Monday, October 20, 2014

The One about a busy life

Does it seem to you that life has gotten busier?  When someone asks you, "How are you doing," is your response, "I'm so busy."  Busy seems to be the new normal, doesn't it?  The busier you are, the more you confirm that you belong here.  Being busy is an essential part of American life. We live in a 24/7/365 world now.  Nothing stops.  Ever.  And if you stop, you might miss something or be missed. Do not get off this train or you will die.  Keep up or get out.    In the last month,have you lost sleep?  Have you felt overwhelmed? Have you experienced frustration with your excessively full schedule?  Have you played tag team with your spouse, like ships passing in the night? Do you think that if you don't do this thing, you will have failed?  Do you ever feel that kind of pressure?  For yourself or your kids?  

Monday, August 18, 2014

the one about the temper tantrum

So I’m at the grocery store the other day and as I turn the aisle I see at the other end a scene.  A mom with four little ones is wrestling with a girl about 3 who is wriggling on the floor and screaming at the top of her lungs.  She’s crying and screaming out words of a language I can’t understand but the mom is saying; I told you, NO.  You cannot have a soda in the store.  Just then she looks up.  She sees me watching this scene. I froze.  What was my face saying?  Did she feel judged?  Embarrassed?  Or was she sort of used to public displays of torture?  I wanted to become invisible.  I imagine she did too.   I mean we were alone in the aisle and how could you not look.  I quickly turned to the soup and pretended to get interested in minestrone.  Meanwhile the little girl is on the floor kicking and screaming like she was resisting arrest.  I turned around and exited the aisle, but the screaming continued.
Are you familiar with this scene? Have you witnessed a child go nuclear on a parent in a pubic setting? Restaurants, stores, doctor’s offices, even fun places like theme parks.  What sort of responses have you witnessed?  I’ve seen every response, from parents pretending to ignore the miniature terrorist to parents carrying the child out of the public place on their shoulder like a bag of angry potatoes.  While the child continues to punch, kick, and scream.  Maybe your familiarity is more intimate.  You’ve been that parent.  Suddenly, when the meltdown that typically begins with the word “no”, is in full force, you feel like you’re both alone and on stage in front of a live studio audience at the same time. Right?  It’s pretty awful. You want the Marines, a clinical psychiatrist, and the child’s grandparents to intervene.  Right?  Get me out of here.  Embarrassment and frustration.  You try to remain calm, but you want to lock the kid up in a sound proof room for 24 hours of solitary confinement.  And you want to be transported to a private beach with that novel you started two months ago that you haven’t had time to continue reading because you are a parent and you are exhausted.
 Ah parenting. It has its moments of joy and exasperation.  Now what about a parent whose child has a chronic condition of some sort.  We are pretty compassionate toward people with a child who has a disability, I suspect.  That must be hard. But what about children with behavioral disabilities or mental illness.  There is a disorder called oppositional defiant disorder. 
Mayo clinic website says: “It may be difficult at times to recognize the difference between a strong-willed or emotional child and one with oppositional defiant disorder. It's normal to exhibit oppositional behavior at certain stages of a child's development. But there is a range between the usual independence-seeking behavior of children and that of oppositional defiant disorder.
Signs of ODD generally begin before a child is 8 years old. Sometimes ODD may develop later, but almost always before the early teen years. When ODD behavior develops, the signs tend to begin gradually and then worsen over months or years.
Your child may be displaying signs of ODD instead of normal moodiness if the behaviors:
·         Are persistent
·         Have lasted at least six months
·         Are clearly disruptive to the family and home or school environment
The following are behaviors associated with ODD:
·         Negativity
·         Defiance
·         Disobedience
·         Hostility directed toward authority figures
These behaviors might cause your child to regularly and consistently:
·         Have temper tantrums
·         Be argumentative with adults
·         Refuse to comply with adult requests or rules
·         Annoy other people deliberately
·         Blames others for mistakes or misbehavior
·         Acts touchy and is easily annoyed
·         Feel anger and resentment
·         Be spiteful or vindictive
·         Act aggressively toward peers
·         Have difficulty maintaining friendships
·         Have academic problems
·         Feel a lack of self-esteem
ODD.  That’s odd. Its also tragically disruptive behavior.  My cousin’s son was diagnosed with it.  They’ve been treating him for years. There’s been improvement, but it has made socialization, schooling, and work very difficult for him. The nature vs. nurture argument tends to look at the parents with judgment.  No discipline there.  But what if there are people, children, who suffer from an illness that causes bad behavior?   
My grandma Morse used to babysit kids.  She had one little girl she affectionately called the demon child.  This little girl was a sharknado inside a hurricane. She was mean and threw a tantrum every day.  She was caught stealing and ended up in jail by the time she was a teen.
Jesus goes to tyre and sidon. There is no reason for him to go there.  He has no itinerary.  He has not found a hotel deal there.  He goes where he is led to go.  And even Jesus, the man, is sometimes led to places and to people whom he would rather avoid.  As they arrive a woman appears.  She is yelling at him, ‘Lord, son of David have mercy on me.”  This is Matthew’s code to us:  This woman has faith in Jesus already planted in her heart before he arrives.  Picture a young African woman, dressed in rags, coming toward them.  She is crying.  And the compassionate healer ignores her?  The disciples compel him to send her away.  He treats her like an outcast.  Culturally she is, to the Jewish man, a nobody.  Invisible, untouchable, untreatable. But she persists in her begging.  She begs for her sick daughter, a demon child, with a violent temper.  Jesus refuses to console her help.  He will not share the children’s bread with the dogs.  His power is reserved for Israel.  She is not eligible.  There are limits and boundaries to his service. But she is not looking for Jesus to feed the world, just give her a crumb.  Not a bonfire of holiness, but a single matchstick. Not a global vaccine but a single pill.  She is bold to even ask twice.  Her desperation is demonstrative of a mother’s unyielding love.  What we wouldn’t do for our children, even in their worst or darkest moments.
And Jesus is changed. He sees the light.  Perhaps his purpose is revealed to him in that encounter, in that moment of brave vulnerability.  A woman surrounded by 12 men?  What might they demand from her as payment for her request? She didn’t care.  She believed he could help.
And that’s what he does.  Great is the faith of the mother whose love made her fall on her knees and beg for mercy. 

There are parents in our community on their knees begging for mercy too.  They may never come to church, but they’re looking for Jesus.  The challenges are too hard. They are stuck, alone in public, and need help.  Jesus invites us to show compassion that transcends our own limits and boundaries. What are they for you?  Who is it hard to feel compassionate toward?  Why do we avoid contact with a struggling parent?  Fear?  Maybe just a word of understanding, a knowing look, and a, “I’ve been there, too.” Faith is not religious practice, it is trusting the Lord for help every day.  May you see it in others and give some of yours away.  Amen.              

Monday, August 11, 2014

the one about having enough

I came back from Minneapolis to be with you today.  Got in early this morning.  Minneapolis is a wonderful city full of Lutherans.  I was sent there to become an official mission developer, a church planter, called to start new ministries, new communities, new adventures with Jesus. I went because I was invited.  I came back to share my morning with you, because communion with you matters to me. It is my soul's delight.
Life with Jesus is an adventure. The gospel story we heard is a story that lives in my heart and bones.  This is why I serve, why Peter's Porch exists at all, and why faith matters.  Everything we need to know about Jesus and church can be found here.  It starts with "after having heard this" which begs the question "heard what"?  It reads like we walked in on a conversation or story that began without us, doesn't it?  And seeing that what they heard compelled them to retreat from their primary mission field, you might ask why are they taking a hiatus? I’m a few hours from my first vacation of 2014 myself. We all need a break from the mission field. Turns out they heard that John the baptist was dead, executed in prison by political rival Herod Antipas because John was an outspoken public figure who spoke unwelcome truth to threatened power.  His death stirred in them a need to retreat.  Was it grief or fear that sent them off? Or were they just exhausted from the ministry?         
Feeding of 5,000 is not a miracle to demonstrate God's power at work in Jesus. They had already seen that in his healing work.  No doubt Jesus had power.  This was about something else. I think it’s about having enough.
At the end of the day, the disciples are weary.  They want to send the needy away, direct them to fend for themselves. After John’s public ministry ended in death, maybe they wanted a private life.  Resources are scarce. They are living a subsistence lifestyle with Jesus.  There is simply not enough.  What they have is not enough. Do you know what it’s like to not have enough of what someone else needs?  It can be frustrating and painful to have unfulfillable demands upon you, to be unable to provide.  Sometimes, at the end of a long day, I want to send the needy away too.  We do a lot of ministry here, feed a lot of people.  It is unceasing.  Given their weariness and ours, how would you feel about Jesus unreasonable request, about the hungry crowd?  They were in a difficult situation until Jesus acts.  He turns scarce resources into abundance to share.  He does so through prayer, offering the bread and fish to God.  What he does is trust God and surrender.  But he does it precisely so that two things happen:  the hungry are fed and the disciples are participants in grace---free, unearned gift. They get to share what they did not have.  Jesus directed them to give them something to eat and Jesus made it possible for them to do so.  The writer tells us that they did so until all were satisfied.  Everyone had enough.  And then there were leftovers--Jesus makes it possible for this to be repeated again.  Serving with Jesus is never a one- time event.  It’s a way of life.   God does the work of making what is needed, the church's calling is to make it available and accessible for the hungry crowds.
The crowds came because they needed God.  They were hungry, sick, tired, sick and tired, weary, afraid.  They needed relief and hope.  They needed God or Jesus to do what they could not do, to do an impossible thing.  They came because they needed to encounter a God who loved them and they needed that encounter to be real, tangible, embodied in a person or a community that demonstrated genuine love with acts of compassionate mercy. 
Some of us come because we are hungry.  We are hungry for food. Physical nourishment. Some of us discover that we are hungry for something else too---healing, community, compassion---we are unsatisfied, we don't have enough. Enough of whatever it takes to live a good, whole, healthy, peaceful, joyful life on earth with others. We may not be subsisting like they were.  But we are hungry too.  A friend of mine said that the fastest growing demographic in the US are people who have never experienced the gift of genuine community.  They do not belong.  And people want to belong. Maybe you have felt like an outsider or a misfit or not good enough. I meet people every day who tell me they are alone in their circumstances and they need help. I have felt alone, that no one cared, had my back, held me. Maybe you have too.     
Some of us wonder if God can or will provide.  We see scarce resources and excessive need.  We feel inadequate, small, and powerless. We wonder if there is enough.  I don't have enough______.  Fill  in the sentence.  Or howI've had just about enough of______.  Or I'm not ________enough.Its about vulnerability and insecurity.  Will we have enough?   Am I enough? 

The story teaches that there is enough.  God does provide.  We have been recipients of food since before we were born because we are enough. We are worthy because God made us so.  We continue to receive. The center of this gathered community is a table with bread and cup because God comes to us and for us there.  Our task is to receive and to give and to take up the leftovers and to never stop doing it until all know the love and grace of God. That is called communion. Living in healthy relationship with God, self, and others. May you encounter the grace of God in the sharing of bread at this table today and may you share the leftovers with those who did not come yet. Amen           

the one about heaven

From abducted girls in Nigeria to unaccompanied children at our borders, we see suffering children.  War persists and the Middle east continues to breed violence. The threat of Ebola virus is becoming a very real public, global health crisis. When the world has gone to hell, people need a word about heaven---a word of hope.  A word of consolation and comfort.  And we have them today.  Do you ever wonder what heaven will be like? I mean since we’re getting closer? There are books about heaven written by doctors and children who claim to have experienced it.  They sell and become movies because people are craving a word of hope in an age full of despair whose only consolation is the next three-day sale at Sears.  People ask me, pastor do you believe in heaven?  What do you think it’s like there?  I’m not sure, actually. I haven’t given it much thought.  Maybe because I enjoy my life, my place in this world…I’m not dodging bullets, fleeing armies, starving, living in disease and filth, experiencing horrors and griefs I have read about and seen on TV.  I’m not saying I’m in heaven, but…it certainly ain’t hell. You know? And yet, the conditions under which so many of our brothers and sisters are living, the needs of our neighbors, the struggles of our friends---tell me that we all need something to change.    
So what is heaven like?  How do you see it?  Clouds?  Angels singing? Palaces of gold in the sky?  Eternal golf course?  Eternal all inclusive resort?  A sunny day, a meadow, a gentle breeze, a butterfly, very Little House on the prairie?  Or mountains and rivers and trees and houses?   
How do you get there?  Death?  Morals?  Good grades?  Faith in Jesus?  Is there a pearly gate?  Is St. Peter checking people in? Really?  I believe heaven is more than a nice vacation and a decent weather pattern. It’s something other than a post-death destination.    
Jesus tells stories to open our imagination.  To what shall we compare the kingdom of heaven?  But it doesn’t seem like he is describing the after life at all.  At least, not the way we would.  Instead he seems to image what is it like to live under the reign of God, to live in the empire of God, and to experience the power of God.  As a political perspective, the empire of God exists in contrast to the empires of the world---Roman, American, insert present superpower du jour.  It is a kingdom of peace, abundance, hospitality and welcome, freedom and compassion.  It exists in contrast with every human government because it is does not assert dominion for its own sake.  The language of Kingdom of God or kingdom of the heavens is about a time and a place and a way of life that is greater than any other. What life is like when God is King.  How does this kingship come about?  How will God become King of this world?  Or is God only King of the world to come?  Jesus’ ministry suggests that God is interested in this life, the here and now, at least as much as the life to come.   Healing the sick, feeding the hungry, raising the dead?  That’s the ultimate example of God’s interest in this life---the dead are raised, not taken to heaven, but restored to life on earth.  The kingship of God comes about through the inauguration of Jesus, whose coronation is his death.  Strange way to become king.  But, maybe God’s ways are not our ways.  So what are God’s ways?  What is it like when God is king?  How will it be?   
And so we hear these short stories describing what it is like when God is King:  Like a tiny Mustard seed, like a little yeast, like a small pearl, like hidden treasure in a field.  So first, the Kingship of God is small, subtle, easily overlooked, yet clearly present.  It’s easy to overlook the presence of God when life is hard, when suffering is real, when needs persist and provisions are scarce.  When bombs are flying and people are dying and children are crying.  It’s hard to see God when things are going wrong.  Even when things are going right, we tend not to see blessing, but luck or good fortune or accident or personal agency.  But Jesus suggests that heaven is small and subtle and hidden in the midst of this world.  Within reach.  Near us.  Perhaps unfolding, growing, emerging around us.  It is not somewhere else, but mixed in, deep in the soil, growing within.  It is inside and under and within.      
And active---in the case of the seed and the yeast, which both carry potential energy to activate a process---the first becomes a tree that provides hospitable shelter for birds.  The second activates the dough and compels it to rise to become bread.   God is present and actively engaged in the making of the good life, the heavenly life.  We might say that Jesus suggests that only because God is actively involved might the kingdom of heaven come about.  Not because we did something right or knew something special, but because God is secretly present behind everything good that emerges.  And perhaps in the bad that occurs as well.  Might God be within all things at all times? Like a hidden treasure waiting to be found?   
A nest, a loaf of bread, a field, a single pearl, a net full of fish…How else might we describe it?  A glass of cold water on a hot day.  A place to sit and rest after a hard day of work.  A meal prepared for you after a long journey.  A friend who comes to visit you when you’re sad.  A new job.  A new backpack for school.  A fresh towel and soap.  A comfortable and safe bed.  The sky after  a storm passes.  A phone call that prevents a person from entering dark despair.  An unexpected gift.  A hug from a stranger.  
How might we imagine the kingdom of heaven? Small, subtle, unexpected. Yet of unprecedented value when it is discovered.  Is that not the secret of faith? When one has faith in God and hope in His promises, nothing else matters as much.  Nothing is worth more.  Because with it and through it all things, the good and the bad, are under the influence and power of the God who loves all things and intends to restore all things to beauty, truth, and goodness.             

The heavenly comes in the form of a man: A 1st century, itinerant Jewish Rabbi whose teachings about nonviolence and compassion, and his ministry of healing the sick and feeding the hungry  led to his crucifixion by the Romans in about the year 37 AD is the King of the Empire of God, having come to destroy the malicious forces of corrupt power threatening to destroy the good creation.  He dwells among us.  In piece of bread, in tiny cup, in your life and mine.  As insignificant and small as we might feel. Heaven is not a place, but a people in communion with the God who raises the dead and promises that our destructive ways will not be the grand finale in his creation project.  There is something more. It is a promise.  Nothing on earth or in hell will separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. The Kingdom is ours forever.  Amen.        

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Come, for everything is now ready

When were you last invited to a party or a dinner with friends?  Can you think of a time when you were invited and you didn't want to attend?  Did you give an excuse?  It was for a family dinner, wasn't it?  When was the last time you gave a dinner or a party and invited others?  I admit that I enjoy a good dinner party.  I love a cookout with friends. I enjoy hosting.  My wife is a great host, but it wears her out.  She's an introvert and is exhausted by the time everyone leaves.  My wife and I have thrown open houses for large groups and cookouts for intimate friends.  We do so on a few occasions, not more than four times in a year. (We host family at Thanksgiving, too)  I was recently at a graduation party for a young person from my church.  We went after dinner for dessert, but I was compelled to try the chicken.  I was not disappointed.  We didn't stay long.  But we were glad we went.  When one does go, relationships are often strengthened or renewed.  Just by showing up.  

I recently read an article in the Christian Century called "Fibbing about Church." (Christian Century, June 11, 2014, p. 7).  The gist of the article was that, when surveyed, people lie abut their church attendance.  "On any given Sunday, even those with strong connections to a church might well miss worship."  Weekly worship is a thing of the past and "the days of full pews are behind us." So  why do people falsify their worship attendance, when asked?
In person by phone, people are more likely to claim more frequent church attendance than if surveyed online. The gap between the two surveys is attributed to social desirability bias, or the tendency to say "the right thing" or what you think a person wants to hear.  The article suggests that the survey is hopeful in that fibbing about church may mean that people who attend church infrequently may actually want to attend more frequently.  "Some of the people who aren't at church think they should be."  The article suggests that some of the responses are motivated by aspiration and not obligation.  Some people who do not participate, would like to be part of a church community.    
This morning at our regular bible discussion, we talked about attendance.  In a small church, absences are noticeable and make a difference in our life together.  Planning for children in worship is challenging when some Sundays 20 kids are here and some Sundays 2 or 3 kids are here.  We have seen many people's attendance habits change over the past 9 years.  And for those who still participate weekly or more frequently, seeing other people come and go and disappear from the community can be troubling and sad.  So then, we read the parable that Jesus' told some people about participation in the Kingdom/life/ mission of God.  What we read has implications for how we understand ourselves as church in this present context.  

Today's BS text:  Luke 14. 15-24. Jesus said, "Someone gave a great dinner and invited many.  At the time of the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, "Come, for everything is now ready."  But they all alike began to make excuses...So the slave returned and reported  this to the master.  Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, "Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.  And the slave said, "Sir, what you have ordered has been done and there is still room." Then the master said to the slave, "Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled."  What does this mean?
1.  God desires a "full house", all are invited and welcome.
2.  Anyone and everyone is to receive an invitation to the dinner. Include those who are naturally left out, ignored, overlooked, and forgotten.
3.  Excuses and absences do not cancel the event.  There will be a dinner and there will be guests.

So, out of this emerged a way of thinking about faithfulness.  Faithfulness is not showing up when you're invited.  It is not characterized by right behavior,i.e, proper participation. We think of the faithful as those who come to worship and participate in the life of a congregation. The faithful are "the givers." But authentic faithfulness, in this text, is demonstrated by the slave.  In obedience to the master, he or she invites people, any people, all people, poor people, blind people, wealthy and distracted people, I'm-too-busy-for-this people.  Church, at its best, is people gathered at table to be fed by God's abundance.  And it is invitational, open, welcoming, hospitable to those who are typically uninvited.  WE are this Church!  The good news is found in the food we share around one table. God, like the bread we bread, is for everyone.  Period.  This is what it means to be saved by grace. Unearned.  Prepaid.  Free.  No strings.  You show up, you get fed. If you are hungry in any way, you're invited.  You can make excuses. But, in the end, you'll still be hungry. So, stop making excuses and come to the table.
As for the church, we are not the church if we are not---before every gathering---inviting others to join us at the table.  Invitation is our task.  God does the rest.  Church is a people and a place where the hungry are fed. And God is found.  Or maybe we are found by the God who is never absent, always present.  And always making ready to receive you. YOU are the guest at God's banquet.  Not because you are right, worthy, well-bred, rich enough, important enough, or good enough.  You are the guest because God has said so.  And it is by invitation and participation in the meal that we are church.  Nothing more. Nothing less.
So, we gather for dinner together.  And we receive the Eucharist.  We break bread and Jesus is revealed to us and we are forgiven, healed, freed, and made ready to serve others.
So, church, let us exercise the sort of faithfulness embodied by the slave in Jesus' story.  Invite. Compel.  Invite.  For everything is ready.  And the food is good.  Amen.      

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Church is dying

In the past few years, a lot has been published, on blogs, in magazines, in books, about the dying of Christianity in the west. Or the death of western Christendom, depending on who you read. Even today, I read two blogs about church death. There seems to be a great deal of anxiety about this,on the one hand. And I am also hearing a fair bit of acceptance of it on the other. To say the least, there is a grief process, a letting go process, at work in the church.  Annd there is a fair biit of denial taking place that refuses to accept a "climate change" in western culture toward  modern western Christianity.  This shift rejects institutional, scriptural hegemony and authoritative universal claims of truth and morality.  This shift involves the limits of science and the seeemingly boudless output of new technologies. There are no longer competing sources of knowledge for human unnderstanding.  There is a dominant secular world view. And there is a radicalized theological perspective characterized by fundamentalism, religious fanaticism, and theologically justified and religiously practiced intolerance.   Even aas western Christians become mroe secular, the heaart of Christianity  is movving to the global south, where the poorest and most marginalized peoples live.  Those places that wwere colonized by western Christian missionaries in the last couple of centuries have become strong, conservative, growing Christian  movements.  In some ways, christianity is the face of progress in those parts of the world---providing sexual education and human rights for women and children, as well as health care and increased educational opportunities. 
I am a church professional, a pastor, an Evangelical Lutheran pastor. I am almost 40 years old. In that time I have witnessed the mainline decline from the front row.  The mentality among many of my elder colleagues is that "we're losing the war".  First, the non-denominational megachurch phenomenon of the late 20th century seemed to replace us.  All the young people go to ______________church (fill in with your local non-denominational megachurch.  Attractional, personaliity-driven, entertaining, and highly consumeristic these churches appeal to American cultural proclivities.  But the version of church is so American that it loses its spiritual center.  The cross and resurrection of Jesus, his presence in a community gathered around the gospel story, eucharistic fellowship, and prayer have been  neglected in favor of Psalms set to pop music and homogeneous groupings of people who agree on moralistic grounds.  Church becomes a place of moral judgement and rules that govern who is in and who is out.   But even the megachurch expression is losing ground in the U.S., to the nones.
The Nones are the fastest growing religious definition in the U.S.  They are people who are not affiated with any religious group or preference.   Some of them were never affiliated and some of them are disconnected and some of them have abandoned the religious life of their family of origins.   And while mainliners were distracted by church growth and megachurches and the perceived threat to their own congregational systems, we failed to see or hear the hard, necessary truth.  The church, in its late modern, western form, is dying and will die.  It must die.  That is how Jesus Crhist and the church are incarnated over and over again for 2,000 years.  Death and resurrection.  Faith in God reires hope in the face of certain death.  It requires an openness to Spiritual renewal, God at work in a new way to make something new happen that resembles God's ultimate reality, the kingdom or reign of God in, over, with, and for the world.   
I have written about this in my blog before.  Years ago.  I can't even find the post,  its been so long.  I did not, however, set out today to write about the dying or death  of the church as we hhave known  it in the west.  I have already done that and so has pretty much everyone else.  I set out this afternoon to write about life; the Life of the Church.  The resurrection of the church.  I can only tell you what I have seen and heard.  I suspect others can confirm these things.  These are the ways I see church changing.
1. Pope Francis.  Remember, I am a Lutheran---the first ones to reject the papacy and strike out to reform the church in the 16th century.  500 years later, a shift is taking place again.  We are discovering that there is no salvation, no justification by grace through faith, without justice and peace on earth.  The marginalized, poor, and oppressed live longing for a better day.  It is not necessary to baptize a starving and sick child, as much as it is to feed them.  Francis loves the poor with a Christlike love and is calling the church to renew its biblical calling to servve, love, and bless them as Christ hidden in their suffering.  
2. Relational diversity and deep acceptance of the other.  I have seen churches become people of hospitality and welcome that intentionally include addicts, people stuck in poverty, homeless people, gay people, sick and dying people.  I get to be part of a Christian commuity that increasinngly accepts people as they are, beloved children of the same God. 
3.  Koinonia.  The art of community-building.  Churches are building community with artists, musicians, Ex-gang members, ex-offenders.  Multi-lingual, multi-cultural communities.  Churches that are intentionally small, relational, and missional/incarnational expressions of the gospel story, trying to live like the community described in  the book of Acts, in the New Testament.   I see churches plant gardens and feed neighbors.  I see churches build parks and support their public schools.  I see churches teach English and reading classes to immigrants.  I see churches create housing for low income households, and jobs for unemployable adults. 
I bellieve the church is going to be smaller and more vibrant and more contagious and more impactful in the 21st century.  Small, immersed in the culture like infiltrators, bearers of light in a dark place.    If we could just stop talkiing about death-whose dying and why, what a good death is like, and what life support should be-and start living and breathing as the body of the one who died and somehow lived and lives and will live forever among us, so that the church lives forever on earth as sign and sentinel for the age that is coming, then our light will break forth like the dawn.