meeting that challenge by developing creative new ways to speak a powerful word of hope into the lives of youth and young adults, including a new youth group members, and a “parallel” ministry that will meet on Saturdays and offer a worship style that will reach out to young adults in the community. But to follow through on the proposals and fully meet the challenge we face requires the commitment of each and every one of us.
And the commitment we each need to make is the commitment to keep hope alive by
committing ourselves anew to Christ and to Christ Our Hope. That’s what we’ve been talking about during the weeks leading up to Commitment Sunday on October 9: “Hope Alive!” And hope is alive in our lives and world because Christ is alive and on the loose, and Christ Our Hope is still alive, alive with new people and new plans and proposals, alive in our welcoming all people, alive with love for one another, alive in our being Christ to others, alive with the hope that is Christ. But to keep hope alive requires committing ourselves and our time and abilities and resources to Christ and being people through whom the Spirit can work hope.
It’s not easy in a culture like ours, given all we’re up against and must compete with as I was reminded not long ago. But in our love for God and our commitment to Christ and to Christ Our Hope, hope will remain alive!
God be with you,