God has place this wonderful creation in our hands. As U2 sings, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away." We have this one life to live on this beautiful planet so enjoy these reflections on God, faith, life, and music. "After the flood all of the colors came out. It's a beautiful day."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Crumbling Church

Dzibilchaltun Mayan Ruins, Yucatan Mexico

How do you talk about the church that is crumbling, falling down in the world, no longer what it used to be?  This is one of the issues facing the writer of the Gospel of Mark.  In Mark 13, Jesus says in his last sermon: As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’  The church, the temple is in crisis.

The layers of the pyramid at Dzibilchaltun
I was touring the Dzibilchaltun - Mayan ruins in Yucatan Mexico.  This is a wetland area where trees are small, vegetation runs riot and snakes are abundant.  In these northern wetlands an archeologist uncovered ruins.  As they dug below the layers of vegetation they found a life of a people, a civilization that has scattered into new locations.  This site used to be an economic, political, and religious center of the Mayan people and now it is crumbling.  In these pyramids and structures which were aligned with the stars, you don’t discover buried tombs or treasure at the center, you discover pyramids all the way down.  The layers tell how life was for the people, whether good or bad.  In good times, the stone walls are thick and solid and held together well.  In the lean years, the time of famine, war or natural disaster, the walls aren’t as thick, the binding materials are sometimes nonexistent, and the stones crumble easily.  And then the building stopped.  There were no more layers.
The Catholic Ruins Dzibilchantun
At this site there is a visible sign of why the building stopped.  In the midst of the ruins is a crumbling Catholic church.  There in the center is a structure, also falling down, of what changed and transformed this Mayan people.  The conquistadors came through and said your beliefs, practices and culture need to change.  We need your gold and resources, your labor and even your beliefs.  They demanded that the Mayan give up their Gods and worship the Christian God.  Yet even there, a place where the oppressors ruled, the church was transformed.  The conquerors came to bring the truth, to subdue the people.  Yet they were now as crumbled as the older ruins. 
The Catholic Ruins Dzibilchantun
As our guide talked about this site, he shared how at home with his wife they speak a version of Mayan/Spanish.  He shared that even today as the people practice Catholicism; they still have Mayan traditions that were incorporated into their life of faith.  I wish I could remember what he said those traditions were.  But what struck me was how this tour was reflecting what we had been talking about in my continuing education.  We had been discussing how Mark was written in a time when the temple had been destroyed.  For Mark, the religion that he had known was disappearing and being rewritten.  Mark was trying to speak to the lost children of Israel about a new way of relating to God.  For Mark, the gospel is about transformation.  On hearing the story, will you turn to God and believe the Good News?  Will you hear of this Messiah and allow him to enter your life and transform it? 
The spring at Dzibilchantun
So the temple is crumbling again.  More than 50% of the people in any given community do not attend church.  They may be spiritual but not religious. They may be agnostic believing in something, but not sure what.  They may love what they have heard about Jesus and hate what they have heard about the church.  And the churches themselves are in decline.  Numbers are shrinking, buildings are crumbling. 
Is the church willing to take a leap of faith to write a new word?  Will the church share the Gospel in a new way in which both the churched and their unchurched neighbors are transformed and neither is the same?
Gulf of Mexico
What does it mean to speak a new word in a new world?  Will we allow those outside the church help us to transform the church?  Will we allow ourselves to experience the return to Galilee we are called to in Mark’s resurrection story?  “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here… go and tell the disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:6-7).  To Galilee where people are healed, fed, freed.  Where even the deaf can hear and the blind can see.  Where those who are lost can find others who are lost.
Come Jesus as you go before us, may we catch a glimpse of Your Kingdom.

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