Sunday, September 15, 2013
Right cannot wait. . .
From the moment I got into my first parish, now 33 years ago, the folks knew I was not like the last guy. I wore a chasuble. I chanted. I bowed. I even genuflected. I brought my own chalice when there was none. I did not joke around about the worship service. From the get go, they knew I was different. What they did not know was that this difference was not supposed to be the oddity but the normal face of Lutheranism. It took nearly 13 years to teach them that these things were not about preference but about the practice that is consistent with the faith confessed. I have been gone from that parish for nearly 21 years and yet they still know that God uses the voice of the Pastor in the absolution and sermon, that rituals are actions that speak the faith without words, that the Eucharist is the ordinary expectation of every Sunday morning, and that the liturgy is the song of the faithful speaking to God what He has already spoken to us.
From the moment I got into my second (and current) parish, now nearly 21 years ago, the folks knew I was different. I have spent the last couple of decades teaching them that the different I am is not personal preference or style but the practice that honors and flows from the Lutheran Confessions. They have come to know that Lutheranism is not a theory without a form but a form and a piety with words and actions. Oh, to be sure, many things can and do vary from place to place but the rhythm of God speaking and our response, God giving and our receiving, God sending and our going out with His gifts and Spirit -- these do not change. The page numbers have changed. Perhaps a few things are more elaborate than in other places, but we are who we are because we are Lutheran. Period.
I have long been suspicious of Pastors who inherit less than Lutheran practices and then continue them while trying to teach them past the errors or failings. If the doctor gives you the wrong medicine, you do not take the rest of the pills until they are gone. You stop and take what is right. I do NOT believe that you should change without also teaching or that you can ever reach a point where you stop teaching. The faith is always and ever but one generation from oblivion. We teach and teach and teach again (call it catechesis or whatever but the instruction in the Word of God and in our own Confessions must never end or even pause).
Restoring practices in harmony with the faith confessed (even if only confessed as the doctrinal standard in the constitution) is the lot of nearly every Pastor. I suspect that there are places where previous Pastors have already done the heavy lifting in this regard but I also suspect that one should not presume too much. The work of the Kingdom is not some to do list wherein we can check off things and do something else. The work of the Pastor is largely repetitive work -- what we do, we do over and over and over again and NOT because we don't know better but because the means of grace are the means of the Kingdom and nothing else.
Right cannot wait. Now, I am not suggesting that you run over your people with a bulldozer. Surely I do not need to say this caveat but I will anyhow. Right cannot wait but we speak the truth in love. We do not spend time blaming the wrongs of the past or the people who did them. We do not waste time trying to reason everything in such a way that no will will dispute it. The worst tyranny of the congregation is "that is not how it was done where I came from, was confirmed, grew up, etc..." There will always be people who insist that their experience of Lutheranism is the defining one. I would not even say that about where I am and what we do here -- even after 21 years! Every day is a constant striving after the goal for the individual through repentance and for the renewal of the Church through constant catechesis. The past is not given to us on a platter but must be regularly reclaimed just as our Confession is not truth once confessed bur truth always and ever being confessed.
So Pastors new to the ministry or to the congregation, I would say right cannot wait. At the same time I would say preach and teach consistent to the right you practice even as you practice consistent to the right you believe and confess. Do so in love. Prove yourself by loving your people as Christ's baptized people over whom He has placed you as shepherd. They will listen. They will hear. And they will follow. Because of the last point, make darn sure that you are not leading them astray.