Sunday, September 27, 2020

The death of a headquarters and resurrection of the parish. . .

It is no secret that national headquarters are suffering.  For years we have built up the idea in business, industry, arts, entertainment, and, yes, religion, that it matters more what is done on the larger scale than it does on the local level.  That seems to be fading.  We found out that big business is so big it does not even know what happens outside of its institutional center.  We discovered that people could work from home or not work at all and what mattered was the people ordered and products were delivered.  The ordinary man in brown became as important as the head of Ford or GM in the grand scheme of things.  Industry struggled and the ordinary truck driver became the most important link in the chain -- along with the folks on the assembly lines.  Arts and entertainment taught us that those folks who are paid so much to produce, direct, and star in movies can be as essential to life as the closed anchor store in the darkened mall.  And just maybe, those who press for churchly things on the national level have discovered that the parish is the most important place in the life of Christianity.  And this may be the key to it all.  

If the parish rises to its always essential but too often forgotten place at the center of it all, then just maybe there is hope for Christianity after all.  We have been so busy building mega churches and small earthly kingdoms to justify our existence that we have all but ignored that where two or three are gathered in His name, there He is, there is the Kingdom in our midst, and there is the gate of heaven.  In the end, it is this that is key to the life or death of Christianity.  You will notice that Hebrews does not challenge us to maintain the endless zoom meetings or not forsake the conference calls but not to neglect our meeting together (THE assembly, ecclesia, and qahal) where Christ is present according to His promise, distributing the gifts He has pledged to us.

I hope and pray that we may attention to this.  The challenges whose answers might have led us to wait for the call from the bishop or to listen to the pronouncements of national headquarters to figure out our way through the pandemic had to be confronted on a local level.  How we deal with the judgment that the Kingdom of God is not essential will not be argued by lawyers in courts as much as it will be decided by the people who put on their masks (or not) and come to be where Christ is, willing to risk this mortal life for the eternal.  We will not be saved by PPP programs or other temporary financial measures but we shall be saved by the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all our sins.  And that blood is poured out for us into the cup we must drink if we are to be Christ's own and live under Him now and eternally.  We will likely be smaller but less distracted by programs or stuff that too often competes with the Divine Service for central place in the life of the Church and in the hearts of God's people.  If our sports leagues and yoga classes and self-help groups fade, it just may allow us to see again why we are the Church and what we as the Church are to be about.

Popes and bishops, presidents and superintendents, whatever you call them, did not mean as much as the local pastor or priest.  That is always how it was, though it is sometimes forgotten.  We were failed by most of our institutional incarnations of the Church but we have been rescued by courageous pastors and people who insisted against all professional advice that the Church must continue to live by the Word of the Lord which endures forever and the Sacraments of life and worship.  But God has not failed us.  He is still where He has promised to be.  As long as we are there, too.

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