Phyllis Tickle says that every five hundred years or so the Church has a garage sale. (Well, actually she calls it a Rummage Sale, but it’s the same idea). Every five hundred years there is a critical change or shift in history that necessitates the Church going through its “stuff” and reevaluating what we’re keeping and what we’re letting go. The Great Schism, Gregory the Great, the Great Reformation … every time the Church goes through this crisis, though, three things happen: 1) something dies; 2) something new is birthed; and 3) Christianity grows.
We are in one of those Garage Sale times right now. We have been for, depending on who you ask, the last 50-150 years. There are tremendous changes in our culture and in the world, and, as Len Sweet says, it’s a “perfect storm” of change: political, economical, ecclesiological, technological, educational, social. These shifting times may prove to be even more profound than the Reformation or the Renaissance. Tickle calls this the “Great Emergence” talking about the rise of the work of the Spirit in today’s faith communities all over the globe.
Each one of these times, though, requires us to do some serious culling in our closets, on our bookshelves, in our drawers and attics. We need to let some things go, in order to move on unencumbered into the new chapter of life together.
My colleague, Mary Marcotte, and I developed a project we call “Future Story” in which we work with sessions and invite church leaders to join us in writing a narrative about the work and mission of their particular congregation five years in the future. We prepare the writers by emphasizing: every Future Story is a story of resurrection. What needs to happen for there to be resurrection? Something has to die. The work of the church right now is to wisely and faithfully allow some of our “treasures” — our structures, our forms, our buildings, our programs … to die … so that something new can rise up within and among us.
God is a God of hope and resurrection, but holding on to the past or to the stuff or patterns of our life together even when they no longer function well to proclaim the love of God in Christ to our children and grandchildren, let alone our neighbors representing many cultural heritages … this separates us from the resurrection work God wants to do and will do among us.
There is a new church coming … God is doing a new thing … we can’t stop it. We can only get ready and prepare ourselves faithfully for the trip to the new land. Our faith is in the assurance that even when we let go, God will lead us on. God will continue to build up God’s people and will continue to draw us to the Kingdom.