Jeremiah spoke of buying a specific field, and how he had given the deed to Baruch (Jeremiah’s scribe) for safekeeping in “an earthenware jar.” (vv. 8-14) He did not speak of the current predicament in which they – both Zedekiah and incarcerated Jeremiah, sure, but also all the other Israelites – found themselves. He spoke hope of a time when “houses and vineyards” would again be bought even as the invading army approached.
The words of hope from Jeremiah, Isaiah, and the other prophets are helpful guides to us as we seek to determine where we are and just how we should be living in our own perplexing times. This is, after all, a time of great political upheaval in our own nation, with intense polarization dividing us along ideological, ethnic, and religious lines day by day in insidious ways we often don’t even notice. It is also a time when Christian churches of every denomination, worship style, theological persuasion, and all other characteristics find themselves looking around and asking “where are all the people?” And, after asking that question, we also wonder just what we are to be doing.
The Atlantic ran an interesting piece yesterday connecting some dots, a few in ways I personally do not think follow, but which nevertheless provides a frame to this conversation of understanding how outside forces have changed the dynamics we encounter inside churches. They also shared some helpful data which can shine a light on what we have noticed in our own church community.
Go to the following link to see some interesting graphs: https://mailchi.mp/b1333bea6fba/fumcnewsletter-394940
First, something seems to have happened around 1990 which set off an accelerating trend toward religious dis- or un-affiliation which today stands at roughly 1 in 4 Americans, or a little over 80 million people who are atheist, agnostic, or have pieced together a practice which works for them. The trend is more pronounced in particular age groups which signal that this is only the beginning.
This means that for myself and those younger than me, the numbers of those who are not members or participants in any sort of religious community are more of a norm than not. Given the ways in which several prominent voices in our nation have sought to wed particular political ideas to a generalized Christian identity, this trend will likely not slow down in any of our lifetimes. We, the faithful, baptized community who dare call ourselves Christians, are looking at a future in which we will live as a remnant.
This is the background to each and every conversation we will have as a church going forward. There can be a tendency in this moment to turn inward or, worse, toward voices which keep us frightened and promise security if only we are loyal and vote a particular way. The call of God is larger than any party platform. In this time of change, disruption, and chaos, what are we called to do?
Jeremiah is telling us once again to see a future beyond this present. He told a King fearing his own exile that houses and vineyards would be bought again; for us, we plan and vision for a future where people will be meaningfully connected to the grace, peace, mercy, and mystery of Christ, and where we as the people of this church will have a part of continuing that unfolding story. Remember today that you believe in, trust, and serve a living God. We plant seeds we may not see grow but which, nonetheless, we plant in faith. The act of planting in uncertain soil is, in fact, the essence of faith itself.
Grace and Peace,