What one generation builds up as a meaningful way to relate to God, to immerse yourself in His presence, can soon become a religious exercise or a stumbling block for the next generation or the one following.

This thought was running through my mind when my wife and I wandered through the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in January. Established as one of the early Spanish outreaches from Mexico into California the mission was able to build a community of believers from out of the surrounding native tribes.

San Luis Obispo in California, established as a Spanish outreach mission to build a community of believers from surrounding Indian tribes. PICTURE: Jim DeLillo

 


"In a sense the mission became a 'new tribe' in the midst of surrounding tribes."

What one generation builds up as a meaningful way to relate to God, to immerse yourself in His presence, can soon become a religious exercise or a stumbling block for the next generation or the one following.

This thought was running through my mind when my wife and I wandered through the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in January. Established as one of the early Spanish outreaches from Mexico into California the mission was able to build a community of believers from out of the surrounding native tribes.

The cost of becoming followers of Jesus was high. People left behind their tribe and its ways to be baptised and to join themselves to the mission and its life. The mission was where they ate, worked, worshipped and lived together in Christ's service.

In a sense the mission became a 'new tribe' in the midst of surrounding tribes.

This commitment to the mission lay ever before them not only in thought but through the physical reminder of the graves of the three founding fathers which were placed under the floor at the front of the church.

However, what started me thinking about how we relate to God was not so much the community aspect of the mission but the living narrative of God reaching out to man and man being reconnected to God through Jesus.

This narrative was told in the iconic murals and statues that adorned the church walls. They would have been a key source of connection and inspiration for an illiterate community who needed a visual reference point to at least partially understand "how wide and high and deep is the love of Christ" (as in Ephesians 3:18).

Turbulent politics changed the region and the missions as Mexico lost control of California and it became part of the United States but I wondered how long it would have taken for those statues to become merely interesting images of old people and those murals to become just nice paintings.

Inside San Luis Obispo. PICTURE: Jim DeLillo



"San Luis Obispo's mission reminded me of the truth that while God is "the same today, yesterday and forever", the church is people and people need to be connected with God; not institutionalised; not bound by practices which have lost their life and vitality; not honouring the practices of men more than God; not fearful of stepping beyond what has been done to embrace what God wants now."

It is so easy for God to fade out of what was once vital and imbued with the Holy Spirit's power to reach a generation. (God doesn't actually fade, it's just that we allow dust and grime to accumulate through the changing seasons of life.) Then there is also the fact that a new generation arises and they don't 'get' what the previous generation 'got?' from their method of relating to and being inspired by God.

Whether we talk about music or silence, icons or bells and smells, styles of preaching, teaching, praying, prophesying or whatever; each generation needs to find its own way, with a scriptural foundation, for immersing themselves in God's love and allowing that to change their lives and the lives of others.

This is especially so in this century where we already find ourselves working with a generation who are disdainful of formalised religion but who seek a spiritual reality.

Who wants religion when we can have Jesus? Unfortunately we sometimes settle for the security and routine of the former when Jesus is shouting: "There is so much more. Take up your cross and follow me."

The church needs a new generation, not necessarily just in terms of age, who can identify how the gospel of Jesus will retain all the innate power inherent in it, who can forge a way for this generation to be connected to God.

San Luis Obispo's mission reminded me of the truth that while God is "the same today, yesterday and forever", the church is people and people need to be connected with God; not institutionalised; not bound by practices which have lost their life and vitality; not honouring the practices of men more than God; not fearful of stepping beyond what has been done to embrace what God wants now.