reflecting on the journey
Love doesn’t begin with doing; it begins with being.
I’d like to let you in on a little secret. One I’m not all that proud of. There are times when I share something on Facebook I haven’t read. You heard me. There are times when I share something on Facebook I haven’t read. Something I received from a colleague, a friend, I trust. Something I, eventually, read. But I post it, not knowing what, exactly, it’s about.
I did it, again, a couple weeks ago. I shared an article from The Atlantic. “My Church Doesn’t Know What to Do Anymore” is the title. Written by an episcopal priest from southern Virginia. It’s a good title. And it sounds like it has something to offer congregations wondering in the wilderness. Congregations like us. Well, I, finally, got to it. And after having read it, I’d hoped there would be more to it. Frankly, it sounds, pretty much, like conversations my episcopal collaborators and I’ve had. Rehashing the changes and the chances of ministry during a pandemic. Reciting our trials and tribulations. Mask or no masks? Singing or not? Online? In-person? The article was a litany – a lament – that could have been written by any of us.
Thirteen hundred words. That’s how long the article is. Sixty times, the writer uses ‘I’ and ‘we’! The name Jesus? Used only once! Even then, nothing more than the object of the pastor’s believing. Thirteen hundred words. And the word ‘god’ is never used. Not one time. There’s nothing about gospel. Nothing about grace. And the author wonders why “My Church Doesn’t Know What to Do Anymore.” It’s a good title. A valid concern. I only wish the article had more to do with it.
But it did remind me of one thing … something I learned – we learned – a long time ago. When the church is having problems being church, it’s usually because we’ve forgotten. Forgotten who we are. Forgotten whose we are. We’re not facing, nowadays, a crisis in practice. We’re facing a crisis in being! A crisis in believing! A crisis in identity! Face it, we all know what the church is supposed to look like! We know how the church is supposed to act! Singing songs! Saying prayers! Reading the bible! And of course, dropping something in the plates as they pass by! Feeding the hungry! Inviting neighbors and friends to come! We’re good people! Nice people! Friendly people! We do our best to do more! To try harder! So, it just doesn’t make sense when we keep getting smaller! Keep growing grayer! We keep at it! But like so many others, after a while, we reach the point when we just don’t know what else we can do! We’re ready to throw in the towel. Turn off the lights. And walk away.
Thing is, it’s not about doing! No matter how long or how much or how well! It’s about identity. Who we are! Whose we are! That’s the insight that’s brought us this far across the wilderness. That’s what everyone needs to know. Before they leave the mud pits! Before they cross the sea! Before they set foot in Canaan! We can learn skills. And we can possess talents. But without knowing who we are … whose we are … those talents and skills get us only so far!
It’s been six hundred eighteen days since all this began. The masks. The social distancing. But for us, for Midland Lutheran Church, our time in the wilderness has been longer than that. January 11, 2019, the sale of our building became final. That’s when our pilgrimage – our exodus – began. Thirty-four months ago! A hundred forty-nine weeks ago! One thousand forty days ago! And contrary to popular expectation, we’re still here! Making our way across the wilderness! One step – one week – at a time! But our patience, our strength, our endurance, doesn’t come from what we do … it comes from who we are!
We ARE a people called! Remember that word from the Small Catechism? We ARE a people called! And we ARE a people gathered! We ARE a people enlightened and made holy and kept! We’re a people created and protected and preserved! A people redeemed and purchased and freed! That’s who – what – we ARE! And more than anything else … than everything else … we ARE a people loved! A people ADORED! By god! Funny thing, that’s another word that’s never used in the article … the word ‘love!’
The church doesn’t know what to do anymore! Doesn’t know what to do because it’s forgotten! Forgotten who it is! Forgotten whose it is! And so, it has no reason to go on! Through the doors. Beyond the walls. To the other side of the windows. But faith – for us – isn’t a living and daring confidence in our own choices, our own decisions. We don’t stake our life on good words and best intentions, as some do. Our confidence is in love! Our confidence is in god’s love! Whether inside looking out or outside looking in … in Canaan or Egypt … That’s what our lives are staked on!
After all, that’s the greatest commandment! Not loving god and loving others. But simply loving! Just! Like! Jesus! And that’s not something we can do. It’s something we can only be! Something we can only become! Not by our own! Not on our own! But only as the story’s told and retold! Only as the gospel’s administered and proclaimed!
My church doesn’t know what to do anymore! But that’s okay. The church might have forgotten. The church might continue to forget. That love might, even, have slipped the mind of a few of us, called and ordained. But god … god remembers! God remembers and god acts! Because that’s what god does! That’s what love does! It just keeps on loving! No matter who! No matter what! Even when the loved one forgets!
Like the song says, through many dangers, toils, and snares, we’ve already come! It’s grace that’s brought us safe, thus far. And it’s grace that leads us …
it’s grace that leads us …
it’s grace that leads us …