Then Let the Servant Church Arise
The Church of Christ in every age
Beset by change but Spirit led,
Must claim and test its heritage
And keep on rising from the dead.
Has there never been a “potent” time for the Church of Christ to speak a word of challenge and solace to its society? This certainly seems like one of those times. On this late-August morning, as I write these words, I keep on my heart the prayers of our people at Trinity for healing, peace, strength, comfort, and consolation in loss.
I hear the cries of those across the nation, for justice from racial prejudice, religious persecution, sexual assault, financial peril, and those who are causing these conditions to happen. I hear the fear in the voices of those for whom the prospects of nuclear war grow more real, and then sink away again, and then rise again.
I hear the voice of a man disowning his white supremacist son, and his son trying to justify his anti-Semitic hatred with arguments about “white genocide” that spit in the face of those who have experienced actual genocide, such as happened to millions of Jews even within the span of some of our lifetimes.
I hear also the questions of what our path of ministry will be for the future, after a long and wonderful past here at Trinity. All churches are asking these questions, not just ours—questions of how to reach out, how to connect more with our neighbors—which often turn into questions of how we can “attract more members.”
The attractional model of church growth still has its day in some churches. Ours is not one of them. It is not that Trinity isn’t attractive; I think we are gorgeous. It is that, if we were going to attract our way into the future, it would have already happened. People would have already come en masse.
Coming to this realization is both frightening and liberating. It is frightening because nothing that we do is going to attract enough members to “replenish” our membership “supply.” Thank God. This doesn’t mean we want to try to be unwelcoming and scare people away; it just means that we don’t look to ourselves and our own attractiveness to grow the church.
And in that is the liberation. If we did nothing else but listen for the Spirit’s calling, we would be a Spirit-led church. I’ve been hearing some voices lately that strike me as the calling of the Spirit. One was a young person who came up to me after a recent peace vigil in Frankfort. They thanked me for speaking as a faith leader against white supremacy. They grew up Catholic, are not an atheist, but do not find churches to be making the connections and witness that are needed in our changing landscape.
Another voice is the mother of a young man whose life was lost to gun violence. As we spoke about what we could do here at Trinity to help those in our own community, the idea of holding a “listening post” came up—just set up a table and some chairs to listen to people. Not give advice, not give money, not give answers, set some basic time and space boundaries. And then just listen with respect, perhaps pray or perhaps not. Give people the humanity that the streets and homes and workplaces of our world so often take away.
This would take hardly any money, infrastructure, or resources, beyond simply having someone with an open ear and an open heart to listen, and someone who needs a caring, non-judgmental person to talk to. We have people like that here at Trinity, and perhaps there are people among our own number who need to be heard.
Fred Pratt Green’s hymn, “The Church of Christ in Every Age,” which we sing on August 27th and will sing many more times while I am here as your pastor, encapsulates so much of the present moment of his own time (1969) and ours, and every time. The first stanza is above; we must keep on rising from the dead. Not only our church. Not only the Lutheran church. But every church.
The third stanza is a call to that rising: Then let the servant Church arise,/A caring Church that longs to be/A partner in Christ's sacrifice,/And clothed in Christ's humanity.
I long to be in a church that cares about people who are not cared for, and that rises up with Jesus for the sake of a world in need. That listens to the voice of the Holy Spirit and follows it in the path of Jesus. We have that here at Trinity.
What is the Spirit saying to you in these days? Please tell me, and I will continue to tell you what I am hearing.
May God bless you every day,