On the album, Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder, there is a powerful track entitled, “Pastime Paradise”. In the haunting melody, Stevie sings;
They’ve been spending most their lives
Living in a pastime paradise
They’ve been wasting most their time
Glorifying days long gone behind
They’ve been wasting most their days
In remembrance of ignorance oldest praise
The young are naturally inclined to look toward the future – most of their life lies ahead. As we grow older, the largest portion of our lives is behind us, which calls us to look back. If we aren’t careful, we find ourselves trying to live in the past at the expense of losing a vision for the future.
The future is always moving toward us, calling us to re-creation. This re-creation is uncertain. It demands change. “The only constant in the universe is change”, Heraclitus of Ephesus said. God may remain the same, but God doesn’t want us to remain the same. God desires that we continue to grow and expand. Since God’s work on earth is done through the church, I think it is safe to say that God is calling the church to grow and expand.
The church must never get lost “glorifying days long gone behind.” It’s a hard lesson. After all, what is the church if not a collection of faith-filled friends who journey through life together? The memories of the past are our connection to the saints who came before us.
Jesus said in John chapter 4, “look around you, and see, the fields are ready for harvesting.” There is much work to do. We will not succeed in this work if churches fight to remain more like museums and less like mission stations. We must be open to change – we must look to the future.
Paul wrote, “What we sow does not come to life unless it dies.” (1 Cor.15:36) For people of faith, death is not the end; rather, it is the beginning of new life. We may need to bury some things in the dirt, allow them to die, and allow God to spring forth new life. Let’s bury inflexible minds and allow God to open us to new voices that cry out for revitalization. Let’s bury routinized worship practices and allow God to open us to revitalize our communal practices. Let’s bury unhealthy attachments to names and buildings and allow God to restore a right understanding that the church is the people.
In one of my favorite movies, The Outlaw Josey Wales, a bounty hunter approaches Josey, “You’re wanted, Wales,” he says. Josey replies, “Reckon I’m right popular. You a bounty hunter?” The bounty hunter says, “A man’s got to do something for a living these days.” Josey looks back at him and says, “Dyin’ ain’t much of a living, boy.”
I agree. Let’s not live in the pastime paradise. Let’s move forward to a new future in Christ. After all, dying ain’t much of a living.