Overcoming Our “Stiff-necked” Tendencies (kind of a long post)

Acts 7:44-51

““Our ancestors had the tent of testimony in the wilderness, as God directed when he spoke to Moses, ordering him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. Our ancestors in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors. And it was there until the time of David, who found favor with God and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says,
‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.'”  NRSV

These words come at the end of Stephen’s defense before the Jewish High Council. He was arrested and brought before the Council on false charges buttressed by false testimonies because of the powerful deeds he performed and his compelling testimonies about Jesus of Nazareth. Simply put, Stephen was a major threat to the Jewish status quo. Shortly after delivering his testimony about Jesus, Stephen is stoned death and becomes the first Christian martyr. We are told that those who threw the stones layed their cloaks at the feet of one, Saul of Tarsus, who approved of the stoning. A little later in Acts, Saul of Tarsus has his own conversion experience on the road to Damascus and becomes one of Christ Jesus’ greatest champions under a new name, Paul.

Stephen’s indictment of the Jewish people (leaders, actually) being “stiff-necked” and “forever opposing the Holy Spirit” is a common charge leveled against the church of Jesus Christ, today. We use more modern terms like “insititutional maintenance” or “traditionalism” (which means worshipping the inherited rituals and organization rather than on the one the rituals and organization point to) to describe the church’s focus on the past and its fear and avoidance of any new activity or inbreaking of the Holy Spirit.

The church of every age must be diligent in assessing the relevance of how it witnesses to the Gospel. What worked for my parents generation does not get much traction with my generation. My generation’s witness certainly has not gotten much traction with my children and grandchildren’s generations. So, if the bleak, current statistics about the church are correct, those of us over 60 have apparently decided that doing what it takes to reach younger generations is unimportant if it means we have to change the “how” of our witness and worship. For twenty-even years I challenged this attitude among Disciple churches in Kentucky with not a lot to show for my efforts. It breaks my heart that the hubris of us “over-60’s” would rather let the church die than change.

Again, I’m talking strictly about the how of our witness, not the what.

Hodgenville CC has repeatedly given me a green light to explore new “hows” for our witness and worship. I love this congregation for that. But, while I have the will to change, I do not know the way. From what I am hearing, reading, and observing, I’m not alone in my ignorance.

If there is any silver-lining to the COVID pandemic that has so dramatically disrupted our lives it may be that it has forced the church to take a good, hard look at itself. The ministries and priorities that four months ago we thought defined us as Christians and thought we couldn’t live without, we are now discovering were pretty irrelevant. We are no longer able to do them and won’t be able to, at least not in the near future. We are beng forced to redefine who we are, what we are all about, and to find new ways to be church. Everything has changed. We have “zoomed” into the future.

The question for me is whether or not we will remain a stiff-necked people, focused on trying to find our way back to what was (which wasn’t working) or will we open ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit and see what God truly has in mind for us in a pandemic/post-pandemic world?

Prayer is the way we discern God’s will and way for us. That is why I feel the need to focus for awhile on prayer.

Be a blessing to someone today!

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