I could pick any 2 paragraphs in the first chapter of Free in Obedience. Stringfellow could have written most any sentence about the church of 2010 rather than the church of 1964.
The churches have been immobilized in the mission to the city on two counts: First they have not really wanted the gospel; they have, instead, abandoned it and replaced it with the ideology of the industrial revolution. Theirs is the very elementary heresy of ignoring the fall, denying the power of death, radically confusing the nature of sin, and supposing that men save themselves when they have the guts, the positive will power, and, perhaps, a little luck. The irony of this, however, is that very few people in modern society really believe seriously any more in the ideology of the industrial revolution, despite the nostalgic, ceremonial recognition still accorded it in the speeches of politicians, corporate executives, and commencement orators. The raw truth is that in practice no one living and working in the complex of contemporary mass society actually honors these ideas.
In other words, because they have become theologically incapacitated, the churches have pretty much forsaken the city both physically and psychologically. They do not know the city because they are stopped by a religion bearing only an outer resemblance to the gospel; because they are not immersed in the common life of the city, their witness is peripheral, pietistic, self-serving, corny, and profane (Free in Obedience; 1964, p. 27-28).
We’re getting up this morning, moving toward worship – maybe in a church, possibly by avoiding church- seeking a glimpse of the possibility of the incarnate word breathing gospel anew. Stringfellow’s plea is for renewal of the sacramental integrity of churches for all peoples everywhere, a renewal of hope for the city.
Helpless, mind you, is not a synonym for hopeless; quite the contrary, the Christian hope becomes manifest in the very event in which a people or a person confess utter helplessness, for that confession is the first and free and most reckless acknowledgement of God’s life and presence in the world (29).
I think this is an advent confession, perhaps the only confession possible for the time of helpless, hopeful waiting.