Contingencies and Coincidences

The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) convention is going on this week in St. Louis. As far as I can observe you can summarize the happenings this way.
1) The Harrison administration has consolidated power up and down the line. Please recognize that my use of the word power is not pejorative. This is just a statement of who won elections and by meaningful amounts. Even churches have left-hand kingdom needs. Mature Christians understand this.
2) That consolidation of power extends to the resolutions. Weak administrations get resolutions they don’t want and floor fights. There have been precious few debates, and most of the resolutions are passing with 90%+ of votes. Of course most of the resolutions are “We resolve to love mom & pie”. The 10% against are cake lovers and apple was struck to not offend lovers of berry. In one way that is good. In another it is troubling. The goodness of that fact is that it means the elected representatives have well gauged support. They are not causing official splits that don’t need to happen. That is good political leadership. The troubling portion is that because of the high percentage of “mom & pie” resolutions more important things have clearly been reserved for elected official action. The example is the removal of the CCM ruling on communion practice from the resolutions. The CCM withdrew the effects of its recent ruling and the Harrison administration withdrew the resolution to overturn the ruling. Effective political action, especially when “your team” is winning all the seats and will take control of the BOD-CCM, but the net effect is to exclude the people in preference for the elected officials. There is a clear expressed preference in the resolutions to treat the legislative body which only meets every three years as a “mushroom” – i.e. buried in B.S. and never seeing the light of day on anything meaningful. It makes me somewhat wistful for conventions that I never knew where the orders of business were much shorter, but meaningful. I suppose I’d rather see the synod in convention debating communion practice all week and drafting or editing one good statement than see it “acting” on resolutions to praise missionaries.

But the point of this post was not to get lost in political musings of which I had no part. One of the items that more or less got shelved was a resolution on something called CRM or candidate status. In the LCMS if you are pastor without a call (i.e. you are not currently serving a congregation) you are placed in candidate status. You can receive a call. Seminarians are placed in their first call. Essentially congregations accept the sem profs’ word and the advantages of youth and lower salary in exchange for the right to know who they are calling. Once you are placed (i.e. everyone else), you are in the hands of God and your local District President. In the case of CRM that usually means you are in the dead zone.

Many ministers on CRM arrived there because of trouble in a previous call. That trouble could be of their own making; it could be of the congregations. There are ministers on CRM who destroyed previous congregations over stupid actions. And then there are ministers on CRM, like this woman’s son, who were assigned out of seminary to congregations on their last legs. Why it is a dead zone is because of that tension. You never know exactly why someone is one it, and so why take a chance? Congregations tend not to do the hard expensive work of sorting the wheat from the chaff on the CRM list. It gets treated like say a 3.0 GPA on a resume. Above it – ok. Below it – circular file. And you can’t really blame them. Like the Harrison administration on resolutions, the congregation is being wise in the left-hand kingdom about its abilities.

Looking back on five years at St. Mark’s, stories like that woman’s are painful. It is painful even thinking about going through 4 years of seminary to serve a congregation for a year or two, have it go bankrupt, and never get another call. It makes one count blessings. It is painful thinking about how contingent as creatures we are. One day you are working in the headquarters of a fortune 500 company making bank and the next, because you followed the call, you are on the street. It is painful considering the coincidences that have led to exactly this place. The jobs you wanted that didn’t happen. The ones that did which you turned down. The people who spoke at exactly the time you had ears to hear. As humans we are a painful bag of contingencies and coincidences. All of which we would rather deny. We’d rather keep the glory story. I built this. Or hide the shame. The system was rigged from the start.

Maybe the demons did cower when we spoke (Luke 10:17). Never-the-less, do not rejoice in this…but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:20) Maybe the game was rigged (Luke 10:21). Never-the-less, thank the Father for his gracious will. We are contingent. And our greatest contingency is on Christ and the cross. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me(Gal 2:20). For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us (Rom 8:18).

So we struggle on. Bind wounds where we can. Lament our failures, mourn with the mourners. Pass resolutions where they seem appropriate. Pray lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Because we are contingent, contingent on Christ and each other…and the grace we need everyday that is only seen in the struggle.

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