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Jesus speaks to you today, in His Gospel, saying,
“Come gather around people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
And if your breath to you is worth saving
Then you better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changing”
Thus far the “prophet” Bob Dylan predicts the future we live in and gives voice to the accusation leveled at the true Church today: if you don’t change, you will die out. In fact, a cursory google search will yield many articles pushing the idea of 10 things that the church must do different or it will become irrelevant in the future.
They will then predict the 10 things the church will do differently in the future, the one that has survived, at least. These usually include insults to traditional churches saying things like if you love your model more than your mission you will lose or, that selfless discipleship or online service is key to survival, because that’s never been tried before.
But the main criticism is always that the old road is rapidly aging and if you can’t lend a hand get out of the new one. What is not surprising is that they will never argue doctrine or belief, but instead at how you present your church. Never is the criticism against what the Word of God says about this or that, but only how much you promote self.
Now this church growth crowd pronounces the demise of traditional Christianity each and every year, and only their buzzwords, facial hair, and the style of their eyeglasses ever seem to change in these clumsy articles. Because these predictions always work out, don’t they? Remember in the 70’s and 80’s when we thought by now that we’d have flying cars and a full salary for only working 20 hours per week?
Now there is something to this. Times do change. Jesus talks about that today. You see the signs, the change of time in the sun and the stars and the moon. You notice the coming and going of seasons in looking at the flowering and producing trees. The world marches through time and Jesus has created signs to mark these out. Obvious signs.
As in, these signs that mark the end of all things will be easily seen and understood by Christians. We will know people will increasingly hate the Word and the Church. We know the Church will continue to shrink and we know true faith will be hunted.
These signs are not global Armageddon or Trump gaining Presidential status. The signs of the times are empty pews and a disdain for the Gospel given simply in Word and Sacrament. Jesus says, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
Did you only think that “little” in the Bible always referred to children? The Church on earth is little and belittled. Her Word is unheeded and her sacraments are despised and spat upon. No one wants a god that needs words in ink and bread and wine in order to give forgiveness to His people.
Jesus tells us to pray for strength to withstand this, because we don’t have the strength. Jesus shows us what true strength is, standing up to family, friends, and even all of His own creation in order to stand on the cross alone, atoning for the sins of the world.
Jesus is the small (one man out of trillions) doing the Good works of God. Jesus is the little one accomplishing the little works of God, even from His manger. That is rescuing us from sin, death, and the devil. And these acts and His Word do not change. There is nothing different about what Jesus did on the cross, from year to year.
There is no different Christmas or Easter story. There is no different book of the Bible to be studied anew. There is no different way to salvation and there is no different way to commune with the Lord of all things. In this way, the Church will never change and thank God for that. Imagine a changing church. How would you ever find something that changes in a way you don’t know, from year to year. Impossible!
Yet “…it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” Jesus did not perish, but rose to new life, never to die again. The Church He created will not perish, but lives forever in Christ, being His Body and He Her head. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” And the Father does so, on His terms and in His way, that is through His Word and Sacraments.
At any rate, here are 10 ways that we can predict how God will actually be dealing with all of us ten, twenty, a hundred, or even a thousand years from now:
(1) people will be brought to the faith by water Baptism in the name of the Most Holy Trinity, both as infants and as adult converts
(2) Men - called and ordained pastors - will preach the gospel, administer the body and blood of Christ, and absolve sinners
(3) The creeds of the church will be confessed by the faithful as they have since the earliest centuries
(4) Hymns confessing Christ and divine grace will continue to be sung by the faithful
(5) Young people will be catechized in the faith through catechisms that they will learn by heart
(6) The church's liturgy will continue as it has since the earliest centuries - focused at altar, font, and pulpit; spoken and chanted, with reverence and holy joy, transcending age, ethnicity, and subcultures and uniting the church across time and place
(7) In their personal piety, Christians will make the sign of the holy cross, pray the Lord's Prayer, and chant the psalms, collects, and the daily offices of the church
(8) The canonical biblical books will be studied in their original languages and taught in the common tongues, as well as the historic confessions of the church
(9) Pastors will visit the sick, the shut-in, the dying, the poor, the outcast, and others who are forgotten and left behind by our shallow entertainment and youth culture (which is embraced and obsessed over by the church growth experts). They will bring them the Good News of Jesus Christ and will anoint them and prepare them to die in the faith of Jesus Christ
(10) Christians will continue to endure persecution, as the cross is, and will remain, a mark of the church until the Lord returns in glory.
(Fr. Larry Beane, Facebook, December 5 at 4:09pm)