“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God.’” – Revelation 3:1-2 (NRSV)
Some of our churches, as Revelation puts it, have a name of being alive, but they are dead. Or rather, in the words of Miracle Max from The Princess Bride: they are only “mostly dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.”
Coronavirus – and the adaptive challenges it poses (How to virtual church and Sunday school? How to automate giving? How to make a skinnier staff?) – is make-or-break time for a lot of our communities. Here at month six of a pandemic that could wear on for years, some of our churches may be looking to the future and not seeing one at all. They just can’t make the changes needed to survive. They don’t have the know-how, or the money, or the will.
Some of our churches are dying despite having done everything “right.” But some of our churches are dying because of imperfect works in the eyes of God: neglecting true hospitality, or holding on to low-key homophobia and other heresies. Some are afraid of innovation, afraid to confront bullies and old conflicts, or afraid to be truly vulnerable and real with the people next to them in the pews.
God sometimes corners us so that we have to change – our institutions and our selves. Along our slow path toward self-destruction, God takes us by the ankles and dangles us over the cliff upside down to remind us how desperately we actually want to live. God injects us with a weak virus to activate our immune system so that we will get our fight back.
Now is just such a moment for us, individually and collectively, as people of faith. We’re a full six months into this pandemic, and here is the final exam for this semester. There are only two questions:
Where are you feeling almost dead?
Where are you coming alive for the first time in years?
God, wake me up, wake up my church, and strengthen in us what is on the point of death. We long to live. Amen.
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister of First Congregational Church UCC in Berkeley, California, and the author of the best-selling Real Good Church, Standing Naked Before God, and her newest baby, Bless This Mess: A Modern Guide to Faith and Parenting in a Chaotic World.