Saturday, August 13, 2011
The Means or the End
The problem with this preaching is that Christ is not merely the means to anything. Christ is the everything we need and the everything we seek by the Spirit's power. He is not some key we place in the door that has our passageway blocked. Christ is the passageway and He is the end goal. Salvation is not some pie in the sky when you die and forgiveness is not some utilitarian procedure to prevent the success you want and the Lord wills for your earthly life. Christ is both the source of these and the content. But we have lost some of that and even when we preach Christ we forget that He is not merely the means to another end.
In this respect, the troubles we have in the pulpit and at the altar share a common problem. We treat worship and we treat Christ (and the Gospel) as if these were not ends in and of themselves but merely means to other ends. Worship ends up having an agenda thrust upon it. It is evangelism and outreach for those not yet of the Household of Faith. It is community and support for the wounded who come to be healed up and gassed up to get back out there into life. It is the pedagogical arena in which we are instructed (in what is wrong, how to fix it, and how to get what we want). Preaching falls into the same trap.
What a shameful sham to speak of Christ as if He were merely the means to an end -- like the car that takes us from point A to point B, or where we want to go. In such preaching and worship, Christ is reduced to propositional truths or bullet points designed to get us saved or make us happy or transform our lives from failure into success.
We do the same thing to the means of grace. We study the Word of God because we want certain things or we want certain things to happen or we want to know how to make things better. It is not so awful or evil to think this way but it is not Biblical and it is not reflective of Christian witness and preaching since the earliest of days. Christ is not the power to help us become righteous; He is our righteousness. He is not some power to forgive our sins; He is our forgiveness, the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away our sin and the sin of the whole world by becoming flesh with us and sin for us.
We approach our devotional lives in the same way -- this private moment is filled with an agenda and so we listen to the Word for words to the wise instead of for Christ, the living Word of God who speaks with the voice of Scripture. We pray because we have things we want or need and we tend to sign off before we give God any chance to respond. Our prayers become the one sided conversations of a people who do not trust in the Lord or His good and gracious will and therefore must tell God what we need and how to deliver what we need to us.
I am convinced that we misunderstand the "I AM" statements of Christ and turn Him into a metaphor speaker instead of the embodiment of all that He speaks. He becomes the Lord who is like the door or like the way or like the truth but not really THE way, truth and life. The Sacrament of the Altar becomes a means to an end in the same way and Christ is distanced from the physical element and the whole thing becomes a spiritual exercise that ends up merely a metaphor instead of reality. To preach the Gospel is to preach Jesus Christ. To worship in Spirit and truth is to worship the living Christ who is the Divine Service to whom we render our divine service of worship, witness, prayer, mercy and service.
This is one of the reasons I appreciate so the words of the introduction to Lutheran Worship: Nagel will live forever if only for the genius of these few words that say so much:
Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God.
Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is his name, which he put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are his. This we acknowledge at the beginning of the Divine Service. Where his name is, there is he. Before him we acknowledge that we are sinners, and we plead for forgiveness. His forgiveness is given us, and we, freed and forgiven, acclaim him as our great and gracious God as we apply to ourselves the words he has used to make himself known to us.
The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psahns, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessing moves us out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition. . .
Christ is the source, He is the means, He is the Giver, He is the Gift, and He is the Goal.... From Him, through Him, and to Him are all things. When the Spirit imparts faith to our fearful and stubborn hearts, we finally realize that it is all about Jesus! I often wonder what would happen if we preached this as fervently as we try to preach improvement, morality, responsibility, and success. Do you think maybe a new Pentecost?