Rethinking Church: A Lesson from Disney

Our recent week away ended with three days cruising on the Disney Dream with our children and grandchildren. During those three days, I gave a lot of thought to the ways of the Disney operation. Smiling people, gracious welcomes, service and cleanliness, attentiveness to detail were obvious everywhere. Of course, there is a lot of money involved in creating what some call an “artificial world,” a contrived community not representative of the way life really is. I guess that is why they call it a Magic Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God is not magic. Rather it is a reality of living God’s grace among a people who are gentle, kind, patient, just, peace-full, generous, grateful, caring, attentive to the needs of others and to all creation. God’s Kingdom is a people of Christ-bearers who seek the least and the lost, who lose ego and yield control, who abide in contented peace, who know when enough is enough, and who leave all the judgment of others to God alone.

The escape to Disney and to a few days of contented kingdom living is really a call to up our game in the rest of the world. Where are all the smiling faces and the generous and grateful people this week? Where is the hospitality of welcome and the attention to the needs of others among us? Of course, there are pockets and glimpses we see around us. But pockets do not a garment make and glimpses are not a full picture of God’s intended Kingdom.

Is it part of the plan that we should always be on the way? Always reaching for the wholeness beyond? Should we not be stronger rather than weaker in our witness now that the world has seen Christ’s glory for over 2,000 years? What awakening does God call us to in the Lenten season that begins this week? What ways need to be turned from? What new ways need to be turned to?

In the sermon we heard last week in a church in Florida, the pastor was preaching a series on Rethinking Church. The call to Rethink Church is a vision statement of United Methodism that, among others, risks being lost in deafened ears and lukewarm hearts. Rev. Williamson was using the book, UnChristian, as a basis for some of his thought. He focused on the judgmentalism of a church that excludes people and narrows the scope of grace to include only me, mine, and those like me.

In a song that concluded the worship, there was a line on the screen that sticks with me. It is a song about building a kingdom and the line that says, “until we win the nation back.”  While I question whether Christians ever really had the nation “won”, there has certainly among us been a comfortable hegemony that lulled us into not only a great blind comfort, but also an audacity of faith that claims a priority that sounds a lot like judgment and self-righteousness. Ouch! No wonder the world turns to Disney.

The only way to win a nation and win a world to Christ is through love, authentic, not glamorized, genuine, agape love that does not judge or limit itself, but rather welcomes, holds, and cares for all people until the world is healed. This is a world that extends beyond three days on the Disney Dream.

Perhaps the Lenten discipline calling us is a discipline of consideration of how we think about and treat other people, how we regard the resources of creation, how we are attentive to God’s call upon our lives. Rethink Church. How are we doing? How are we being? The small, small world is watching; so is God. Amen.

 

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