Saturday, November 17, 2012
Hooking up with Jesus. . .
You can argue all your want the error or evil of such a pale imitation of what the word and promise of Christ offer and intend but I think there is something far deeper at work here. On the one hand, the only benefits desired and the ones defined by the individual. We seek from the Church and from faith not that which Christ has deigned to give but that which we have identified and which we choose to seek to have fulfilled. So we want not a Gospel of eternal life but a little good news and a better life today. We seek not a death of the old life and resurrection to new life but sometime moments of renewal by which we transfuse a bit of eternity into the tired old life of today just to keep it all going. We are all good to go and have every intention of being committed and faithful over the long term -- at least until the next best thing or a better one comes along.
It reminds me of Augustine's comment that it is far easier to come to Jesus than to continue in Him. Jesus Himself renders evidence of this when He speaks of the Word as seed scattered and eaten up before growing, growing without roots and withering in the heat of the day, or growing among weeds that steal its life and choke its future. We do not have a problem coming to Jesus. We like to do that. It is continuing in Christ that is the big problem.
Could we not say that confession and absolution is not the Divinely intended aid to continuing? Our patient endurance is tested and found wanting over and over again. We come with the tattered rags of our failures and are met with the open arms of the Waiting Father who forgives, restores, and rejoices over us. Is not the consistent pattern of the mass one of the chief ways in which the lost find a home to return to? When the lost and wandering return and find the words and music have changed so that they are now strangers and aliens to the domain into which they were baptized, they have become not the lost returned but the unchurched who find a new church home every time they come home again.
In the debate about missional vs maintenance the problem is always framed as the problem of reaching out to new. Among the statistics of membership loss for the mainline denominations is the hint of a far deeper and bigger problem -- retaining those who once joyfully confessed with us evangelical and catholic faith. Keeping is more difficult than attracting new and continuing or enduring in the faith is harder than coming in the first place.
Our hookups with Jesus are symptomatic not of a new problem but of the age old problem Augustine himself identified centuries before -- patient endurance is the more difficult problem in faith. Fortunately for us, God has already foreseen and prepared for this. The sacramental grace of absolution in the personal domain where the lost are recovered and the fallen restored. Its vitality is keep to the keeping of those who have heard the Word of the Lord. Second, the development of a recognizable form and pattern of words for the Divine Service remains important in restoring the lost. We do not need to reinvent ourselves but to offer to those who come weekly, monthly, or even annually, a familiar face and form when they come back home again. A few new things now and again are not so bad but when they return to find the Church has reinvented itself/herself and looks little like it/she was before, they have nothing to return to.
Just a few thoughts today... something pastoral but definitely random meanderings...