Saturday, December 4, 2010
Getting It Hooked Up Right
The directions were clear enough but our own wisdom entered in from time to time to sequence certain actions differently or go to what we thought would be obvious but, no matter how obvious it was for us to think this, there was another path we had to follow if we were to end up with the outcome desired and promised.
I would say the same thing applies to how God makes Himself accessible to us. He has given us pretty specific directions in His Word about the efficacy of that Word when we speak it, about the water and Name that make baptism, of the absolution that does in heaven what it says on earth, and of the meal that conveys to us -- hidden in bread and wine -- the very same body and blood of Christ incarnate, crucified, risen, and ascended. The problem is that we tend to get them out of sequence or we apply our reason and best intentions to what God has given to change His directions and then we don't understand why we end up with something different than was promised to us.
Reason messes with the Word and suddenly the Word that speaks and does becomes an encyclopedic word that conveys knowledge -- generally in the form of propositional truth that requires our assent to be really true. Reason messes with the Word and faith becomes merely an opinion about which truth is true or the consent of our will to God's will and the Holy Spirit is marginalized in the whole thing. Reason messes with the Word and we are left with values that make us moral instead of the Word that kills us and makes us alive again for life that death cannot overcome.
Reason messes with baptism and suddenly results become the issue and infant baptism becomes suspect (because we have already defined faith in a way that is thoroughly reasonable but precludes infants and small children). Never mind that we have changed what Scripture means to turn the trust of faith into the knowledge, understanding, and consent of faith. Reason messes with baptism and instead of meeting God in the water we jump into the water to show God we got it, we did it, and we are good with Him.
Reason messes with Holy Communion and our insistence that no one can be in any more than one place at a time and the mystery of God's gift and its richness in supplying the promised grace there becomes a memory meal in which symbolism trumps reality. We have what we want but what we have lacks what God promises to deliver and so forgiveness is relegated to the realm of a feeling instead of an accomplished fact or the Word that delivers what it says.
Liturgy and worship, hymns and songs are important not for aesthetics but because these either become ours or they remain His domain. Whether ceremonial or simple, the great temptation in liturgy is to make it my work to please God or what makes me happy and entertains me. Real liturgy is the discipline of the Word and Sacraments left to God's realm and the obedience of those who come there because God is there, inviting, delivering, and transforming us fallen sinners by the grace of Christ. Hymns and songs are important not because of "good music" or "bad music" but because the music serves the Word and the Word that it serves is always the story of Christ with our response secondary. It's power is not to entertain or excite or inspire us but to communicate to us in text and melody the Word of the cross and empty tomb.
Although I tire of saying it, it must be said again and again. What the Lutheran Confessions say about worship is said from the perspective of making sure we get it right so that what it is delivers to us what God has promised to be there.... and if we get it wrong, what is there for us is nothing -- a shadow at best of what God promises and an empty promise at worst -- both of which leave us empty handed at the end...