Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Aw.... come on now...

I got an email in response to that little piece on the betting Pastor who lost and wore a team jersey and a skirt on Sunday morning.  What was interesting was that the writer took me to task for being so serious about everything.  The writer suggested that I "lighten up" and admit it was just a joke and just once and nobody was really hurt by it, so what was the big deal.

Over the years there have been countless conversations about lightening up, chilling out, getting a sense of humor, etc., toward those who seem to have no tolerance when it comes to matters of religion and faith.  Now I am not really an angry old man (contrary to the opinions of my naysayers).  In fact, I have a sense of humor.  Ask the people I work with on staff.  Ask my family.  Read some of the posts on this blog.  The trouble with a sense of humor is that is does not deflect those things that truly do mark the Church and wound the faith.  An LCMS Pastor losing a bet and wearing a team jersey and a skirt to a men's club meeting might be in poor taste but not such a big deal.  An LCMS Pastor shaving his beard off because he lost a bet might be foolish (if he wanted the beard) but worth a pass by commentators like me.  An LCMS Pastor spending the night on the roof because his youth group raised a big wad for Souper Bowl Sunday might not be my cup of tea but it would not merit a second look.  But when it comes to the most solemn and sacred moments of the week, when the people of God gather around His Word and Sacrament, such foolishness is not just a joke but an offense to the Lord whom we worship and the Church where we gather. BTW solemnity does not mean without JOY but joy does not mean slapstick humor!

The trite and trivial cannot merit a pass when it takes place in worship.  There is far too much that happens on Sunday morning -- distractions from the means of grace or competition for the means of grace -- to let such things go unnoticed.  I have certainly had my share of unintentional mistakes while leading the people of God in worship on Sunday morning but when we Pastors deliberately say and do things that takes the spotlight off of the cross and on to us or when we turn the sacred speech of the Divine Service into a monologue or comedy sketch, we are failing our duty and shortchanging the very people we are called to serve.  Again, it is not that we should not smile in church -- that is not what is being said -- but when our actions are intended for a laugh, we betray the Word and the Sacrament and the Lord who has placed Himself within these means of grace.

"Ya shoulda bin there" ought to be spoken to those who miss the Mystery of the Word and earthly element that conveys Christ and His gifts to us, unworthy though we are, and not spoken about those who missed a YouTube moment.  Some things are just too darn important to mess around with or to mess up -- especially intentionally.  So, when Pastors act like they are on stage at the Comedy Club or when liturgical commentary includes laugh lines or when the dress, mannerisms, or actions of those leading the Divine Service distracts from or detracts from Christ and His gifts, we have a problem far greater than a ham who hogs the spotlight.  My aversion to children's sermons may be shaped by the numbers of children's sermons I have observed in which a laugh track and a "I wish I had a camera" accompanied the sermonette.  But I am willing to grant those delivering such sermons more of a pass on such flops than those who deliberately abuse their office.

"Just this once..." I was asked, "couldn't you have just looked at it and smiled and let it go..."  But that is exactly the problem.  We have "just this once" occasions all the time in Lutheran worship services all over the country.  We have come to figure that if it gets a laugh, it is not so bad.  Because it gets a laugh, we are tempted to repeat it.  This is because if you strip away the pious veneer from Lutheran Pastors you find a David Letterman or Jay Leno waiting to jump out.  The liturgy is the helpful constraint upon us to prevent us from being who we want to be in worship and requiring us to be whom God has called us to be -- ministers of the means of grace and stewards of the mysteries of God.

No, such things will not bring the world to an early end.  I am not saying that.  What I am saying is that we have been far too patient about such things when the offender is overlooked and those who are offended are labelled as the problem.  We DO need to lighten up about a lot of things.  We Lutheran Pastors need to learn to laugh at ourselves.  We DO need to distinguish between minor irritants and major flaws in our churches and our people.  A chill pill every now and then is medicine well needed -- except when it comes to the Divine Service and our failure to honor the Lord by keeping the focus upon Christ and His means of grace.  I know God has a sense of humor but I am not at all sure it extends to the ministration of His saving Word and Sacraments. Call me an ogre but I do not see what is funny about such foolishness in the House of the Lord.


Anonymous said...

In high school Pastor Peters was so
shy he preferred to listen to the
Miss America Pageant on the radio
rather than watch it on television.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters was raised in a small,
backward, conservative, strict town
in Nebraska. In fact the fire
department did not make house calls
and the police department had an
unlisted phone number.

Jenny said...

Are those two comments meant as a personal attack? Do you really want to make fun of Pastor Peters for sticking up for God? Aren't all Christians supposed to love our Lord and other people enough speak up when he is being made light of or pushed aside in such an appalling manner? I think it was even an LCMS pastor, which almost forces his brother pastors to say something. Thank you Pastor Peters!

Dixie said...

Early this morning I crafted a response to Terry’s comment elsewhere about “the real mystery is why the diversity one sees historically over many times and places is now taken as a goal for one time and place.” But I scrapped it for a number of reasons. Part of that response commented on reverence. And I would add here…holiness and sacred time and space.

I don’t recall being taught as a Lutheran that the Liturgy was sacred time and space. I was taught that the liturgy included the whole company of heaven but the idea that Christ is there and that my behavior should reflect that, that the Liturgy was Holy…well that never sunk in. I certainly am not blaming my Lutheran instruction…more likely the problem was with my thick skull. But if people truly understood and truly believed what goes on in a liturgy they would see what this pastor did as true blasphemy, not as something funny, or cute, or supportive of the youth group, or any of those things.

Now all churches have people who don’t seem to understand the concept of reverence and scared time and space. In some places people come in very late. In others, people leave right after Holy Communion even if their denomination believes the Body and Blood of Christ do not go away after distribution. Imagine, walking out on Christ before the Liturgy ends! So this problem of reverence not just isolated to a few Lutherans. We would all do well to continue to remind ourselves…and have these reminders cue our behaviors.

I am sorry for your reader who thinks you are a stick-in-the-mud. I hope at some point the light bulb will turn on for him or her and he’ll be able to see your position. The Liturgy is holy time held in sacred space. Christ and the whole company of heaven are present. It is not a time for fun and mischief…but you are completely right, it is a time for great JOY!

Anonymous said...

Well said, timely, and appropriate. As much as I often criticize, in this case I would not change a word.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Rev. Roderick Schultz said...

As I frequently remind my parishioners, especially those involved with carrying out the Divine Service (Altar Guild, Elders, Ushers, Acolytes, etc.) everything we do as part of that service teaches something...everything! Whether good or bad; positive or negative, a message is being conveyed to those in attendance. In this situation the congregation was taught something about church, about worship, about reverence, etc. ---whether good or bad.

Janis Williams said...

As I think I have similarly said, would you be upset if a friend lost a bet and went to the State of the Union Address or some State event dressed like that?

Having a sense of decorum (even about serious events NOT the Divine Service) is neither stick-in-the-mud nor backwoods (i.e. Midwest small town).

For those of you who do not know Fr. Peters personally, you have missed a great sense of humor (outside the Chancel).

BrotherBoris said...

Bravo, Pastor Peters! Keep preaching it!

Anonymous said...

Dear Jenny:

Pastor Peters says take a chill pill
and laugh. There is no personal
attack in this humor to which you
misunderstood. Have a great day.

Anonymous said...


It was interesting that your jokes poked fun at people living in the Midwest. I will assume that you are writing from either the East Coast (Andrew Dice Clay goombah country), or from the West Coast (the land of fruits and nuts and Paulie Shore wanna-bes.) Regarding your first two comments, what was the point that you wanted to make.

The seriousness and solemness of the liturgy and of traditional worship services, and the formal dress of the pastor, are intended to deflect from the personality and appearance of the pastor. Our focus should be on God. If I wanted to attend a church where the theology is based on the personality of the pastor and the "coolness" of the praise band, I would attend Joel Osteen's church or some other non-denominational seeker-church.

Anonymous II

Terry Maher said...

Well Miss Dixie, I don't know about getting all into sacred time and space. I think we get into such thinking so that the appearance of reverence is going to be there whether reverence per se is or not. Seems to me if we believe Word and Sacrament really is what we say we believe it is, the time and space thing will take care of itself.

And certainly wrt a pastor basing how he dresses for Divine Service, however that may be, based on a bet on a football game. It would be just as bad had he showed up in a bleeding chasuble because he lost a bet.

Anonymous said...

People behave according to they way they dress. A guy with a suit is much more likely to carry himself in a formal manner than a guy wearing a T-shirt. How should we behave when attending a church service?