Thursday, August 26, 2010

What Is Our Envy Is Also Our Weakness

Or, to put it another way... where your heart is, there will your treasure be also...

It seems to me that Lutheranism (and it may not only be Lutheranism but this is the Church of my experience) is vulnerable precisely where Lutherans are envious of others.  Our envy is our weakness.  So our weaknesses vary from person to person and place to place, depending upon what it is that we desire.

Speaking from the vantage point of a Pastor who was the lone employee at a congregation for most of my time there, I desperately wanted others to serve with me.  I desired a good organist and parish musician to direct the choirs and music program.  I desired a good pipe organ to lead the congregational song.  I desired a congregation large enough to support multiple services.  It was the thing I envied when I visited parishes which had these amenities.  Now I serve a parish where we have developed these over the course of my nearly 18 years here and I find that these very things that were my desire are sometimes the bane of my existence.  We have (with the preschool) some 30 people employed here.  Unlike the vision of my youth, a large staff is a bit like a small congregation and staffing and administrative issues take up much of my time (more than I would like).  A large music program, several pipe organs and other musical instruments cost something to administer as well as a blessing and having a fine parish musician means we do more and more with these resources on an every Sunday basis -- more planning, more evaluation, and more resources.  It is not that I do not enjoy these rich blessings but I realize that they have brought with them a particular vulnerability that I did not realized when I viewed them from afar.

So there are those whose heart is filled with desire and envy of filled pews.  Not a bad desire, mind you.  But with this desire comes a vulnerability.  Sometimes folks will do just about anything -- including forsaking Lutheran identity and compromising Lutheran practice -- to achieve the desire of their hearts.  With this comes the cost of maintaining this and Lutheran identity and practice are stretched even further as technology, trend, and temptation lead folks to borrow from others and to follow the paths of those who seem to know what is working now.

There are those whose heart is filled with desire and envy of order and place.  Not a bad desire, mind you.  But this, too, has its own vulnerability.  Sometimes these folks expect that every congregation will look and act and sound the same no matter where it is.  Sometimes these folks try or organize the Church and theology in such a way to tie up all loose ends but the weakness in this is that it means turning somethings into laws and rules are adiaphora and sometimes it means adding and rearranging theological loose ends in ways that are not Scriptural or Lutheran.

There are those whose hearts are filled with desire and envy for the reverence and respect they think was practiced in another time or is still practiced by other Christians.  Not a bad desire, mind you.  But this brings with it its own vulnerability.  Sometimes these folks will trade off theology for ceremony, truth for ritual, and confession for church usages.  And I could go on and on... about those who like antiquity... those who like relevance... those who like ecumenism... those who like a Gospel without the Law... those who like diversity...  None of these are all wrong as long as they are kept in balance or perspective... but whatever it is that is our desire, ultimately becomes our weakness.

I know Lutherans who so want to convert people and make Christians that their congregations no longer look or act or sound (or even are named) Lutheran.  I know Lutherans who have jumped ship for Rome or Constantinople and made a compromise in dogma for liturgical identity or antiquity.  I know Lutherans who have turned their ecumenical vision into a paper unity that ignores real and substantial differences.  I know Lutherans who want to back to a Missouri of 1947 with THE Lutheran Hymnal (1941) and a culture that was seemingly more friendly to faith than the present one is.  All of these desires bring with them their own weaknesses.  And that is our temptation... 

Different weaknesses and different temptations... as different as we are as people... so that task before us as individual Pastors and people is to know our desire so that we may know our weakness, to live in concert with those who can help us see when our desire leads us into temptation or error, and to be willing to receive fraternal support, direction, and, yes, correction.  In this respect, this is what the benefit of Synod is -- it formalizes this fraternal relationship not only for the good of others but for our own good, as well.

Who was it who said, "There are only two sane people left in the world, me and you.  And sometimes I wonder about you..."  W. C. Fields?  We will not find on earth the kind of unanimity and uniformity we hope for -- one in which our desires and our gifts are the same.  Perhaps this is not a good thing, anyway.  Like a marriage which can unite two very different people with their different strengths and weaknesses to become a stronger identity, so we walk together on the same path while at the same time working to keep us on that same path as part of the labor of the journey... at least until this flesh, the world, and the devil no more taunt us or tempt us away...

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