Thursday, February 20, 2014

Commandment thoughts. . .

Whether you translate it Thou Shalt Sanctify the Holy Day or Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep It Holy, the common word here is DAY.  I am certainly no advocate of blue laws or Sabbath laws to apply to Sunday (the day of the Lord's resurrection) all the rigid requirements of the Sabbath under the Covenant of Moses.  Lets not go there...  But... let us consider for a moment how the freedom in Christ has reduced the holy DAY to a holy HOUR or two and ask ourselves some honest questions about this redefinition of the word "day".

Speaking as a Lutheran, our own early Lutheran history (extending well beyond the time of J. S. Bach) shows that worship was not an hour long proposition but a day given mostly to the liturgy of the hours, the Divine Service, and catechetical instruction.  From early Sunday morning until late in the day, the schedule of services beckoned to the Lutherans of that day.  Consider the ordinary schedule of services from Bach's day, for example:

5 am - Matins bell and Service
6 am - First "regular" service
7 am - Early Divine Service (lasting often until 11 am
           if a festival day and large number of communicants)
11:30 am - Noonday Service bell (actually began at 11:45
           but lasted 1 1/2 hours)
1:15 pm - Vespers & Sermon (often with verse by verse
           exposition of the text in the sermon)
2 pm - Catechism Service & Preaching
3-4 pm - Final Vespers

In addition to this schedule of Sunday morning, festivals added additional services.  Weekly the schedule was equally filled with worship services (3 on Mondays, 6 on Tuesdays, 4 on Wednesdays, 4 on Thursdays, 5 on Fridays, and 2 on Saturdays).  These services were not brief but often lasted up to 2 hours each.

Sadly, the usual Lutheran schedule today lists one service (whether at one hour or duplicated again at a later hour) and an educational activity (Sunday school and/or Bible study).  Whereas many of the people were both expected and did attend many of these services in Bach's day, the folks today consider one service a week sufficient and then complain when that service breaks through the magic barrier or 59 1/2 minutes. 

The commandment spoke of a day and the Pharisees made sure that rules prevented much of anything else being done on that Sabbath day.  Today worship is not a day or even half a day (except, perhaps, for those who actually must lead worship).  In fact I hear complaints all the time when choir or bell schedules keep a person here for first service and second service (and presumably Sunday school although some have been know to use that time to head out for a bite of breakfast).  "But Pastor, I had to be here most of the morning!"  Awww, that is too bad but I am sure the Lord is glorified by your willing and cheerful spirit about all of this.  Seriously, however, our minimalism has left us with the wrong idea about worship and starved of the Word in its fullness.  We have a fast food mentality for a rich banquet of God's gifts and we are the poorer for it.

I do not see the mindset changing soon but I am doing all I can to remove the clock from what happens on Sunday morning (as much as can be done, anyway).  We seldom have a Sunday service that ends before 70 minutes, with 70 minutes between the services for Sunday school and Bible study.  So at least the folks who come for both are going to spend nearly 2 1/2 hours around the Word and Table of the Lord.  But I would hardly suggest that this is enough or sufficient.

Strangely the entertainment oriented churches seem less bound by the hourly definition of what constitutes good and pleasing worship than the liturgical ones.  Go figure.  I guess it just shows that our appetite for entertainment is different than our appetite for the Divine Service in which God gives us His gifts in the Word and Sacrament and we respond with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.

We have taken Sunday as our own day and, absent the Sabbath Saturday of old, we have reduced the Lord to a few token minutes here and there.  He will not suffer but we will for our stinginess of time for the things of God and His house.  It was once said that a home going Pastor makes for a church going people.  I was recently reminded that the purpose of the home going Pastor was to check out the folks and see if their behavior was up to snuff.  It was not pastoral care but policing the sheep (did they have a beer can in the trash, was the ash tray full, was HBO on the TV, was their giving commensurate with their lifestyle for themselves, etc...).  Lutherans never really bought into this idea of pastoral care and for good reason.  A faithful home begins with faithful people in the Lord's House.  That is the order of procession. 

We live in an era in which hardly anyone but those over 70 want the Pastor to come and sit and talk for a while.  We do not bring people to our homes but meet them out in restaurants and coffee houses and taverns.  It is even more important that we do not shortchange ourselves by limiting the time we spend together with the Lord in His House, around His Word and Table.  Real pastoral care begins with the Divine Service and flows from there into the rest of our lives.  Don't be cheap about your time and starve your souls and faith.  Be as generous with the Lord as He is with you and the state of your soul and the strength of your faith will show the fruits of this faithfulness.


Unknown said...

What is LIFEjourney?
Life is a journey.
God is with us and loves us through the journey.
The LIFEjourney is moving through LIFE together, discovering God and His plans for us.

What does LIFEjourney mean at St. John?
1 | Give ONE DAY a week to God in Worship & rest

1 | Be someONE to another person for whom Christ died

15 | Spend FIFTEEN MINUTES each day in a faith-building discipline

6 | Live the SIX other DAYS serving God by serving others.

We call this It’s a simple way to remember how to move forward on your LIFEjourney on a daily basis. is for EVERYONE, it’s a lifestyle that anyone, anywhere on their journey can participate in. From kids to adults, and from young Christians to mature believers, there is an opportunity to grow using

What does your LIFEjourney look like?
We believe that as people live out the they will be changed; and maybe the best way to do that is in relationship with others. At St John we encourage several ways to do just that. Whether you join a Small Group, serve at St. John or in the community, go on mission trips or join a Bible study, we want you to be moving on your LIFEjourney. After all the LIFEjourney is moving through LIFE together, discovering God and His plans for us.

Download the document.

Janis Williams said...

I would LOVE a longer look at the readings. Exposition done right. Just sayin....