"Take Courage," Image by S Khan via Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Take courage, get up, he is calling you.”
Whether you are preaching this Sunday on Bartimaeus or with a Reformation celebration in mind, this is an invitation, a mantra, a three-fold charge, if you will, worth considering. It is an invitation to a “be of good cheer” reformation, a stand up and speak out reformation, an answering to God’s call reformation. It points to the fact that the future of the church might just be at stake. And I really believe this.
I know what you are thinking. Bartimaeus did not have the church in mind, let alone the potential outlook of the institution we hold dear. But those of us charged with tending the church, representing the church, preaching in and for the church, defending the church, would do well to look for and rely on biblical models for what the heart of church should be and what is essential for its survival. And Bartimaeus is just that biblical character, just that biblical example, who shows us what church is – and exposes what church is not. Bartimaeus just might be the reformer we need right now. He just might be the one who could set a new reformation in motion.
Don’t misunderstand me. When I say that that church needs a reformation, I am not talking about securing the answer to declining membership, fixing lukewarm denominationalism, or solving the dilemma of closing churches. I am not talking about how to overhaul lower attendance problems, how to answer where have all the young people gone, how to ensure that the future is the children. I am not talking about how to attract new members, get more seminarians enrolled in theological education, or write better strategic plans. This is all a backward looking kind of reformation, a nostalgia for what once was reformation, a reformation that defaults to entrenchment, giving in to fear in the face of those who feign a confidence they don’t really have.
And, to be honest, I don’t think the church is dying. Rather, I think the church, and those structures and systems and seminaries connected to it, has lost its soul, and we are in need of a reformation – big time. You can tell when something or someone has lost its soul. Complacency and compliance are easy outs. Bottom lines trump core commitments. Voices of question and dissention get overridden. Procedures replace people, policies are chosen over relationships. Disagreement is swept under the rug. And, most egregious, those to whom we should be listening are systematically and systemically pushed to the periphery, deemed ideological at best, problematic at worst.
Maintaining the status quo is not the nature of the church. The Gospel upends that which has been streamlined and that which has been deemed acceptable by the masses. The Gospel demands to be heard even when rejection is sure to be the response. The Gospel insists on the fact that the shaping of moral imagination is its duty. And the church has lost its soul by giving up that responsibility. By choosing fear over good cheer, by staying seated instead of standing up, by turning away from God’s call because the way might jeopardize the broken and dysfunctional systems that keep it afloat.
The church desperately needs a “take courage, get up, he is calling you,” kind of reformation. A reformation with courage and heart at its center, that doesn’t sit there silently, but answers God’s call to resistance and persistence and then follows along the way. Recognizing an ecological God instead of an economical God. Believing in a creational God instead of a transactional God. Trusting in a Trinitarian God instead of a binitarian God. A reformation that doesn’t listen to the loudest voices, those voices that simply support the idols of prestige and privilege, of patriarchy and power, but challenges those voices, insisting that the Gospel word is the liberating word that might truly save the world.
I imagine that, “Take courage, get up, he is calling you,” were words that Luther might have heard reverberating in the margins of Romans. Any one willing to stand up to rejection, to keep on persisting in the face of rebuke, knows what it means to maintain a reforming spirit. The voices of resistance to reformation are loud and strong. The opinions of those who have miraculously managed to determine the objects of God’s love, which do not include the marginalized or minoritized, are held up as truth. Those who both tolerate and perpetuate injustice in the name of God, in the name of the church, have the upper hand.
Getting on board with Bartimaeus will not be easy, not even close. But risk and resolve is central to reformation. And when the church forgets this, well, then it no longer has any business being church.
Will the church take heart, embody courage, be of good cheer? Will the church get up and stand up? Will the church answer God’s call and then follow the way? How the church responds to these questions will indeed determine the reformation of its very soul.