From Death to Life
April, 2009 Pastor’s Monthly Newsletter Article I once knew a pastor who started out his ministry serving a Lutheran congregation in a mid-sized town. There were a number of Christian congregations in that town - most of which were unaffiliated with any particular denomination. As is often the case, they were very popular churches, and grew at a much faster rate than the one my friend served. There certainly must have been a variety of reasons for this, but one characteristic these churches all shared was that they had a very optimistic attitude. They promoted a "can do" spirit, and many participants in those churches were inspired to do great things by the messages they received from church. When all was well, this tended to be a very helpful message for people. It affirmed their successes, and opened up for them the possibility that it would get even better.
There was one problem, though. When all was not well, these communities sometimes didn't quite know how to respond. When businesses went under, when relationships fell apart, when health failed... in times like these, the spirit of optimism was more of a burden than a gift. It seemed to heighten the contrast between those who were suffering and those who were thriving, and caused the pain of brokenness and disappointment to feel even worse.
That is where my friend came in. He said that often times, when the bottom dropped out, members from these other churches would make their way to his office. He became known as "The Garbage Collector." And his congregation became known as a community in which those who were overwhelmed with the garbage of this life could come and be understood and be taken seriously; a place where they could come and find healing and hope.
This is what happens when a Christian community grounds itself in the cross of Jesus Christ. At the center of who we are is this profound image of brokenness. The cross is a symbol of our human frailty. The cross is a reminder of the reality we all face: there are times when a "can do" spirit and a strong sense of optimism are not enough. There are times when the brokenness of this world crashes in and leaves us helpless. There are times when our best intentions collapse under their own weight, and we end up deeply disappointed in ourselves. In those moments, we gather around the cross of Jesus Christ, every one of us there because of our deep and profound need for the grace of God. Every one of us there, knowing that without the hope that we have in Christ, we would have no future at all.
Jesus meets us at the foot of the cross in all of his brokenness. He takes upon himself the pain and suffering of our lives. He helps to shoulder our burdens, and accompanies us through the darkness to a place where, as a good friend of mine puts it, "the light will always shine, beyond the rain." This is the Good News that the seasons of Lent and Easter proclaim to us.
There are times when I envy the massive facilities, the flashy presentations, the high energy and the sheer numbers of these growing community churches. But during the seasons of Lent and Easter, I am reminded why I fit so much better in this congregation. I am glad to be gathered with you at the foot of our Savior's cross, and to receive, with you, the gifts of his amazing grace.