Just Watching – September 2018

Audie and I have been so involved in gathering our earthly good in preparation for what we think will be our penultimate life move to Windsor Park Manor (sound elegant, eh?) on or about September 20 that my Just Watching deadline snuck up on me. 

One reason that happened is that even after major down-sizing three times in the last fifteen years, I’m in a state of awe over how much still has to be moved.  I don’t know what we would have done if we didn’t have such great children by birth and marriage plus some wonderful grandchildren who together have made our imminent move possible. 

Not sure how to get at this month’s Just Watching. I decided to check out what I wrote last year.  It still speaks to our family’s moment. A year ago I wrote:

“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 man 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” 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 trends toward improvement over the eons on its own doesn’t match my perception or experience. 

Maybe that’s why a precis of Concordia Seminary’s Dr. Paul Raabe that I found in www.concordiatheology.org struck me as it did.  His topic features challenges (he called them “Elephants in the Room”) 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) to 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. attend a church…over 80% do not.  Are most Americans simply not “into” church and as Robert Putnam would put it, 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 distortions of the Christian faith and life – at least the one in which I was reared.

Elephant 5.  The challenge of biblical illiteracy among church-going Christians.  Many Christians cannot speak and think in larger biblical ways; they only know a few biblical sound bites.  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 and/or political ideologies (take your red, blue or multi-colored choice).  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.”

So…

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.”

So far the replay of 2017 thoughts.  Now as Audie and I move on into another of life’s chronological levels and a brand new residential arena, we move forward believing that. “… yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery while today is His gift – which is why we call it the present.” Whoever originally authored that phrase is not important.  Knowing that its truth for me and my house, is.

On September 20th Audie and I will say again, “This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it,” Amen to that.

Vaya con Dios,

Charlie