Live Together, Die Alone

Live Together, Die Alone
By Matt Schuler

I didn’t start watching Lost when it debuted. I was a couple of years late to the party. People at work had been talking about it and how engrossing it was for years before I dove in. I started watching late. I needed people to keep talking about it before I took it seriously. Once I understood what everyone was talking about, I couldn’t stop watching. I’d download past episodes and watch them as fast as I could, and new episodes as often as they arrived. 

There’s a significant speech at the end of the second season. There are dozens of people stranded on an island after their plane had crashed. They had been there just a few days (As an aside, I find amazing that they spent nearly fifty episodes on such a short period of time. They really loved those flashbacks.), and already people began to fight over the scraps from the wreckage and the anger over what’s been lost. In the middle of fight which would have likely become fatal, a man speaks up to the group of survivors. 

“It's been 6 days and we're all still waiting. Waiting for someone to come. But what if they don't? We have to stop waiting. We need to start figuring things out,” Jack says. “Every man for himself is not going to work. It's time to start organizing. We need to figure out how we're going to survive here. Now, I found water. Fresh water, up in the valley. I'll take a group in at first light. If you don't want to go, then find another way to contribute. Last week most of us were strangers. But we're all here now. And God knows how long we're going to be here. But if we can't live together, we're going to die alone.”

We’re all still waiting. Waiting for someone to come. But what if they don’t? As I look across north Oakland County, and the eleven churches we have gathered in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, I see a parallel to the island survivors. We are waiting for someone to come and rescue us. The next young family that walks through the door will be the first family that opens the floodgates that will rescue our parish, lest we perish. While they may come, they may also never return, and we’re left scratching our heads why. 

We have to stop waiting. We need to start figuring things out. Look around the world, and you will see how it’s changed. Some will lament the good ole days, but I’d caution that they were never around to see them. I’d over there were a limited number of good days, God tells us about them in Genesis, and we wrecked up the place.  Certainly, there was a time in America where things were easier for Christians. We were in the center of society and if we threw up a steeple, people would start walking through the doors. People would look to their local churches as the hotbed of activity, friendship and community. Instead of lamenting what is lost, let’s start living in what we’ve gained. We’ve gained an authenticity, where people will tell you how they actually feel and what they actually are. Some will say we’re living in a godless era, where the “Nones” (people with no religious affiliation) are on the rise, but I’d offer that we’ve simply moved to an era of honesty where people are sharing their true feelings. Don’t let someone tell you it’s a bad time to follow Jesus, it’s a great time to be follow him, to learn from him and to grow in faith and love received from him and shared with others.

Every man for himself is not going to work. If we, as churches, are so concerned with our survival, that we look down on our fellow faithful followers of Jesus, segregating ourselves from them, looking at them as enemies, that if they grow then we’re somehow hurt, we are living contrary to the gospel. When we start valuing the name on the building ahead of the body of Christ, we are living contrary to the gospel. God has made a promise to His Church, His Bride that he will preserve her forever, ensuring there will be a faithful remnant forever. But he has made no such promise to Holy Cross, or any of our local churches, and sadly some of our churches, which have been proclaiming the grace and love of God in Jesus Christ, will close their doors.

It's time to start organizing. We need to figure out how we're going to survive here. This is the truth. Most of our churches don’t know anything about the other churches in our area, beyond the words people bring who transferred seeking something else. There is no collaboration or cooperation between most churches today in the LCMS. This is the main reason I invited every LCMS church in our area to my house Friday night. We can’t run away from each other anymore. We have to look to see what each of us can offer individually. More than thirty people from six of the congregations came, and we talked about our shared future together. As terrifying as first steps can be, I actually a believe that taking each subsequent step is even harder and more challenging.  It’s relatively easy to talk about what we’re facing, and some of the things we can do, but it’s tremendously harder to step out in faith to work on the problems and offer real solutions to the issues. We have

Now, I found water. Fresh water, up in the valley. I'll take a group in at first light. If you don't want to go, then find another way to contribute. I want to resist the quick parallel of water to being the lifesaving washing of the water and the word that we have in baptism. Instead, I want to think of the water as what it was to the survivors, something needed to live. What do we need to live as churches in the current cultural climate? We need to sacrifice the self-seeking, me-first, silo mentality that would sacrifice other congregations for our survival. We need to seek first Christ, and His kingdom. We need to sacrifice self, and everything which would hinder the sharing of God’s love, for the sake of sharing His love and grace. There’s a new reality our churches are facing which we haven’t had to face in a long time. Are there too many churches in our circuit or not enough? If we are only looking at the attendance in each of our perspective buildings, then the honest reality is that we have too many churches. But if we’re looking to the people in our communities, with the massive population growth most areas are experiencing, then we wouldn’t have enough room if every Christian was living for the truth. It’s not enough for the pastor to be the only one to share the gospel in his community, or for a couple of people to live transparently for Christ. If our churches are to survive, we need everyone to contribute. Each follower of Jesus is uniquely sent to a place that only he or she is enabled to go because there is no one else who is there. We need not proselytize in every moment, but we do need to live our faith out loud. Paul speaks to the church, and to his disciples, from a posture of confession. He brings no accusation to others which he hasn’t levied first upon himself as the chief of sinners. So let us confess that we have not shared the Gospel as we’ve been called to do. Let us confess that we have selfishly pursued our own interests instead of the interests of others. Let us confess that we choose ourselves over others. And from our posture of repentance, let us seek first Christ and His kingdom. Let us seek first living as disciples, who do what Christ has called to do. When we fail, let us repent, seek his forgiveness, and move forward in grace and love for the skate of others.

Last week most of us were strangers. But we're all here now. And God knows how long we're going to be here. But if we can't live together, we're going to die alone. I asked President Harrison, our Lutheran Church Missouri Synod President, at our Michigan District convention a few weeks ago about our predicament. I see our area as a representation of the synod as a whole. We have a 11 churches in my circuit. We have one big church, a few small/medium churches struggling to survive, five vacant churches, some of our churches are not large enough to call a pastor. I wanted to know what he would tell us about working together, putting away our pride, seeking solutions and innovating. In short, how can we be stronger together for the sake of our communities to which we are all, pastors and people, called to serve? He told a story about two churches which merged and became stronger for their communities. They sacrificed their own identity to proclaim Christ. They set aside their pride and sought what was truly best for sharing the Gospel with the people in their community. By the grace of God, their shared activity let to an amazing increase in proclamation. More people were able to hear of God’s love for them.I believe the reality is that most of our LCMS congregations don’t know what’s going on outside of our walls. We do know what’s going on in our communities or in the other churches in our communities. We need to seek out the realities that God reveals in Revelation. The things which would separate us individually from the family of God are from the devil. God is always seeking to unite us in mission and purpose.

Just like I was late to start watching Lost, we’re late to start discussing the issues we’re facing. I believe there is a future for our LCMS churches which includes cooperation, collaboration, mergers or multi-site movements. Status quo isn’t enough. We have to start asking questions about the way things have been and the way things are and the way things are going.