Monday, November 12, 2007
Family and Church
I am presently visiting my family in Texas. It is always fun to be with them. We are not a family that I would call “tight.” But we enjoy those times when we are together. Members of the family don’t interfere in each other’s lives, and we have very different interests. But when we are together, the stories begin to flow.
Today is my mother’s 95th birthday. She is not able to serve as the matriarch any longer because dementia has set in and her ability to speak is impaired. But we will all gather to celebrate her life, have a meal, give gifts and catch up with each other.
I used to think of our family as small. But over the years we have become a blended family with second marriages, adoptions and additions that make family meals buffets rather than sit-down affairs. Mom will be able to hold her great-great-grandson this evening even though her blood will not flow through his veins, there is no less a sense of family.
My family is not especially religious. Some attend, but not regularly. They have always been respectful of my faith but our vocabularies differ. My interests don’t include sailing, horses, oil wells, children or golf. And their vocabularies don’t include words like “justification,” “salvation” or “dish-to-pass.” One faith we do have in common is Cowboy football and there is agreement all around… WE BEAT THE GIANTS!
Small parishes are like families. We gather together for important dates. Some of us are regular in our attendance others come intermittently, but we enjoy each other’s company. We come to hear the stories of our community, the stories about our faith and we share meals with each other whether it be a symbolic Eucharistic meal or pork and sauerkraut. Some of us are born and bred Lutherans, some of us come from all kinds of Christian traditions but we all know that we belong. It is the place we find a spiritual home.
We have matriarchs and patriarchs in the parish, those to whom we look or have looked for leadership. We have those who are welcoming and see to our adoption into the St. Luke’s family. We have those who are keepers of the history and those who see to it that the proper rituals are observed. We have those who are there when things go wrong and those who are ready to rejoice with us when things go right. There are those who nurture our Lutheran heritage and those who are on the edge clamoring for the new theologies that allow us to grow and stay vital.
Like families we sometimes fuss, but the important thing is that the love that has drawn us together is nurtured so that when the fussing is over, we have a community of faith to which we can return. The small parish is the community par excellence in which we can practice our Christianity—living out as best we can the teachings of Jesus. Larger parishes provide an anonymity in which one often does not have to take responsibility for one’s actions. Small congregations like St. Luke’s provide no such buffer. Like the family, there are always some personalities that clash. But this is where we learn the hard part of Christian living—how to live with those who are difficult for us and still maintain our faith. And it is also where we can learn to accept the forgiveness that is so difficult to learn.
Small congregations are more about relationships than creeds and doctrine. And while What we believe is important, it is not any More important than How we live our what we believe. If Christianity is to survive this present millennium, it is not going to survive because of What we believe. It will survive as it has for the past 2 millennia, by how we live out our relationship with God and Christ.