Monday, January 4, 2010

The Wooing and the Winning

I picked up the phrase from another blog where it was used in another context. I thought it might be applicable to the continuing discussion on the liturgy.

(You might want to listen to this after you read this...)

The naked truth about our culture is our desire to cut to the chase. We like the winning more than anything else. In sports we cut the whole game down to the greatest plays and the final moments. We TIVO and record our favorite programs to fast forward through the slow parts to get to the good parts. We have an abundance of fast food restaurants that satisfy our need for an instant meal. We have precooked food in the supermarket to accomplish the same goal at home. Even in sit down restaurants we barely get into the salad before the main course is thrust upon us (tables need to be turned over quickly). We don't really date anymore -- we set the stage for the expected sex that follows. We don't fall in love and get married, we move in and live together 6-8 years until we have saved enough for the wedding we want and the honeymoon of our dreams. We legislate in grant schemes instead of small steps -- we delight in historic moments without fully comprehending the consequences of our legislative course. We buy our clothes off the rack (when was the last time you got a suit tailored?). We do the same with spirituality, with God, and with worship.

Perhaps this is why God is so misunderstood. God acts deliberately, in steps and stages. We want Damascus Road experiences but instead God moves at His own pace to reveal Himself, to touch our hearts, to build faith within us step by step until all of a sudden we realize that we do believe. And somehow we are disappointed that the conversion experience was not bigger or better. The tent revivals of old and their electronic versions broadcast by the slick preachers of today all appeal to the drama (at least our idea of drama) -- instant healings, instant blessings, instant conversions... Sinner's prayers that immediately fill us with the fullness of Divine grace to fix all that is wrong in us and in our lives. But God seldom works this way. In many and various ways, says Hebrews... Israel thought it slow, so slow that Israel had mostly lost hope and confidence in God. The unfolding of His plan of salvation and of the Word made flesh caught the people of the prophets by surprise because they were tired of waiting upon the Lord (no matter what the Psalmist says about the blessedness of waiting).

Perhaps this is why the liturgy is so misunderstood. You do not walk in off the street and find it instantly understandable. It has its own language, its own pattern and flow. It moves deliberately, with words said so many times before and said over and over again. It moves to its own time and refuses to be the slave of the stopwatch. The liturgy does not win you over immediately (though it can). More often than not, it woos you. It pursues you with what it is -- so different from the pace of the world and its desire for spontaneity and surprise. It delivers the way a good book does -- page by page by page. Piece by piece it fits together until over time it has you and you cannot remember when you became enamored with its gift, grace, and beauty but you did.

I had a fellow who somehow or other showed up at Grace Lutheran Church on a Sunday morning. He was from the great church body of the South (you know the Baptist one of which I speak). He was from the old school with its gospel hymnody, fire and brimstone, altar calls and sinner's prayers. Then he was here sitting through something he did not understand, he had never experienced before, and, clearly, he felt like an outsider. Yet somehow, the liturgy was drawing him in and forcing him to return week after week. Sunday after Sunday he sat there and listened, learning the pattern of responses, reading the hymn texts while others sang them, watching the folks come forward kneel, and hearing the words repeated over and over again, "The Body of Christ for you.... The Blood of Christ for you...." He went through instruction multiple times. It was as if his mind said no but his heart said yes. God had wooed him over the space of many, many Sundays and several years. The winning was, in a sense, anticlimactic. It was not dramatic conversion but a gentle and loving dance in which God lead him and they moved closer and closer until they danced as one in the flowing beat of lesson and prayer, hymn and creed, sacrament and sending.

This is how the liturgy works. This is how God works. They work in the same way, the same pace, the same deliberate movement. It is not so much a when did I... as when did I not... believe... become one with the assembly...

Although I was baptized (third generation in the font in my home Church) in a Lutheran congregation, confirmed there, and attended there pretty much every Sunday until the day I left for college... my story is the same. The God who claimed me in baptism wooed me with His grace until the day when I realized His call to become a Pastor... and, infatuated as I was for a time with that goal, it was His wooing in worship, His leading in the liturgy, that showed me ever more clearly who and how He works. I cannot recall a specific date or time or place but at some point I realized that worship was not the domain of pleasure or personal taste but of God... of the Word that keeps His promise... of the water that cleanses what is dirty... of the voice that absolves the sinner... of the Table that feeds us till we want for nothing more. His wooing had won me and still He continues to woo me week after week. My straying heart and decisive mind is brought back to be content upon this grand assembly where we anticipate and wait upon the Lord who comes among us and bestows upon us the fruits of a planned salvation that unfolded over millenia and still manifests itself in Word and Sacrament... for me... for you... for the world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thank you Pastor
keep the blog going and matter what they mean so much to me
And I am sure to others also!