Recently I was able to spend an hour walking around the Philadelphia area neighborhood I grew up in, just wandering and taking a few pictures. It still looked mostly the same. A few houses had additions and new color schemes, but the place still looks and feels much as it did. The children were still riding their bikes and playing in the park. The ball fields and tennis courts were in good shape. The community house still hosted Boy Scout Troop 72 that I belonged to. Sometimes neighborhoods decline, but this one hasn’t.
Of course enough time has elapsed that I could tick off the names or mentally “see” the faces of countless neighbors, knowing not a one was living there anymore and the majority have passed away. In addition to that the cell phone I took my pictures on was just a dream back then, modeled after phaser-communicators used on the original Star Trek in 1967, and able to do stuff those Star Trek devices couldn’t do. Even my cell phone could be viewed as an antique that some of those kids riding their bikes in the park would hardly have any experience with because, as cell phones go, it isn’t very smart. Speaking of smarts, the laptop computer I’m typing this on is way smarter than computers that took up large rooms back when I went to college. Just a few minutes contemplating how different the world of those children’s experience is from the world I grew up in is potentially staggering. Their view of life has to be so different from mine, and not just because of technology.
It is said that the only constant in life is change. We do well to make as much peace as we can with that or we will be forever aggravated. But that neighborhood still felt the same. While a lot of that feeling was no doubt in my head – not all of it was. It still felt the same because human needs are still the same; human hopes and fears aren’t really all that different; we still need each other and at the same time find it sometimes hard to get along with each other; we still crave security and acceptance and love; we are still sinners who make our share of poor judgments; we are still made for God and fighting God at the same time. Extending our smarts and technology the way we have has changed many things, but has not changed human nature one iota. This is precisely why a Jesus who lived 2000 years ago is as relevant today as he was then.
It is very easy for churches to get stuck in ideas and practices of the past as those who lead them become stuck in their own generation. I have no doubt been guilty of that myself. Churches that refuse to change turn themselves into museums rather than mission stations. Some congregations will die while others will be born or reborn. But the core issues the Good News of Jesus Christ addresses haven’t changed, even if we have to change the way they are expressed and how we reach into people’s lives. People are still people; God is still God; healing and salvation are still healing and salvation. God isn’t finished with us yet. “For everything there is a season….” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).