Imagine a scenario where people below 50 years of age are moving out of the church. Churches are becoming empty and won’t have many people worshipping in them. We will in all probability think that of two scenarios. One that this is the case of churches in Europe and two that this is the case of churches in India in 2025. But what if we are talking about the present? What if this is already happening in churches in India? Is it true that the church is growing and that more and more people are coming to church or is this some misfounded reality?
According to figures in the U.S. church attendance is coming down. But does that mean that people don’t believe in religion and the church anymore. Recently I was asked in the course of a bible study as to why atheism is on the rise in India? The PEW research figures in the U.S. reveal a different picture. It is not that people are not interested in religion or the church. It is rather that they don’t like religion and church in its present form. They don’t like corruption, scandals, abuse, high handedness and non churchy things that are happening in religious places and churches.
What could be the reason.
a. They are religious but don’t associate with the church anymore. The church is only a social gathering which they would like to skip.
b. Lot of young people are going to new churches because the gospel is not being preached in the mainline churches.
c. People don’t see the church as a place which practices equality, sows seeds of goodness and unifies people. People also don’t want to be judged about their looks, choices and lifestyle.
d. Youngsters are not taken seriously and their views don’t count. People who head teams taking significant decisions are nobody’s in church.
1. Does my religion or spiritual practice move me towards love or away from love towards fear?
2. Does my religion or spiritual practice promote gentleness and kindness?
3. Does my religion or spiritual practice help me feel more at peace with myself?
4. Does my religion or spiritual practice help me dissolve the boundaries of separation and enhance a feeling of Oneness?
5. Does my religion or spiritual practice inspire humility, generosity and wisdom?
How’d you go with those questions? Often we just continue to do the same thing over and over again without really questioning why we do the things we do. Religions can be like this. One of my favourite quotes is from the Dalai Lama:
“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
The story of the lost son follows the story of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Perhaps the usage prodigal son is abusive and wrong.
What are some of the questions that come out of the story of the lost son?
- The usage lost son instead of the prodigal son
- Why did the son leave from the comforts of his father’s son? Did he do something wrong?
- What did he achieve from being away from his father’s house?
- Isn’t losing oneself essential to gain oneself? (The first should be last.)
- What is the role of the elder son? Is he upset with his father? What is the faithfulness that he showed and why did he show it?
Many a time we are not aware of what is happening and what is going on? It is as if we are in a flow.
Once there was a millionaire, who collected live alligators. He kept them in the pool in back of his mansion. The millionaire also had a beautiful daughter who was single. One day he decides to throw a huge party, and during the party he announces, "My dear guests . . . I have a proposition to every man here. I will give one million dollars or my daughter to the man who can swim across this pool full of alligators and emerge alive!"
As soon as he finished his last word, there was the sound of a large splash!! There was one guy in the pool swimming with all he could and screaming out of fear. The crowd cheered him on as he kept stroking as though he was running for his life. Finally, he made it to the other side with only a torn shirt and some minor injuries. The millionaire was impressed.
He said, "My boy that was incredible! Fantastic! I didn't think it could be done! Well I must keep my end of the bargain. Do you want my daughter or the one million dollars?"
The guy says, "Listen, I don't want your money, nor do I want your daughter! I want the person who pushed me in that water!"
1. Lose your church to find it: Ghar wapsi to mera ghar vapas karo!
The lost son did not expect anything while coming back but his father is pretty kind to him. Pastoral care is not something we give to those who have been faithful. Pastoral care is rather a right of every individual who walks into church. The young man almost lost his life. It was when he realized what his life was.
Many philosophers are labeled as non-religious but this may not be true.
According to John D. Caputo in his book The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida:Religion without Religion he talks of Derrida as thus…Still, Derrida says, his mother must have known that "the constancy of God in my life is called by other names," and that even though he does indeed "quite rightly pass for an atheist" with respect to the God of the orthodox faiths, still he has an "absolved, absolutely private language" in which he speaks of God all the time.
Derrida continues “It is this secret that believers have been entrusted with, the secret of the God to come, of an untold and extraordinary future that defies human perception and descriptions, that holds infinite promise for the human race, and that as such, is much better shared in a passionate whisper than trumpeted in triumphant certainty.”
Certainty is much beyond the truth of religion. God and religion cannot be so certain. Maybe for a few but not for everyone. The lost son did not have a definite religion. The elder son thinks he has one. The younger son comes back and in his quiet way tried to claim his religion, his house and his right. It is not a quiet ghar wapsi but a quiet but strong Mera ghar vapas karo!
2. Religion as the lover of truth.
The role of the father in the scene is most interesting. He runs to embrace his son when he draws near. “And when they accuse us of being un-Christian (and they will), we must stand strong and tell them, “You no longer get to own that word. You have used it and abused it and crucified it on crosses of hate, greed, power and control. We are taking our religion back – way back. All the way back to the teachings of Jesus.”
The movie Saath Saath which was released in 1982 and starred Farookh Sheikh and Deepthi Nawal is about a couple who get married because they believe in certain ideals. The husband then gets embroiled in money making and his wife leaves him. He then goes back to his wife and asks her to come back.
In the ending scene when Farooq conveys Deepti his decision to leave the wrong path and join his role model, A.K. Hangal's newspaper, Deepti asks him whether he is doing it just for her sake; Farooq's reply simply touches the heart of the viewer - 'NAHIN, APNE LIYE BHI AUR UN SACHCHAIYON KE LIYE BHI JINHEN HAM DONO NE MILKAR PYAR KIYA THA' (not just for your sake, for own sake also and also for the sake of those truths we had loved together).
What the father does is an ideal thing for the church. It is not just to say that we have to do something for a loved one but to say that we have to do the right thing.
A couple drove several miles down a country road, not saying a word. An earlier discussion had led to an argument, and neither wanted to concede their position.
As they passed some pigs on the way side, the husband sarcastically asked, "Relatives of yours?"
"Yep," the wife replied, "In-laws."
3. Religion as a start up with God as the capital.
Start up is a word being used a lot these days. Young people are starting companies with only their courage as capital. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Start up CEO’s are like women drinking wine. They sit quietly and chip away. They are not taken seriously by the older generation but they are so very good. (My generation is the “Be quiet generation.”)
Wife says “I love you so much. I don’t know what I would do without you.” Husband asks if it is her or the wine speaking. She replies that it is her speaking to the wine.
People are getting fed up and would like to start over. Over the years, Jimmy Carter, a devout Christian, has become a very strong proponent of women's rights, to a point where he has spoken out against the falsehoods and extremism we see within the 'religion' of Christianity today. In 2009, he penned an open letter, severing ties with the mega SBC/Southern Baptist Convention, after being a member of the Convention for 60 years. Carter said the decision was difficult and painful, yet 'unavoidable,' after the Convention leaders chose to take bible verses out of context and claim 'Eve' was responsible to for 'original sin,' and thus all women must be subservient to men.
The younger son has nothing with him. He is coming back doubtful whether he can do anything. But his father is very supportive. He believes in him. The elder brother has been around for a long time and he is upset. But the father sees prospect in his younger son.
Dear exam writers and scholars, all three points from the sermon have something to offer you. Losing yourself is essential to write from scratch and write new, if you love the truth and persist with that, your grades will also at some point of time reflect that and finally don’t just stick on to your preparations. There can always be a surprise round the corner. Be courageous and write like you have nothing to lose. Start up, Write more and write well. Luck and God’s grace always favours the courageous. Amen.
(Preached in the UTC chapel on August 23,2015.)