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 continues to pose—laid bare the proximity to death of a lot of our faith communities. Some 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 hospitality or holding on to 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 activates 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 in full Lenten living. And here is the final exam for this semester, with 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.
Rev. Molly Baskette is the lead pastor of First Church Berkeley UCC and the author of books about church renewal, parenting, spiritual growth and more. Sign up for her author newsletter or get information about her newest book at mollybaskette.com.