A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Atheism and God’s movement November 12, 2013

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Yesterday, a parishioner came in with a newspaper clipping entitled, “Atheists rejoice in ‘megachurches,'” with the subtitle “A new movement helps nonbelievers enjoy the camaraderie of a congregation without religion.” The title alone is paradoxical and when you dive into the article that feeling remains. Large numbers of people gathering in a space for an inspirational talk, what the writer calls “rousing” music and some reflection time. This all sounds very close to a Sunday morning church service to me. Oh wait. No mention of God.
The people gathering are looking for something: community, self improvement, identity, peace, love and worth. Not necessarily unlike what people who profess to be Christian (or any other major religion but I am going to stick with what I know) are looking for. So what is the major difference? Now looking for these things is not inherently wrong but they are inward focused and it’s very easy to get caught up in the cultural notion of self help, autonomy and individualism. But again, many people in Christian churches get “caught” by the same cultural issues. As a community of God’s people, the struggle to remain focused on the fact that we do get trapped into thinking that we can help or fix ourselves is a false notion as is the idea that only as fixed and perfect people with all of our crap together do we have value.
I regularly confess that God is at work in the mess, in the suffering, in the imperfection. I consistently proclaim that God loves and redeems all and that we don’t have to get it right because God will come to us over and over again no matter what. So with this confession, I have to honestly look at this atheist movement and ask what it is that God is doing its midst? What new thing is God up to that maybe I should be paying attention to?
I am unsure and I admit that my asking that very theocentric question will have atheists rolling their eyes and sighing that I “just don’t get it.” And they are correct, I don’t. I don’t want self help and community that feeds me and what I need. I want the God that promises me that there is more to me than what I can see. I need God who declares that living in community is not about me but is about all of us together further revealing God’s love and forgiveness in the world. I desperately need God to reach down and resurrect me from all the stuff that kills me every day and make me new for the sake of the world. I need to hear that peace is not about me, but about what God is doing. I need to be reminded that my worth is that of a child of God and more than that that your worth is the same. I need more than camaraderie, I need God’s mission for mercy in a broken world.
God is moving in our world and I have to be open that it may not be what I think it should look like. God’s movement might not be with the people I suspect or would personally pick. But isn’t that the way of God?