Friday, November 27, 2015

But in the real world. . .

We talk the good talk from the pulpit and in the classrooms of the churches but often the way we operate gives a distinctly different witness.  We speak of Christ as our true and only foundation but then we stew and fret over statistics and the financial bottom line as if Christ had little to do with how things work in real life.  We preach Christ alone but then we act as if gimmicks will get them to church on Sunday morning and giving them what they want or like will keep them there.  We say that God is efficacious in working through the means of grace but then we put the onus on the personality of the pastor, the welcoming activity of the congregation, and the upbeat character of Sunday morning as those things which differentiate a healthy parish from one in decline.  We beat our chest about our Reformation heritage but we don't want to hear the sermons of Luther from the pulpit or worship like they did in Bach's church or go to confession like Lutherans once did.  We lament the major doctrinal divisions that define Christianity today but we allow such things as personal preference, musical taste, and cultural trend to further and even more deeply divide us -- even within the same congregation!

Pastors are just as guilty as the folks in the pew for speaking one way and living another.  It is after all the real world in which we live.  Things are not quite as simple as they seem in the real world and we must often sacrifice our principles to go along and get along.  We insist that we are fully committed to Lutheran identity, confessional integrity, and doctrinal purity but we purchase our devotional resources from those who insist baptismal water does nothing, Holy Communion is but a symbolic communion at best, and the Bible is really a book of rules to live by or secret ways to get what we really want from God, spouse, children, workplace, or neighborhood.

We read the stories of the Bible and discount them as if the saints of old did not live in a world like ours, did not have to face the difficult choices we must face, or had some special advantage or secret wisdom we do not possess.  The truth is far simpler and yet much more difficult.  They heard the Word and believed and believing followed without any guarantees or special graces to prevent them from the risks that faith always requires.  It is nice to talk about how things are in the real world and how difficult it is to live Christian faith in that real world but it has always been that way.  The saints are the saints not because they possessed special wisdom or extraordinary character but because they trusted when everything in them and around them insisted it could not be done.  And when they fell, they came crawling back to God in repentance and found the surprise of grace to receive, absolve, and restore them.

Yes, we live in a world unfriendly to God and His Word and His Kingdom.  Yes, we live in a world where the things of God, the Word of God, and the ways of God are largely misunderstood and rejected.  Yes, it is a challenge to remain steadfast in doctrine and practice and endure the scorn of people we know and people we don't as well as ending up about as out of place as Amish in the big city.  But it has never been any different.  We are often fooled by the mythology of culture friendly to faith and its values but Jesus it not legend.  Jesus is Lord of real life people living in a real life world.

Jesus was blunt in warning us about this.  But we have chosen to forget His warning and to pine away for what will not be until a new heavens and a new earth replace this one.  Jesus does not promise a dull and bland Christian life but one with ups and downs, tests and trials, sorrows and struggles.  Oh, and yes, one thing more.  An outcome.  Where tears do not flow, where sorrows do not tear at our hears, where disappointment does not embitter, where sins are excised from the memory and sinful desire from the heart, where enemies lies defeated, dead, and forgotten, and where darkness has given way to Christ our eternal light.  We are not asked to find ways to make Christian life or the Church's work easier but to remain faithful especially when it is not easy but hard as hell.  The promise is now for a little while suffering but then glory.  The promise is not abandonment but the Spirit to lead us and guide us into eternal truth.  The promise is not fend for yourselves but the richest food of Word and Table.  This is our real world.  God help us to recognize it and live in it.  Amen.

1 comment:

John J. Flanagan said...

What you have said is true. Believers through the ages often struggle with keeping our faith strong, but God understands the weaknesses of the flesh, and in a timely fashion the quiet reassurance of the Holy Spirit reassures us. We are often our own worst critics, chiding ourselves for our failure to trust God through all of the practical issues which come our way. The act of reading the word of God, memorizing verses for our spiritual arsenal, bringing them into our minds......these things carry us through.....and HE tells us..."Be still, and Know that I am God."