Let us pray:
We come before you to hear your Word. We come to worship You. We pray that you would enter among us and speak to us. Give us understanding; bless this gathering of your people. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
“A Spirit of…”
I suspect this isn’t news to any of you, but things are changing.
Church is changing; society is changing. People think about church differently, and don’t come as much. I know we’ve experienced that here. We know that things are changing.
Most people’s reaction to these facts, and so many others, is fear. We are afraid of what this means for us, for our church and our community, for our children and our nation, for Lutherans and for Christians. And often these facts are framed with fear, because fear is an easy way to make people react, to make people give more or come to church more or volunteer more.
At least short-term. In the long term, though, fear has a narrowing effect: we look to ourselves and those closest to us. We focus on protecting them, at any means necessary.
It’s a terrible strategy, and not what God calls us to—as Paul writes, we “did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but [instead] have received a spirit of adoption.” (Romans 8:15) That is, God has accepted us into God’s family, adopted us in with all of the acceptance and privileges and responsibilities that entails—and with that adoption comes the ability to leave our fear behind, for fear is what the world tries to hold us with: to remind us of everything that’s changing, of how we’re getting older, how little time we have, how little money, how our families are making bad choices or we’re making bad choices, how those people are different … For fear makes us turn inward, turn away from others and away from God, the God who calls us to be a part of an expansive, joyful family.
I’m not saying “never have fear.” Instead, when we are afraid, I’m saying not to stuff that fear deep down inside or avoid it or to accept it as a fact of life but to face it. Fear lies. Fear says that things will always be small and hard and scarce. Fear says that life will never get better, that the world will always be in a death spiral getting worse and worse and worse.
And we are called to face our fears, to let go of our fears, not alone, not with our own strength, but with God at our side—for God is larger than our fears. Just look at Isaiah. He went to the Temple and saw a God of power and majesty, a God worshiped by seraphim and cherubim in such loud voices that only their praise shook the Temple, a God who was so enormous that the hem of God’s robe alone filled the Temple, a God so holy that Isaiah sees immediately his sin but also a God so full of love and forgiveness that Isaiah is given forgiveness and allowed to speak.
It doesn’t matter how much the world changes around us, how much churches change or how many people do or don’t come to church–none of that changes who God is. Nothing does. God is still the ruler of the universe, the one who reaches out to each of us to offer us a place in God’s family along with unconditional and never-ending love. God is still the one who created each one of us, who calls us to serve others. The changes around us don’t change who God is.
And so may we let go of our fear, face it and then pass it by, as we focus instead on the God we worship, the God whose church we are a part of. May we go where God is guiding us, fear or no fear. And may we always know that God is with us, from now until the end of the age.