The first column I wrote for the Companion appeared in January 1987 with the title “Victims of a Star.” It spoke of the uninvited visits of the shepherds and magi to the newly born Jesus. The Shepherds were Jews who served among the least desirable of occupations. The magi were Gentiles, strangers in every sense of the word. But they and the shepherds had one thing in common: they were drawn to the baby, one group by angels, the other by a star. I suggested this was Holy Family Parish, built around the Word made flesh by divine calling. This was the church in the making, a hint at the multi-national ministry of Jesus and the explosion at Pentecost.
I am writing this, not in Epiphany but in Lent 2017. But I am constrained by the same theme—the church in the making—especially if one reads with a little imagination and between the lines.
During the act of crucifixion Jesus asks God to forgive his crucifiers because they know not what they are doing. I can’t imagine God refusing his Son’s petition. Forgiven Romans.
A thief asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. Jesus promises him a place in paradise today. There is no postponement to salvation. Today.
Then a centurion, a Roman commander of one hundred, makes a confession: according to Luke he praises God and proclaims the innocence of Jesus. Matthew speaks of the centurion’s confession of Jesus as God’s Son, this after the apocalyptic-like opening of the graves and the risen people entering Jerusalem.
What took place on Good Friday was as much a sociological event as Christmas. The Word made flesh is the central figure of this multi-national event. This Word was at work marking the in-break of the kingdom. (“Today you will be with me in paradise.”) There was intercession for the killers of God’s Son and later the resurrection would be God’s sign that this risen One was available in God’s name to all. The centurion’s confession and praise was a foretaste of Gentile acclamation. We have the church in the making on the hill.
I thought it fitting to begin and end my writing a column for the Companion in this way. For thirty years it has been a privilege to serve first the gospel and then the church in this space. But I have sensed increasingly the time has come for me to relinquish this work.
For thirty years it has been a privilege to serve first the gospel and then the church in this space.
I cannot do so without thanking the people who have read the columns with my hope that in reading, your faith, hope, and love have been strengthened for your service to the gospel and church. To those of you who from time to time have communicated with me I am also grateful. And to Jane Swanson-Nystrom, Cathy Norman Peterson, and Evy Lennard, my contacts at the editorial office, my specific thanks for countless phone consultations, and attention to details. Your work is indispensible. My daughter-in-law Sharon Weborg has typed my work and deserves a crown of glory for deciphering my handwriting. I also want to pay tribute to the Rev. James R. Hawkinson, now at home in the communion of saints, for his initial enlistment of me in this working.
But my debts to friends, family members, writers, and professors, too numerous to mention, will never be repaid. All I can do is offer my gratitude for a great company of witnesses.
The church that was in the making at the manger and around the cross is now ours to continue to bring to its fullness. This means that the hard work of congregations is to reach out to the diversity of people that God has given to the locations into which they are placed, and to learn how to be receptive to them. They have been sent by God, just as he sent a diversity of people to the manger and the cross.
It is a prayer of mine that the church is not resistant to this ever-changing landscape of people at its front door, but learns to welcome them. This is the the way God presents his mission to us. For we are, in truth, the church in the making.