I remember the plates well. They were sold for a small price and bore the name of our church. A line-drawing of the church was printed onto the center of the plate in shiny gold, the same gold that rounded the edges of that commemorative piece and adorned the edges with fancy decoration. They were made in the church’s centennial year. On each plate was the theme verse for the event, Hebrews 13:8 – Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.
To say that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever is at the same time a declaration that God’s love for the world is enduring. It was not limited to the days of the past, but continues today. Jesus is God’s love active in this world: God’s absolute commitment to redeem this broken world from sin, death and the powers of evil.
Times change. Society changes. Families and friends shift. Businesses come and go on Main Street. Patterns of the past no longer remain as they once were. Once, people entered the church because the church was present in the community. People lived with an understanding that good citizens were active in their church. Babies born were automatically baptized into the community because that’s where they would be nurtured by the community of faith, discipled by the calling God, fed by the Holy Spirit. These things no longer hold true. People no longer engage the faith as they once did.
We live in a time different from the past. We need to come to terms with this shift, because it means that we have to be church in a way different from the past.
It is time for us to risk ourselves for the sake of becoming God’s people doing new things for this new time. Our mindsets need to change. Knowing that people will no longer come to the faith because they are born into the faith community, we are now called to figure out how to be a discipling community that reaches out. We need to re-learn how to share the life-changing news of God’s love and call to discipleship that the world needs. We must learn the actions of people of faith who live in a society no longer so friendly to the ways of faith.
Jesus calls us to reach out. He says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing… and teaching… and remembering that He is with us always.” (Matthew 28:19-20) The Scriptures promise that we “…will receive power” through the Holy Spirit and that this Spirit will drive us to be Christ’s witnesses where we are and beyond (Acts 1:8).
The church of my childhood was a wonderful community in which to be raised. I honor my parents and the people of that small Lutheran church for the ways they shaped me to be the person of faith I am today. I attended the church because it was easy to do so then. It was easy because everybody was there. In the 1970s it was the only show in town. My guess is that most of us can say the same. The church of the past, however, is gone. Society will not return to the way it was. For this reason we must change.
You see, God has entrusted into our hands the wonderful message of Jesus Christ. When people no longer come to us, we must find ways to go to them. We find ourselves in a day and age much more like the first three centuries of Christianity than the last 17 centuries. Now the message of the cross is not known by many people under the age of forty.
To be a discipling community for all ages calls us to trust that God’s love in Jesus Christ remains the same. Though the world changes and though we must change, too, God’s love for us and for the world remains constant. It is in this knowledge that we can move forward in ministry. Let’s do this with confidence and commitment.