Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The most significant event in the life of the parish. . .

It was one of those form questions designed to gain a perspective on what was going on in the congregation.  "What is or has been the most significant event in the life of your congregation?"  Hmmmm....  Well, there was that one year we met our budget and had a surplus....   Or what about that year we decided to build on to the building... Or what about the year we had conflict and some folks left to start another church... Or perhaps it was when our pastor died (or assistant pastor)... the list could go on and on and a good case made for every one of the items listed.   Think about the list you would make for your own parish.

But I did not pick one of those items from the list.  The most significant event in the life of this or any parish is the Sunday Divine Service or Mass.  This IS the most significant event in the life of this or any congregation but that is not the answer most or perhaps all respondents would give.  The great tragedy is that the most extraordinary event in our live together as the people of God and in our individual lives as the baptized is too often seen as ordinary, routine, even casual or trivial.

It is my contention that the reasons why we tend to compare unfavorably with the evangelical church down the block, the reasons why tend to beget conflict and dispute, the reasons why we see people slip away from us never to be reclaimed, and the reasons why our youth ministries of Sunday school, catechism, and youth group have lost their glitter is that we no longer count what happens on Sunday morning as the most significant part of our life together as a congregation and our individual lives as Christian people within that congregation.

There is no pastor who is not in some way overwhelmed by the demands laid upon him and his time by the pastoral care needs, administrative responsibilities, teaching duties, and assorted other jobs that are part of the overall vocation of a pastor.  The truth is that it is also the great temptation of the pastor to put these things first and to devote the bulk of our time and energy to them to the point where the Divine Service gets stuck with the leftovers of our resources.  We often feed this by thinking it is only worship and not as dramatic as the emergency life circumstances that often call for the pastor's presence.  We often justify it by figuring the liturgy is hardly more than prelude for the sermon and so little of our attention goes into its planning or execution.  But it does not matter how great our pastoral care is outside of the Divine Service if we are failing to raise up the Divine Service as the source and summit of our life together and our individual lives as the baptized people of God.  This is where the people of God regularly meet the voice of the Lord speaking in His Word, the grace of the Lord absolving them of their sins, and the very flesh and blood of the Son of God to feed and nourish them body and soul.  This IS the most significant event in the life of any Lutheran congregation.  We need to start stating the obvious with such regularity that our people will begin to realize the truth of this statement and we may begin to bear the fruits of this focus on the whole of the parish's life and ministry.

When Jesus describes the joy of heaven over one sinner who repents, how the angels join in song when one person hears the call of the Father through the voice of His Son and by the Spirit responds with the joyful assent, He is telling us the importance of our lives together around the Word and Table of the Lord.  If our people really began to think like this, I am certain it would have great impact on the mission focus of our work, on the vitality of Sunday school and Bible study, on the urgency of a life of catechesis, on the practice of the peace of God and the exercise of that peace in sins confessed and forgiven one to another, in the reduction of conflicts and disputes, on our stewardship of all God's resources, and in the numbers of those who simply fall away from their place within the Lord's House, around His Word and Table.

So spread the word... the most significant event in our life as a congregation is what happens on Sunday morning when we gather at His bidding around the Word and Table of the Lord.  Period. 


ginnie said...

Will this take root or fall on deaf ears? At least you've challenged us all.

Janis Williams said...

No, at last one parishioner is on the same page. God help me to always see it that way. God help all His sheep to agree.

Anonymous said...

Is there some subtext in Jesus statement that there is more joy over one who repents than over many righteous ones who don't? Since no one is righteous there is no joy for those who don't exist, or who only think themselves righteous.