Recently, I purchased a stack of newspapers that highlighted some of the most momentous events of the 20th century from the Goodwill thrift store online auction.
Over the course of a mere 24 years, these newspapers trumpeted the end of World War 2 (“PEACE AT LAST,” August 15th , 1945), the assassination of President Kennedy (“PRESIDENT KILLED,” November 22, 1963), and finally the moon landing (“MAN WALKS ON MOON,” July 20, 1969).
I wonder what it was like to live before anyone had ever walked on the moon? In this year to come, our human race will mark 50 years since the first human beings stood on the surface of the
moon, five years before I was born.
Many of our members at Trinity were alive when the astronauts from the United States landed on the moon. Many, indeed, likely remember that day, sitting in front of the TV, and watching this humanity-altering event with millions and millions of other people throughout the world. What must that have been like for people? What’s it like to think of this 50 years later?
And what must the level of change from that time to this have been like for all of us reading these words right now?
What must it have been like for you to deal with that much change in the world? Changes not only in how the world works, and how we as humans think about ourselves and each other?
As humanity often feels like we are alone and at the fate of forces beyond our control, to have lived in the last 100 years, as we all have, is to have dealt with changes that people could have foreseen but many would never believe could ever take place.
As a child, I met Buzz Aldrin, one of the astronauts who first stepped on the moon. He came to the University of North Dakota, to address a group of us “Young Astronauts” whose minds were lit afire with the possibilities of space travel. Not long after, the space shuttle Challenger was literally lit afire and lost, along with its crew of seven, and the hopes and dreams of a generation.
Still, that seed of exploration, of rocket propulsion, of going into places and realms that humans have never explored, still lives in my creative consciousness, still makes my heart beat a little faster. And I wonder if it might not come to germinate in the church of the 21st century as well?
As a church, not only as Trinity Lutheran Church, we are being called, in the words of a prayer we read together at the special congregational meeting on December 16th, “to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.” For some, these paths are too much to bear. More familiar paths are needed.
Others, I hope, will be up to the task of exploring what the church could look like in this century, in which churches are for the vast majority of people like the surface of the moon itself: something they would never set foot on. Weddings take place everywhere now, and funerals need not happen in churches. Confirmations for Christian children and bar/bat mitzvahs for Jewish children are not the rites of passage to adulthood they once were.
The church, including our own dear Trinity Lutheran Church of Park Forest, must change. Our message need not change, but our context must fundamentally change.
Our call to change is like we are being called out to set foot on the moon. The “beautiful, beautiful, beautiful . . . magnificent desolation” was how the moon’s surface was described in 1969. This is the present reality of our church. Beautiful, magnificent, and in many cases, desolate.
We can approach the desolation of our churches with sadness, anxiety, and emptiness, or we can remember the rest of that prayer I mentioned earlier: “Send us out with good courage, knowing not where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.”
Because that love, which we celebrate on Christmas Day, is REAL. It can really guide and support us. And we must rest in it like there is no tomorrow. Because, literally, there is no tomorrow in the church without the love and guidance of God through our savior Jesus Christ.
We are about to live into our faith in a whole new way. For some, it will be like the church itself has stepped out onto the moon. Church will not look like it has. We don’t have many templates to follow. Only that what has worked no longer does, but the Gospel still lives, and it is our challenge, our duty, and our delight to find out what that way will be.
And, in the words of Frank Sinatra, with God’s had leading us and love supporting us, We will never walk alone.
May God bless you each day of the new year to come!