Your life has been enriched. You’re “alive,” joyful. People experience patience, kindness, love in your presence. You are growing in your faith – which doesn’t mean, so much, that your faith itself grows – more that you grow because of who God is to you. “You shall be like a watered garden … whose waters never fail” (from Isaiah 58, heard on Ash Wednesday).
Have you seen people grow this way around St Luke? Has this been your experience? Maybe it’s too cheery an image for followers of Jesus, who said “take up your cross and follow.” (Mark 8) But in God, trial and loss give way to unimaginable life – not just for us, but for others: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (our ‘theme verse’ for Lent this year)
There are many ways churches can answer the question “what are we here for?” Providing the most excellent worship and music experiences? A warm, nurturing community? Working together to fight poverty in our neighborhood? All of which are important aspects of our mission, but what if NONE of these is the main thing for us? Why do we have the worship, music, community and service? (I’ve raised these questions before … do I sound like a broken record? Or for you young folks – a half downloaded mp3 set on repeat? .. But I believe that a shared sense of why we’re here is going to be key to our future.)
Some of the best writers / leaders on church mission right now will say “the main thing – what it’s all for – is human transformation.” Yes. The word “transformation” is certainly biblical (see Romans 12), and fits well what happens at Baptism: the seed falls; we die to our old self, and rise a new person – alive to God. I am less comfortable with how the word has been used in discussions about sexual orientation. “You can be transformed” can mean “you’re not OK or even really “you” as you are, until you become someone different.” To leave it at that (if I may get theological) is to ignore a central Christian conviction: that God created us as good from the womb (Psalm 139) and even more, redeems us, sets us free from what prevents our flourishing. You are a new person when you step forward from the waters of baptism – but it’s still you, and even more wonderfully you!
One thing I love about St Luke is the diversity of the people who come through our doors – in age, politics, experiences, faith background (of course, we could be even MORE diverse – especially with regard to race …). Do we welcome people so they can be “transformed?” (Into what – good Lutherans?) Of course, dramatic life changes can be good and neceessary! But we also welcome people in celebration of what they are, how the God who “so loved the world” has always already been at work in our lives and our neighbors’.
Back to the word I used above – flourishing. “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10). What if that’s the main thing? I believe that’s what some of your leaders are pointing to when we bring up the metaphors of the garden and vine – already a part of the conversation during soup suppers this Lent. It’s also how Miroslav Volf talks about the main contribution churches can have in the public sphere – “our vision for human flourishing.”
The main thing for us is God, who creates us, redeems us, calls us, makes us flourish and grow into eternal life in defeat of death. We flourish when we are hungry and are fed, when we make connections with people who may not be like us, when we learn to sing, when God’s word becomes a part of our lives, and faith takes hold – each in our own way, depending on who we are, our life circumstances – having in common the grace and love that hold us, always. What more can we say about this flourishing? If it’s God who makes us grow, what part have we, can we play?