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  • Writer's picturePastor Chris Wogaman

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!

Pastor Chris

  • Writer's picturePastor Chris Wogaman

When I was a boy, we had an old turntable with a cabinet for record albums, probably like every family had in the 1970s and before. In these days of songs available on demand, electronically, every time of day and night, it seems impossible that this old-school Magnavox combination of electronics and furniture ever existed. Yet for years, it was what people knew. If you wanted more music, you had to get more records, or listen for hours to hear the song on the radio.

One of the songs I waited all year to hear on those old 33s was “The Little Drummer Boy.” We had the Abbey Choir version, with a boy in a green head-scarf playing a snare drum, with a big star shining behind him on the cover. (Yes, I had to look this cover up.) I was only allowed to listen to Christmas music around Christmas. This time of year, when the snow began to fall, and excitement began to build for Christmas, I would also grow excited to hear this song.

“Do you see what I see?” This song begins with the night wind speaking to a little lamb. To a boy, this question seems perfectly normal. I didn’t know that wind didn’t speak, and that little lambs didn’t hear. “Do you hear what I hear?” said the little lamb to the drummer boy. It started as a whisper in the night wind, passed along through the most improbable of messengers.

This message made it through the shepherd boy to the mighty king. What was the message? A star. A song. A child. And peace. What kind of an odd message is this? My literalist young brain didn’t appreciate the poetry of suggestion contained in this narrative. But it loved the music. And the questions.

Do you see what I see? I see a way of life that is changing, as much as it has changed from a piece of ubiquitous living room furniture with a few dozen records to something that a child can carry in her pocket that holds 10,000 records.

I see a stunningly beautiful church that has all the colors of the rainbow, and a lot of empty seats in the pews on Sunday mornings. This is not new. This is not unique to Trinity. This is not something that people should feel sad or guilty about. This is simply the reality of a world that has changed from a place where your mother would have played a popular tune on the piano, to a place where you can google 40 different versions of that same tune and listen to it on your wireless earbuds.

I see a village of Park Forest that needs some work. I do not see the village as it was, but I see the village as it could be. Not as it will be, because I can no better see what will be than I could see a 128 gigabyte microSD memory card as a four-year-old child in 1979. I knew records. I could never have imagined something like I have today with me at all times, with over three straight weeks of music on a chip the size of my thumbnail.

I see an opportunity to reshape what it means to be a church. Not only to change the record. Not only change the song. Not only change the technology on which we listen to the music, or the singer singing it. But to re-envision what it means to hear that song and to sing it forward.

Beyond all the forms of how we bring the Christian religion to life, the ways in which we meet to “do church,” to keep it going and to support it as an institution, I hear that faint, bewitching song sung from the wind to the lamb to the child to the king. “From God’s lips to your ear, kid,” I can hear God speaking in the voice of George Burns.

What is that song? It is ancient, and the words change in every age. Yet the blood that beats at its heart is ever the same. Because, you see, this is a living song. It is a song that cannot die, no matter how many times the singer dies. The original language is beside the point. The number of verses, whether it rhymes, all this is window-dressing.

What matters is this: that the song starts in the heart of God, illumines the Christ child in the night so long ago, reflects off the rough wood of the cross, and bounces off the empty tomb on Easter morning.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to tell you what I see for Trinity. I don’t know if I can see Trinity as you see it. As we prepare for our special congregational meeting on December 16th about our future and decide whether we want to make some decisions about that future, can I ask you a favor? Can you teach me your song about Jesus, and about Trinity? Can you tell me if I’m getting my song across to you?

Could I see what you see, and hear what you hear? And could we listen to the song together, help each other remember all the words, and write it out in the language that only our church can properly speak so that others may hear it?

May God bless you in this holiday season, and every day of your life!

Pastor Chris

  • Writer's picturePastor Chris Wogaman

Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” –John 11:40

That is a big “if.” Although this is the case for many conditionals, as linguists call them, in this case Jesus’s “if” statement is huge: “If you believed.” How would you know that you had seen the glory of God? And is that the only way you will know that you have believed?

This line comes from the Gospel reading for All Saints Day, November 1st, which we will celebrate the following Sunday, November 4th. In this story, Jesus is talking to Martha, sister of Mary Magdalene, sisters of Lazarus, who died to prove a point about the glory of God. Indeed, Jesus comes along through this story, found only in the Gospel of John, sounding glib and self-assured.

“This illness does not lead to death, but is to show God’s glory,” Jesus said, before staying an extra two days after receiving the distress signal from Mary and Martha. Jesus seems to know just what will happen, even if nobody else can see it.

But Mary’s words pierce Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here our brother would not have died.” This time, her tears open the heart of Jesus to their pain. In Greek, it is three words, “ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς, “Jesus began to weep,” in the new NRSV version, or simply and directly in the King James, “Jesus wept.” But according to the Greek, Jesus literally bursts into tears.

What began as a means of showing the ability of God to raise a human being from the dead ended up as one of the most profound human experiences for Jesus. He could not hide behind “the glory of God” when told that he was responsible for the death of this precious man through his arrogance, negligence, and foot-dragging. Nobody wants to disappoint his friends like that, not even the Son of God.

Meeting people has that effect on a person. They are abstract in conversation; in person, they are truly real. In conversation, “the glory of God” sounds like a great and wonderful thing. In real life, showing the glory of God in this case led to scenes of wailing in the agony of loss. This is the reality of seeing the people as they really are: flawed, mortal, easily here one day and gone the next. Because these are real people, with a real loss of real life.

As I’m thinking ahead to this day of remembrance, and thinking of this passage, I wonder if there aren’t some resonances for Trinity Lutheran Church in this story? Churches look to pastors at times to be those miracle workers whose presence will “bring people in” and make the church young again. But that does not happen anymore.

There are times that I honestly wish we could magically generate a renaissance at Trinity to show how wonderfully glorious God is. But that’s not how Jesus works. He might not get there until four days after the beloved one dies.

The prospect of death no doubt scared and saddened Martha and Mary, and probably Lazarus as well. No doubt he didn’t want to die and his sisters didn’t want to lose him. Their community must have known him and the sisters as well, because people turned out in droves to comfort them in the wake of his loss.

But a death in Christ is always different. It may not lead to the rolling away of a stone as it did for Lazarus, and later for Jesus, but it will definitely always lead to change, and to a new birth. When we are baptized into Christ’s body, we are baptized into his death. That is reality for us as Christians, not a theological concept. We don’t see the change; we embody it.

Some of us may fear the death of our congregation. I have heard some voice that fear. To face mortality is a challenging experience; it is also freeing. We will not live forever as people or as a congregation. We may not have long life ahead of us; we may have more years than any of us can see now. But we can claim whatever years we have as abundant life, because that is what Jesus promises us. Even if we, including myself, have trouble believing it sometimes. If only it were easy to believe.

Our ministry at Trinity is still needed in Park Forest. Park Forest has changed dramatically, yet this village may have another act ahead of it. As I mentioned at our last Council meeting, neither Park Forest’s Plaza nor Trinity’s “plaza” as such will likely ever come back. But God awakens new possibilities each day. The possibilities really click when human lives and experiences behind them click together with their needs meeting the needs, and the gladness to serve, of the other.

We need a mission. Park Forest needs stable churches that care for its citizens. We need to re-envision what that will look like. But that project, which we will experience as discerning our future-focused, outward-focused mission, can and will be exciting, freeing, and ultimately healing for us at Trinity and for the Village.

We can take this journey together, however or wherever God is calling us in Christ. Because when Jesus calls, we will follow. It is what we do.

May God bless you every day!

Pastor Chris

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