Dear brothers and sisters!
Our congregations are the hope of the world. No, fact is that God no longer dwells here. I do not believe that joy is possible, that it is better to live in community, that we should love one another radically. The truth is that our communities are on the brink of extinction. I refuse to believe that we are part of something that reaches beyond ourselves, and that we have been changed in order to change. It is quite clear that poverty is too overwhelming, that racism cannot be overcome. That evil will never be defeated. I cannot believe that things will change for the better in the future. It will turn out that God can't help, and you're wrong if you think God can.I am convinced of this: you cannot change things. It would be a lie, if I would say: God cares!
At the end of the year I stumbled across this text, these passages. And I was a bit torn the first time I read it: Is this too extreme or is there not also a part true or at least to be taken seriously.
Sometimes, when I as a pastor think about my congregation or am looking for suitable people who could take over one or the other task, I ask myself: Are our congregations still big enough? Or is there some truth in the fact that our congregations, perhaps not on the brink of extinction, but are endangered, also in our United Methodist Church in Austria? How was it in St. Pölten, how is it in Ried?
Are we also approaching this critical size, where one can soon no longer speak of a church? With 7 parishes in Austria? Will we soon no longer speak of church in these congregations either, but at best of a Christian assembly?
I remember one Sunday in Graz, I think it was during the summer vacations, when there were maybe 8-10 people in the service. 8-10 people of whom then two were assigned to do the readings and of course one person sat at the piano - but I found that shocking.
Or how is it when I think about the war in Ukraine? Has there ever been a war anywhere in human history where civil society was not affected? A war where no women were raped? Where there was no deliberate collateral damage? Is it not true then that evil can never be defeated?
Isn't it terrible to observe that we don't develop as human beings, that we don't learn, that we still have to kill each other? If you look to the east of Ukraine today, you see the First World War, only a hundred years later. Trenches. No territorial gains. War of positions. People whose feet rot off. Being crushed by artillery fire. What have we not invented in the past 100 years? From the car to the color TV, the cell phone that is now a smartphone and the voice-controlled Alexis that plays the music. But wars, ordinary brutal wars - we still have them. Despite the UN, despite human rights, what can you say?
And what about the climate crisis and the measures we are taking? Don't we have to say, "I can't believe that things will change for the better in the future." Coupled with the eternal question: why doesn't God intervene? Why is God allowing this to happen? Why this injustice?
So even if I don't embrace the full radicalism of this text - how do I deal with these questions? And then, in the final analysis, what does it mean for me as a human being? What does it mean for me as a Christian? What does it mean for me as a pastor? What am I supposed to preach to you here and now?
I still believe that it is much more important to ask the right questions than to give the right answers. But today I would like to deviate from this basic rule.
I believe - and I can only say this now for myself and for no other person in this world - I believe that sometimes it is not enough to ask the so-called "right" questions.
Sometimes you have to actively decide for something.
Decide for life. Deciding for hope. Deciding for God and faith in Jesus Christ.
Deciding for a view of life that I always choose myself or can choose myself.
The old saying of the half-empty or half-full glass - I believe it is true.
And so, next to all the evil, next to all the millennia of failure, next to every human inadequacy, there has always been the good. Next to all the evil, there has always been the good. And isn't the primeval story of paradise about this constant, life-deciding question of decision? The decision between good and evil?
When I think of wars, haven't there always been people who were against them? Who helped, who bandaged the wounded. Who have said, "He who takes up the sword shall perish by the sword." (Mat 26:52) Has not the one who said this himself given proof that violence cannot be answered with violence. Did he not die on the cross and yet rise again?
And when I think of the climate crisis in all its effects and am scared to death because of it, who on earth is supposed to profit from it? Has whining ever done anything for the good? Or motivated people to change their lives? Or led people to do what they can and entrust the impossible to God?
Doesn't it say instead: God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love and prudence. (2 Tim. 1, 7)
When we as Christians lose hope that good is just as alive as evil, when we stop believing in overcoming suffering and hardship, when we resign ourselves and stop counting on God's action, then we reach a point which has to be feared.
But I and my house will serve the LORD. (Jos 24, 15) Joshua once said that. And I join him. That's what I want, too.
And the very last thing I want is to lose hope. The hope that nothing is impossible for God. And that behind everything there is a good, gracious, God who sees me. Who hears me. And whom I can trust because he loves me.
It is a choice. A choice of how I want to see life. It's a matter of perspective.
And so I invite all of us - to listen to this text from a different perspective. Not from top down as we are used to. The powerful show the powerless how it's done, no! But from the perspective of the child in the stable, who gave himself. He gave himself so that we might live.
It would be a lie, if I would say: You cannot change things. God can. And you are wrong if you think that God cannot help. Things will turn out for the better in the future. I can't believe that evil can never be defeated, that racism can't be overcome, that poverty is too overwhelming. It is clear that we have been changed in order to change. And that we are part of something beyond ourselves. I refuse to believe that our communities are on the brink of extinction. The truth is that we are to love one another radically. That living in community is better, that joy is possible. I do not believe that God no longer dwells here. No, the fact is: Our communities are the hope of the world.
And that is you!