Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell – and great was its fall!
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matthew 7:24-27 – May 18, 2012)
Two things happened yesterday. First, I had a conversation with my son (who is also a priest) about the future of parish ministry. Suffice it to say that we both have misgivings and considerable trepidation about that; I, for one, don’t see much future for parish ministry unless the church makes some radical changes – too many are needed to discuss in detail in a short morning meditation like this one. ~ Second, as a member of a committee charged with approving assistance grants to local congregations, I was asked yet again to approve a grant to fix a roof. The roof in question is for a parish which is not supporting itself through the giving of its membership. It seems to survive on grants and the largesse of a single, now-dead member who established a trust for its benefit; without those funding sources, it could not sustain its budget. I commented to my fellow committee members: “I wonder why we keep pumping money into maintaining buildings for marginal congregations. We ought to be investing in health and this doesn’t feel like we’re doing that.” ~ Both of those conversations came to mind when I read this gospel lesson today . . . as did an on-line (Facebook) tête-à-tête with a priest in England about car insurance rates, capitalism, and the plight of the poor in which we both suggested that force might be the only way to change the world economic system. I suggested to my colleague that our agreement on that point “means that we are acknowledging the church’s failure to accomplish its mission.” ~ And then another colleague, a younger preacher active in the “emergent church” movement reminded me of this observation from Episcopal priest and author Robert Farrar Capon: “The church can’t rise because it refuses to drop dead. The fact that it’s dying is of no use whatsoever: dying is simply the world’s most uncomfortable way of remaining alive. If you are to be raised from the dead, the only thing that can make you a candidate is to go all the way into death. Death, not life, is God’s recipe for fixing up the world.” (The Astonished Heart: Reclaiming the Good News from the Lost-and-Found of Church History, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996) ~ The rains, floods, and winds are beating against the house that is the church, especially against the houses that are the parishes of the mainstream denominations. We have got to change in radical ways. We have got to stop listening to the world and start, again, listening to Jesus! Radical, by the way, is derived from the Latin radix meaning “root”; the change we need to make is a return to our roots, to Jesus and the apostles, to early Christian understandings of what means to be church. We have to change or the church will, indeed, fall. I think Capon is right – the church as it has become has to drop dead in order to rise again, or it will fall – and if it simply falls, its fall will be great and it will not get up.