The gospel lectionary passage for July 1, Mark 5:21-43, happens to be one of my very favorite passages. It is the story of Jesus healing a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years, which meant that she was also isolated from her family, friends and religious community for twelve years, not to mention suffering from physical pain as well. But as I was preparing to write the sermon, something else in the peripheral story of the passage caught my eye and that is Jesus' words before he heals (or some would say resurrects) Jairus' daughter. He says, "Do not fear, only believe," and everybody laughs at him because they know what dead looks like.
You have called me to your church because you too have experienced a similar emotion of despair and fear about the decline of your congregation. And believe me, it's not just your congregation that is experiencing decline, an aging congregation and difficulty bringing in new people. This is a trend among most churches across the country. We are moving towards a post-Christendom society that makes us people of faith wrought with anxiety but I want us to consider another way to face this unique religious time. One way to look at the secularization of our country is to be saddened by the decline of church membership. Another way to look at the secularization of our country is to see that we are shifting from a cultural Christianity to a radical Christianity--a Christianity that is much more authentic, committed and real through and through.
We don't know yet what this new kind of church in this post-Christendom world looks like. We are grieving, anxious and worried because our current church is no longer what it used to be. In the midst of our heavy emotions, let us hear Jesus say to us, "do not fear, only believe." His words are interesting. He doesn't command the people around him to do anything. He simply commands them to have faith in him.
There is life for us, life abundant for us as individuals and for us as the church. We don't know what that looks like. Contrary to what the rest of the world says to us, we don't have to effort our way into that new life with painstaking work, cool music and attractions that "kids like these days". Jesus' words show us that we simply need to have faith and faithfulness. We need to trust that God is in the midst of us making all things new and resurrecting life when we least expect it and be faithful on our end.
One of the ways I am being faithful is by recognizing that I have been called to your church to, alongside with you, discover the new life God has for us. And one of the many ways God is inviting you to be faithful is to practice openness of spirit and trust in God. And together, we will, with faith, faithfulness, patience and joy, bring this new post-Christendom Church into being. I am so excited to begin this new adventure with you.
On another note, my family and I have never lived in San Diego (or near any beach for that matter) before so this is a completely new chapter of our lives that we are looking forward to. My husband, James Rogers, is finishing up his doctorate on a 19th century German theologian named Friedrich Schleiermacher and our two-year-old son Hugh, thinks that chocolate, water and hide-and-seek are the best things in life (many of us would agree). We have already felt so much love and hospitality from you and in a very strange way, even though we have never lived in San Diego, it feels as if we are coming home.