As I write, we find ourselves once again (or perhaps still?) in a time of transition and trying new things. We have expanded our outreach to our neighbors by partnering with the Common Good Café for community suppers. We are making our buildings available to more community groups, even when that occasionally means we are inconvenienced. We are eagerly awaiting the inauguration and occupancy of a new community of neighbors in our Parish House. We are in the midst of interviewing and calling a new person to lead our music ministry. And we are in conversations with our friends and neighbors about a possible new relationship among the other Episcopal parishes on this island and our clergy.
On a larger stage, we are seeing the relationship between the Church and the culture changing, with panicked cries that the church is becoming irrelevant, or that in her quest for relevance the church has lost her prophetic voice. Bloggers and authors loudly insist that what we must do is to withdraw into our own Christian communities and reject the fallen world, or just as loudly that the Church must catch up to the rapid changes in culture and in fact be on the progressive cutting edge of social change. We are exhorted to follow God into the neighborhood, letting go of anything that is not the Gospel, but at the same time we are reminded to remain true to ourselves and our own story. It is a very confusing time to be the Church.
But of course, it has seldom been easy to be Gods people. Disagreements among faithful people are a dark thread that runs through scripture and church history. Consider the ancient enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans, worshipping the same God from the same holy books but from different temples. Consider the competition in Jesus’ time among the Sadducees who chose to compromise with Roman culture, the Essenes who chose to withdraw into the desert to keep themselves pure, the Zealots who plotted religious terrorism against Rome, and the Pharisees who devoted themselves to living according to God’s law in a hostile environment. Consider the controversy between Paul and Peter, each convinced by his own vision of what Christ had intended his movement to be. Consider any human conflict when each side is absolutely sure that God fights for them.
It would certainly be easier if God were to speak plainly to us as he did to Abraham and Moses, then listen to our counter-arguments and perhaps adjust his plan. But for better or worse, for the last several thousand years God has relied on us to use the tools he has given us to work things out as best we can: Holy Scripture, the human and fallible Church, and our human and fallible intellect.
Think about that: God relies on us to work things out as best we can. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann puts it this way in his commentary In Man we Trust: “What God does first and best and most is to trust his [people] with their moment in history… He trusts his [people] not to bring death but to do what must be done for the sake of the whole community.”
Seen this way, our struggling to live out our good intentions with the limited information and resources we have at hand, trusting God but wishing that he didn’t trust us quite so much, is not just the best we can do; it is what God calls us to do. Our groping along in the dark is not our failure or God’s design flaw; it is at the heart of our relationship with the God who created us with free will specifically so that we might live in a genuine and loving covenant with him.
There may have been a time when it seemed that all the hard questions were settled, everybody was a Christian, and the Church would never need to change. That is certainly not true now, and I doubt that it ever really was. Thanks be to God that he trusts us enough to show us the truth about our moment in history, even when it may seem overwhelming.
 Walter Brueggemann, In Man we Trust: The Neglected Side of Biblical Faith (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 1972), pp 33-34. Digital edition accessed May 25, 2017 from www.books.google.com/books?id=Q5JLAwAAQBAJ&vq.