The New Normal
[The believers] followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved. (Acts 2:46-47 MSG)
I hear it often when I visit churches: “When are things going to get back to normal?” People long for the old, familiar, normal routine. They may be thinking of four years ago before the pandemic, fourteen years ago when the bell choir rang every Sunday, or forty years ago when church was the center of family and community life.
The good ol’ days have a powerful allure. We look back through rose-tinted glasses. People always have. The Israelites following Moses longed for the good ol’ days in Egypt. The exiles returning from Babylon found the second Temple disappointing compared the good ol’ days of the Kingdom. I imagine even some of the disciples after the resurrection pined for the good ol’ days when they’d been buddies palling with Jesus on a three-year ministry road trip.
But honestly… the good ol’ days weren’t all that great. Whether four or forty years ago, church was often stagnant, and folks were just going through the motions. Not much was changing in our hearts or in the world. Normal might have been comfortable, but it was also blasé – and people wanted no part of it.
We won’t see God by looking backwards. We serve a Lord who is always ahead of us – the God who led the Israelites in a column of fire and smoke, the resurrected Christ who left a forwarding address for bewildered disciples loitering by an empty tomb (Mark 16:7).
The early Church didn’t have time for nostalgia. They rarely pined for the good ol’ days. They were too busy chasing the Spirit to the ends of the earth. The witness of the Acts of the Apostles is of an eager and active church, always moving forward.
The disciples had a new normal, a daily routine, a “discipline” in Eugene Peterson’s words – worshipping together, breaking bread together, sharing meals, rejoicing and celebrating. I can well imagine them chanting with gusto: “God is good! All the time! All the time! God is good!” (in Aramaic or Greek, of course.)
What’s normal? An exuberant and joyful Palm Sunday with bunny, choir, kids, and Scout troops both boy and girl at Green Bay: Bethany UMC.
The book of Acts gives us these joyful glimpses right alongside stories of persecution, murder, injustice, ostracism, jail, and shipwreck. The new normal as the Church was born was difficult and dangerous… and yet the disciples rejoiced and celebrated every day.
Our new normal today isn’t easy either. We’re longing for folks who wandered during the pandemic to return. We’re divided politically and theologically. We’re struggling for relevance in a world of Sunday soccer games and endless digital entertainment. Why go to church when the internet offers an easy answer for every question?
And yet… Jesus is still going before us. People still need people. We still gather to worship and break bread. We are still finding new ways to connect and new ways to share Good News.
Don’t look backwards. Look forwards. The new normal is churches escaping the walls and boxes we once put ourselves in. The new normal is congregations discovering the blessings of diversity. The new normal is going and meeting families and folks where they are at.
God leads us forward in an ever-changing world. May our joy and exuberance as we praise and serve God in our communities and in our churches become the new normal, attractive to all those who look for hope! And then, perhaps, God will add to our numbers.
Prayer: Lord, we are privileged to follow you ever forward. Each new day is an opportunity to seek and see your blessings, and to share our joy with others. May praise be our normal state of being, such that all who see us might whisper, “I want what they’ve got!” – Amen