The city of Colma, California is unlike any other in the world.
The incorporated city of Colma has 1,520 residents. But the living are outnumbered by the dead one thousand to one. That’s right. This “city” serves as a necropolis. Literally “city of the dead,” for its giant neighbor to the north, San Francisco. More than one and a half million dead people are buried in this little town.
The history of Colma goes back to the Nineteenth Century. In the days of the California Gold Rush, prospectors arrived in San Francisco in droves. But they not only brought their thirst for gold, they also brought disease. Pandemics so ravaged the city that its 27 cemeteries were filled to capacity within a few decades. At the same time, the city was bursting at the seams and land for housing was a precious commodity.
So, in 1902, the city fathers made a fateful decision. “San Francisco’s real estate should be for the living, not the dead.”
No more burials were permitted within the city limits. So more than 150,000 graves were relocated to the newly established town of Colma.
And while, today, Colma’s living residents are in decline its “permanent” population has grown tenfold. With 75 more arriving every day! Today the lives of the living in Colma revolve around the dead. And why not? Many of them are celebrated heroes, like Wyatt Earp and his beloved wife Josephine, baseball slugger Joe Dimaggio, and blue jeans creator, Levi Strauss.
You know, the town of Colma reminds me of many of mainstream Protestantism’s “historic churches.”
A Growing population of dead and diminishing living. Sadly, too many of these churches are in decline. They give their attention to their past and celebrate their history and its heroes, instead of focusing on their Christ-given mission to proclaim His gospel and prepare for His judgment seat. They’ve lost their vision and fervency.
Granted, there’s great importance in looking back on the wonders which God has performed throughout our history. This recounting of God’s faithfulness in bygone years constitutes the theme of many biblical psalms (Psalms 107, 135, 136, etc.).
Yet the Psalms also call on us to “Sing to the LORD a new song” of the wonderful things that God is doing in our lives here and now (Psalm 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; also Isaiah 42:10; Revelation 5:9; 14:3). Such “new songs of praise” to God can only rise, however, from a vibrant and personal relationship with the Living God. This is a lesson for every church. Focus on the Living God and seek to please Him – just as those heroes from the past did.
Dear Father in heaven, please sharpen the focus of my faith and the focus of my church. Grant that our pursuit will be to please You and to do Your will. Amen.