I was scheduled to preach that Sunday on an island. It was located, because of a surveyor's error, in the Northwest Angle of Minnesota. Flagg Island was one of those beautiful pine- and birch-covered rocks that bore God's signature when Lake Agassiz receded centuries ago. The Roman Catholic Diocese had planted a youth camp on the island and a core of priests had served the spiritual needs of campers and cabin owners for many years. Now, with the retirement of Father Bill and the scarcity of priests, island worshipers were reaching desperately for any warm-bodied preacher they could find. My Lutheran relatives thought I filled the bill and promised to reward me with many days of fantastic walleye fishing.
After leaving the boat I walked to the mess hall where the worship service would be held. A young man, who I would later learn was the program director, happened to come along at the same time. I invited him to join us for worship. He answered by sweeping his arms in a wide circle toward the trees, the rocks, the lake and the sky. "Here is where I worship my God!" he said.
I asked myself, "Where have I heard this before? Deer hunters? Opening day of fishing season?" But then I started thinking: "How does a Christian answer this 'back-to-nature' pantheist?" Or the one who proudly proclaims, "I'm spiritual, but not religious." Or a pastor friend's son who declares, "I'm spiritual but I don't want anything to do with the organized church." Kind of like the Groucho Marx line: "I wouldn't join any organization that would have me as a member."
How should a Christian witness to a world that is now postmodern? A world that has discovered the canons of reason, scientific rationalism or historicism have left them spiritually dry? What can we say to them from an old Jewish book like the Bible?
Actually, the program director reminded me of the difference between my old black-and-white TV set and my beautiful new color high-definition model. Remember how the old TV sets gave us a picture, most of the time, but like the capricious god of nature, it could also give us a picture that was stormy and unclear?
I've discovered many people are now down on the church because their view of God and the church has been similarly distorted by a bad relationship with a pastor or priest, a church's moral position (or lack of one), hypocritical neighbors or an unhealthy pious legalism. They need the beautiful color and high definition of Christianity as revealed in Jesus. The challenge is to reveal Jesus to them, not through argument, but through the way we live our lives. Perhaps then they can know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. That can make a difference. Something like the difference between the old black-and-white TVs we used to have and the new high-definition sets with beautiful color we now own.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers