In human terms, 50 years is a reasonably long stretch of time. It is sufficient for birth, education, adolescence, maturity, family and career.
In church terms, however, 50 years is not so long. It’s barely enough to get started. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the LCA, it is still a young church, perhaps just coming out of adolescence. Even the worldwide Lutheran church, at 500 years old next year, is not really so old, not alongside the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
As we reach our 50th anniversary, the LCA is just at the BEGINNING of its life. We are rich in everything we need.
The LCA exists because millennia of Christians have fought the good fight and kept the faith. Through good times and bad, times of ease and times of hardship, times of growth and times of persecution, and even times of genocide, Christians have endured. Against all the odds, the church of Jesus Christ remains, and has handed on the faith through the generations.
Does that mean that Christians who lived before us were better than we are? Not necessarily. Each generation has to deal with its failings, weaknesses and sins. Each generation must learn the lessons of faith, hope and love. Each generation needs to own its particular problems. At times, it looked like the church was dead. But ours is a resurrection faith. The church is not ours to create, or to bring to an end. As long as God is pouring out his forgiveness and grace, keeping his promise, the church remains.
As the LCA, we have the immense privilege of joining with this great cloud of witnesses. When we worship, pray, confess and serve, we take part in God’s mission for the world. God is not finished with us. He is patiently bringing us to maturity. There is still so much to come.
Maybe it’s true that, after 50 years, we are just coming out of adolescence. Adolescence is a time of impatient, uncertain seeking for identity. New sensations and experiences can shake our beliefs. We might even think we know better than our parents did. It is a period of risk-taking, and there is always the risk that the adolescent will go ‘off the rails’.
But those who have moved beyond youth into adulthood know that the journey, though painful, is well worth it. Through the doubts and uncertainties, life becomes richer, deeper and more fulfilling. We grow in appreciating relationships, love and compassion. We come to understand that the universe does not revolve around us. Knowing ourselves better, we are able to value others and place their needs above our own. And we learn how to balance impatience for change with the right level of resistance. We slowly learn the art of living, of being truthful and of being faithful.
As we reach our 50th anniversary, the LCA is just at the beginning of its life. We are rich in everything we need. Jesus is alive. We are resurrected in him. He has sent us the Holy Spirit. Generations of believers have prepared the way for this moment. We have what it takes to live the new life of Christ, grow in his gifts, discover his promises, and get on with doing the work he has prepared for us to do.
‘Heartland’ is a regular column of The Lutheran featuring the pastoral reflections of LCA Bishop John Henderson.