Tuesday, September 15, 2015
That is not how we do things around here. . .
This is not all bad. We do not live in a cookie cutter world. Some things are different regionally and locally. Most of the time we work to preserve the way we do things as a means of preserving our past, of tying ourselves to the place where we are. I would not want to live in a world where everything was so uniform that there was no room for local adaptation. But it is too often overdone.
Even when things are not working out as we please, we cling to the familiar and find it easier than changing things up. We tend to choose the comfortable misery of our predictable lives over the less comfortable misery of what is unpredictable and unknown. I understand. There is some security and serenity in things remaining the same.
Most of our changes tend to come when crisis prevents us from avoiding or ignoring the problem. When it is no longer possible to keeping doing what we have always done, we finally submit to the need to make changes. It is uncomfortable and we often resent such changes -- or more accurately, being forced to make them. If the crisis ends, we go back to our old comfortable ways.
When we do make these changes forced by circumstance or emergency, they are technical changes that react to the crisis but do not substantially alter the way we do things. They do not change our values; they only change our behavior -- and then only temporarily. This is exactly the problem of the Pharisees and we all know how hard Jesus was on them and the idea that God is satisfied with grudging change to the exterior of our lives while our hearts are aloof to the Spirit's influence and faith.
A clear example of this is the way we deal with crises of falling attendance or money. When we make changes in outreach or stewardship they are usually occasioned by a crisis (we have nobody left in the pews or no money to pay our bills). We enter into these changes reluctantly (we would not talk about them at all if we did not have to). And the resulting changes are generally short term (until the crisis is past and we get a new family or can pay our bills).
I know that this is often how we act in my parish. Especially about money. We don't want to talk about money or giving (so we don't unless we have to). When it happens the Elders or Council encourage the Pastor to visit a few families or to make an announcement or preach a sermon on money in the hopes that the crisis will be resolved and we can go back to the way we usually do things around here.
The trouble is that we do not need to hone our crisis management skills. What we need is to face up to the real issues behind the crises. The church grows through the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. We don not need gimmicks or to run to the evangelicals to borrow and put together an outreach program that is long on style but pitifully short on Lutheran substance. We need to rest our confidence in the means of grace and to make sure we are supporting God's work with our prayers, a warm welcome to the stranger, an unapologetic witness to family and friends, and generous offerings.
Among the first words a child learns are mine and stranger. The word mine is the enemy of God's work. Sin taught us this and fear entrenches this concept in our minds. God taught us all things belong to Him and we were given the privilege and joy of exercising dominion over His creation for His purpose and His glory. When our first parents decided this was wrong, Eden was lost to us and we were forced to fight with the very creation over which we were created to exercise dominion. Sin ended up stealing everything from us (our lives, our days, our abilities, and our things). We gained nothing and lost it all. God could have written us off but He did not. He loved us when we loved Him not. He sent forth His own Son in our flesh to pay the price of our rebellion, forgive our sin, and bestow upon us new and everlasting life.
The same is true of the word stranger. We are territorial people who view strangers with suspicion. Our parents taught us too well as children and now we trust no one, hardly even God. So some of us wonder why anyone would ever want to visit our church or be a Lutheran. And it shows. We are not even convinced so how can we convince others. Lutheranism is great in theory but uneven in practice (isn't everything). Imagine how things might be different if we had confidence in the Word and Sacraments, if we believed the Spirit WAS at work in the means of grace, if we believed that our Confessions were good and salutary and the way we should all believe, and if the name Lutheran were a positive statement instead of a negative one.
We need to talk more about money but perhaps less about giving to this or that. We need to talk more about confidence in the promises, Word, and work of God and less about evangelism. We need to talk more about the vocational character of our new life and how we have been restored to the work that was always God's design for us to do. But, too often, that is not how we do things around here. . . we respond better to crises than we do positively to the graces and gifts of God already among us where His Word is proclaimed faithfully and His sacraments administered according to His design. But you already knew that.