Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Ask for the Ancient Paths, the Good Way, and Walk in It
And then, "Thus says the Lord: 'Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it and find rest for your souls..." (Jeremiah 6:16a) Wow! If that is not a word for today -- especially for Lutherans -- I do not know what is... Amid the doom and gloom of impending judgment and just in the face of the destruction to come, God speaks this simple sentence which offers direction, hope, forgiveness, and redemption all in one...
Lutherans are at the crossroads. The ELCA dissidents against the actions of the CWA are meeting now in Columbus to chart the course for the remnant there. Missouri has elected a President more grounded in our Lutheran identity and with a more catholic vision of Lutheran faith and practice than ever before -- perhaps one of our last opportunities to bring this denomination together before the fragmentation leaves us hopelessly divided. And all across America Lutheran congregations struggle with the great temptation to become something other than Lutheran in order to survive (whether that be like a mainline but dying Protestant denomination, a church body without a doctrinal foundation like the UCC, a generic evangelical Christianity that does what works, or a fundamentalist faith with a liturgy).
And there it is... the direction back from the abyss of sectarianism and from a cultural infatuation that renders us strangers to God... Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is... This does not mean attempting to return to a golden age in Christian or Lutheran or Missourian history. This does not mean complete disdain for the opportunity and possibility rendered us by technology and an awareness of what is going on in the world around us. This does not mean becoming like Missouri of 1847 or 1947 or trying to reinvent the ancient Church or recreating what we read about in the infant Church of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. This means following the ancient paths and building them as a highway through the present age and toward the future. It means keeping faith with the faithful along the way and not beginning with a blank page for structure, doctrine, faith, mission, or worship. It means keeping and adding what does not conflict with the past but extends its truth and is recognizable as the offspring of those who have gone before.
"Walk in it and you will find rest..." Here I think of rest and respite from the constant quest for a new morality which may be more in tune with the whims of the people at the moment but is discordant and dissonant with the abiding morality of Jesus and His Word. Here I think of rest and respite from the constant worship wars in which contemporary and traditional become the main aisle to separate those in the household of God. Here I think of rest and respite from the constant need to figure out what is going on in people and the world around us so that we can keep up with them instead of proclaiming the changeless Christ to a changing world. Here I think of rest and respite from the constant invention of new gimmicks for evangelism or outreach and confidence in the Word that accomplishes its promises and delivers what it says.
I do not want to win any of these wars. I just want us to be the Church whose identity, confession, and practice are consistent with the catholic principle of every age and every place. I want to direct the energy and attention away from the nuances and fringe to the central truth of creed and confession. I want to welcome the authority of those who supervise doctrine and practice and accept the collegial responsibility I have to brother pastors and other congregations as well as my own parish. I want an end to the all or nothing, take no prisoner attitudes of some and to acknowledge the higher calling which trumps personal preference. I want a Lutheranism which knows who we are (not just how things were when we grew up). Maybe you do as well...
It would seem that this passage has a lot to say to us... if we would listen. If we do not listen, the same judgment and doom that the prophet proclaimed in his own time may be our future, too.