Tuesday, November 19, 2013

You cannot give away what you do not have. . .

This is the key to inspiring the congregation, no matter what music you are playing. As Vladimir Feltsman so aptly stated, "You cannot give something away you don't have."  I borrowed those words from the Fine Tuning blog of Liturgy Solutions and they were written by Cantor Phillip Magness.

It seems so obvious but, unfortunately, it is not.  You cannot give away what you do not have.  Perhaps this might be used in the sense of stewardship and I have all sorts of thoughts running through my head in that regard.  But I would turn the object of this phrase toward the liturgy and life of the congregation -- and what others see or fail to see in us who participate in the life and liturgy of the parish.

I hear it in my own parish and I am sure that we hear it in others.  Where are all the people?  It seems as if we cannot first give thanks to God for those who are present without diminishing them by longing for more or fearing something is going wrong since there are empty pews.  Why is that hymn so hard to sing?  Contemporary melodies are often more complex than the hymns of Sunday morning and we hear them without the benefit of a clear melodic instrument to lead our singing but learn them.  What is it about hymns that we refuse to learn them or even try?  Why won't somebody take out the crying or fussy child?  It is often sadly humorous that we as adults are so easily distracted or intolerant that we allow the whimpering child to steal our attention from the Word and Sacraments of Christ.  Why can't worship be finished in an hour?  Yes, it is truly an unbelievable burden that we would have 6 days and 23 hours to call our own and a minute past 60 and the worship service is too long.

If there is one big difference between the folks who practice entertainment worship and those who worship using the liturgy, it is often their enthusiasm.  The people who have been swaying to the music, clapping their hands to the rhythm of the songs, and waiting to see what happens next seem happier to be there than those who popped open a hymnal, sang the sturdy hymns of old, and knew exactly where the service was headed. This is both shocking and confusing to me.  If you come expecting to receive the forgiveness of your sins, to hear the Law and Gospel in Scripture and sermon, and knowing that on this very day you will feast upon the body and blood of Christ, I would expect you to be more than excited -- more like unable to contain yourself.  But that is not how it usually is.  Why?  Why do we who know what it is we will receive and do on a Sunday morning come less excited than those who come unsure what it is they will see, hear, or do in worship?

And then we wonder why new folks visit and do not stay... or why our children fall away... or why it is so easy to drop out of worship and never go back...   You cannot expect others to be excited when you are no longer thrilled and enthused by the God who comes to you in the means of grace.  Is it that we do this so routinely we have become dulled to the treasure in our midst each Sunday?  Is it that we have forgotten what a treasure it is that is regularly and routinely provided to us in the means of grace?  I wish I knew.  Sometimes we act as if worship were a burden instead of a blessing.  Most often the problem does not lie with the liturgy that needs updating or the Pastor who needs to turn up things a notch or two or the organist who needs to set the music on fire.  No, most of the time the problem lies with us.  We have forgotten the treasure of the efficacious Word and the Sacraments that deliver what they promise.

Sometimes I get tired by the end of a Sunday morning that begins at 5 am.  After leading the worship and preaching at one service, leading Bible study after it, and making my way mid-way through the second service, I begin to run out of steam.  But then I will be struck by what we sing in the hymn or the Scripture readings appointed for the day, or think about the sermon to be preached one more time, and it dawns on me why we are here and the God who is serving us with the treasures of heaven purchased by the blood of Christ on the cross and suddenly the momentum builds again.  Then when I look out on the assembled congregation, I almost find myself drawn back into the yawn again.  Why?  Because the faces of so many folks does not betray a hint of the wonderful opportunity and the precious grace God affords us here.

You cannot give away what you do not have...  If you have forgotten or lost your sense of wonder at what God does through His Word and Sacraments, it will show to the visitor here for the first time or the delinquent trying worship out again.  If you sing as though it is a terrible burden upon your energy and time, it will show to those just learning the hymns and songs.  Folks, sometimes we who love the liturgy are our own worst enemies.  We fail to appreciate for ourselves the wondrous gifts of Word and Sacrament that the liturgy conveys to us and we do little to encourage others to see what is present in the promises fulfilled in the Divine Service.

I am NOT saying we need artificial excitement or that we need to be pumped up to a frenzy each Sunday.  What I am saying is that we need to be aware of the gifts God serves to us and rejoice in the gifts we receive each week in the Divine Service.  Lutheran hymnody sings the story of what God has done.  We can learn and belt out songs to the radio while driving or in the shower; is it too much to expect us to sing with something more than a timid voice on Sunday morning?  The liturgy is not the problem.  The Word and Sacrament are not the problems.  The hymns (even the more complicated melodies) are not the real problems.  We are the problem.  We forget to remember what we should never forget -- Christ is here, serving us with His gifts in the Word and Sacrament, and enabling us to receive them to our good and rejoice in the blessings of these gifts even to eternal life.  If you are not convinced of this on Sunday morning, it is no wonder why others around you might also be less than enthused.  You cannot give to others what you do not have for yourself. 

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