“The church is not a perfect place,” said the Rev. Otis Moss III at the 9:15 a.m. Monday morning worship service. “It is not a perfect place because we are not perfect. We are the perfectly imperfect people serving a perfect God who showed perfect love in Jesus Christ.” His sermon title was “When the Church Decides to Repent (Part 1): Raising a New Generation of Prophets,” and the Scripture reading was Acts 20:7-12.
Moss asked the congregation to turn to a neighbor and say, “Neighbor, oh neighbor, it is time to repent.” The church, he said, can be powerfully progressive or coldly conservative; womanist or patriarchal; open or homophobic; preach Jesus or fail to preach what he preached; a hospital for sinners or a judgmental retreat for so-called saints.
“Reginald Williams has said that we have allowed epistemological violence to flow from the pulpit,” Moss said. “I love the church but I weep when it stumbles.”
Millennials’ critique of the church is that it is patriarchal and preaches exclusion.
“I say I have read bad books, but I don’t stop reading. I have had bad meals in a restaurant but I don’t stop eating,” Moss said. “Do not evaluate the totality of the church through an encounter with one person or institution. Look for the prophetic remnant.”
In the Scripture reading, Paul was in Troas and had a farewell message for the believers there. People had packed a house “to hear the great apostle preach on, and on, and on, and on.” A young man comes and dozes off while Paul is preaching and falls out a window.
“Why did the young man have to sit in the window? Because there was no place for him in the church,” Moss said. “All the people had their pews and they were not going to let anyone else sit there. They pushed the young out. Paul killed him with his preaching; he committed homiletical homicide.”
The young man fell because of Paul’s insensitivity, Moss said, but Paul rushed over to heal the young man, who was dead.
“Paul recognized the harm he had done. That is our challenge; we have done some harm. Why does someone have to die before we create a ministry?” he said. “We would rather respond after death and I have a problem with that. We don’t get headlines when they are alive. We need to respond before they fall.”
Paul borrowed a technique from Elijah and Elisha and cradled the young man in his arms and got close enough to breath into his mouth.
“What we do with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, Paul was doing with spiritual power,” Moss said. “He passed that power on to the next generation. That is what the church is called to do — to take what we have and place it into those who are hurting. We have no control over the methodology they will use to create ministry, but we have to support them, pray with them and walk with them.”
Moss said Paul made no demand on the young man but we know he is important because he is named; Eutychus. In the Bible when someone is named in a story it usually means they were remembered in the community.
“If you put your spirit into one Eutychus, he can reach others in his generation that you will never reach. We need to blow love, justice, mercy and grace into a new generation,” he said. “The church needs to repent and raise up a new generation of prophets.”
Moss said the church has to make room for millennials and not get caught up in nostalgia.
“When the church gets caught up in nostalgia, we put young people in the windows instead of leadership. You may be 55 years old but you are not old enough to be a leader. God wants an intergenerational church,” Moss said. “Jesus was born to a teenage mother, who had energy, whose first act was to seek out her elder Elizabeth, who had wisdom. Wisdom plus energy will turn the world upside down.”
The church, he said, can get so caught up in “our church” that it ceases to be “God’s church.” Moss told a story of a young man who put on his best jeans and T-shirt and went to church only to be turned away by an older deacon who said, “Come back when you have a suit on.” The young man came back again in expensive jeans and polo shirt and the deacon turned him way again because he was not wearing a suit. He came back a third time and was turned away because he was not wearing a suit. The young man died and when he got to heaven he wanted to have a conversation with Jesus. “I went to your church but based on what I was wearing they turned me away,” the young man said. “What is the dress code?” Jesus asked for the address of the church and then said, “I have never been there before.”
“We have a relevant message but we have to be willing to change our methodology,” Moss said. “Jesus is always using a different methodology. With one person he puts mud on their eyes, with another he just sends them home, the third touches the hem of his garment. The message is always the same; the methodology is different.”
He asked the congregation how many remembered 78 records, 45s, 33s, LPs, 8-track tapes, cassette tapes, CDs, MP3s and streaming music.
“Take the song ‘Amazing Grace’ and play it,” he said. “It is the same song, different method. We have an 8-track church in a streaming world.”
The Rev. Robert M. Franklin presided. The Rev. Ed McCarthy, permanent deacon in the Roman Catholic Rite, read the Scripture. The Motet Choir, under the direction of Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, sang “Come, My Way, My Truth, My lIfe,” by Harold Friedell. The Gladys R. Brasted and Adair Brasted Gould Memorial Chaplaincy provides support for this week’s services.