As we continue reading and reflecting on the book, "Beyond Resistance" in chapter three UCC General Minister and President John Dorhauer speaks not of "exile" for the Church today, but of a "new normal." When the Church universal struggles it's fashionable, and very human, to consider the past. Ok, but let's not stop at the last fifty years, let's go back some four hundred plus years before Lake Edge. In the 16th century the great mystical saint Teresa of Avila sums up this new normal Dorhauer's talking about, "Christ has no body now but mine," she wrote. "He prays in me, works in me, looks through my eyes, speaks through my words, works through my hands, walks with my feet and loves with my heart." Dorhauer explains, "Churches.. are called to believe in resurrection and hope...(but) many leaders in the Church (take) a sort of 'batten down the hatches, ride out the storm, and when things settle down take (just a little) corrective measure' attitude toward downturns in the economy(and with it the church)...but as one friend said to him, (but) 'John, this could be the new normal.'"
The Church of Jesus Christ was never about one single moment or one single expression of church. The catch phrase you hear in all the investment company commercials is just as true for our investment in the Church, "Past success does not guarantee future returns." The Church today must guard against investing our "spiritual capital" mindlessly or fearfully; waiting for a sure thing before we rise up in a world desperate for positive "returns." Dorhauer warns us, "Anticipating future needs and making adjustments (in how we're the Church) is risky business; and failure to get it right the first time can lead to something like: 'Well, we gave it a try. (But that didn't work.) So, back to what we know always worked before.'" Dorhauer cautions against a fear-based spiritual investment strategy, "Adaptability (grieving our loss, perceiving what God has to say in our discomfort and believing God is guiding us through the struggle) is... essential...to healthy and relevant communities of faith. It's never a question of will we change," Dorhauer says, "we most certainly will. It's a question of when, how, and under what circumstances." And remember this: It took hundreds of years to bring about the church as we've known it. It's gonna take a lot more than a few years or a few tries to bring about God's new thing.
A word of encouragement for this "new normal" is exactly what God's speaking to us in our Bible stories today. First, Jeremiah offers a word of hope to a people lost in their own Exile, "...the days are surely coming, says the Lord." The ultimate test of faith comes not when we're riding high on a wave of success (in church or in life). The ultimate test of faith or the lack of it comes if we can commit to the long haul and can see beyond what we might perceive as "a bad investment." Donald Musser digs further into Jeremiah's message and discovers a word for all of us, "The phrase 'the days are surely coming,' implies something will rise above the ordinary and the familiar....(The Bible promises) God's future is one of hope and meaning, brimming with promise." If we can believe and stand firm, and are united, to see it through.
In the Gospel, Margit Ernst-Habib, like Dorhauer, turns us toward the themes of "persistence and resistance." In the story of the "Persistent Widow and the Unjust Judge;" she says, "...the Biblical message...speaks about God's persistent, unshakable, everlasting love for us, for all of God's creation." Even when we don't deserve it, "God's love for us is so unshakable, we can trust in this God to bring about justice." But there's a catch. We must overcome our doubt and believe God will answer our prayer. Then there's the next problem...Is that prayer one of relationship with God and each other, or is our prayer simply for what we want? The later, as the first community of exiles discovered, get ignored.
In every Christian church we center our prayer on the words Jesus gave the first believers; the "Lord's Prayer" or "Our Father." But such a prayer only works through "hopeful trusting in God, not in ourselves." "Thy Kingdom Come" is about just that "what God wants, not what we'd be most comfortable receiving."
Ernst-Habib tells it this way, (In this Gospel) "the widow kept coming to the judge, hoping against hope, persistent, determined, and relentless. (The message is we too must) keep praying, hoping against hope, (be) persistent, determined, and relentless" as well.
Which brings us back to St. Teresa. Like her we've got to be persons connected to God in fervent selfless prayer, and also connected to the larger world in active ministry. A persistent God puts up with our shortcomings. We must equal that persistence within ourselves and each other. If we quit when things get difficult; we disrespect both ourselves and the God we claim to follow. It's in the face of this world's resistance that our true faith or lack of it is shown. When our situation hands us a world full of "No," we prove our determination in our willingness to persist until God provides enough "Yes" to overcome it.
"What does the Lord require of you," the Bible asks. For all the times we feel like quitting; in God's answer is found our own..."Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God."
If we truly believe when we pray "God's kingdom come" and we demonstrate our persistence in active waiting, it'll come without fail.
It's the new normal.