"We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down."
Along similar lines, fwiw, at the end of this month's church newsletter I wrote some similar thoughts to challenge my parish to think that Christ might have greater plans for us than we realize. (I don't know what's going on with the font size - if you want to read it, try cutting and pasting into a word processor, and then enlarging the font.)
What are we going to do?
That can be more of a statement of panic than an actual question – “What are we going to do?” can actually mean, “I don’t think there is anything that can be done. We’ve got no way out of this hopeless mess.” You can hear the despair in the person’s voice.
But, “What are we going to do?” could also be asked very calmly or eagerly if you have many promising opportunities. Imagine the child in the morning, excited over the possible adventures: “What are we going to do today, mommy?” Imagine the child of God asking, “What blessings do you have in store for me today, Father?”
I now ask you, the members of St. Peter Lutheran Church, what are we going to do? You and I both know our congregation has many challenges. Despite that, don’t hear me ask the question with despair, like I’ve given up. Hear me ask it calmly, in an encouraging way, inviting you to provide answers to the question, “What are we going to do?” Note the word “we” – not just what can I do better as a pastor (that certainly is a long list), but what can we do together as a congregation?
The Doxology seminars and other recent conversations have shown me that I too often approach problems in the wrong way – as if the solution all depended upon me. (Luther has a nice prayer for pastors before church that confesses, “If I am left alone I shall easily bring [the church] all to destruction.”) God has blessed you with wisdom, knowledge, experiences and talents that can lead to solutions, which I would never think of (or be able to put into practice) on my own.
Speaking of Doxology, you might remember the last newsletter article was about authority. The abuse of power is destructive, while the proper use of divinely given authority builds up the church. Sin would have us see authority in terms of a chain of command – this leader tells the person under them what to do, like in the military. And yes, there is an element of the chain of command as God tells parents to raise their children in the discipline of the Lord. But that is done to preserve the Lord’s supply chain of blessings which He authorizes us to pass along to others. So, for instance, God authorized your parents to bring the blessing of life to you – not just by giving birth, but also by supporting you with the blessings of love, care, faith, food, clothing and shelter.
Now let’s take this thought into the Church. God’s blessings go from His sanctuary to His World – from the Heavenly sanctuary to His church in the world, and then from the church’s sanctuary out to the world. Again, there is an element of chain of command, as God authorizes His Church to proclaim the Law. But the Law is used in support of the supply chain of the Gospel, as He authorizes His people to bring to the world the blessings of forgiveness, peace, comfort, joy, and eternal life in Christ – blessings which we first freely receive from Him.
We cannot control the situations that we face, but we can work on improving our responses to them. What would happen if we refused to give up, but more often expected the Lord to provide possibilities when we ask, “What are we going to do?” As we find ourselves receiving so much help by God’s grace, it makes us want to bring the blessings of Christ to His world. What are we going to do when someone sins against us? When we get frustrated? When things do not go our way? I pray that God open our eyes to see how He would have us bring His blessings to the situation, that we would respond with the patience and peace that He first gave to us in Christ.
As a congregation, we directly supported Christ Our Savior Lutheran High School by providing them with our building for their classes. Now that they have their own buildings, they only use our church for chapel services. Our quilters still use the building on Tuesdays, we have our various meetings and a few meals, I do a little work here some weekdays. When I am visiting people, or doing other things elsewhere, mostly the building very quietly waits to be used on Sunday mornings.
What are we going to do? Individually some of you still support the High School, some support various spiritual and physical aid organizations locally and internationally. As a body of believers together, is there a way for our congregation to show charity to others, besides sending in mission offerings? Is God preparing us to use our buildings to bring more blessings to our congregation – or our community? Maybe, maybe not. To do something is not always better than to do nothing – but to do some things are better than doing nothing. What about a mid-week service of Scripture and prayer, a community Bible study, establishing our own food pantry? It might sound ridiculous, but who knows – maybe years from now, God will lead this congregation to re-open its school.
No, that would not succeed if we tried doing it now. But I mention the thought for a few reasons. First, to make the point that we might be able to guess where things are headed, but only God knows what the future holds, what good He will work for those who love Him. Second, to get you to start thinking about what our congregation could do as a congregation – and talk about it! If I kept those ideas to myself, they would have died with me. If you have ideas, mention them to your fellow members, bring them up to the elders, discuss them with me, and pray to God to guide us. Even if your idea is something that cannot happen right now, it might be able to happen in the future. Or it might lead to some way to build up the church, help our community or our world right now. Who knows what we might be able to do if we put our heads together and are willing to help one another? Only God knows.