A Brief Service of Prayer in Response
The Pew Research Religious Landscape Study
L: Lord, make speed to save us.
P: Lord, make haste to help us.
Glory to the One God who redeems all, Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Psalm 90: 1-4, 13-17 (unison)
Lord, you have been our refuge
from one generation to another.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or the earth and the world were formed,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn us back to dust and say:
‘Turn back, O children of earth.’
For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday,
which passes like a watch in the night.
Turn again, O Lord; how long will you delay?
Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us with your loving-kindness in the morning,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Give us gladness for the days you have afflicted us,
and for the years in which we have seen adversity.
Show your servants your works,
and let your glory be over their children.
May the gracious favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
prosper our handiwork; O prosper the work of our hands.
First Response: Chris Baker, PhD student, Garret Evangelical Theological Seminary
In response to the reality that religion in general and Christianity in particular is in decline in the U.S. and throughout the so-called “West,” I’m seeing a number of articles, posts, and books on why “we need religion.” This, I think, is a terrible mistake.
First, we don’t “need” religion, and those leaving our houses of worship understand this. The underlying needs met by participation in a religious community — social, psychological, ethical, and especially the felt need to connect with the divine — can be met elsewhere. To conflate those needs with “religion” is the sort of self-serving dishonesty that turns people off.
But, more importantly, to say that we “need” religion is to reduce religion to the logic of necessity. Such logic is limiting. Religion — as noted above — isn’t “necessary.” It is, in fact, quite gratuitous. But, at its best, it is a peculiarly literal kind of gratuitous. That is, it is a gratuity. A gift.
My faith is a gift to me. The community that nurtures my faith is a gift to me. That community, and all religious communities, ought also to be a gift to the broader communities we find ourselves in. If religious communities are to survive and thrive in an age where needs can be met elsewhere, that is the path to survival. In our very gratuitousness we can find our vocation as a gift, freely given to a world that is equally free to reject the gift. But if we aren’t a gift, we have no business surviving in the first place.
‘And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation:
‘I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.
Not everyone who leaves church is “nominally Christian” or “lukewarm.” For many, our doubts and questions about faith are intense, real, and deeply important to us. I’ve only just begun limping my way back to church, but the time away wasn’t because I didn’t care. I cared. Deeply. Checking off the “none” box in a religious survey may seem like a halfhearted or causal response, but for many of our friends and neighbors, it carries a lot of careful thought, a lot of pain, and in some cases, a lot of courage. We are each so much more complicated than the boxes we check on survey. Especially when it comes to faith – one of the most beautiful, frustrating, and complicated things of all.
Reading: Matthew 6: 26-34
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Third Response: Henry S. Kuo, PhD student, Graduate Theological Union
I have one thing to say about that Pew report: why is almost everyone so worked up about it? If you’re so worried mainline Christianity is “dying” (never mind the lack of a robust definition of it), then get to work and minister to the people. Whining and crying over numbers isn’t going to solve anything. At least my pastor is hard at work ministering to the people.
P: Eternal giver of life and light,
the world shines with the radiance of the risen Christ.
Renew your church with the Spirit given us in baptism,
that we may worship you in sincerity and truth
and may shine as a light in the world,
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
L: Rejoicing in God’s new creation,
let us pray as our Redeemer has taught us:
P: Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and for ever. Amen.
L: As Christ burst forth from the tomb,
may new life burst forth from us
and show itself in acts of love and healing to a hurting world. Amen.