Sunday, June 4, 2017

I believe that I cannot believe. . .

"And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"  Luke 18:8

"I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true."  (Luther's Small Catechism, Augsburg Fortress)

Apart from the Spirit, faith is simply not possible.  Apart from the Spirit, Jesus is nothing to us.

"Christ Alone" was one of the rallying cries of the Protestant Reformation.  As a corrective, there is some truth to it, but on its own, it is blatantly false.

Christ never stands alone, but always within the community of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is particularly important because faith in Christ is impossible apart from the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We have too frequently focused solely on Christ, and not acknowledged the Spirit's essential role in the faith we share.

I struggle.  When I started my ministry some 30 years ago it was with great hope and expectation.  What I didn't expect was the degree to which our world has moved toward secularization during that time.  I didn't expect the indifference with which the world now views Christianity.  I didn't expect that congregations across the land would be in decline.  And I didn't expect how difficult it would be to bear an effective witness to Christ in a world in which deafness to the Gospel message seems to be the norm.

And I can't help but feel that I personally have failed.

And yet faith is not a work performed by  humans, nor a consequence of anything we may do.  It is only by the call of the Holy Spirit that faith is possible.  And part of the mystery surrounding the Spirit's work is that there are particular ripe moments in time, kairos, when we will see the manifestation of the Spirit's activity.  At other times, it is as though the seeds of faith are lying dormant under the ground, waiting for the right moment to sprout and spring forth with new life.

I serve a small congregation.  Attrition is taking its toll.  It's hard not to sound the alarm that if current trends continue the future of that particular community of faith is not long.  And my response is to continually ask myself what can I do to change things, and specifically to attract new members.

Wait.  Wait patiently for the Lord.  And believe.  Believe that even though the ground seems barren and lifeless, underneath the surface lie the seeds of faith that are even now being nurtured by the Spirit of God.

We have a limited responsibility.  We bear witness to what we have seen and heard, yet it is the Spirit that produces faith.

There is a mystery surrounding the Spirit's work.  And that mystery is wrapped up in the concept of kairos, the ripe moment in time when the harvest will be plentiful.

I knew a wheat farmer who was always chomping at the bit to get out into the fields to harvest the crops.  But you have to wait until the crops have ripened.  There is no rushing nature.  And so he developed a discipline that just when it seemed like the time for harvest was imminent, he would go fishing for a week.  And then, when he returned, the fields would be ripe for harvest and the work could begin.

Perhaps we need some of that wisdom.  Impatient with the Spirit's own timing, we need to just go fishing.  When the Spirit has completed his work, then, and only then, can the harvest begin.  The time will surely come though, and  yes, in the end the Son of Man will find faith on earth.

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