This week I would like to share a few musings on fighting against becoming spiritually discouraged. I especially have in mind the tough sledding we face as a mission congregation in the Holmen area.
It can help to realize why these are tough times for church growth. The reasons include a drop in the birth rate, a drop even outside the church in people belonging to clubs and organizations, a culture that has grown more hostile to traditional Christian teachings and values, and too many controversies raging in church bodies. There are many other reasons. Some of these factors are outside our control.
It can also help to realize the Church has faced many similar challenges in the past. In fact, when it first started out the Church faced even greater challenges than we face now. If you know a little history you will know that official Judaism of the first century, and then the Roman Empire, was adverse to the Christian movement.
It can help to know that Christ cares desperately for the lost. Too often our despair comes from the feeling that we are a failure, or that we are not a part of something that is perceived by others to be successful. Christ actually cares for lost and condemned sinners, ourselves included.
It can help to remember that we are most infectious with the love of God when we ourselves are richly infected with the love and knowledge of our Savior, and when we find joy in His promises and in His community.
It can help to have confidence in the Holy Spirit’s work in Word and Sacrament. We can wear ourselves out with gimmicks. But His Word can conceive and give birth to saving faith. We need to trust that we are spreading potent seeds!
And finally, it can help to joyfully celebrate our life in Christ even in hard times, nay, especially in hard times. The celebration itself has drawing power.
Since You Asked…
What is the significance of sharing the peace?
“The peace which enables people to live in unity and in the spirit of mutual forgiveness comes only from Christ whose word has been proclaimed. … The peace is a sign that those who participate in it open themselves to the healing and reconciling power of God’s love and offer themselves to be agents of that love in the world. … The personal exchange of the peace should be as unpatterned as possible, but its meaning and significance should be kept clear. It is not the occasion merely for conviviality. The choice of gesture, whether a handshake, holding hands, or an embrace, should be left to the persons themselves.”
(from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)