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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Like Runners in the Marathon of Salvation History

Welcome back to my blog! Over the next couple of months, I will be blogging on a weekly basis with the Acts of the Apostles as the text for consideration. I invite you to join in the conversation; please espond with your comments on the blog so that others can see what you have to say but keep your comments directed to the discussion at hand!

At annual conference 2010, I invited all United Methodists in Minnesota to read the Acts of the Apostles for themselves and for each church to do some kind of study or sermon series during the conference year. Many individuals (lay and clergy) as well as churches have been studying Acts and others will be in the new year.

My intent is that we look at Acts as inspiration and a comparison between the 1st and 21st centuries. What can we learn from the 1st century that helps us to see ourselve differently in the 21st? I invite you to read the study guide that I posted during the Fall as some background to the scriptures. You can find that at

While I don't intend to go chapter by chapter, I do want to start with the first chapter this week.

When I read the first chapter of Acts, I'm mindful that it's a critical kairos moment, entrusted to ordinary and sometimes uncomprehending human beings like Peter but also empowered by God's Spirit. It's post-Jesus of Nazareth and pre-church. It's a hand-off in the marathon of salvation history that hinges on all that has been with all that will be. What a moment!

I don't want to be overly dramatic here, but sometimes I feel like we're in a critical moment, too. Our transition is from post-Christendom to pre-something else! This kairos moment is entrusted to us ordinary and sometimes uncomprehending human beings but also empowered by God's Spirit. Peter interpreted the moment from scripture and called for +1 in the number of disciples.

It's easy to romanticize or idealize this 1st century moment when in fact the reason that they scattered from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and the ends of the world was because there was persecution. It was a hard and disruptive time for Christians but in the midst of the disruption, Christianity spread to new places, new people, and in new ways.

Today people are scattering, too. The next generation has scattered from the church, often because our forms of worship and our failure to live out the faith has made Christianity irrelevant to their lives. As people move or become discouraged with a local church, they scatter and often don't become a part of a faith community as readily as before or if at all. There are lots of reasons--many of them very socially acceptable like the increase of travel by many Americans--that makes a connection with a faith community weaker and weaker. While it breaks my heart that there is such a scattering of the people, instead of just beating ourselves up for it, I wonder what we might learn from Acts about what to do when there is this kind of upheaval in church as we have known it.

Phyllis Tickle in her book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, views Christendom from the perspective of major upheavals and how upsetting it was for many Christians and the church at each disruptive time. During these times of upheaval, people had to rethink what was essential in being a Christian but "because of the reconfiguration of those treasures (of tradition) into new shapes and vessels and accommodations, the faith they testify to was scattered across a far broader geographic and demographic area than it had previous occupied. And...(the church) was freed to develop a praxis, liturgy, and theological richness" (p. 27) than before. The church didn't cease to be but spread wider and deeper than before.

So do you think this is a "disruption" in Christianity that will allow the emergence of a new way of being Christian here in the US? And if so, what treasure do we bring out of our ancient tradition and what do we "bring out" that is new (Matthew 13:52)?

Is this just a discouraging, downward spiraling time as the church or is it actually a kairos moment entrusted to us like those hinge times in the past? Like runners in the marathon of salvation history, are we at the point of a hand-off to an emerging way of being church? If so, what is required of us?

Please share your thoughts with others!


Paul said...

We are working on the book of ACTS as a fall study and worship series in 2011. I would agree wiht the Marathon concept. Of course being a runner like I appreciate all running analogies. :) Somehow a relay race analogy also hits home with me. Each generation runs a leg and must pass on the baton of our faith and our wisdom. Somehow we have had a lot of baton dropping lately. Keep up the good work. In Christ, Paul Marzahn - CROSSROADS

Jayne Sue said...

I am finding it is more important to put actions to my words than it used to be. I can no longer just talk about helping others with food, shelter, etc. but I am required to be the one who offers the needed items to others. I am attempting to step out of my safe box and into unknown scary places and situations. Talk about a faith builder. I am also trying to always respond opposition with love and compassion rather than anger and judgement. That can be very challenging. I need to trust that God will lead the willing heart. I find these conversations in our churches to be good, necessary and God given.

DarinLee said...

I look forward to reading the Bishop's blog and responding on a regular basis. This is good!


Ed DuBose said...

Since I entered seminary (over 30 years ago!)there has been an important shift in our society. Going to worship on Sunday use to be the norm. People who didn't worship were the minority. Now of course, it is the other way around. As Church leaders we would do well to study how the earliest Church survived and thrived as a small part of the larger communities. I look forward to more reflections on Acts!

Lausten North said...

In the first century, Rome was expanding. Christ and his followers saw the problems with this Empire, spoke out about it, and I would have to say history proved them to be right. In the book of Acts there is a lot of talk about how to spread the word. One of the negative perceptions of Christianity today is that all we do is try to get more members. At some of our meetings, I can see where that perception comes from. I see the question for today as "the word is out there, now what do we do?"

Gary Korsgaden said...

I agree with the marathon analogies. We should all challenege ourselves,everyday to take our exercise work outs to a higher level. Likewise, we should ask ourselves, this day and everyday to step up our out reach to others. We all falter from time when running the marathon of life, the baton gets dropped the pass off may be not as smooth as it should be. We can only become spiritually stronger by picking ourselves up and carrying on. This will strengthen the 21st century church.