It looks to me more and more each day that Henry Lyte’s 1847 hymn, “Abide With Me”, had it right: “…change and decay in all around I see…”. Change for sure. And a lot of what’s left of my surroundings looks like decay.
Lest you think you are about to be hit with the rant of a cranky old let me assure you that as I write I know, accept and glory in the rest of that verse: “… Oh Thou who changest not abide with me.”
Henry completed this hymn three weeks before his death from tuberculosis. Knowing that has helped me appreciate his masterpiece as a whole and that familiar line in particular. His theme and the way he peppered his end-of-life hymn with the pronouns “I” and “me” that has made it a faith favorite for nearing 300 years.
Change has been a generational constant from our world’s Day One whether as between generations or within them. And decay? The ardent evolutionist’s premise that creation has trended toward improvement over the eons doesn’t match my perception or experience.
Maybe that’s why a precis of Concordia Seminary’s Dr. Paul Raabe that I found in Concordiatheology.org struck me as it did. His topic was challenges (he called them “Elephants in the Room”) in items that LCMS congregations as a whole and her members individually face every day. I’ll list his specifics and then leave it to you to determine how each plays out in your world. By the way, he says they are all interconnected.
Elephant 1. The challenge of a geographical mismatch we face in that most congregations and schools of the LCMS are located in the middle of the country and in rural areas but most of the US population lives on the two coasts and in huge metro areas.
Elephant 2. The challenge of reaching and attracting the multi-ethnic population in the U.S., (Hispanics, Africans, and Asians, for example) into our predominately Caucasian congregations. Families? Communities?
Elephant 3. The challenge of non-church-attendance. Surveys show that on any given Sunday only 18% of the U.S. attends a church…over 80% do not. Are most Americans simply not “into” church and as Robert Putnam would put it, they go “bowling alone?”
Elephant 4. The challenge of working in a multi-religious environment not only with non-Christian religions but also with many different versions of Christianity. Many Americans we seek to evangelize have preconceived notions about Christianity that are typically distortions of the Christian faith and life.
Elephant 5. The challenge of biblical illiteracy among church-going Christians. Many Christians cannot speak and think in biblical ways; they only know a few biblical soundbites. Along with that many Lutherans are unfamiliar with the basic documents of our denomination like the Small Catechism (not to mention the Large).
Elephant 6. The challenge of living the Christian-life in this time and place. What writes the script for non-Christians view of life writes the script for many Christians as well: the entertainment industry, social media, corporate America, radical individualism and current popular ideologies. As a result, the life of many Christians differs very little from that of non-Christians.
Dr. Raabe’s “wrap” is as challenging as his Six Elephants:
“Every generation is called to be faithful in its own time and place, to confess the truth of the gospel (Galatians 2:5), to teach the written Word of God in its truth and purity (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:15-17), to walk in the ways of the Lord (Isaiah 2), to proclaim repentance unto the forgiveness of sins to all nations (Luke 24:44-49). With such huge, overwhelming, elephant-like challenges facing us, we are tempted to lift up our hands and cry out in utter despair, “What’s the point?” But it is 2017 anno domini, in the year of the Lord. Jesus the Messiah, crucified and risen for all, is that Lord. Therefore our labor in his name is not in vain.”
How are you dealing with the Six Elephants in yourself and in your world of family, church and community? Denying that the Elephants do not loom large in your life won’t cut it.
I once saw a book plate featuring a sailing ship hull down heading toward for the horizon and the words, “More to Come”. That’s a very Biblical take on life both existentially (our day-in-day-out stuff) and eternally (Henry Lyte’s abide-with-me views). We are all that ship, sails full and billowing, driving through the waters toward a horizon over which we will topple into oblivion (as some see the future), or are heading with Henry and millions of God’s people past and present toward and into our home port. What about you?
As for me and my house we believe there’s more to come – and more to do – until as we are safely harbored with Him.