Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Aw.... come on now...
Over the years there have been countless conversations about lightening up, chilling out, getting a sense of humor, etc., toward those who seem to have no tolerance when it comes to matters of religion and faith. Now I am not really an angry old man (contrary to the opinions of my naysayers). In fact, I have a sense of humor. Ask the people I work with on staff. Ask my family. Read some of the posts on this blog. The trouble with a sense of humor is that is does not deflect those things that truly do mark the Church and wound the faith. An LCMS Pastor losing a bet and wearing a team jersey and a skirt to a men's club meeting might be in poor taste but not such a big deal. An LCMS Pastor shaving his beard off because he lost a bet might be foolish (if he wanted the beard) but worth a pass by commentators like me. An LCMS Pastor spending the night on the roof because his youth group raised a big wad for Souper Bowl Sunday might not be my cup of tea but it would not merit a second look. But when it comes to the most solemn and sacred moments of the week, when the people of God gather around His Word and Sacrament, such foolishness is not just a joke but an offense to the Lord whom we worship and the Church where we gather. BTW solemnity does not mean without JOY but joy does not mean slapstick humor!
The trite and trivial cannot merit a pass when it takes place in worship. There is far too much that happens on Sunday morning -- distractions from the means of grace or competition for the means of grace -- to let such things go unnoticed. I have certainly had my share of unintentional mistakes while leading the people of God in worship on Sunday morning but when we Pastors deliberately say and do things that takes the spotlight off of the cross and on to us or when we turn the sacred speech of the Divine Service into a monologue or comedy sketch, we are failing our duty and shortchanging the very people we are called to serve. Again, it is not that we should not smile in church -- that is not what is being said -- but when our actions are intended for a laugh, we betray the Word and the Sacrament and the Lord who has placed Himself within these means of grace.
"Ya shoulda bin there" ought to be spoken to those who miss the Mystery of the Word and earthly element that conveys Christ and His gifts to us, unworthy though we are, and not spoken about those who missed a YouTube moment. Some things are just too darn important to mess around with or to mess up -- especially intentionally. So, when Pastors act like they are on stage at the Comedy Club or when liturgical commentary includes laugh lines or when the dress, mannerisms, or actions of those leading the Divine Service distracts from or detracts from Christ and His gifts, we have a problem far greater than a ham who hogs the spotlight. My aversion to children's sermons may be shaped by the numbers of children's sermons I have observed in which a laugh track and a "I wish I had a camera" accompanied the sermonette. But I am willing to grant those delivering such sermons more of a pass on such flops than those who deliberately abuse their office.
"Just this once..." I was asked, "couldn't you have just looked at it and smiled and let it go..." But that is exactly the problem. We have "just this once" occasions all the time in Lutheran worship services all over the country. We have come to figure that if it gets a laugh, it is not so bad. Because it gets a laugh, we are tempted to repeat it. This is because if you strip away the pious veneer from Lutheran Pastors you find a David Letterman or Jay Leno waiting to jump out. The liturgy is the helpful constraint upon us to prevent us from being who we want to be in worship and requiring us to be whom God has called us to be -- ministers of the means of grace and stewards of the mysteries of God.
No, such things will not bring the world to an early end. I am not saying that. What I am saying is that we have been far too patient about such things when the offender is overlooked and those who are offended are labelled as the problem. We DO need to lighten up about a lot of things. We Lutheran Pastors need to learn to laugh at ourselves. We DO need to distinguish between minor irritants and major flaws in our churches and our people. A chill pill every now and then is medicine well needed -- except when it comes to the Divine Service and our failure to honor the Lord by keeping the focus upon Christ and His means of grace. I know God has a sense of humor but I am not at all sure it extends to the ministration of His saving Word and Sacraments. Call me an ogre but I do not see what is funny about such foolishness in the House of the Lord.