The Present Form Is Passing Away
Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 and an Excerpt from Campos de Castilla by Antonio Machado
Welcome to this Third Sunday after the Epiphany!
As we come to this time in our gathering, I invite you to take a deep breath and let yourself be here as fully as you are able, arriving to a place of openness, to receive whatever word there is for you today. So, as you are so moved, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer and centering from Psalm 19. God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
For the present form of this world is passing away. This is what we hear from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth.
And I believe this piece of scripture sings out to us today- not in a despairing way, but as a true statement of what is. The forms and norms that brought us here have cracked, been proven insufficient for the cause of equity and love, and what remains in many places are fragments and illusions. This Wednesday during the inauguration a mini sermon was shared through the words of poet Amanda Gorman, who said, “We've braved the belly of the beast,
We've learned that quiet isn't always peace,
and the norms and notions
of what just is
isn't always just-ice.”
The norms and notions of now, what is- is not the same as what should be. And this time has revealed that continuing to carry on with the proclamation that we are the best, the most perfect, the most moral will no longer stand. But as Amanda Gorman said, we need not strive for a union that is perfect, rather, “We are striving to forge a union with purpose…”
And as I heard that, I was thinking that this is also part of what it means to be the Church. There is no way for us to be a perfect community, to do what we do without failing or needing to ask for forgiveness or needing to fix things, rather we are striving to be of a shared purpose, bound together not by believing the same things about faith or life or our Greater Love, but instead we are bound together by daring to live out our purposes out together in community.
Most studies about American religion point to a rapid decline in participation and like trends in education, healthcare and disparities in access to the internet, financial security and inequity, the pandemic has increased the pace of what was already underway. Last spring, an article in The Economist contended, “The virus is accelerating dechurching in America: When it comes to organised religion, the US is looking less and less exceptional.”
For the present form of this world is passing away…
And I confess that unlike many in my profession, I don’t see this as necessarily bad. Forms pass away because they no longer serve a purpose. So what if this is a time, more than any other in our lifetimes, where we are being forced, beckoned, pulled into the work of being a part of shaping the forms of a world that is coming into being?
For the present form of this world is passing away- these words from Paul, like a lot of scripture, are mostly responses to questions we don’t have. That is typical in the letters to the Early Church. So we are left to guess, piecing fragments of text and history, placing them within the cultural context of the time, seeking to understand it as wisdom for now.
Based on what comes before, we know that here in chapter 7, in the first letter to the Corinthians, it is referencing marriage and celibacy, but like a lot of things, that is merely the occasion for a bigger hope expressed. What it is really about is challenging the current order- challenging the current practices and mechanisms that “domesticated women.” Or as Eugene Eung-Chun Park writes, it was about a “disruption in the patriarchal order of their household.” He goes on, “The image of the Roman Empire, the dominant superpower… in the Mediterranean world, looms large in the background. Then it is remarkable that Paul’s eschatological hope envisions God’s direct intervention that would bring about a radical reconfiguration of such an order, however unchangeable and invincible it may sound.”
For the present form of this world is passing away…And at the very beginning of the experiment called Church, perhaps part of the purpose of the group was just this- disruption of harmful order, the reconfiguration of oppressive structures, caring to create new forms that need to be born.
Today is our Annual Meeting, which is our time to come together and celebrate and discern where to put our treasure and talents in the coming year. It is also a time to dream big and that is the spirit in which I am here today. In the face of a hurting world, in a time when I am often awake in the middle of the night worrying, I am also dreaming big, because it is clear that the present forms are passing away. First we must name this and where we need to, we must also mourn.
The climate is changing quickly because of us.
Evictions and more homelessness are coming because we prioritized saving non-human entities.
Addiction and mental health crises are spiraling out of control, in Boulder County and beyond.
Children are going hungry, while Americans waste more food than ever.
These are symptoms of our culture and still we shame and blame those who are hurting because of what we have set up.
But here is why I have hope today- we now get to be shapers, creators, builders of new forms. Alongside the truth of the pain and the fractures between creatures and creation, the present form is passing away and some will rise to shape what is next, and we better be among them. Because we are uniquely positioned, rooted deep and ready to be a part of shaping, creating, planting, building, making, healing, shaking new forms into being as a church. I really do believe this is a special time in human history- a time we must live up to.
As Amanda Gorman shared,
“If we're to live up to our own time,
then victory won't lie in the blade.
But in all the bridges we've made,
that is the promise to glade,
the hill we climb.
If only we dare.”
The present form is passing away, or as the poet Antonio Machado wrote, “upon glancing behind us, now we see that path that will never be trod again,” which means some churches and business and organizations will die and it also means some of us can choose to be a part of rising to shape what is next. I don’t mean this in a theoretical sense. I really believe that many people will want to make meaning out of this. And also others will want to do that together. What if we, the Church, are made for this reset?
What if we let ourselves see what is needed for this moment and what if we just went and did that? What if we stopped needing to do what we have always done? We have already found the old playbook to be nearly useless. What if started shifting even our language so that Church is all that we do together, instead of something we showed up to for an hour? This is worship.
What if we used our incredible property more fully to bring our community together for singing and connecting, music making and creating?
What if we used our garden to support the wider work of soil regeneration, composting and healthy eating through classes, events and with our Sunday School, local elementary schools and our preschool?
What if we used our labyrinth and the depth of contemplative leaders to teach centering prayer and meditation to people of all ages?
What if we leveraged our place in this community to convene people who think differently and challenge even our own perspectives?
We are, we do, we dream, we bloom to life, Church.
Amanda Gorman said, “For while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us… When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid, the new dawn blooms as we free it,” So Beloved of God, let us free the big dreams within each of us, knowing we are bound together daring to live our purposes out in community, showing up to shape what is next.
Now that “we've braved the belly of the beast, and learned that quiet isn't always peace,” “when we glance behind us and see the path that will never be trod again,” when we hear that the present form of this world is passing away, perhaps we can say, thanks be to God.