Thursday, September 18, 2014

Obsessed with a theme. . .

One of the modern day obsessions in worship, preaching, and, it seems, life itself is the penchant for the thematic.  We have thematic worship services, sermons, sermon series, etc...  It is as if we were acting by the twitter rules requiring that everything be distilled into 140 characters or less.  We have thematic liturgies (especially in Roman Catholicism) and thematic sermons in which the goal is to reduce everything to a words or a few words -- a synopsis of the whole that tends to dominate everything else.

What danger we do to the liturgy and preaching when we attempt to summarize, condense, and caricature the Christian faith and worship into soundbites!  I blame it in part to the PowerPoint culture of few words and few images to illustrate and define the most difficult and complex concepts.  Truth to be told, PowerPoint did not invent our fascination with thematic worship -- it only raised it to a much higher level.

Of course, there is a legitimate thematic character to the pericopes for the day.  In the lectionary we find the lessons pointing (generally) to the Gospel and the Gospel is supported by a collect of the day and by hymns chosen to coordinate with the thrust of the readings.  I am not talking about this.  I am talking about Sundays defined by groups (LWML Sunday), causes (Malaria Sunday), or issues (Marriage Sunday).  There would be no need of the church year at all if we used all the thematic suggestions by church related organizations, causes, and issues.  That is exactly what some have done.  The liturgical year has been shifted to revolve around the named Sundays and their causes or sublet to a preaching series of 117 sermons on how to raise better children.

It is killing the church and the people of the church.  We are all caused out.  We have become blinded to the faith by the stead stream of themes and foci that compete with the Divine Service and Christ's presence in the Word and Sacraments.  It needs to stop.  One of these days we will wake up to shark week in church and no one will find it strange.  The wisdom of an ordered church year will have given way to the strange, the titillating, and the exotic.  Our people will come not for the gifts of God in the means of grace but to find out what the pastor is going to do this week that could possibly outdo last week.  The Gospel is not a cause.  Faith should not be treated like a fad.  Soundbites should not define what we believe, what we hear, or what we confess.  The preacher of Ecclesiastes (12:12-14) calls us to simplicity but warns against trivializing the faith and what happens on Sunday morning.  I fear the prophet's words of gloom and doom, while appropriate to the church today, are falling on deaf ears.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.  So says the preacher.  I fear that the worst condemnation of all is the God who will ask us why we have fashioned faith as triviality and made the Lord Himself into merely an idea for the moment.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

"Thematicism" (if I may coin that) has run from improving finances, health, and personal relatonships to the banality of "Movie Preaching Season." Christ aid when the Word is abandoned for lifelike (NOT) acting and special effects.