Monday, April 18, 2016

No Going Back

One bright Sunday morning we were all standing and singing in our contemporary worship service. The music was great and the singing was uplifting and heartfelt, I'm sure. But, there was one line of one song that we sing sometimes that really bugged me. It always bugs me, and I've heard the same words in other songs and often in speeches or sermons or conversations or even in prayers. "Take this nation back."

What does it mean when a Christian says we need to take or win or bring this nation back? Back to what? Back to the good old days? Back to when we felt more comfortable and secure perhaps? Back when the world was not quite so frightening? Back when people were more civil and respectable?

Back to God? Just when did God really call the shots around here? The whole idea that our country used to be a bastion of godliness is based on a distorted, inaccurate reading of history. We can idealize the past however we choose. We can pretend that we grew up in some Norman Rockwell painting, but be careful what you wish for. The past had it's own set of hangups and issues.

Back then, in the good old days, churches were mostly segregated, and few Christians ever questioned why blacks and whites weren't allowed to worship together. Racism was the status quo. Back then, women knew their place and stayed at home to raise children and keep house, and not by choice either. The few women who ventured into the workplace were usually restricted to menial, clerical positions befitting their inferior status in a male-dominated society.

Back then, we didn't have to worry so much about civil rights or caring for the disabled. Back then, gay folks stayed in the closet where they belong, and abuse and exploitation happened behind closed doors, so we didn't have to deal with it. Abortions were performed down dark alleys in unsanitary conditions by unqualified persons with no counsel or support available to young women. Those were the good old days?

It might surprise you to know that a much higher percentage of our U.S. population attends church today than during our early history. And, since when is the Christian faith about moving backward? This was the mistake of the ancient Hebrews, always looking back through rose-colored glasses. The prophets were forever calling the people to look ahead, move on, to focus on the new thing that God was doing.

"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland." (Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV)

Certainly, Jesus came proclaiming the new work of God in the world, and taught us to pray, not "Bring back the kingdom," but "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done." The Kingdom of God is coming, already initiated in Christ, a transforming power at large in the world, this world, today.

I know we are confronted today by terror and violence and uncertainty on a larger scale then we may have ever experienced. But the answer is not our futile attempt to turn back the clock to a time when evil seemed more manageable. The answer is to be the people of God today, to love this world and live out our calling in Christ here and now. Our commission is to claim the future, not reclaim the past. There's no going back. Full speed ahead.

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