Thursday, May 19, 2011
What will make you happy?
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.