Insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.... With those words some have sought to characterize as irrelevant -- even pathetic -- the Church's work of liturgy, catechesis, and confession. The liturgy has become for these people a failed experiment and we owe it to Christ and the world for which He died to give up the failed methods of the past. In the same way, catechesis has been challenged by the idea that kids don't want to be there and parents no longer seem as willing to make them go. So catechesis has been replaced by entertainment which focuses upon the already overdone focus of feeling and desire. Instead of teaching to our youth the way of life under the cross through the means of grace we try to teach how to be happy in Jesus. Finally, there are those who insist that what we confess is less important than the way we confess it. For these people doctrine and truth ought to come second to love, tolerance, and acceptance.
They might all be true except for one thing. The liturgy that we repeat is nothing more and nothing less than the means of grace in the ancient and laudable pattern of prayer and worship through which God delivers to us His Son and, with His Son, what His Son has won by His all sufficient suffering and death and life-giving resurrection. They might be true except that catechesis has always been the way we teach the faith (note, I did not say teach knowledge of truths or facts or even impart understanding). We teach the faith by teaching us to trust the Word of the Lord (verbal and visible) to accomplish what it promises and do what God has sent it forth to do -- to enable us to trust in Christ and, believing in Him, to have forgiveness, life, and salvation in His name. They might be true except for one thing. Confession begins with the premise that it is not about me or even we. It is about the one name under heaven and on earth by which any can or will be saved. We confess Jesus Christ in formally worded forms of confession (the Concordia, for example) but we also confess Jesus Christ implicitly in the liturgy, the means of grace, faithfully offered as Christ commanded and received as Christ has enabled by faith. As often as you each of this bread and drink of this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes...
No, the real insanity is repeating the noble failures of the more recent past. Our attempt to make worship more relevant by making it more about us, more captive to the moment, and more detached from the concrete of the means of grace has left the pews empty and the people still in them even less confident of Christ's presence and grace. We have taught our youth well. It don't matter. And they believed us. So they stopped going through the motions of our religious attempts at self-aggrandizement and self worship and are pursuing their own interests unhindered by the remnants of religion our unfaithfulness has left them. Youth ministry that attempted to meet kids on the turf of what is cool, relevant, entertaining, and fun is the insanity of the past half a century or so. They have found more entertaining entertainment than the lame mirrored activities of the world around them.
The real insanity is repeating the noble failures of the more recent past. Our belief that music with a beat that you can dance to and a casual take on God and the things of God would pack in the people have left our churches filled with drum sets, guitar cases, worship divas, and great sound systems. But no people. Those who come, come for fun and the fun they come for is dictated not by the Word of God but by personal preference and musical taste. There is no substance worth having if it comes to us in a style we don't care for. So the youth listen to the jazzed up ancient sounds of Peter, Paul, and Mary that pass for "contemporary" and they ask why? All we can answer them is because we can and we think it is cool.
The real insanity is repeating the noble failures of the more recent past. We have segregated the Church so that families split up at the door and we all seek whatever appeals to us and then we call it "church". Kids head to glorified baby sitting, youth head to their techno hideaways, and adults to what makes them feel good. We get what we want, largely a dose of moralism that glorifies self and feelings, and then we all go home to go into our own rooms and do what we want. Big buildings that look like shopping malls and plenty of Starbucks mean we must be successful -- never mind that the people coming and going are just shopping for the next, newest, coolest rreligious experience.
I have an idea. Let's try Word and Sacrament. Let's try being Lutheran -- really Lutheran. Let us come to the Divine Service to meet there the Christ who forgives us, who embraces us as His very own, and who feeds us upon His body and blood. Let us sing with the church before us the words of the faith as a people who believe this Word is God's power and His glory. Let us teach not simply facts and events but life under the cross, trusting the Lord and living out in daily life "not my will but Thine be done." Let us struggle with as much effort as possible to become the people God has declared us to be, living out the good news in lives of good works and godly witness.
The only insanity about this radical idea is that the promise of God is that He will accomplish His purpose, in His own time, and bring forth the success and fruits He desires.... all we need to be is faithful...