Sunday, April 29, 2012

Glorifying the Practical...

Many believe that Christianity is largely theoretical and not very practical -- unless you are just about to die, of course.  It seems to me that there is some truth to this.  Christians have spent a wad of cash and not a little ink to prove that Christian faith and life is eminently practical.  The purveyors of this pragmatic faith have become the most successful entrepreneurs of Christianity -- the Rick Warrens and Bill Hybels and Joel Osteens of this world.  They are bottom line kind of folks.  If the Church is to grow, what can we do to grow it?  If the people are placed on earth with a purpose, what can we to facilitate that purpose?  If the focus of people is largely on the here and now, then what can we do to repackage Christianity to meet the needs of a people seeking a better life now?  If the most successful format of Christian worship is largely a religious entertainment model, then how can put on the best show on earth so that people will pay money to watch it?

Some will say I am being disingenuous and crass.  Perhaps.  Part of me admires them because they seem to be doing a better job that I am at packing them in.  They are the Wal-Marts of the religious landscape -- selling everything from great coffee to a good book while offering the masses a good show and a good price on Sunday morning.  I am definitely a mom and pop shop kind of guy in a small business setting (to complete the analogy).  I honestly am tempted by their success.  I don't know of a Pastor with a heart for people and the faith who is not so tempted.  But I don't believe the attraction of Christianity is its practicality.  Don't get me wrong, I am not saying it is entirely impractical but that its practicality is NOT its appeal.

Hardly anything you see or we do on Sunday morning is practical.  Not the vestments or the liturgy, not the organ or the choir, not the paraments and painting or the wooden pews and kneelers.  But that is the point.  It was practicality that got us in trouble in the first place.  We sought a short cut to achieving our dreams of glory and it came with a price tag of death, disorder, and disappointment.  We don't need a better life now as much as we need a life that is stronger than death, mercy to forgive our sins, and hope to carry us through a life too filled with suffering, disappointment, and pain.  Christian faith does not guarantee a path void of mountains or valleys.  This is not some great interstate highway to heaven in which the deep places of life have been filled in and the hills cut down to make it all easier on us.  Oh, sure, somebody will throw Isaiah and John the Baptizer at me here and say but...  Well, I don't think that is exactly what those words mean.

Hardly any of the good stuff of life is practical.  From the smell and feel of a new car to the tempting taste of food they say is no good for you, we find ourselves moved from the realm of the practical to the most impractical of things.  Marriage is not practical -- it is work and hard work at that.  Children are not practical -- they take and do not return much for the investment we place in them.  Work is seldom glorious and rewarding and often is endured only because we need the paycheck.  Illness comes at all the wrong times and catches us in our worst moments.  I don't need to go on.... you can continue the theme.

So Christian faith is not practical -- at least not in the sense of the world's definition of what is practical.  I am convinced we do not need more pragmatic individuals in the Church but dreamers who dream the dream of Christ -- of blood that flows red into the cup of blessing.... of water that churns with life that is hidden in its transparency... of words that forgive the guilty in the marvel of absolution... of preaching that is not there to make us happy but to confront us with the Holy One who makes us holy by grace through faith...

Everywhere we go we are confronted with what works.  What we need is not the skills of the marketplace turned into churchly dictum or dogma.  What we need is the great mystery of the incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus faithfully and vibrantly told and administered through Word and Sacrament.... in a setting that is a harbinger of that which is to come in heaven more than a reflection of where we find ourselves at home today (mall, living room, etc.).  I would love to have a congregation filled with this kind of dreamers who have encountered the manifest hope of God in the most unlikely places of flesh that holds the Son of God, a cross that holds life, and an empty tomb filled the prospect of paradise to come.

Honestly, I do not think people really want a pragmatic church or faith -- especially one that turns out to be unfaithful to Scripture and Christ in order to be faithful in its practicality.  I believe that they want an honest glimpse of heavenly glory here and now -- in the Divine Service with its means of grace.  If you think I am wrong, you don't need to tell me.... I prefer living in the ignorance of such heavenly bliss that to be brought low by the prospect that we do need comfortable seats with cup holders so that folks can watch a good show and leave for home with a few hints on how to improve their already happy and rewarding lives....

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