The Speedometer and Church Business

By Paul Koch

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So here I am, sitting with my voting machine at the regular convention of the Pacific Southwest District of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?). Laid out before me is the specter of the business of church.

There will be, and have been, a myriad of important reports and the thrill of voting on resolutions. No doubt the floor committee is making sure everything is done in good order and with expediency. Hours of work and effort have gone in to preparing us for these few days in Irvine, California (to all the locals in CA: why did it have to be Irvine?) and even the casual observer can see the fruit of their labors.

Now, I know full well that I have always been an ardent critic of bureaucratic endeavors. And to be sure, this is a bureaucratic love fest of the highest order. However, I once read that we ought to strive to put the best construction on all things. So in thinking about the time and effort that went in to this convention, in examining my own problem with the business of the church, in wondering how any of this really freaking matters, in wondering if I’m the only one who feels uncomfortable, in trying to get a handle on just what the hell is going on I want to offer a new analogy for how the business of the church relates to the proclamation of Christ.

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Consider the speedometer.

The speedometer in your car is a simple tool. From the old gear driven models to the modern electrical devices, these tools translate your movement down the road into a symbol within the cabin on your vehicle as you sit passively singing along to Bruno Mars on the radio. (Really how could you not sing along?)

We have all grown up using this tool, accepting its interpretation of speed, and using its interpretation to keep us safely and legally moving down the road.

Many years back I did a complete teardown and rebuild of my motorcycle. Through the process I chopped it up a bit, learned how to wire a bike, and even brushed up on my welding. After a few shakedown runs, I hit the road down to Daytona Beach for the big festival in October. But along the way, my new speedometer simply stopped working. To this day I’m not exactly sure what went wrong; it was a cheap speedometer so I’d guess the gear in the housing stripped out. But it was what happened afterwards that is really important. The further I went down the road with the speedometer needle resting comfortably at zero, I found that I slowly stopped glancing down to look at it. In fact, what I discovered was a whole new type of freedom on the motorcycle. The pitch of the road, the movement of the traffic, the sound of the motor, and the feel of the traction settled into a rhythm that made the speedometer useless. The symbol of my speed was just that: it was symbol, not my actual speed. In fact, it was that tool that interrupted what was actually going on all around me.

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By the time I made it back home a few days later, I was so used to not having the speedometer that I just took it off the bike altogether and pitched it in the garbage. Nowadays, the only time that I miss having this tool is when I’m riding up on a police car or trying passionately to get the California DMV to believe that a speedometer was not standard issue on an ‘89 Harley.

The speedometer has an important use and a good legal use. It is useful, but it is not my movement down the road.

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The business of the church is important; it is useful – especially when the law is involved. It provides a symbol, an interpretation of what is happening in the church, but it is not proclamation. The proclamation of Christ is what happens when the sinner is broken down and the repentant are lifted up. Proclamation is what happens in church on Sunday morning, in the homes of our members, in the hospice care facility where I hand over the goods to a dying great-grandmother. It is the actual application of the Law and Gospel in the lives of others. It is not a symbol of it or an interpretation of it but the real thing.

So, the bureaucracy of the church is useful. It is a tool, but it is not proclamation. It is not the movement down the road nor the wind in your face. In fact, when it begins to think and act like it is, it just might be time to pitch it in the garbage and hit the road.

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