09 May Listen to Jesus
During Holy Week we saw the tragic news out of Paris that Notre Dame Cathedral had caught on fire. The world watched as this symbol of Christianity, that stood for over 850 years, was reduced to ashes.
In the moments following this tragedy, Cardinal Dolan said this, “There does seem to be a death in the family, right? And not just the Catholic family, but the world family,” said Cardinal Dolan. “And as people gather around and look at the charred remains of our beloved Notre Dame, it’s almost like we’re at a funeral parlor. We’re seeing a loved one who has died.”
No doubt it is sad and describing it as a death is appropriate. But the burning of Notre Dame to me is a reminder of a more tragic situation in Europe. According to a Pew Research Center article from May 29 of last year, “In every country except Italy, non-practicing Christians (that is, those who attend church no more than a few times a year) outnumber church-attending Christians (those who attend church weekly or monthly). In the UK, for example, there are three times as many non-practicing Christians (55%) as practicing Christians (18%). Non-practicing Christians also outnumber religiously unaffiliated adults in most countries surveyed.”
The decrease in the number of active believers is the real tragedy. But things aren’t much better on this side of the Atlantic. In the US, the number of those who identify as having no religious affiliation continues to rise. However, instead of focusing on the Church in American, I want to point out some very sad and sobering statistic in our own church, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. The study by the Stewardship Office of National Missions – LCMS found the following:
· The Synod has lost more than 1 in 5 baptized members since the peak membership in the 1970’s.
· Every single district has lost membership over the past decade.
· Half of that decline has happened just since 2000.
· We closed 1 in 10 of our elementary schools in just 5 years (2008-2013).
· We baptize only about one-fourth of the children we baptized in the 1960s.
· The Synod is only growing in counties where the overall population is growing – even there, it is growing more slowly than the country’s rate of growth.
So, what do we do about this? We must face the fact that the world most of us grew up in has changed. Admitting this change can be like facing a death. However, instead of shaking our fist at society and detaching ourselves from it, we must love our neighbors, including those who have rejected the church.
Jesus loved a world that rejected him so we can do the same. We must do this, not for the sake of our synod, but for the sake of the Kingdom. Jesus told us to “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” We can do this. And the reason I say that with confidence is because Jesus adds this promise to this command. He says, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:19-20) This is Jesus’ mission and it is our privilege to join him. Therefore, we do not have to mourn what was. We can look with hope and confidence to what he is doing in our community now. We just need to listen to Jesus.