Looking Out Over the Future
We are at a moment of a new and necessary reformation in our church. This reformation is necessary not only for Trinity Lutheran Church, or for churches in Park Forest, but in many places where churches are struggling to survive. I do have an inkling of that vision of the future of our struggling churches that I want to share with you.
In this vision, it is as if I am out on a long dock that extends a ways into a large lake, looking off into the night across a vast body of water.
I can’t see exactly what is on the other side, but I can see campfires burning in the night, far off in the distance, fires that are set to watch for the future, fires that have light for what is to come next. And I feel that we need to get a boat to travel to the other side and see what that light will show us.
The church of Christ will continue forever, whether or not Trinity will host it. We have spent the last several years adrift on that lake, not knowing which way the wind would blow us, or on which shore we would land.
But I can see the watchfires burning in a hundred circling camps, the watchfires of a new dawn of Christianity, one not based in guilt and shame and fear, nor in the accumulation of money or members or adherents, but one built in the love of the creation for the Creator, one which cannot bind that love up in a building but must literally take down the doors to let everyone in.
I have seen the watchfire of a new direction for how we live in community, when so many of our communities have been stretched beyond their breaking point and must find a new basis on which to come together, a new covenant of love and care.
We have been traveling the last six decades in a church that even looks like a ship. With our vote to sell this beautiful, historic facility, proceeds from the sale of our church could fund our journey to the other side of that lake, to bring us to the dim light that God might have for us burning in those distant watchfires.
I can't tell you today what our future will be. I don't have a plan to sell you. But we now have the opportunity to turn our church into a boat that could take us across this lake to look into God's destiny for us and perhaps for other churches as well that are facing the same challenges we are.
In the early years of the second world war, British prime Minister Winston Churchill proclaimed to his nation that their hardest times were ahead of them. The battle to save France from Nazi rule was over, and Nazis were advancing to Britain. The fate of the world really did at that point rest on Britain not being conquered.
Churchill told his nation in that time when their resolve was most needed in the world, when their nation may also easily have fallen to Nazi occupation, that if the British empire lasted a thousand years, people would look back on that time and say “this was their finest hour.”
It is easy to believe that the finest hour of the Christian church was when all the Sunday schools were bursting at the seams, or when all the pews in all the churches were filled to capacity and latecomers had to go to the balcony. By the standards of the world, that would have defined success.
We are not facing down a menace like the Nazi empire. But we are at a moment when the form of Christian community we have known has been changing, and we do not know what it will come to look like. That is the case in a majority of churches. We have seen some possible ways forward. I am convinced that we could find more, because when we step out in faith, God will always come to meet us.
Beloved in Christ, this is *our* finest hour. This is the hour in which we can take control of a ministry that has been drifting for a long time, in a form of church that has been taking on water and going under in church after church after church for years.
We can make a new life in ministry to bring good news to those who are poor, to bring freedom to those who live in captivity to fear, captivity to bad theology that shames and blames and scares, captivity to loneliness and to oppression of many kinds.
And I truly believe with the help of God working in and through us that we can help a culture that has lost its way through the intensity of its differences to find its way back to its better self, starting here, in this village of Park Forest, and working outward from here. Our village needs us. Our nation needs us. Our world needs us and all who carry the fire of God’s love into a world that is hurting from the fire of dictators’ populist lies, IEDs and nuclear weapons, and the hot pain of hunger in an underfed child’s belly.
Because this is the year of God’s favor. This is the year of jubilee, and with the power of the Holy Spirit working through us, with the crucified and risen Lord Jesus walking with us, I truly believe that we can claim the voice of love that God has given us to shout to the nations.
Because Jesus is risen and he lives, here, today, and not just for us, but for all who live under the shadow of death, either literal death of the body, or death of our churches from lack of membership or irrelevant messages. For in his death, there is eternal life. And by his wounds will come the healing of the nations.
Come, join the new reformation. It does not need great or famous or rich people to start it, because it is already underway through the working of the Holy Spirit. God needs living voices.
May God bless you every day,