Tuesday, March 5, 2019
Lets get good works out of the church and into the world where they beong. . .
A while ago I listened to a hurting soul complain that they church had not been there during the worst any parent could face, the death of a child. The pastor did not visit, the church did not seem to care, and, the best ministry that person received was from people not even associated with a church, or at least a Lutheran one, the peers from that person's workplace. This had happened before I became pastor and yet I took it personally. I inquired since the person was well connected to the congregation. Did no one from the congregation visit, bring food, ask how they might help, write a card, offer support, shed tears, pray for you, etc? Well, yes, they did but the church did nothing and the pastor did not do much at all. Therein lies the problem. The church is ONLY what the pastor does and only what the congregation does as an organized whole and not what individual Christians do as part of that body.
This is especially true when it comes to good works. Some in my parish complain that we are not doing as much as we should (is that ever not true?) in the community. When I begin mentioning what is done, the complaint is that much of that is not being done by the church but individual Christians within the church. In other words, it only counts what is done by the collective whole working together and the good works of individual Christians are separate. They look at the budget to find out what the church is doing and they see most of that budget particular to the work of the planting, nurturing, and growing the Kingdom -- missions in district and synod, mission to a sister group in Africa, teaching and learning the Word, worship, etc... Yes, there is also money for the soup kitchen, cooperative financial aid for poor, money to support those who cannot afford counseling, etc... but these are not enough. They complain that the church is not doing enough good works in the community.
They are wrong. The good works the church is doing include the good works individual Christians are doing who belong to that community of faith. The fruit of their life together in Word and Sacrament IS reflected in their good works on behalf of neighbor. It is an artificial and foolish distinction to separate out what the church does as a community working together (largely budget) from what the church does as individual Christians in the world. David Scaer has it right and it also applies to the way we judge the work of the church in the community -- good works are the fruit of the individual's life in the Word and nourished by the Table of the Lord and this is the work ONLY the church can do. Without this good work of the means of grace, the good works that flow from faith will not flow to neighbor.
I am not sure when the good works of the church became identified solely with budget and the programs of the community but it is not a good thing. I am not sure when people began to make a distinction between what was done by the church as a whole and the church as individual Christians fulfilling their baptismal calling in the world, but it is not a good thing. We need to reverse this false perception of the good done by the church and the good done by the Christian. ONLY the church can and will do the good of teaching the doctrine of that Word, preaching that Word, baptizing, nurturing the faith, setting the Lord's Table, hearing confession, and equipping the baptized to live out their vocation in the world. UNLESS the church does that which only the church does, there will be few good works happening to benefit neighbor, few words of witness spoken to family, friends, co-workers, and strangers, and few actions of love toward those in need.
So my friend is wrong. They may not have gotten all they wanted from the pastor and they may being carrying that wound for a long time, but they are not correct when they said the church was not there for them. Their brothers and sisters in the faith were there -- doing what Christians do when they cannot make the hurt go away. They bear the burden with the wounded, feed and console, sit in silence, do what can be done while grief holds the wounded frozen in pain, and remind them of the hope that is in them. And that is how it should be. I expect, that is exactly how it is. I see it in my own parish, have experienced it in my own grief, and encourage it as best I can for this is how and where the people of God manifest their faith amid the family of faith and in the world.