Wednesday, June 30, 2010
The Babble from Babel Continues
Part of the danger and threat of our technological prowess is our utter confidence in our selves. We live in a world where we break all the rules. We build buildings that should not stand, bridges that should not support the weight... We manufacture babies in test tubes, medicine to prevent aging and death, and toys to fill our boredom... We raise up monuments to out abilities in the size of what we do, the scope of what we do, and the quickness in the way we do it... Surely there are segments of our population not so enamored by such self-confidence but the future seems determined to expand and not contract our bravado. We have taught our children to believe in what we can accomplish, in fixes born of science and technology, and to glory in these achievements.
God's dominion over creation is a dominion of care, His perpetual and intimate involvement in what He began. He does not manipulate or control but tends, nurtures, and sustains His garden and all those who live in it. He does so in mercy -- not because those in it deserve or have earned His affectionate care but because of His fatherly divine goodness and mercy. Once He invited us to share in that dominion -- to have dominion in His name over all the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the creatures of the earth, and all its plant life. Because we were cut off from Him already because of sin, we conceived of this dominion as a competition. First it was a competition against creation, fighting for food with weeds, weather, and pestilence. Then it became a competition against God to use His gift for our own purposes and our abuse of His resources became a scandal and a threat.
In our modern world, it is less a competition against God as much as it is a competition against our problems, our limitations, and, ultimately, ourselves. We dare and challenge ourselves to bigger, better, and faster in ways that boggle the mind. Those near the end of their lives shake their heads in disbelief at the pace of it all and those early in life want to ramp up the speed of life and the invention of things in which to might glory. So it is no wonder that God seems largely irrelevant to our modern lives and an option you can avoid without any loss to who you are or what happiness you can find.
At the bottom of all of this is the probing question of worship. Is worship still possible within the framework of this modern culture -- so confident in ourselves and so enamored with our technology and toys? For the worship of God presumes a need and dependency upon Him to know the full reaches of our own humanity and to know how to address the great world He made. Worship has become more and more difficult to justify. When Bill Gates suggested that he had better things to do with his time than religion, he was only saying out loud what a whole world around him had been thinking for a long time.
We have had several responses to the potential for worship. One has been to turn the focus of worship away from God and on to ourselves. Here we make God our servant, our gofer, to fill in the holes we cannot fill in for ourselves. He is like our ever present sidekick who defers to us in all things except where we need a hand and ask His assistance. He exists to help us realize our own goals and purposes, to extend the reach of our dominion over disappointment, disease, darkness, and death. He sets us free from the limiting reach of guilt so that we can justify the exploration of our desires unhindered. He gives approval to what we think, feel, and want so that we can listen to the voice within and call it better than religion -- spirituality. Those churches who have adopted this view point are in the ascendancy right now and even though Lutherans are always behind the times we know where things are headed and we seem to be following along this path -- only a little slower than our culture.
The other response is to disdain completely this technology, to see it as a burden and even enemy of our humanity. From the Amish to the strange blue creatures of an ecofriendly Avatar, machines and people who build them are the ones to be overcome in order to save us from ourselves and find redemption. We are living in a world of green everything where what is good is that which has no pesticides, consumes no fossil fuels, uses no man made fertilizers, and composts back to the earth quickly after use. But this is a privileged class for we cannot sustain our world and all its people or the kind of lives we prefer to live if all of us turn green -- at least not now. But until then we can worship God by growing our own vegetables, making our own electricity, driving a Prius, composting our waste, and living large by living small.
The more difficult response is to shatter the illusion of independence, to raise up the reality of sin, and to focus on the redemption that cost the Son of God His life to save our own. This is the only viable choice but it is a radical choice in the face of all that is around us. To do this is not to shape the liturgy to fit us or the age but to be shaped by our encounters with the God whose voice is His Word and whose grace is accessible only where deposits it (Word and Sacrament). We can tinker with worship all we want but what needs tinkering with is not the liturgical form but the people called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified by it and through it. We are the ones who need to be transformed.
The liturgy is the means to such transformation because the Spirit works through the means of grace. Worship needs to be less about us and our world and more about the heavenly which comes down to us within the Divine Service where heaven and earth are one in singing "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord Sabaoth" to the God incarnate who is incarnate for us in bread and wine as He has promised. Evangelism and catechesis will either flow out of this liturgical encounter with the living God or else they will draw us away from it or work in competition with it. Compassion and service to neighbor are either the fruits of this encounter or mere do-gooding without purpose or goal. In this liturgical encounter we find ourselves by seeing God and the faith which gives us this vision is neither our accomplishment or our choice but, again, the Spirit's gift.
This seems to me to be the great crisis facing us as Christians... and the only way out is to give up trying to be a holy version of such self-glorification or escape from it to some new green world of self-sufficiency and to meet God where God has decided He will be met.... the Word and the Sacraments.