Pastor's Message

February 2020

I (we) spend a lot of time thinking and talking about the fact that “church” isn’t what it was several decades ago. It’s probably better to say that society isn’t the same as it was when we were growing up. For us in the church this ends up being a conversation largely about numbers and money. Why don’t parents bring kids to Sunday School? Why don’t they bring themselves to Sunday liturgy? Where are we going to get the money to continue? We think “what’s wrong with them?” Or maybe worse, “what’s wrong with us?” This is the morass we find ourselves here at St. Peter’s at times. We’re not alone. People across our ELCA and much of modern American Christianity find themselves in the same predicament.

 

These are very bad questions and worries I believe. Allow me to be blunt, on the verge of harshness: are we not basing our concerns in a past that was never too great to begin with? I do rejoice in the fact that I was brought up in a family that took me to church, where I could learn something about God, of Jesus Christ, his Word and his Church. That’s about as far as I can go with that, though. The church in the American past has always been far from a perfect situation.

 

Human community has an immense ability to self-aggrandize itself. As good Lutherans we know that anything can turn into an idol. The church or society of the past should certainly be appreciated for what it’s worth, but not worshiped. When we long for any particular, idolized past we’re no different from the Jews who complained in the Wilderness about how well they had it in slavery in Egypt! If we believe the Bible, then we know that God is always liberating us and bringing us into a better place, regardless of how much we might hanker for bygone days.

 

I’m really hopeful for the future. Here’s why: I worship a Savior who has come into the world and revealed a Good News salvation. Better yet, this Savior has come into my life and grabbed ahold of me and won’t let me go. He’s much more interesting than anything that I can remember in my past. He’s more wonderful than any of the greatest art or music or great experience that I can have. And, at the same time, he’s the one who can descend into the worst messes, even much worse than we think we have it here and now, even the tragedy of death, and raise it up and bring new life. This Savior Jesus, pours into our hearts faith, HOPE and love.

 

Furthermore, this same Triune God sends the Holy Spirit to create the Church. The Spirit calls, redeems and sanctifies a flock of sinners. NEVER worship the church! It won’t save you. In fact, it will disappoint you, because it’s full of sinners just like you. But you can’t have Jesus without the church. It IS his very Body. You worship God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and you’re given the church. In fact, that very God draws us into the church.

 

We certainly have responsibilities in regards to the church. God does work through us. “God’s work. Our hands” as the ELCA slogan goes. But the first thing before all else is that it literally is God’s Church. That means God’s in control. For our future here I’m very hopeful. First, the Scriptures teach us that God is never without a witness, he’ll always keep a faithful remnant alive. God might even trim the vine, but always to make it more faithful (John 15.1-8). Secondly, God has richly blessed us with material gifts and resources. Especially here in the U.S., we’re still (and will continue to be) the wealthiest church on earth. It’s simply a matter of responsibly stewarding the great wealth we’ve been entrusted.

 

All in all, what I’m getting at, is that if there IS a crisis with the church and U.S. Christianity, it’s one of faith. Above all, I believe in the Triune God, the God of the faith once (and always) delivered to the saints. May you and I spend much more time thinking about this, than worrying about things way beyond our control. Our circumstances and how we experience them might have changed. God sure hasn’t.

 

Pr Ed Barnett

 

 

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