The word reverence has pretty much disappeared from the working vocabulary of the modern day world. The Pope cannot say Mass without folks chanting protests instead of the liturgy -- competing with God for attention. It is not just in the religious sphere, we struggle to find some sense of civility in which we show respect for something or someone other than ourselves. But it is in the area of religion and faith that this is more prominent than ever.
We come to God as we are, not as the sinners who lament who we are but as the proud who flaunt who we are. If God cannot love us as we are, accept us as we are, and respect us for who we are, then it is His problem -- not ours. This is shown in the formal way we bring to God our feelings, desires, and wants -- not for His evaluation but in order for Him to approve and provide for us what we desire. Whether it is in the area of sexual identity or proclivity to one form of addiction or another, throughout the range of our human behavior we expect approval and tolerance from God more than redemption, forgiveness, and transformation.
Part of this is the endless parade of self-esteem, self-glorification, and self-identity talk from the pop psychologists who talk on radio, act on TV, and write the best selling books we love to read. We are so enamored with their approval and excuse of our failings that we bring them into the Church and make them into cell groups, self-help groups, call them Bible studies, and expect the Pastor to emulate Dr. Phil.
The other part of it is that if we believe that we are gods, then we determine what is reverent and what is not. If we are gods, then we decide what is honor and respect due -- not Scripture, not God, and not Tradition. When I say we are "gods" I do not mean in a religious sense but simply the fact that if the world revolves around us, around our feelings, around our wants, and around our desires, then, in fact, we are "gods."
This is no more true than in what we expect to happen in worship. We walk in our comfortable clothes because we are offended by any God who might expect from us something more than our comfort. We sing the songs we want to sing because we are offended by any God who might expect that we sing His song or His story. We do what we want to do -- sit and be entertained -- because we are offended by any God who would expect us to do what He wants. We look for relevance from all of this -- which is a code word for that which fits us and our desires -- and are offended by a God who is forever the same and whose Word does not change.
You do not need to be a contemporary worship Christian to fall into this and it affects Lutherans as well as those of other religious stripes. It is the ugly head of sin -- original and actual -- that for a time was seen as the problem, then an embarrassment, and now our glory. If we think it, feel it, want it, desire it.... it must be good, natural and right. For too many of us, we do the right thing on Sunday morning but we enter the world on Monday morning and melt right in.
When President Harrison called upon us to repent as a Church and as a Christian people, it is surely this he has at mind. The terrible truth is that listen too much to the voice that does not want God's transformation to work in them and through them and we listen too much to the voice within that says I am good just as I am. And when we sing "Just as I Am" we mean something different than the hymnwriter intended.
So repentance is exactly where we need to begin... to stop flaunting what we know is sin and to start learning by the aid of the Spirit to want and desire the transformation that only grace can accomplish and Christ can direct... that we might become like Him, who lives in us by baptism and faith, and less like the folks we began life as....