Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Lil Dab'll Do Ya

I know I am dating myself when I admit to having heard, sung, and been a customer of Brylcreem -- the storied hair cream of the ancients.  Though some used enough to make their hair positively leak of oil, the product slogan always reminded you, "A Little Dab'll Do Ya."  Just a little dab.  That's all you need.  No more.

For so many of us as Christians, that slogan might apply to the way we view faith, the Church, prayer, Bible reading, etc.  A little dab will do you.  Our Lutheran fascination with "moderation in all things" has become a justification for not overdoing the business of Church, faith, prayer, Bible study, or good works.  We are not extreme -- moderates and even there, moderates on the light side of things.

So when our identity as people should be shaped by the baptismal gift, instead we honor the event of baptism -- when someone is baptized -- only to moderate our view of baptism thereafter.  So when we think of the Lord's Supper, instead of being overwhelmed by the gift and blessing of that table, instead we caution against having too much of a good thing or going to the Lord's Supper without undergoing a thorough preparation (and then we do not commune or feel the need to commune as often).  So when we talk about devotional reading or Bible study, we think it is a good thing in principle but does not need to be overdone.  So when we talk prayer, a few words regularly prayed (usually at meal times) ends up being enough for us.

The down side of our notorious sense of moderation is that we are deprived of the full benefit and blessing of grace which is extremely immoderate -- even lavish.  So our self-esteem bounces from our works ro our popularity to our accomplishments when it should be fully grounded on the solid foundation of God's abundant love and His rich grace.  It should be fixed on what God has declared about us more so than on what we think about ourselves.  In the end the result is that our sense of self-worth is like the ball in a pinball machine -- moving all over the map depending what paddle hits us or what reward comes back at us.

The down side of a little dab of religion, faith, Church, and piety is that get just enough to feel guilty about not doing more and yet not enough to make a real impact upon our daily lives.  Like the politicians who label their opponents "extreme," we find comfort in being "moderate" even about the things God is lavish and the abundance that God bestows upon us in mercy.

Once as a child I was convinced that the Lutherans would be the first to rise on judgment day -- since Scripture teaches that the dead in Christ would be the first to rise and I could think of no Christians more dead than my home congregation.  It was not that I wished to be so -- I did not -- but it was the inevitable consequence of a false and foolish idea against going head first into anything -- especially religion.

Our faith and piety should be extreme -- not in the sense of us going overboard on what we are doing but in the wonderful sense of Him who has bestowed upon us great and lavish gifts of grace.  In the case of God's rich gifts of grace, we should not settle for little.  God has determined to give us much and it is much we should desire.  Instead we through a big party on the day of a baptism and forget that we are the baptized as we journey through our lives.  Or, we require a great deal of preparation before young may commune and then do little to reclaim them when they fall away from the Lord's Table.  Or, we settle for the general confession on Sunday morning when our hearts continue to be shackled to guilt and shame over things of which we cannot let go.

In the old days I was reminded that the perfect Pastor is the one who could get the people in and out in 59 1/2 minutes.  We don't want to overdo it, you know.  What happened to the idea that God's House was a place we did not want to leave or we lamented how quickly the supper was over and the vessels disappeared or that time itself seemed suspended during the time we were together with the Lord and in His house?  We are not talking about a dogmatic statement that this is not enough but a heart not content to receive in small doses what God is determined to give us in copious amounts.  Instead, we take a minimum like Luther's four times a year commune and turn it into the ordinary expectation.  No, our sense of who we are is all wrapped up in what God declares and bestows.  And what our life is or will be can only flow from the abundant and lavish grace that God insists upon supplying to us in many ways and often.  I wonder if it might make a great difference upon us, upon the way we faced life's trials and troubles, and our ability to weather life's storms -- if we were as hungry at receiving as God is in bestowing His rich treasure of grace in Christ Jesus.  Instead, we echo the sentiment of the Publican that we are not worthy but really mean, "That's okay, God.  Not today. We are good for now.  Maybe next time...."

13 comments:

Paul said...

Your metaphor reminds me of the theory of vaccination (sp?) -- a little vaccine will keep you from catching the flu, or whatever. God forbid that we might catch a full blown case of Christianity:)

Janis Williams said...

Fr. Peters,

Unfortunately I remember the days of Brylcream too. I remember when as a child my father accidentally brushed his teeth with it!

So sad when Christians who do "practice" personal piety (not pietism) are looked askance. The "faithful" who attend regularly on the Means of Grace,and those who know a little Holy Scripture are called by that dirty word - 'theologian'.

We are ALL theologians, because we have ideas and beliefs about God - the definition of that dirty word.

Anonymous said...

Luther's minimum of 4 times a year
for Holy Communion turned into the
maximum for the German Lutherans who
came to America 150 years ago.

In an LCMS rural parish in Minnesota
in the late l960's as their pastor
I was shocked to see the official
record book. Along with entries
for weddings, funerals, confirmations
baptisms, there was only 4 entries
printed for Holy Communion per year.

During my first year there in 1968
I instituted Holy Communion once a
month on the second Sunday. It was
considered a BIG change.

ErnestO said...

Why is the modern type of religion so much like a jewel-case with the precious jewels gone?

Because of a lack of devotion.

We look upon the minister of God not as the divinely-called man of God, but merely as a sort of public speaker, on a plane with the politician, the lawyer, or the average speech maker, or the lecturer. Oh, how the spirit of true and genuine devotion would radically change all this for the better! We handle sacred things just as if they were the things of the world. Even the sacrament of the Lord's Supper becomes a mere religious performance, no preparation for it beforehand, and no meditation and prayer afterward. (Quoted from the works of E.M.Bound)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Have read it 3x today--a spot on assessment of how entire parishes (and individual Christians) fear to let God act in their life.

Anonymous said...

William H. Willimon in his Book of
Acts commentary says: "The quality of
the church's life is evidence for
the reality of the resurrected Christ
in the lives of her people who
are radically different and so
completely changed from the way of
the world."

Willimon's question: "Why don't our
people look more resurrected?"

Marke said...

Awhile back, I attended the ordination and installation of the associate pastor of a sister congregation in town. The service lasted a little over two hours. TWO HOURS!...IN A LUTHERAN CHURCH! But, I didn't want it to end. "It can't have been two hours already. Can't we sing another hymn? The choir and musicians surely have more for us. There are a dozen other ministers here...can't we hear more of God's Word?" In my nearly 58 years, I don't recall an experience quite like this. It really seemed like time had been suspended. Reckon it's wrong to wish that every Sunday service could be this way?

Anonymous said...

I must confess that Anonymous leaves me utterly amazed.

In the first place, there is no rule in the NT about how often we should receive Holy Communion. As often as you do this . . .

Please don't blame Luther or the Germans for the "quarterly" cycle. Yes, my mother's Lutheran congregation in East Prussia held Communion quarterly but did so with deep reverence and faith. The fact is that Lutherans in the U.S. have been strongly influenced by their Reformed/Protestant neighbors (which does beg the question why Anonymous is quoting William Willimon, a Methodist?)

Having been a veteran of the novus ordo debacle in the Roman church I can assure you that weekly Communion is no guarantee of faith or piety. In fact, I often heard Catholics remark about the greater reverence they saw at Lutheran worship than at their own parishes.

Then there's the numerous ELCA parishes that have Communion every Sunday. Can't say that's done a whole lot in keeping them confessionally orthodox either.

Let's get some perspective here.

Christine (not the other Anonymous)

Anonymous said...

To the poster above:

Please God, I pray that orthodoxy in doctrine and sacramental piety are not a choice but the two work together. Of course there are parishes of all denominations who have a more frequent celebration of the Sacrament and yet are oblivious to God's work, will, and wisdom but that is true of every kind of church. We take God's gifts and abuse them all the time. The solution is not to choose one over the other but to strive for both pure doctrine and faithful practice.

Anonymous said...

Of course there are parishes of all denominations who have a more frequent celebration of the Sacrament and yet are oblivious to God's work, will, and wisdom but that is true of every kind of church.

I am not speaking of "parishes of all denominations." Our sacramental piety is shared with the church of Rome insofar as we both believe and teach that in the Sacrament of the Altar we receive the true body and blood of Christ. That is decidedly not the case with "all denominations."

However, our parishes do not truncate the Word of God by teaching that the Sacrament of the Altar is also a sacrifice offered on behalf of the living and the dead by the mere performance of the proper ritual. It is through the Word that the Holy Spirit creates and sustains the gift of faith given in Holy Baptism and it is that primacy of the Word that leads to the Table of the Lord in Holy Communion.

There is also that little matter of Luther's Preface to the Small Catechism where he teaches that our churches should make no rules about Holy Communion as was the case under the pope and that the people should not be made to feel "guilty" if they do not come to the Sacrament.

If you want that kind of legalism, Rome is the place to go.

Christine

Anonymous said...

Wasnt it that same Luther who said if you did not know if you should go or needed to go to the Sacrament, to pinch yourself and if you felt something, you were still in flesh and blood and better get to the rail???

Anonymous said...

Wasnt it that same Luther who said if you did not know if you should go or needed to go to the Sacrament, to pinch yourself and if you felt something, you were still in flesh and blood and better get to the rail???

Yes, and again, please show me where Doctor Luther made a law about how often one should go?

Christine

Terry Maher said...

aka Past Elder

Yes, that was same Luther.

And the same Luther who just earlier wrote that now that we are no longer under thr tyranny of the pope and all those wearisome rules the people despise the Sacrament.

The same Luther who added to his previous condemnation of the woeful catechesis offered by priests that the people if properly catechised would themselves ask the Sacrament of their pastors.

The same Luther who saw exactly the same effect of not communing out of misplaced reverence, which some ascribe to not having weekly Communion and to TLH, happen even when Communion is offered DAILY by priests who must say Mass each day!

The same Luther whose church with Communion every bloody day had to invent an "Easter Duty" so that people took Communion at least once a year, a neglect so bad that centuries later the rule still remained on the books as one of the Six Precepts of the Church (#4 to be exact) which was taught to me as part of Christian Doctrine and Pracrtice incumbent on every Christian.

The same Luther who knew proper reverance and regard for the Sacrament has nothing to do with rules and regulations about frequency and everything to do with understanding that comes from catechesis.

The same Luther who concluded that pastors' ministry is different now than under the pope and does not operate by rules and guilt trips.