Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ask for the Ancient Paths, the Good Way, and Walk in It

Every now and then a text sort of hits you across the face and you wake up to it as if you had never read it before.  Such is the case this morning when I was reading in Jeremiah (the lamenting prophet).  In chapter 5 the prophet speaks the Word of the Lord in judgment against His people.  Their eyes do not see and ears do not hear.  They are foolish and ignorant.  They do not fear the Lord or respect Him for what He has done.  "Shall I not punish them?" asks the Lord.  A few words later in chapter 6, the prophet speaks the Word of the Lord about the impending doom coming to Jerusalem.  He calls upon His people to flee the coming disaster.  But no one is listening to the words of warning that God is speaking.  The Word of the Lord has become an object of scorn and derision.  They do not take pleasure in the Word of the Lord and their ears are uncircumcised and cannot hear.  Peace is proclaimed when there is none.  There is no shame left among the people....

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.

4 comments:

Norman Teigen said...

There is great wisdom in these words.

Garry Trammell said...

This is the passage that brought about a profound and complete change in my thinking regarding modern day evangelical Christianity. This change happened in 1997. From that point forward I've made a determined effort to contrast and compare today's Christian thinking against Christian revelation and thinking of all times.

Thank you for this excellent post Pastor Peters. This has tremendous value for Christians of all denominations even though you write with LCMS Lutherans in mind.

I've linked to this article from my blog at http://ramblingsmi.blogspot.com/ and Facebook and it will be appearing later tonight.

Thank you again for your encouraging insights.

Ryan said...

One of my favorite verses! That is my usual verse I use for ordinations/installations!

Anonymous said...

It is a PATH, after all, and not a point at which to stop. It is not a crossroads, but a continuing journey. It is a journey on an ancient path, dusty with antiquity. It is the path of the faith once delivered to the saints... (also one of my favorite passages.