Tuesday, April 12, 2011
A Lil Dab'll Do Ya
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...."