The Church of the Future

By Greg Jarrell, reposted from his substack newsletter (May 1, 2023)

I was grateful to get an invite from the North Carolina region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to speak at their annual gathering this past weekend. Unfortunately, their schedule got waaaaaaay behind, and I was scheduled to lead one of my walks in uptown Charlotte. So I have an unheard sermon, written for a very specific moment. These things take too much time and care. Somebody needs to see it.

Here’s the quick set-up: I was to be the third of three preachers offering a short homily. The first was to speak on the church of the past and the second on the present church. I was to offer some thoughts on the church of the future. The text tying it all together was Revelation 1:1-8. Verse 8 says “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

I had seven minutes to deliver it. Part of the experience was to be me speaking way too fast. So, beloved, read as quickly as possible.

Here it is:

If I understand what has happened this afternoon, then we’ve heard Rev. Jones tell us about the past in order to describe the present we inhabit. We heard Rev. Dr. McHenry name the present we live in, which shows us what tomorrow looks like. And so, it must be my job in talking about the future to look backwards and describe that which is coming back.

What I am saying is that even here in these sermonic moments we have shared, we live in the swirl of time, the uncertain whims of temporality, the liberating unity of overlapping chronologies. The whole dizzying world of Revelation 1 is an exercise in shaking us from boring old, marching-on time and setting us into a disjuncture. In verse 8 we acknowledge the one who was and is and is to come. In verse 7, John can’t decide whether to use present of future tense. In verse 6, the present is extended into eternity; in verse 5, we get the logic-defying phrase “the firstborn of the dead;” verse four again speaks of the one who was and is and is to come; and in verse three we learn that the time is near (a phrase we will return to in a moment).

If we asked John the important question of legendary Chinese American organizer Grace Lee Boggs – “What time is it on the clock of the world?” – he would say it is every time, all the times. We are not chained to the tyranny of the present.

In the first act of Hamlet, Hamlet faces the moment of political violence that demand the courage to make things right. In this moment, he receives a visit from a ghost. “The time is out of joint,” he says in face of a specter.

And so John of Patmos, and we, in the presence of the Holy Ghost, might also look around and say “the time is out of joint.” Yesterday explains today; today is tomorrow; the future is returning.

All this may sound nonsensical to you. And I’m not saying it is sensible, I’m saying it is true! And I’m saying that when it comes to the future, or to time, you and I have all been more formed by the enchantments of mammon than by a faith that rips time from its socket.

Capitalism that has cheapened our conception of time. And we, with our lives overdetermined by capitalism’s oppressive grasp on us, have lost even our language to the demigod of capital and its commodification of every moment.

You hear it in our words:

We save time. We spend time. You do something to occupy your time. Time management. Invest time. Buy some time. You need to Budget your time. You’re on borrowed time. We have a shortage of time. Traffic costs you time. And the crudest of all: time is money.  

Your time, like your land and your data and your name and your life, is for sale under capitalism. The false god wants you to join the linear progression, as time marches on. The Holy Ghost wants you to recognize that the time is out of joint.

And as the French philosopher Jacques Derrida asks, “is not disjuncture the very possibility of the other?” Is it not this disjoining of our time that might disrupt the dispiriting logic of capitalism in our lives? Is not the rupture of time what Jesus describes in our most beloved nonsensical Gospel phrase: “born again”? We can open a space to call on justice to return from the future and be born once more in the present. We can appeal to the one who is to come to revisit us once more in beauty and in power.

John of Patmos wants you in the swirl. “The time is near,” he says. I do not think he means “coming soon,” or at least not only that. I’m reading him to say that the fullness of time is close to us. We are nearer to both past and future than we might have known. We live not in the scarcity of time, as the demons of capitalism will tell you, but in its abundance. We have time for joy. Time for friendship. Time for beauty. Time for justice. In the abundance of time, we will know that justice is joy, it is beauty, it is friendship.

I used up all my seven minutes before I told you about the church of the future. But you already know what it looks like because you have already been living in Jesus’ labyrinth of time.

You know that the future church is abolitionist because you know that the Church at its most faithful in past and present was abolitionist.

You know that the church of the future is marked by abundance because you have seen, week after week, that the cup never runs dry and that the “Blood will never lose its power.”

You know that the church of the future is radical because the best of us have never been satisfied with the powers and principalities of this world.

You know that the church of the future is the church of the poor and the church in solidarity with the poor because that has been the faithful witness of the church across the globe.

You know that the future church is filled with beauty because you have seen it in one another’s faces, you have heard it in our legacies of song, you have tasted it in bread and wine.

The future of the church, kindred, is as old as a table set for friends and strangers to join together as beloved community.

Even now, May it be so.

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