Sunday, February 1, 2015

It's just not me. . .

So began a conversation with someone who is unhappy with the liturgical life of the parish I serve.  It's just not me. . .  Well, of course not.  It is not ME, either.  In fact, it is not about me -- any of us who think that worship ought to reflect our likes, preferences, personality, wants, or desires.  I honestly grow weary of addressing this topic but it seems like it is a never ending task.  So we had better bone up on the rationale given us by those who object to the liturgy, ceremonial, and music of worship that is the practical face of our Confessions on Sunday morning.

Once again we have the fallacy that the worship style of Lutheran congregation mirrors either the preferences and likes of the pastor or of the people in the pew.  I know that in my own parish there are those who would be more than happy if another pastor were to come along and ditch nearly every ceremony, ritual, or, what our Confessions call church usages that define us on Sunday morning.  These are foreign to them and alien to their personality and do not reflect their own likes or wants.  I understand.  It is a constant struggle against the curved in shape of self since the fall in which nearly everything is defined by likes, preferences, wants, and desires.  The worship of the congregation is just one of many things that gets tied up in this mess.

The people of past generations were in not less affected by the press of desire but lacked the opportunity.  In Europe, Lutheran worship was strictly regulated by the jurisdiction (what we might call district or diocese).  The people might have wanted to ditch Bach and the kirchenordnung of their church but they had no mechanism to do so.  Pastors and people were constrained in their freedom to follow the regulated order.  The unding in all of this was the freedom of a place where jurisdiction and regulation were absent.  Hence, America provided the place where the desire for worship to mirror personal preference would prosper.

Yet even in America this freedom was constrained.  Across America Lutherans were united in a common liturgy that reigned in much of that freedom and dampened the power of personal preference.  It is epitomized in the Common Service of 1888 that reigned supreme for more than four generations.  This constraint that kept Lutherans on the page was unraveled not so much by organized opposition to the liturgical form but by several things.  Lutherans looked over the fence to see what others were doing.  Technology afforded them the possibility of publishing their own liturgy locally.  Add this to the plate of the Boomer preoccupation with self and we unleashed the genie from the bottle that has left Lutheran worship a  what if more than a we believe, confess, and teach.

All of us instinctively react negatively to rules (sin's wonderful legacy) and this is surely a part of our refusal to abide by any rules or covenants of love (as some would describe our Synodical unity and surrender of some of our freedom).  So the pastor who comes along with the idea that our worship ought to mirror our Confessions is seen as a rule man of the law while the pastor who ditches hymnals, liturgies, and all boundaries is identified as a man of the gospel and of the spirit.  False identifications, to be sure, but effective and hard to shake.  Worse, however, is the commonly accepted idea that pastors pushing for liturgy and ceremony inherent to our Confessions are merely agitating for a personal preference -- in essence no different than the folks who don't want to worship to look like that.

Speaking personally, many people do not get me at all.  They think what I am doing is advancing my own personal preference when the reality is that my nature tells me to make worship about me, to lead worship like Jay Leno doing his monologue, and to use my leadership of worship to impress my people with my wit, personality, and wisdom.  In reality, the liturgy is their savior as well as mine.  The ceremonies of the liturgy draw attention not to me and my wants but to the truth confessed every Sunday morning.  The order of lectionary and church year require me to surrender my preferences for the larger counsel of God's Word and the time perspective of the kingdom rather than Larry Peters.

The folks who complain if I genuflect or chant or bow or kneel or whatever are the folks who would probably not be bothered at all if I showed up with a polo and khakis, sat on a bar stool, and regaled them with my wisdom, wit, and wonderful stories.  They mistakenly think that genuflecting or chanting or bowing or kneeling or vestments or whatever draws attention to ME when it does just the opposite.  They mistakenly think that me sans vestments and liturgy would make it more spiritual and less formal when all it would do is make it more about ME than about THEE.

It is just not me. . .  You bet it ain't.  And it better not be, either.  For as soon as finding a church becomes finding a good fit for me instead of where the Word of God is faithfully proclaimed, the creed faithfully confessed, and the liturgy faithfully prayed, we are in big trouble.  The only good fit that matters in church shopping is finding a place where the evangelical and catholic (always in every place at every time) faith is what defines who we are and what we do on Sunday morning.  The rest of it is as deep and significant as finding a restaurant.  But we are not searching for a place that feeds us what we like, we are searching for the place where God's food of Word and Sacrament are faithfully delivered for the present moment and as the foretaste of the Eternal Feast to come.  This is the Spirit's work; everything else is man's.  The Spirit leads us to a real destination.  Man's way is a dead end.

It is just not me. . .  And it is not ME either.  Don't forget it.


Anonymous said...

Excellent, pastor. Your assessment of this is according to Scripture. You are a good leader and stand for Christ. Amen.

Kirk Skeptic said...

I'm not ure it's so much a ME thing as as battle of two traditions: ecclesiastical vs the American tradition of antitraditionalism. Those of us who have been through the latter would say that it is as rigid and hide-bound as what your objectors attribute to the former.

Neil Stauffer said...

I'm just waiting on us to move this direction, Pastor :)

Erik Maldre said...

I like to tell colleagues who go "church shopping" that I attend a liturgical Lutheran church because I have no choice in the matter. And thank goodness for that! It's where every ounce of the service is deeply and historically rooted in God's Word.