The Topic Of The Hour (Part 2)
Recently I wrote an article called "The Topic Of The Hour" in which I question our unsuccessful attempts to missionize our neighborhoods. In another post entitled "Breaking The Bad News" I question our methods. With those I would have left the subject alone, but this coming Sunday's gospel (Mark 4:26–34) makes a few more words unavoidable. It both raises the question, and gives the solution that we all desperately need to hear to calm our anxious, and guilt-ridden hearts.
In it we first learn what the church's job is: to sow the seed. Next the Lord teaches us that the seed grows and the harvest reaches maturity, but no one knows how. The sower's hovering adds nothing to the equation, because the soil produces the harvest "automata" (Mk 4:28), "by itself." Or in the words of our catechism, "The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer, of itself."
But that is not the end of the quote, "But we pray in this petition that it may come to us also." So what is the church to do in the face of shrinking numbers despite 50 years of exhaustive labor? Just this: sow the seed and pray.
But we must not think in terms of the Great Awakening, or imagine that we still live in the Book of Acts. The few itinerant encounters we read of therein must not set the agenda. Indeed, when St. Paul wasn't preaching in synagogues, this apostle to the Gentiles was starting churches. But in our day we don't need to start more churches. At least not until we revive the ones that are faltering, if we know how: which we do not.
Then what is the church to do? Those two things. Sow the seed and pray. But let us not oversimplify things. Sowing the seed is not a matter of abstract, itinerant preaching. It includes the entire Divine Service that occurs (or should occur) every Sunday in every Lutheran parish.
Let us remember what occurs in every Divine Service. Whether the assembly consists of five worshipers, or five hundred God's people are engaging in the spiritual warfare outlined in Eph. 6:12ff. As the church articulates the Word of God in liturgy that Strong Word cleaves the darkness; and it is cleft. As the church welcomes Christ into her midst in the Eucharist Satan's serpentine head is crushed, evil is hemmed in and pinned down, and the Light of Christ shines in the darkness.
Every Eucharist is an installment of the final judgment wherein Jesus himself intervenes into the affairs of men, bringing judgment and salvation to the whole earth.
But one of the major components of Eucharist is prayer: the Prayer of the Faithful (aka: General Prayer). From the first Eucharist on Holy Thursday, to this very day, the church prays her most powerful and important prayers in connection with Holy Communion.
From the Lord's own Eucharistic (High Priestly) Prayer, to those prayed today the church asks, among other things, that the Lord of the harvest should send workers. ("I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word." (John 17:20).
And so praying for God's kingdom to come, and sowing the Word are inseparable, and occur in the church's worship. It is evangelism at its finest, and far more powerful than any programs we have devised in the last 50 years.
Watch as we may, and analyze is as we might, we cannot accomplish church growth. But we can do what God has called us to do: This do. Sow the seed, and pray.