Ancient Answers

Guidance for Today from Scripture and Early Christianity


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The Church is Boring, You Say?

There is a false and pernicious idea that Liturgy is boring; that church is boring and irrelevant; and that is why people, especially young people, are staying away.

Personally, I’ve never been convinced of that argument. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Perhaps people find church and Liturgy boring because they are bored, and because their lives are boring! I’m not saying this to put anyone down or to imply that nothing about the Orthodox Church is boring. Far from it, I’m the first to point out the deficiencies in Orthodox church structures and ways.

But look around. People are bored. That is why we run to every new gadget, why we bury our faces in small and large screens, why we communicate with text messages and emojis and YouTube and Facebook. Because we are bored. Nothing Apple can produce will satisfy people’s boredom; we will always want more. That is why Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Sony, and other behemoths, are constantly updating their products. People need something new every day: because they are bored!

So should the church join the racket of the weekly updates? Is that what will bring people to Liturgy? Don’t be fooled. Why are there so many revolving doors in evangelical and non-denominational churches? They look full every Sunday, but how well do they retain people? These churches change their songs and videos every week, they look like they’re catering to the market obsession with “the new”; but they don’t retain members any better than we do, they’re actually doing worse. But they look full because there is a constant movement of people from one “relevant, up-to-date” church to another. It’s the secret of evangelical success in this country – the revolving door of “believers” who are often nothing more than bored consumers of religion.

Look at your own habits, as I look at my own habits. I don’t go anywhere, even inside the house, without my iPhone in my hand or in my pocket. How often in any 5-minute span do you/I look at the notification screen of your/my phone or tablet? Why? Because we are bored.

So don’t tell me church is boring. That’s a cop-out. But let me say it more clearly: Church is boring, you say? I agree that it is! But it’s boring only because WE ARE BORING!

So let’s get off our boring and bored lifestyles. Let’s turn off the electronic devices that are turning us into carriers of attention-deficit disorder. Take a sabbath rest from the market empires that rule our lives. That’s what two hours on a Sunday morning can be for you: an entry into a new kingdom, a kingdom of beauty and peace and attention-fullness. If all of us could come to Liturgy with such awareness and such need for healing from our scattered, bored lives, then the Liturgy will becomes more alive for us.

There is nothing more “relevant” in our lives than the need for release and freedom. God ordained a sabbath for good reason. God has known from all eternity that a sabbath rest from the daily forces that feed on our boredom and lack of freedom is the most basic need of human beings. But for the first time in human history, the sabbath has been eliminated and it has been replaced by enslavement to the Now of computer screens and smartphone notifications. Don’t be a slave to boredom. Join the battle for holistic, authentic living, rather than the fakery that aims to claim every moment of your life with false promises of “something new” but only makes you more bored and hungry for more escape from boredom. Reclaim your life from the machine of boredom! And then church and Liturgy will cease to be boring as well. It’s a good goal to strive for in 2017. HAPPY NEW YEAR!


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The movement beckons!

Meet John Doe is one of a groups of films that Frank Capra directed in the late 30s of the past century. The others are You Can’t Take It With You, Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. And a few years later Frank Capra also made that Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Life. All of them are classic examples of how movies can inspire at the same time as they entertain us. No one makes movies like that any more, and I recommend all four of these films especially to families with children. The messages and values are timeless.

mv5bmtq2ndc5nzi4ov5bml5banbnxkftztgwodgxotyymje-_v1_sy1000_cr003951000_al_John Doe is a homeless hobo played by Gary Cooper. Barbara Stanwyck is a newspaperwoman who involves John Doe in pretending to commit suicide on Christmas night as an act of protest against unemployment and economic hardship. A national movement grows around the figure of John Doe, but behind the scenes D. B. Norton, memorably played by Edward Arnold, is using the movement for his own political purposes. When John Doe overhears Mr. Norton plotting with other big wigs how they will use the movement, John Doe decides to go through with the suicide after all. On Christmas night he goes to the top floor of an important building and prepares to jump off. The Barbara Stanwyck character has a gut feeling that he will do it and finds him just in time.

She pleads with him not to jump so they could rebuild the movement. She convinces him with words that bring the meaning of Christmas to the heart of the situation:

“You don’t have to die to keep the John Doe ideal alive. Someone already died for that once. The first John Doe. And he’s kept that ideal alive for nearly 2,000 years. It was He who kept it alive in them. And He’ll go on keeping it alive for ever and always – for every John Doe movement these men kill, a new one will be born. That’s why those bells are ringing, John. They’re calling to us, not to give up but to keep on fighting, to keep on pitching.”

Isn’t that beautiful? Have you ever thought of Jesus as a John Doe? But he was. He was not important in the eyes of the world. Even in the Gospels we read how many people considered him a fake. And there certainly have been many D. B. Nortons in the past 2,000 years who have misused and co-opted the name of Jesus Christ for their own egotistical purposes. The churches that carry his name have brought much shame to the purity of the gospel message. And yet, despite all this, 2,000 years later we still celebrate Christmas.

Yes, Christmas has been commercialized and turned into something often unrecognizable. And yet, it’s still Christmas; it’s still the celebration of Christ’s birth. And the movement is still alive, still changing hearts and minds and souls; still bringing healing and forgiveness to the many John Does and D. B. Nortons and Ann Mitchells.

I should also mention the other major character in the movie, another homeless hobo and friend of John Doe. He is known only as the Colonel. He is a cynic about human nature and he sees clearly long before John Doe what Norton and others are up to. There are cynics all around us, and there are plenty good reasons to be cynical. But cynics will never change any lives and they too need the healing that the Christ movement brings.

The four main characters in the film Meet John Doe - D. B. Norton, Ann Mitchell, John Doe and the Colonel

The four main characters in the film: D. B. Norton, Ann Mitchell, John Doe and the Colonel

Christianity is not an institution. It’s not a religion. It’s not a philosophy or a self-help course. It does not promote a feel-good narcissism. Christianity is a movement – an exciting, world-transforming movement. More than ever, today we need to recover the original vision of Christmas, the message of the original John Doe. Today the church needs to get off its comfortable place among the D. B. Nortons of the world and join the John Does who still have the naivety to believe that the world can be a better place, a holier place!

I want to be a John Doe. Do you? Let’s join the movement; it’s all around us; it’s in our hearts.

Merry Christmas!

CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM!

Thanks be to God.


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Six Commandments for the Church

 

Commandments spoken by Jesus that should define what the church should be:

  • A new commandment I give you…that you love one another.
  • Forgive.
  • Go and do likewise – not just Do likewise, but Go and do likewise!
  • Do this in remembrance of me.
  • Do not be afraid.
  • Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.

Because of these commandments:

  • We are to be a place and community of love, forgiveness and healing/restoration.
  • We are given life through the eucharistic gathering.
  • We are to go out of ourselves and do the work of Christ.
  • We are to be fearless.

Only the outline of my sermon today is presented here. The audio file contains the sermon.

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