Lectionary Reflection for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
November 15, 2015
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10: 23-25
In my current call I have the opportunity to meet frequently with leaders and congregations in transition. I hear amazing stories of good ministry and visit with people who are hopeful about the church’s mission and witness in the world, but I all too often hear stories of fear, of scarcity and lack, and of exhaustion. I see jealousy and sense deep disappointment when the congregation just down the road (often a non-denominational church) is that’s growing like a weed and attracting scads of folks with their programs, new buildings, and fresh worship styling. In looking at what we do not have or in how things used to be we often fail to see the abundance of God right in front of our eyes.
The call to ministry can be brutally difficult sometimes, and I’m not just talking about pastors, priests, and other ministry professionals. We Lutherans believe that all of the baptized are called to ministry and have the joy, privilege, and responsibility of bearing the Good News of Jesus Christ to a weary world. Doing so can be an exhausting and daunting task. Recruiting volunteers and lay leadership is increasingly difficult in a world where so many activities and priorities compete for our time, talent, and treasure.
Congregations that were once proud edifices with full pews, fat budgets, and vital programs are now sparsely attended, threadbare, and tired. Some congregations close. Others keep living off of endowments, siphoning the ministry money of past generations to keep the lights on and the personnel paid. According to the latest Pew Research Center report on America’s changing religious landscape, the percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christians has fallen by almost eight percent in only seven years. No wonder so many church leaders are more than a bit anxious!
From the sound of our lessons this week, folks were feeling some anxiety in the days of King Nebuchadnezzar and in the time of the early Christians hearing Mark’s gospel. In all four lessons this week, we 21st century Christians find hope, help, and good news for our own troubling times. Yes, the Christian church is going through some birth-pangs as this next great 500 year mark approaches, but we need not fear. Instead, we are called to double down and follow our Lord.
We are encouraged to remember that our great stone edifices and proud prairie worship houses–all lovingly constructed to the glory of God and for the sake of community–will not stand forever. They will fall down, stone upon stone, greyed clapboard upon greyed clapboard. The temptation will be to fall away with them, to let the wiles and temptations in every age and context scatter the faithful with the winds of change and conflict. Jesus, however, calls us to persevere.
Yes, our Lord tells us not to be alarmed. Instead, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, we must hold fast and keep the faith. We must gather together, encourage one another in mission and ministry, and do this all the more when the going gets rough. We need to keep our eyes on and our trust in God and let ourselves live into God’s abundance and desire for our well-being.
Should it all be easy-peasy and roses and unicorns? Of course not! Scripture is here to comfort and encourage, but it also serves to afflict and incite us to change and walk more closely in God’s ways. There will be trials. There will be tribulation. Yet God is faithful, and that is what really matters. We have a message of great hope, dear friends. Let’s open our doors and windows and air out those threadbare and hopeless sanctuaries. Let’s breathe in deeply the breath of God’s Holy Spirit moving among us. And then, equipped, encouraged, and fed at Christ’s table, let’s get out of those buildings, stop looking at what we aren’t and don’t have, and start sharing the Good News of another way that leads to real and lasting life. Let’s hold fast together and keep the faith that is ancient and new every day. Blessings on your bold witness and tireless proclamation and ministry.
Photos: Guillermo Viciano