Thursday, May 19, 2011

What will make you happy?

Many are what some have called a "brand whore."  They refuse to settle for anything but the premier, premium brand.  In technology, there are folks who prefer Sony, for example, and will either find a Sony that fits their needs or wait until Sony comes out with one.  Sometimes we are that way with car brands (though the ones I prefer are so far beyond my financial reach that I am left merely to covet what I cannot have).  After one of my rants and raves on this blog, I had somebody ask me once (in an email), "What will make you happy?"  The point of the question being the presupposition that your standards are impossibly high and your perspective so unattainably narrow that nothing will make you happy when it comes to the state of worship in the Lutheran Church.

Well, first of all, it is not ME who needs to be satisfied or made happy.  Whatever happiness I obtain from the faithful practice of our confession in the context of Sunday morning is derived from the doing our best to His glory.  Not unto us be glory but to His holy name.  We glorify His holy name best when what we do on Sunday morning is a reflection of our faithful confession of the Gospel, the practice of the presence of God through whose Word He continues to speak and act in grace and in whose sacraments He bestows the blessings of the cross and empty tomb for our forgiveness, life, and salvation.  The Spirit's work is to bring this all together so that with heart, mind, voice, and hands we may respond in faith and faithfully to what Christ continues to give, bestow, and lavish upon us, unworthy though we are.

Second, I do not have some perfect ideal that I think everyone ought to shoot for -- not architecturally, not liturgically, and not musically.  What I seek is nothing more or nothing less than what our Confessions both expect and presume -- the Divine Service with the best of hymns, ritual and ceremonial that reflects what the words we pray and praise actually say, and piety deeply rooted and shaped by the Holy Supper of our Lord.  We do this in the context of the Church Year and we do this to the best of our ability, reflecting the ordinary diversity of place, resources, and abilities.  I cannot point you to one page number but to several, not to one hymnal but to a couple judged orthodox and faithful by our Church, and not to one kind or style of hymn but to the rich and diverse treasure of hymnody passed down to us and to which we have added, each generation singing the new song.  I do not require uniformity of every gesture nor would I ever expect that the Church would walk in lock step on its Sunday morning path to the altar.  Yet, I do expect knowledge of and attention to the rubrics and the desire to keep them or keep the spirit of the rubrics (especially when exceeding the ordinary minimums they require).  I do not have a standard wardrobe of vestments that must be worn although I refuse to allow personal taste as a cause for disdaining the priestly vesture of the Church.

Third, it is not my desire to be the secret liturgical police and yet I am saddened that in so many places that may be exactly what is needed.  Pastors are lazy and sloppy and too casual in their demeanor and posture in the chancel.  Lay folks have learned this bad habit and treat the House of God as they do the inside of the movie theater (eating, drinking, texting, phoning, talking, getting up whenever the mood hits, and even walking out when you grow bored with what is happening there, etc.).  It is not my place nor my purpose to seek out such offending Pastors and people but to call us all to faithfulness, devotion, and deliberate piety that befits what we confess and teach.

I do not insist upon a choir or a pipe organ but often wonder if our excuses why we cannot gather a choir or find a cantor or afford a suitable instrument to lead the people's song is merely a smokescreen for our indifference to the House of God and our utmost for His highest.  What is not required should surely not be written off as unattainable or extravagant unless we would also disdain with Judas the waste of expensive perfumed oil upon the Lord when we have so many other worthy causes around us.

Finally, I would hope and would think it not too much to expect that wherever Lutherans gather, in whatever language they speak, in whatever setting the Divine Service takes place, it would follow the form and pattern of the mass so that every Lutheran might feel at home and recognize the familiarity of its rhythm and form.  For such is not a fault of weakness but the surest mark of our strength, that we are fully united in the Divine Service even though we practice and enjoy a great diversity within the way we celebrate it in any one place. 

I would expect that Lutheran altars are for Lutheran communicants and that when Lutheran Pastors make exception out of pastoral care and faithful practice, the brothers will not kick and stomp like the gravest error or heresy has been suffered.  However, I would ask of those making exception to make it exceptional and not ordinary lest the fellowship of the Lord's Table become common, ordinary, and profane by the inclusion of those who do not believe, teach, and confess with us in one voice and practice.  I would expect that Lutheran pulpits are for Lutheran Pastors and for Lutheran sermons (make that Law/Gospel, sacramental, vibrant, and passionate preaching).  In attention to the preaching of the Word and a casual attitude toward the preaching task continue to wreck much harm among Lutherans in the pew who no longer are sure what it is that Lutherans believe, teach, and confess.

This is not for me.  I am not the Synodical President, a District President, Circuit Counselor, Pope, or Bishop (except to the flock I am charged to oversee here in Clarksville) -- it is not me that needs to be pleased or made happy but the Lord who at bare minimum expects us to take seriously what we confess and teach and how we live out that faithful confession and proclaim that unchanging truth with the realm of the means of grace and the Divine Service.  When we do that, our diversity will not divine and our unity will flourish.... and, I would expect, our parishes would grow.


Anonymous said...

Happiness is a secular term. Joy is
a Christian term. Happiness is
dependent on outward circumstances
and becomes a roller coaster of the
ups and downs in our life. Joy is
a inner condition of the Christian's
heart that is independent of outward
circumstances. We have JOY each day
of the week because we have a deep
relationship with Christ. Our hymns
speak of joy not happiness. Our
Scriptures speak of joy in the Lord.

Janis Williams said...

Fr. Peters,

You have two in your congregation in total agreement here.

We came from the happy-clappy world of Evangelicalism. The stuff you describe as "sloppy" and "casual" (not just the pastors, but the congregation) is why we ran from Evangelicalism. If Lutherans insist on copying the heterodox, we are sunk.

Billye said...

Sadly, pastors who do not follow rubrics and solid law gospel preaching claim adiophoria when approached that there is relaxation in the rubrics. Doctrine and practice are so closely related and we are seeing first hand when the rubrics are relaxed, the doctrine becomes lacking.

Anonymous said...

What pleases the Lord? That is the
question the one holy Christian and
apostolic Church needs to ask?
In humble reverence we come to
worship the Lord. Whether in the
hut in New Guinea or the store front
in Bronx, New York, we bow before
the Triune God.

Paul said...

May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13). God fills, the Holy Spirit empowers us to abound; it remains for us to treasure, thank and tell.
Dittoes on all you have written!