Dear Partners in Ministry,
As you may have heard, Colleen and I just became first time grandparents this week. Our son, Joshua, and his wife, Nikki, brought a 9 lb. 12 oz. baby boy into our family on Tuesday, April 19, 2016. His name is Logan Joshua Gropp. From all early reports this little charmer, nicknamed by some as "Optimus Prime", is going to, and from all accounts, has already begun to transform our lives. When I asked the churches I preached at this week what kind of changes should I expect, the resounding exclamation was "everything." The way I talk, "goo goo", "ga- ga", "gucci- gucci" were some of the phrases I remember being offered up. Some said, “Your buying habits will change, there's not a toy out there that you would not buy for your little rascals." The things we buy, to the places we go, to the energies we expend, to the plans we make. In other words, the presence of this new creation in our midst will change us and our way of life as much, if not more so, than we can possibly imagine.
It is my guess that the same type of experience is true for our lives in the church. When we say we want to open our doors and welcome strangers into our midst, their very presence will change us in ways that we will never be prepared for, but that we must be willing to make. I remember one spring when my 60 something year old dad accepted a challenge from his 5 year old grandson, Joshua, to a foot race across the parking lot at Cape Canaveral in Florida. I thought my dad was about to die, but he assured us he had this covered. At the end of the race that appeared to all to be a photo finish tie he was huffing and puffing like an old steam engine with a serious cramp in his right leg. Joshua, on the other hand, was doing a, "Mahammad Ali dance around the ring at the end of the first round", wanting a replay. Dad wisely refused, knowing he would have lost a race to the car just 10 feet away.
Change/conversion is something that make both the old and the new different. Anytime a new person comes into our midst we must decide what it is that we will hold on to and what we will give up. And, quite frankly, we have made poor choices in the past. I am very interested in this year's political election process because, in both parties, we are seeing a microcosm between old models and structures and modern ideals and possibilities. I believe that the same is going on within the life of the church. It's not that our young people don't believe, but rather they want to see the body of Christ (we call the church) in action, in substance, in struggle, in connection with their lives and world. They see the world, on a global scale, as in trouble. Global warming is real. Hunger is real. Diversity in sexuality is real. Poverty in Third World countries is real. While our churches are concerned about their survival, relying on old models and memories of a church that no longer exists, our congregations have no recollection of what it means to be a growing congregation. Do you realize that, for most of us, our congregations have been on a decline since the late 1950s? That's some 50 or 60 years ago.
When we ask for ideas of different things we should try, we go back to that which was familiar to us and didn't work then. When we talk about taking time to learn new things, we have a tendency of being too busy doing the old stuff, of recycling old activities which recorded history shows did not work when we did them the first time. Then, when something new is offered, we do not have the time or the energy to experience something that might give us a new perspective or way of seeing and doing something that challenges us beyond our comfort zones. Maybe we need to go back and follow the expanded version of this Sundays first lesson, found in Acts 10:1 -11:18, about the Apostle Peter and Cornelius, a Roman centurion.
You know that Peter was not comfortable when he entered Cornelius's house; and when he entered, he broke a lot of Jewish customs and rules. But, because he went, many received God's word, blessings and baptism. It's time we act like new creations in the faith of a God we hold as true.
What might happen if we allow the energy and excitement of all those new lives in our midst to transform us to the point that we allow God's Spirit to move through us into the lives of those around us? Might the new language and activities we learn inspire us to reach a world that God's Spirit is preparing for us to touch?
I praise the Lord for all the young new lives he is sending into our midst. May we be willing to build up the Body of Christ that they, too, may know the Lord who loves them.
In Christ's Service,
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sheraden, 3102 Sherwood Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15204 412-331-0600