By Pastor Thomas Kadel
A couple weeks ago, while searching for something on the internet, I came across a poem – one written by Calvin Miller, a Baptist minister and writer. The poem was titled “My Easy Christ Has Left the Church.” The poem is a sad and melancholy one, full of irony and unveiled disappointment with today’s church. It’s a long poem, so I can’t read the whole of it for you here today, but here is it’s essence. Calvin Miller’s “Easy Christ” has left the church because the church has left the true faith. Encountering Christ leaving the church building the writer asks, “Quo Vadis, Domine?” (“Where are you going, Lord?” or “Which way are you going, Lord?”) and Christ answers only “Somewhere else.” “He left the church,” the poem says, “so disappointed that Americans could all spell “user friendly” but none of them could spell ‘Gethsemane.’ The writer later encounters him in slums of Djakarta looking for a scrap of bread in the dumpsters – a scrap that he could multiply to feed the hungry and again the writer asks, “Quo Vadis, Domine?” And again Christ answers, “Somewhere else.”
He encounters him in a cross-less mega church building standing between Larrie and Sherrie and says to them “I am He! Follow me!” And they told him not to be so confrontational. After all, they have a right to privacy. “Quo Vadis, Domine?” “Somewhere else,” he answers. “My easy Christ has left the church,” the poem continues, “abandoning his all-star role in Easter pageants to live incognito in a patchwork culture, weeping for all those people who cannot afford the pageant tickets.”
The writer calls out to him. “Lord, is it true you’ve quit the church? Quo Vadis, Domine?” “Somewhere else,” he answers.
Good morning, brothers and sisters, good morning on this day called Reformation Sunday. Today celebrates the beginning of the Reformation way back in 1517 and the beginning of the reforming of the Medieval Church’s profound abuses of the faith. There’s a little summary of the beginnings of the Reformation on the sheet in today’s bulletin.
But that was 489 years ago! Can something that took place that long ago still have anything to do with life in 2006? Is our observance of Reformation Sunday one of those artifacts of history that point to the oft-cited irrelevance of the church today? Or, does this significant event have everything to do with today, cracking open for us once again a door that, should we pass through it, would change you and me and us together in profound ways. I say the latter. We are once again standing before a cracked-open doorway and faced with the choice of passing through it or standing still where we are.
I make bold to say this because the Reformation of 1517 was not the first reformation of the faith. It was the second. The first reformation took place 2000 years ago and instead of writing out 95 Theses, Jesus Christ confronted the religious people of the day with the statement, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
This comes on the heels of these same people bringing to him a woman caught in adultery and trying to trap him by asking, “Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” It was a trap because if he said stone her, he would be affirming Jewish law, but violating Roman law (which forbade Jews from imposing capital punishment) and the Romans would have his head. If he said, let her alone, he would be following Roman law and violating Jewish law and the Jews would have his head.
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So, what did he do at this dawn of the first Reformation? He said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Their trap was the equivalent of them saying to him, “Quo Vadis, Domine? Which way are you going on this, Lord?
Then, he bent down and wrote something on the ground – something we will never know. But maybe what he wrote on the ground was simply, “Somewhere else.” “I am going somewhere else with all of this and if you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
Quo Vadis, Domine? Maybe these words are the most important words for us to utter on Reformation Sunday. Where are you going, Lord? Does he answer, “Somewhere else”?
Is Jesus, as the poem fears, leaving the church? Where are you going, Lord? Does he answer, “Somewhere else”?
The church in contemporary North America is in trouble. There are more Christians in their beds and family rooms right now than are in worship. Only three in ten American Christians worship on any given Sunday. Following Jesus has become for so many (as I said a few weeks ago) more of a hobby that we pursue when we can get around to it than it is a commitment to Jesus that shows up in the way we live our day to day lives.
We worship joyfully when we can get around to it. We serve faithfully when we can get around to it. We give sacrificially when we can get around to it. And, when we do gather for worship, often we are looking more for self-help tips for lonely and purposeless lives than we are praising the living God who is among us and who has already set us free. Quo Vadis, Domine? Does he answer, “Somewhere else”?
So where is Jesus? Jesus is alive and well in the African church where he is the center and core of life. Jesus is alive and well in the Central and South American church where he is the center and core of life. Jesus is alive and well in the small but vital churches in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union where he is the center and core of life. Jesus is alive and well in the underground church in China where he is the center and core of so many lives. Quo Vadis, Domine? Does he answer, “Somewhere else”?
Now, I don’t believe that Jesus has actually left the American church. But I do believe that the American church has largely left Jesus. We’ve tried to rope him into our culture and tame him. “Are you Republican or Democrat, Jesus? Quo Vadis, Domine?” Does he answer, “Somewhere else”? “Are you liberal or conservative, Jesus? Quo Vadis, Domine?” Does he answer, “Somewhere else”? Are you for America or not, Jesus? Quo Vadis, Domine? Does he answer, “Somewhere else”? “Are you Lutheran or Roman Catholic or evangelical, Jesus? Quo Vadis, Domine?” Does he answer, “Somewhere else”? “Do you bless the good people and give troubles to the jerks, Jesus? Quo Vadis, Domine?” Does he answer, “Somewhere else”? He is no more likely to take the bait of our questions than he was to take the bait with those who asked him about stoning the woman caught in adultery.
We will continue to see Jesus leaving the church so long as the church and its people continue to leave Jesus. That’s hard and stern, but true. Jesus just isn’t going to hang around where people have remade him into the guru spokesperson for a hobby instead of the savior of humanity. And right here is where the Reformation continues. We face a call from God to return to following Jesus and continuing in his word and discovering that Jesus isn’t confined to church buildings, but is sleeping on the streets, letting the electric bill go unpaid in order to feed his children, caught in the cross fire of distant battlefields, being hacked with a machete in Darfur and laying lonely in the nursing home around the corner.
And from our worship in which so many of us don’t even come expecting to encounter the living God we call out, ‘Quo Vadis, Domine?’ Does he answer, “Somewhere else”?
Reformation can begin right here, today, with a commitment to continue in the word of Jesus – not as hobby, but as the core and source of day to day life. Then, when this commitment takes root, we can call out “Quo Vadis, Domine?” And we shall hear, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Quo Vadis, brothers and sisters? Which way are you going?
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Copyright 2008, Thomas Kadel. Used by permission.