So just when I decide to go on vacation, what is being called the beginnings of another Great Awakening happens in Kentucky. And while I was supposed to be on vacation, I could not vacate my natural propensity to ponder church and religion matters.
Maybe you’ve noticed in my two plus years here that I often use the word “ponder.” Pondering is part of my nature.
The Asbury Revival is on the minds of a lot of church folks these days. It is in the news. It’s the subject of articles and discussions in American religion and church publications and websites.
Many have given their 2 cents in regards to Kentucky revival at Asbury University, which has spread to other Christian colleges, including to a university Holly and I attended for a time – Cedarville University in southern Ohio.
To be honest, my first reaction was that its just another viral Tik-Tok moment. But it has turned out to be much more than that.
As I mentioned in the sermon before I went on vacation, there is a real, deep interest in learning about Jesus when it comes this new generation, Gen-Z it is called. That Tik-Toks of a Jesus-themed revival went viral again and again and sparked a movement, it comes out of this interest, I believe.
There has been criticism of the movement. It has come from the Mainline side of the faith mostly, which includes the Catholic tradition and even United Methodists which Asbury University is affiliated with.
This criticism is understandable to me. Faith based in mere emotions and feelings that are temporary by nature, that is not a long-term solution to the church’s or the world’s problems. Nor does it make up for the church’s historic and present-day exclusion and even harm of LGBTQ folks.
But to quote Stephen Stills, “Something’s happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” We can’t ignore it.
The best response to the Asbury Revival I’ve come across is from an essay shared by Rev. Tamara Moreland, the former area conference minister of our Farmington Valley Association. It was written by Rev. Tom Fuerst, a UMC pastor and scholar. The essay is titled, “Hopeful Discernment: The Asbury Revival and SacredConversation.”
basically calls for a middle way between the general Evangelical way that receives
God’s grace and responds with deep human emotion and the general Mainline way that
ponders the Christian faith and seeks to intellectually understand how to
practice that faith. Fuerst writes,
“The Evangelical, revivalist bent of American Christianity desperately needs the critical distance offered by the Mainline church. And the critical distance of the Mainline church desperately needs the revivalist urgency of the Evangelical movement… the weaknesses of both traditions suggests that, on their own, they lack something necessary in being the complete body of Christ. If anything, my argument is that both-sides-are-wrong without each other. The church needs urgency. The church needs discernment. The church needs warm hearts. And the church needs Oxford fellows.”
I will end this part of the conversation by expressing something else that I thought as I pondered. On the same day the Asbury Revival started, students at Michigan State University, after losing 3 of their classmates to gun violence gathered for prayer vigils. In their collective grief, they cried out for change.
The juxtaposition of Asbury University's joyous chapel revival and Michigan State University's campus wide grief struck me. The spiritual uplift of a revival is important and beautiful. Revival is a profound part of the Christian tradition. But beating swords into plowshares, turning weapons of war into structures for peace, resisting hate and cultivating love, ending forms of exclusion and conflict and creating space for acceptance and affirmation... that is the kind of revival I think God truly wants most – a revival that transforms a society stuck in its own egoism, groupism, and greed.
Such peacemaking and compassion-building is the point of spiritual revival. What is changed inside us through revival must result in collective change outside of us. Without this external change, revivals are, well, rather useless.
Anyway, let me move on as I come to a close and focus on the question of the Reflection – who is the Jesus? Who is the one whose name revivals since the beginning have invoked? Who do you say he is?
We are beginning the season of Lent. It feels not too long ago that we finished Advent and we celebrated Christmas and baby Jesus’ Manger. From the Manger, we now journey toward the Cross and the Empty Tomb. Yes, Jesus is the One whom the Cross will contain and the Tomb will not be able to contain.
But too often we highlight the Cross and the Empty Tomb at the expense of the Sandals. The Sandals, the sandals that Jesus walked in, worked in, shepherded in, taught in, lived in.
We must not forget the Sandals. If we do, we miss something essential to Jesus and about the faith of Jesus. We miss the life he lived. By the way, the life expectancy in Jesus’ day was 35. Jesus died around 33 or 34. In other words, he lived a full life.
If we want to truly understand the Cross and the Empty Tomb, we must ponder the Sandals and what Jesus did in those Sandals. When we do, when we spiritually ponder Jesus’ whole life, we’ll see that the Manger, the Sandals, the Cross, and the Empty Tomb are all of one singular, indivisible piece. If you want to know what the Manger, the Cross and Empty Tomb means, look at Jesus’ life, his teaching, and his life as a teaching.
He taught that from small things, humble things, close to the earth things, big things arise. Jesus’ life mirrored this teaching. He was one of what we’d now call “the little people.” Born in the small-town of Bethlehem. Raised in the backwoods, nothing town of Nazareth. His father was a builder, a tradesman, a carpenter. His mother was deemed morally suspect, having conceived and birthed a son out of wedlock. Jesus himself would have been deemed morally suspect as well, born from sin. In other words, Jesus would have been seen as the littlest of the little people.
And his death followed suit. The rejected and despised man of Nazareth was executed as a criminal.
From this littlest, humblest, earthiest human life and death, a big thing, the biggest thing, arose – our refuge, our rescue, our renewal in God.
And here is the application piece. Here’s what it means for us. We no longer have to carry the guilt and the shame that keeps our spirits down. We no longer need to carry the debilitating thought that we are not good enough. The nobody from Nazareth, despised and rejected by men, but beloved by God and epitomizing God who is Love, has taken the guilt and the shame on our behalf, making us good in God’s eyes. And it is only God’s eyes that matter in the scheme of things.
“Everyone loves an underdog,” it has been said. Well, Jesus epitomized the underdog. And we have salvation to thank for it. Our faith is in the underdog of underdogs from Nazareth. I for one would have it no other way! How about you?
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