Sunday, April 10, 2011
Proud to be Lutheran
My point is not to comment on the procession or the theology behind carrying around the consecrated host (instead of receiving it as Christ clearly intended by His own words). That is something for another post. What struck me is how he noted that people came out of restaurants, stores, apartments, etc. -- all to identity with the procession and, specifically, to identify with the Roman Catholic Church. I think it safe to say that not all of those who so identified were active; some were occasional attendees at Mass and some just plain lapsed Roman Catholics. In spite of the scandals of the priests, even though there is serious discord within the Roman Catholic Church on serious issues (ordination of women, abortion, etc.), and even in view of the antiquated character of what was happening, they came and proudly bore witness to their church.
I wish it were so among us as Lutherans. I fear that we are far more hesitant to announce that we are Lutheran or to identify publicly with our church than were these Roman Catholics. I wonder why? I suppose I could credit it to Garrison Kiellor's humorous take on Lutheran humility and our shyness in the limelight. There may be something to it, or maybe not. But why do we so easily live within the shadows of who we are, what we stand for, and where we exist? Why do Lutherans make such good wallflowers? Why do we feel so comfortable not speaking with pride about our heritage, our identity, and the work that God is doing in and through us?
I have personally heard people lower expectations of visitors who come to a Lutheran congregation for the first time. I have had new people who moved into the area come up to me and tell me how their home Pastor told them not to expect much of Lutherans in the South. I have seen families bring folks with them on Sunday morning and then act almost embarrassed by their congregation, Pastor, and facility. Why would we want to lower people's expectation of us? Why would want folks to believe that Lutherans are a shadow church in any neighborhood or region of our country? Why would we diminish what God is doing in, among, and through us to those whom we bring with us on Sunday morning (family or friends)?
The only possible conclusion I can find is that we ourselves are not fully comfortable with who we are. Could it be that we not only are looking for a greener side of the fence but our hearts are more fully at home in and our minds more fully conversant with another theological identity -- besides our own? Could it be that we do not have much confidence in the Word and Sacraments, the means of grace, and therefore have neither great expectations for ourselves nor a positive perception of what happens in the Divine Service? Could it be that the Lutheran identity is muddled enough by the extremes of liturgical and theological identity that are really not sure who we are?
One of the things I long for (and I would guess most Lutheran Pastors share in this) is that we learn a healthy sense of pride and confidence in who we are as Lutheran Christians. This rests on a heritage and lively legacy of faith from Luther as an obedient rebel. He did not seek rebellion until it was clear that the church of his day was more comfortable in hiding the Gospel than proclaiming it clearly and even then was a conservative reformer -- quite unlike the Radical Reformation folks who fathered the rest of Protestantism. This rests upon recent identity and heritage for an immigrant church that blossomed into one of the largest of American religious identities largely through efforts on the ground and grass roots level. This rests upon an identity in education that sought (and largely still seeks) to teach young people within the context of their faith and baptismal identity to fulfill their baptismal vocation as Christian people (from preschool to university). This rests upon the modern day reality of a church fully invested in the work of mercy and service -- where disaster strikes and amid the ordinary structures of poverty, inadequate medical care, and basic need. We have a wonderful heritage (going way back and going back only 4-5 generations).
If we processed down the street, say on Palm Sunday, would our people come out to say, "Hey, that is MY Church..." Although I believe they should have ever reason to do so and I wish that they would, I fear that such a swelling of pride might not be their first response.... Just something to think about...