What role does God see individual faith communities playing?

empty churchZion Lutheran Church is a congregation that was planted and flourished in a US city in the 1930’s. Made up primarily of white European immigrants the congregation numbered over 1,000 by the mid 1950’s. But by the mid 1960’s the neighborhood around them began to change. What had once been a thriving working class neighborhood epitomizing the American Dream seemed to transform overnight. It became the American Nightmare whose soundtrack was gun shots and police sirens. Zion Lutheran dwindled, not only in numbers but in hope. 

Until one Easter morning in the early 1980’s when their pastor preached a sermon about the resurrection. In that sermon the pastor didn’t talk primarily about Christ being bodily resurrected; he talked about the resurrection of the body of Christ, the people of God. In a voice that steadily grew in both volume and passion the pastor proclaimed that the resurrected Jesus didn’t suddenly appear in a room with locked doors to prove his was alive; he appeared in that room to bring his disciples to life, to breath the life of the Spirit into them and send them out to continue the work that he started – proclaiming the good news, caring for the poor, blessing the world and restoring it with the transforming power of God’s love.

The pastor paused, looked hard at that small congregation, and then thundered, “All around us there is death and despair. But God raised Jesus from the grave and so we dare to believe that we, too, are raised to newness of life. These things cannot co-exist…death and despair and the risen body of Christ. So which will it be people of God?”

No one quite remembers how that worship service ended, but they all agree that something changed that day. It began with a change in Zion Lutheran. They began to look at the community around them not as something to be feared, but as a people to be loved and blessed. It started with a free, hot meal every Friday night to which the entire community was invited. And as they came to know their neighbors they also came to know their hopes and dreams, their pains and sorrows and their needs. Before long they were offering free day care for single moms who needed to work. And things just took off from there.

Today Zion Lutheran has partnerships all over that community, partnerships that serve the needs of people, equipping them to lead healthy, productive, self-sufficient lives. Now instead of gun shots and sirens the streets are filled with the sounds of children, music, friendship and commerce. Death and despair are no more. Life and hope have overcome.

As we enter into the third week of Lent I wonder how your prayer time is going. As you sit in silence seeking to hear from God about God’s dreams for our future, what are you hearing? What do you sense God saying to you? I’d love to know, so leave a comment. And this week take some time to discuss this question with family, friends or your small group, “What role does God see individual faith communities playing?” What scriptures information your answer?

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  • Ken Walter

    What does God see? Does He see something in me that I am yet to discover? Is there a role I have yet to play? I sense it is something simple. Get to know my neighbors better, start getting together 2 by 3, then 5 by 7, and along the way others wonder what it is all about and there are 15 to 30 all on a mission of kindness, love, sharing and accordingly caring for one another, each having a role that makes the whole so much greater than all the parts, truly a body of Christ. Becoming a faith community within the neighborhood or better yet a faith community made up of the neighborhood. Respect for various worship theologies, various home churches, but one in the Spirit in caring and support of each other. I would venture to believe the various churches would help and guide when questions arise, when it is more than anyone knows what to do about. Prayer seeking God’s provision and protection is always a first step. Building relationships a second. I need to get my feet in the water before it will part and walk around it one time six days and 7 times the 7th, Getting the reason across and breaking down walls that separate. God’s ways will become visible and encouraging, people will witness to how God is helping them and little or big miracles that occur in their lives, in families. Multiply this to many neighborhoods and leadership interrelationships networking to do even greater things than these. God will smile with all the glory flowing toward him and send it back a hundred fold, the harvest is ready. Thanks be to God.