But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.
But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for
‘Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.’
Again I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,
‘I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.’
Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,
‘I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.’
But of Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.’
We all know them: the people who have their doors slammed shut to anything that smacks of Church or religion. And we know the people who grieve over them: their parents, agonising over where they went wrong. ‘We took them to Sunday School, church…’
We don’t want to acknowledge that some ground just might be stony ground for the Gospel. We better understand the folk who in their twenties and thirties are ‘too busy’ with carving out careers, building families, creating homes, dealing with the overwhelm of modern life…
But still our churches miss them. The younger generation. We can hope they will one day come back. An elderly friend said of her grandchildren, ‘Wait till the troubles come, the sorrows. See where they’ll turn.’ And I knew she hoped they would turn back to the church they’d been brought up in.
But will they? We can load ourselves with responsibility and reproach: are we keeping up with the times? Are we offering the kind of services they might be attracted to? And even, how can they turn back if we don’t keep the doors open for them? That is the reason behind the anguish of many a congregation forced to close their doors. What if Dad had sold up and moved just before the prodigal son set off for home?
Maybe we take too much upon ourselves. It is God who lights the flame of faith in our hearts and keeps the flicker going. We may see no harvest for our thousands of words and endless pleas. We may regretfully give up and close the doors.
But a God who can raise up a people that was no people, who can continue loving a disobedient and contrary people, won’t give up on any of the folk we care about. Just as He hasn’t given up on the children of Israel.
When we hear the cry that we need young families and children in our congregations, remind us that You know who You want to send. You know who You want us to minister to, and how. Remind us that Your ideas are different from ours, and that our role is obedience and trust.
Dorothy Stewart Courtis, Lay Preacher and member, Thurso URC