Just Watching – September 2019

I wasn’t sure what to feature in this month’s Just Watching so I decided to review what I had written in the September issues of the last two years.  Guess what.  As far as my life is concerned it was the same-old-same-old topic: change. 

Change has been a constant in my life.  The Latin saying, “Tempore mutantur et nos mutamur in illes” has held true for me since my Day One.  (Of course, all you Latin students know that phrase means, “The times are changing and we are changing in them”.  Right?)  

What is and has been true for me has also been true for others.  A year ago I wrote: “It looks to me that Henry Lyte’s 1847 hymn, “Abide With Me”, had it right: “…change and decay in all around I see…”.  Change for sure.  Decay?  Maybe, or so it seems when I see myself in the shaving mirror.  Who is that old man looking back at me?  Change?  Maybe decay?” 

Lest you think I am about to launch into a rant about ageing let me assure you that even as I wrote that last paragraph the rest of Lyte’s verse was on my mind: “… Oh Thou who changest not abide with me”. 

Henry completed this hymn three weeks before he died of progressive and diagnosed tuberculosis.  That last line makes this hymn a great profession of faith.  The way he peppered his end-of-life composition that explores change with the pronouns “I” and “me” has made it a Christian faith favorite for nearing 300 years. Throughout my 90+ years change has been a challenging and continuous constant. 

Changes have forced me to daily adjust my life.  Things as every-day (now) as the telephone, zip codes, television, automatic transmission and computers have kept my change world spinning.  (Explain to your grandchild why the noise they hear when their cell phone is activated is called a dial tone.)

Add to those representative change areas the radical social and religion changes with their new norms that we face day in and day out, the augmented educational expectations that elementary school children today face (intellectual challenges I didn’t meet until college), the shifting moral and sexual standards of today, even what was thought to be time-honored family values.  A popular saying of a few years ago put it right, “This ain’t your grandpa’s world!”  It sure ain’t.  Lots of change going on together with lots of decay by my standards.     

As a Lutheran Christian church worker, I have found it helpful to re-read and reflect on Concordia Seminary’s Dr. Paul Raabe’s article of a few years ago.  It was about the new world that LCMS congregations and her individual members cope with today.  In the article he listed a few of the more sweeping (and usually overlooked) life situations Lutherans face today.  He calls them, “Elephants in the Room”.  Let me share a few and then leave it to you to determine how each plays out in your personal/congregational/denominational world. 

Elephant 1.  A huge mismatch exists in what our church body faces in that when founded most congregations and schools of the LCMS were in the middle of the USA (half of all Lutherans still live within 500 miles of Chicago)  and in rural areas while most of the US population has shifted to the coasts and in major metropolitan areas. 

Elephant 2.  The LCMS (locally and nationally) needs to reach the multi-ethnic population of the U.S., (Hispanics, Africans, and Asians, for example) and find new ways for attracting them to the LCMS’s predominately Caucasian congregations – and how to invite and accept them into our homes and families as well.

Elephant 3.  What can we do about the rising tide of non-church-attendance at both the local and national level?  Surveys show that on any given Sunday only 18% of the U.S. attend a church service…over 80% do not.  What’s the story in your congregation – and why?

Elephant 4.  How can we work in the USA’s multi-religious environment not only with non-Christian religions but also with many different versions of Christianity?  Many have been turned off by their preconceived distortions of the Christian faith and life – at least of the Christian faith and life in which I was reared.

Elephant 5.  The biblical illiteracy among church-going Christians is awesome.  Many Christians cannot speak or think in larger biblical categories; 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.

Elephant 6.  The church no longer represents how life at its best is lived today.  What writes the script for the best view of life today are the entertainment industry, social media, corporate America, radical individualism and current popular and/or political ideologies.  As a result, the life of many Christians differs very little from that of non-Christians.

Dr. Raabe wrapped the challenges implicit in his Six Elephants article with:

“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 our hands and cry out in utter despair.  But it is still 2019 anno domini – 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 internally and in your family, church and community?  Denying that the Elephants do not exist in your world is whistling in the dark.

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 copies of that ship with sails full and billowing, driving through the waters toward a horizon beyond which we cannot see and beyond which (as some see the future) we will topple into oblivion.  Or, as people of God past and present believe they are heading with Henry and millions of God’s people past and present toward and into what is a welcoming home port. 

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.

Meanwhile, as Audie and I move on into another of life’s chronological levels an do so in a brand-new residential arena we do so with confidence believing that:

 “… yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery while today is His gift – which is why we call it the present.”

Whoever originally authored that phrase is not important.  Knowing that it is true, is.

Audie and I have found ourselves weathering the most challenging August of our lives.  We are bruised but not broken.  September already filled with the promise of more change creep closer and closer.   Oh, Thou who changes not, abide with us – and with you.

Vaya con Dios,

Charlie