by D. Richard Stuckwisch
Demographically speaking, things don’t look so good for the life of the church in this world.1 The temptation is either to despair of any hope or else to rely on desperate efforts to give the church a shot in the arm and bring her back to life. We must guard ourselves against either of those lies. Although we are not able to give life to the church, our crucified and risen Lord Jesus ever lives to give life to His people in body and soul.
The life of the church is not a human endeavor or accomplishment. It is the gift of God, which He accomplishes by the ministry of the Gospel. As the people hear and believe this Word, so do they speak and sing to God, and to and with each other in the Holy Spirit. They comfort and encourage one another with the confession of Christ Jesus. The Holy Scriptures, the Creeds and the hymns of the church provide them with a pattern of sound words that strengthens and sustains their life together in the Lord.
The preaching of repentance and forgiveness calls people to the waters of Holy Baptism, and to the ongoing significance of Baptism. That preaching and baptism of repentance are the fountain and source of congregational life, with Christ, His Cross and Resurrection, and His forgiveness of sins at the heart and center. So do we live in repentance and faith before God, and in mutual repentance, forgiveness, and love with our fellow members of the Body of Christ.
A congregation also lives and learns to love from the Lord, who loves and gives life to His people in the celebration of the Holy Communion. The church lives from the altar, and she is always returning to the altar. So do we learn from Him to feed the hungry and to give drink to those who thirst. As we receive and depend upon His charity toward us, we learn to be charitable in our dealings with each other, and with those who are still outside the fellowship of His Church.
The preaching of the Gospel and the fellowship of the Sacrament go hand in hand with prayer and intercession for one another and for the world, as Christ, our merciful and great High Priest, ever lives to pray and intercede for us. As the celebration of His Supper is characterized by thanksgiving, so do congregations live together in the Spirit, giving thanks to God the Father in all things through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
It is in the freedom of faith that congregations also live together in the world, enjoying all kinds of family activities, whether it be social gatherings, game nights, picnics, sporting events, soup kitchens or service projects. For those who worship and pray together naturally also work and play together, as living members of one Body in Christ.
The Rev. D. Richard Stuckwisch is pastor of Emmaus Lutheran Church, South Bend, Ind.