Saturday, September 8, 2012

We laugh at irreverence...

“We sit by and watch the Barbarian, we tolerate him; in the long stretches of peace we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence, his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond: and on these faces there is no smile.”  — Hilaire Belloc, This That and the Other (1912)

A friend sent on this quote.  I did not find it on my own.  But it is so darn true.  We love to laugh even when our laughter comes at the expense of those things most sacred and holy.  I am not saying we should not laugh at ourselves -- we should - but dare not laugh at things sacred and holy.  It is one thing to laugh at ourselves and our foolishness.  It is quote another to laugh at the things of God as if they were not sacred but profane, not salutary but merely impotent.  We need to make sure we know the difference.

I reported here over the years about times when I have gone to District or even Synodical events only to sit in my chair and endure the mocking of the latest and greatest guru of this, that, and the other, while he or she made fun of my Church (not the Lake Wobegon humor that laughs at our foolishness but the mocking of our sacramental identity, our liturgical expression of our confession, and our reverence for the means of grace.  It is not funny when the laughter mocks the faith.

I know Garrison Kiellor says that Lutherans love not to take themselves or their things too seriously but I, for one, don't know where we got the idea that we can learn something from those who mock our values, belittle our confession, and make a joke of what is sacred and holy.  Make fun of ourselves yes but not of God or the things of God. 

There is, at least, one caveat.  Sometimes we make fun of ourselves as cover or relief for taking seriously the flaws and failures of our sins.  It is surely easier to laugh at sin than confess it.  But repentance does not take lightly our wrongs or it will inevitably lead us to take lightly what God has done to forgive it (sending forth His Son to die in our place).  We can laugh at our foolishness and there is plenty of fodder here to keep us laughing but we dare not laugh at sin or use humor to deflect the pointing finger of the law that calls us to account.  We take sin seriously.  We take redemption seriously.  We take the means of grace seriously.

Respect is not a common virtue today.  Our language is vulgar (sometimes even in church).  Our behavior is crude.  Our comedy is blasphemous.  Our dress is casual -- for our comfort instead of the honor of the occasion.  Our need to laugh greater than our desire for repentance.  I like laughter.  But the problem we have is that irreverence keeps going further and further and it has become a consuming fire that has left a trail of destruction of our once sacred institutions, truths, practices and shrines (both in and out of church).

God will not be mocked.  We may think that there is nothing wrong with a little irreverence but it may be a costly delusion.  Again, don't get me wrong.  The people who know me know I love a good laugh.  But not over things sacred.  The Mass is not a comedy monologue and the job of the preacher or liturgist is not to entertain.  It does nothing to assist the holy purpose of God's calling us into His house to mock or belittle that house with irreverence.  It does just the opposite.  It deprives us of the one serious thing that we dare not mock or make the object of humor.


Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Peters: I have difficulty finding the words to express my agreement with you on this matter. The decline in morals and values in our society is obvious to anyone who knows what morals and values are. It is a symptom of our country’s and even our church’s illness. It is also a sign of things to come – none of them pleasant.

The question is, “can this decline can be stopped, or even reversed?” Here is what Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, had to say on the matter a few days ago, “the Church wants to influence everyone, ‘including state figures and ordinary people so that the morals the church preaches are adopted by our people's consciousness.’" That may also be our temptation, to preach the Law for the sake of good order in society. But as Christians we know that good deeds do not make good people, but good people do good deeds, and that the only way to make people “good”; that is wanting to do the will of God, is through rebirth in water and the Holy Spirit, so that a new person may rise from the waters of Baptism, who “has the mind of Christ.”

But, knowing that 90% of those Germans who committed atrocities against humanity during the Nazi regime, one has to wonder, “Is Baptism enough?” In the Parable of the Sower our Lord tells us what happens when the seed falls on unsuitable ground. Is the believer responsible for being “good soil”? In all likelihood, at least at the time of our Lord, the same person who sowed the seed prepared the soil for it. I suspect herein lies the reason why the early Church would not baptize children of unbelievers. It is the responsibility of the Church, of parents, of family, of teachers, of friends to provide the environment in which the seed can grow and survive in spite of all of the troubles that will assail even those whose faith is growing in “good soil”. This is part of the preaching of the Law, the Third Use. We talk a lot about witnessing to those outside of the Kingdom, but we rarely address the matter of our responsibility to provide “good soil” for our own children and theirs. If we give it some thought, we begin to realize just how difficult this can become.

Obviously I have not exhausted the topic, but before deciding on tactics, one has to decide on strategy. Am I on the right path, or is it more complicated?

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

Sorry, a few words were omitted in my posting. The penultimate paragraph should start with the sentence,"But, knowing that 90% of those Germans who committed atrocities against humanity during the Nazi regime were baptized, one has to wonder, “Is Baptism enough?” "were baptized" was left out of the original post.

George A. Marquart

Paul said...

Being baptized, by itself, is not "enough" to make a fully formed disciple of the Lord Jesus. For that, one needs the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, liturgy, hymnody, catechism, etc.

Anonymous said...

"But the problem we have is that irreverence keeps going further and further and it has become a consuming fire that has left a trail of destruction of our once sacred institutions, truths, practices and shrines (both in and out of church)."

Thank you for saying this. I wish my pastors understood this. When I nicely expressed the lack of reverence in our church to them, I was dismissed by one and ignored by the other. It's like a hen house & treated like a gymnasium now. Makes me so sad.