A few years ago I picked up the book Everything Must Change by noted religion writer Brian D. McLaren. I was intrigued by the title – I guess that is the point of book titles, to make you want to pick the book up – and so I started reading. McLaren writes about a journey around the world and the various places he visited but this book is more than a travel diary, for McLaren writes about the problems he encountered and the solutions being used to solve those problems. It is a new look at the Good News.
This past Sunday, Christians around the world celebrated the feast of Pentecost. This is the day that celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and others gathered in the Upper Room. This was the fulfillment of the mission of Jesus here on earth and marks the start of the Apostles’ mission to the world. I like to think of this feast in the same way as Brian McLaren was thinking of the problems he encountered: Everything must change.
Jesus mission was about change, a change in attitude and a change in the way people of faith think about their faith and their mission here on earth. Orthodox Christians say that our church has not changed in 2,000 years, and that would be true about our theology, but the way we talk and interact with the world has changed over the years. One of the issues I often hear from younger folks about church is that church is not relevant in their lives. Well, that may be true, and I think it is something we need to listen to. The message does not need to change but the way we talk about that message does.
As a person who studies the interaction of faith and society, I have been paying close attention to the work and words of Pope Francis. What I find most interesting about his mission is that he has not changed one letter of Roman Catholic teaching on issues but what he has done is shifted the conversation. He has shifted the conversation away from a strict adherence to the rule of law to a more compassionate stand. The rules have not changed – he just wants us to change the message.
The message of Jesus was simple and it was all about love – love of God and love of neighbor. We can be the best at following all of the rules. We can attend church each week or maybe more often. But if we do not follow the simple rule of loving God and loving neighbor then all of the outward religious things we do become hollow and meaningless rituals. Our faith has to form and transform our lives or it is reduced to something that we merely do. If we are not moved to compassion for the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the hungry, and the stranger among us then our faith is hollow. Everything must change, and that begins with the way we think about faith.
We live in a very complex world that has many issues that religion can, and should, play a role in helping to solve but it requires people of faith – all faiths – to work together to try and solve these problems. We need to be able to put aside what divides us and concentrate on what unites us and work together to come up with solutions to issues. Sure there are important theological issues that divide us and we need to discuss these, but right now people are suffering and I don’t really think they care about our theological differences.
What all of this requires is for people to go outside of their comfort zone and to have a fresh look and approach to issues, and that is not easy for some. We can get tunnel vision and be blinded by the complexity of the issue and become paralyzed and afraid to do anything. Jesus made the blind see and the lame walk and He gave courage to those who needed it. He will do the same for us if we are willing to take that first step.
A change took place in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost. The Apostles and those gathered with them changed and became bold witnesses for Christ in the world. They were no longer afraid to speak and work for change. No longer were they blind to what had to be done. They took the boldness of the Holy Spirit and started work. I believe faith can be an answer to many of the problems we face today and if all people of faith could just seize the power of that Pentecost we could be that force of change that world needs.