“This not a British accent” quickly became my opening line whenever I met new people at the LCMS General Convention. I said this most often in the Exhibition Hall at the Convention with its many stands from the seminaries, colleges, building and insurance groups, media ministries, and many other ministries supporting particular communities, countries, circumstances (eg. mental health, family therapy, adoption services). Once we had moved past my being Australian, the United Kingdom was well received and people seemed very interested in learning about the “oldest British Lutheran Church in the UK” and the history of Lutheranism on this island (going all the way back to the discussion of Luther’s 95 Theses in Cambridge shortly after they were posted). We can expect people overseas not to know too much about us considering that here we are largely invisible and the Lutheran history is very much unknown!
It raises the question ‘What do we want to leave behind?’. Monuments? Buildings? Organisations? Literature? Art? Poetry? Song? We often equate history by such things as evidence of success; having ‘made it’. And, in one sense, that is true, we have such things from the past because they were deemed useful, important, special. But they are only the things of this world (and not unimportant for that but finite). What do we want to leave behind that ‘lasts longer’ than finite?
And I assume we are now thinking about those around us – children (if we are blessed to have them), family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, and those who didn’t think much of us (!) and the Christian Faith – the relationship we have with Jesus, and the Father, through the Holy Spirit – which lasts forever. It occurred to me in hearing the history of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, as well as the histories of many of the overseas partner churches, as well as telling the story of Lutherans in the UK that we were all describing a largely invisible history of people – Mums and Dads, congregations and pastors – who faithfully followed Jesus in their time and place and shared / witnessed to those around them that Jesus was important. We don’t build the Church! That’s not our ‘job’. That is the work of God. We are called to follow Jesus – to live – to be faithful to his love and his truth – and that happens in countless ways most of which are invisible to the world – and often to us – but not to those around us.
That we can tell our church histories at all is testimony to God’s faithfulness to us – to Jesus serving us through Word and Sacraments – and to faithful people – so often invisible – who spoke the Faith and lived it repentantly – always struggling with sin – so that those around them could meet and follow Jesus too. The steeples may crumble, a place is rented, the church may close, another opens and God is with his people all around the world, drawing us to him so that we may live to his glory and in service of those around us. God determines what we leave behind.