A Slow Movement
Indianapolis First Friends
Pastor Bob Henry
September 9, 2018
As we center down this morning, I would like us to allow the scriptures to speak to our condition. I am going to have Nicole read the scripture at the beginning of our centering time so we can reflect on the words and see how they speak to us this morning. To help us, I want to offer three queries: 1) What word or phase touched my heart in this text? 2) Where does that word or phase touch my life today? And 3) What is the text calling me to do or become? I will have Nicole read the text and then we will take a moment to center around those queries.
2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (MSG)
11-14 That keeps us vigilant, you can be sure. It’s no light thing to know that we’ll all one day stand in that place of Judgment. That’s why we work urgently with everyone we meet to get them ready to face God. God alone knows how well we do this, but I hope you realize how much and deeply we care. We’re not saying this to make ourselves look good to you. We just thought it would make you feel good, proud even, that we’re on your side and not just nice to your face as so many people are. If I acted crazy, I did it for God; if I acted overly serious, I did it for you. Christ’s love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first and last word in everything we do.
14-15 Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.
16-20 Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.
21 How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.
It seems like the authors I have been reading lately all have been wrestling with the busyness of the world. Quaker Parker Palmer in his most recent book “On the Brink of Everything” shares the wisdom of aging where in his prelude says,
“I am done with big and complex projects, but more aware of the loveliness of simple things: a talk with a friend, a walk in the woods, sunsets and sunrises, a night of good sleep.”
About 10 years ago, I started saying something similar in regard to the church. I was done with the complex over programming, the need for performance quality music, lighting, and ambiance, the almost “drive-up” style ministry offerings that were more about my choices than my needs.
At the time, I had been in ministry for nearly fifteen years and felt worn out, tired, aging, and not seeing this fast-paced-church-world ever slowing down. It was about attending every conference, offering every new program, and becoming a full-service church that provided opportunities while meeting very few needs – including my own needs.
I saw while in academia the church looking not much different than franchise and retail sales. We had our product, I was a seller, and the church’s job had become about retaining customers. Keep them coming and giving money was the way of survival. During this time, as I started to grasp what was going on, I wrote what I titled, “A Pastor’s Lament.” Here is what I said, (remember: this is not where I am now, but several years ago.)
I often find myself reflecting on ministry and wondering, “What the heck am I doing?
They call me a pastor. Some would say I am a “shepherd of the flock,” others “the mouthpiece of God,” “His instrument,” or “His hands and feet.” While yet others (like the church I grew up in) would say I am a, “called, ordained, servant of the Word.” Oh, all their words have such a nice ring to them and we say them in such grandiose ways. Yet, to be honest, most of the time I feel more like a used car salesman than anything grandiose.
“Sunday….Sunday…Sunday, join me, the pastor, for one BIG...” well, you get my point. This may seem harsh and maybe even a bit tongue and cheek or cynical, but it is all too often true. I remember a friend telling me once I was simply a professional Christian —meaning I was paid to sell Christianity. That hurt, yet more and more lately, I feel like I resemble that remark.
From the seeming reality of inspired preaching equaling the amount of cash coming into the church and the number of butts in the seats, to finding myself lingering in the parking lot often with false pretenses simply enticing “would-be shoppers” to see my views on issues, it all seems rather absurd and unreal.
It’s about as unreal as the bad comb-over, leisure suits, big stinky cigars, tinted glasses, and amazingly white teeth (that would make any dentist proud) used to make a used car salesman look the part.
One could say as the pastor, I have been reduced to making “the sale.” It’s my job to be everything to every customer, to manipulate them into staying and shopping a while longer. For many of us pastors, manipulation means keeping people comfortable and inspired. “Inspire me!” they ask as we sit there with our stinky cigar in their faces, questioning white-teeth-filled smiles, and wide ties trying to prove we have just what they are looking for. In reality it is just part of the advertisement lifestyle that pastors too often represent.
Sadly, the pulpit has become the “car lot” at which I live out this existence. Putting on the show with my obnoxious presence, never-ending smile, wacky facial expressions, and commercial spots for the big sale this weekend all begin to look no different than the videos, PowerPoint presentations, dramatic lighting, well-crafted soliloquies, and stage presence on Sunday…Sunday…Sunday! I begin to pretend that I am everyone’s friend and act different for each customer who walks through the church doors. They are shopping for entertainment, feelings, fixed problems and I have just what they want…or do I?
There is a sad reality in “used-car sales” of this nature. And it has me asking some personal queries:
· Where have all the real relationships gone, not the superficial pats-on-the-back to make us seem like friends?
· Does anyone really see me as a person, or am I just a character selling “church”?
· When do I get to receive, maybe even get the opportunity to “shop” myself?
· Who sees me off the TV screen, when there is no smile or tinted glasses to cover my pain?
And thus, I am found alone, used – much like the cars I sell. Late at night sitting in the light of my computer screen reading the giving records of the church, realizing I am obsessed with “sales” for my own survival.
So, in a final attempt at hope, I lean back in my office chair, extinguish my cigar, and open my “black book” (the Bible) instead of my faithful blue book and begin to read.
There I find a savior who didn’t need an advertisement agency to accomplish his goals.
· Who stands between me and my customers and offers a way better deal.
· Who allows me to drop the false pretense and find true success.
· Who says in a still small voice that I am somebody.
· Who says to stop trying to sell religion and let the Holy Spirit do His job.
· Who sees past my used-car sales persona and asks me to be His friend.
I finally realize I am worn out trying to sell this God-life. In my office, I begin to cry. I shut down my computer, shelve the blue book, take off my plaid jacket, and loosen my wide tie. On the way out, I turn off the “show room” lights and turn on the closed sign and head out the front door into the evening air. With my “black book” in my hand, I make my way back home.
Tonight is different, because tonight I am more than a used car salesman — more than a pastor. Tonight I am called —not to manipulate, pretend, act or even make a sale. But I am called to be who God made me to be —His success!
It was just about that time I wrote this Pastor’s Lament that I was introduced to what is called the “Slow Movement.”
You may have heard about this movement with Slow Food, Slow Money, Slow Parenting, Slow Cities, and many others. They each have in common an opposition to what Canadian journalist, Carl Honoré describes as the “cult of speed” or what Charles Hummel labeled the “Tyranny of the Urgent”: a philosophy of life that is controlling, aggressive, and impatient.
Take for instance in the Slow Food Manifesto, it begins by stating:
Our century, which began and has developed under the insignia of industrial civilization, first invented the machine and then took it as its life model. We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods. To be worthy of the name, Homo Sapiens should rid ourselves of speed before it reduces us to a species in danger of extinction. A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life.
Just think about your own life…how has our fast-paced world threatened to short-circuit real and meaningful experiences. I can’t tell you how often I meet with people who are overwhelmed by life. Who have lost opportunities to enjoy family, friends, even spending time with nature. All because life is just too busy – too full – and too like a machine. And sadly, too often the church has gone in this same direction. We are seeing it in our news today. Churches that have become all about programming, performance, controlling their people, aggressive in their preaching and ministry style and impatient with the world around them – mainly because they have lost touch with the real world. Instead of becoming a faithful and meaningful presence within their neighborhoods and communities in which they live, they instead become franchises pedaling a fast-paced faith and reducing it to a commodity that can be packaged, marketed, and sold.
Just before the release of their book, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, I began having conversations with one of the authors, John Pattison (who attended my meeting in Silverton, OR) about breaking this cycle in the church. He had been thinking about this for a bit longer than I had, and was wanting to try some things at our meeting. I was ready and willing. Our goal was to work at moving people from simply being “church consumers” to being co-producers or co-authors of God’s Story in Silverton, OR. If anything we wanted to make visible God’s Kingdom in the city of Silverton in a real and tangible way.
And that is what I want again to do here at First Friends in our own community and neighborhood of Indianapolis. And that is why we are going to be exploring what a “Slow Movement” would look like for us here in Indianapolis and its surrounding communities.
Where this all begins is reflected in the signs that Dan Mitchel has made for us as we entered here this morning. If you read them, they state:
Becoming a Faithful Presence in Indianapolis.
Slowing down begins with acknowledging that we are a called community. That we are a called and gathered expression of the Body of Christ in our particular place.
As a commuter church we have moved to the burbs and surrounding neighborhoods, but it is time we started to see our location here in Extended Broadripple as a new opportunity. It is time we engaged this community where we are placed. I believe we are here for a purpose as a demonstration plot for what God intends for all humanity. As more and more new people begin the journey of faith with First Friends, it is clear from what they are saying that they are not wanting a “franchised faith” but a faith that not only can change you and me – but ultimately will help to change our world.
So I ask that you join me over the next 11 weeks as we explore what it looks to like to become a faithful presence in Indianapolis and slow ourselves down to make a difference, and be a unique expression of the Kingdom of God. And as Quakers to be part of a Slow Movement – seems very appropriate – almost nature.
Let me close with this final thought by Gerhard Lohfink from “Does God need the Church?” He says,
“It can only be that God begins in a small way, at one single place in the world. There must be a place, visible, tangible, where the salvation of the world can begin: that is, where the world becomes what it is supposed to be according to God’s plan. Beginning at that place, the new thing can spread abroad, but not through persuasion, not through indoctrination, not through violence. Everyone must have the opportunity to come and see. All must have the chance to behold and test this new thing. Then, if they want to, they can allow themselves to be drawn into the history of salvation that God is creating. Only in that way can their freedom be preserved. What drives them to the new thing cannot be force, not even moral pressure, but only the fascination of a world that is changed.”
That is my hope for First Friends and our exploration over the coming months.
Let us now enter into Waiting Worship. Take a moment to ponder the queries in your bulletins.