Sunday, August 9, 2015
Optimist or pessimist. . .
There are those who would insist I must be a pessimist. They read my complaints and presume that that is all I do -- complain -- and that my curmudgeonly perspective sees everything as bad. On a bad day, perhaps they are correct in their assessment. On the other hand, I am indebted to no pristine moment in the past nor do I believe that it would have been better to have been born at another time and in another place. This is where God has put me. I have no choice but neither am I merely resigned to His choice.
For men it is impossible but with God all things are possible. If believing that is optimism, then I am an optimist. While I truly believe that the challenges facing Christians are many and great, I am also mindful of the promise that Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. This does not mean that God has some plan hidden in our messes that He is bringing to pass. What it does mean is that God's Church is His and He will not abandon her nor neglect her. We daily and regretfully present to Him our messes and our failures but He is not bound by them or confined by them. Though we have confused our calling, God is not confused about His.
I am a pessimist when I read every new plan and paradigm as the latest and greatest thing to rescue the Church and accomplish God's saving purpose. I am a pessimist against every person who presumes to be the Church's savior. I am a pessimist against modernity parading as the new work of the Spirit. I am a pessimist against the Pollyannas who think everything will work itself out in the end with or without us.
But I am an optimist because I believe the Word of God does what it promises. I am an optimist who is confident the splash of water is the hand of God making a new Christian. I am an optimist who believes that the Spirit is at work in the means of grace and that this is how God builds, sustains, and endures His Church against her enemies. I am an optimist who is in awe of the flesh of Christ and His blood given and shed for us once and now present to us in the Blessed Sacrament. I am an optimist who cannot quite contain himself on Sunday morning that anyone was here much less the many whom the Spirit has called and gathered around the Word and Table of the Lord. I am an optimist who believes that if I can contain my sinful desire to control all things, God will accomplish His purpose even through me. I am an optimist who believes that the Church was here before I came and, God willing and by faithfully administering the means of grace, she will be here for the next pastor who follows me. I am an optimist who knows that God has given us all the resources we need even though we are always short of money (not because God is stingy but because our wallets remain the hardest part of us to convert).
Christians are often considered optimists because we feed the poor without making a dent in poverty, we show mercy to the suffering but there seems no shortage of pain, and we preach the eternal Gospel to those who cannot hear it for the noise of the moment. And we do so without growing weary of well-doing -- not because of our own character virtues but because we know God has called,, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified us. . . and if us, He will continue to call others.
Maybe it is not optimism. Maybe it is faith. Without it I do not know how I could rise from the bed in the morning or rest at night. I don't know how I could do what I do over and over again expecting new result and not go crazy. I don't know how I could look in the mirror and expect God to work through such a pathetic excuse for a child of God I am. I don't know how I could see my way through the maze of the present with all its temptations, trials, and troubles and know that if I die and when I die, I will rise with Christ to new and everlasting life. Maybe it is not a matter of optimism but faith. I guess I feel like Peter who said Lord, where else can we do? You alone have the words of eternal life... If I read those words rightly, Peter was not making a bold statement of faith but expressing what I express every day -- I would love to find another way but there is no other that leads to everlasting life. I would love a god who defers to my reason and fulfills my wishes but I have only the God who has loved me to death on the cross. I literally have no other place to go. . . and neither do you. But do not be resigned to this as if it were a bad thing, it is the best there is!
I am optimist in one sense; that God has given us nothing less than His best to save us and delivers up this treasure every Sunday in the Divine Service... so if we will respond with voices raised in songs of praise, grateful spirit in joy, trusting hearts in His gracious will, ears that hear His voice, and wills that follow His lead, it is the best there can be until we see into glory. Sometimes I have to remind others about this. All the time I have to remind myself. Lord, I believe. . . Help Thou my unbelief!