Monday, March 9, 2015

Banilla. . .

When our kids were small, their favorite ice cream was "banilla."  They had not acquired a sophisticated palate.  Although it could have been almost any flavor of the sweet and cold concoction, "banilla" was basic, good, and left few surprises.  They all have other favorites now -- still an affection for vanilla but it hardly ever is without toppings, especially chocolate -- to add to the familiar, if somewhat bland, old reliable. I am sure that what I wrote is not much different than what you found as a child or as a parent with small children.  We all have our "favorite flavors." 

It should come as no surprise to you that the same analogy has been used with worship.  If your congregation's worship was an ice cream flavor, what would it?  If you could design your favorite flavor of ice cream, what would it be?  If you have multiple services, what distinct flavors do you offer at each worship opportunity?  What toppings do you add to jazz up the same old "banilla" of the liturgy off the page?  What special things do you add for the special occasions of Christmas, Easter, etc?  Could it be that your problem as a parish is that you are a rocky road next to a vanilla community (or the other way around)?

You get the drift.  The fallacy in all of this is not that we don't have favorite flavors of the liturgy (growing up my old standby is page 15 TLH) but that this is somehow important.  Flavors and tastes and personal preferences are the rage in nearly everything we buy or do in this world but when it comes to worship, it is not all that important.  When I asked one of my kinds what kind of ice cream was the favorite, the child responded that it is less important than we have ice cream.  Maybe that is where we ought to begin.

I have eaten frozen yogurt and it is nice enough but it is not ice cream.  I have eaten gelato and it is good but
it is not ice cream.  I have eaten smoothies and they are fine but that it is not ice cream.  Worship has become a confusing array of choices and the problem is that it is not all equal.  God does not command that worship be fun or entertaining or inspirational or even instructional.  What He commands is that the Gospel be proclaimed in all its truth and purity (that means at bare minimum distinguishing the Gospel from the Law) and that the sacraments be administered as Christ instituted them.  Apart from the Word of the Lord read and preached and the sacraments of water and bread and wine, there is no worship.  It does not matter if we like it or enjoy it or are moved by it -- God has pledged Himself to the means of grace.  They not only have to be there but front and center, source and summit.

Second, whether the liturgy is simple or elaborate is not the domain of taste or preference but of resources.  When there are no instruments to support congregational song, there may be less singing or chanting in the Divine Service.  Where there is no choir, the liturgical leadership of a choir (especially for Introit, Psalm, Gradual, Offertory, etc...) may be replaced with the spoken voice and some parts even omitted.  Where there are no people to assist in the liturgy, acolytes, assisting ministers, lectors, communion assistants, etc... may be absent and the pastor do it all.  Where there is no silver chalice, a glass one may do.  Where there is no building, permanent altar, pulpit, font, etc..., then the church may make do with what is there (think the chaplain on the battlefield).  These are not choices or preferences or even matters of taste but of availability.  Where these are available, one will expect to find them.  This is not because of choice, preference, or taste but because we do not withhold what is available simply because we may not fully appreciate them.

Our best for His glory.  That is the principle of Sunday morning.  We Lutherans have no minimalist theology nor do we content ourselves with bare essentials.  Read through the commands of the Lord in Leviticus or look at the plans God required of the Temple that would be constructed in His name.  Do you find there a God of minimalism?  Does this schizophrenic God now defer to your personal taste to say whatever floats YOUR boat on Sunday morning is good to go with Him?  Does Christ deserve less than the mystery of the hidden altar where the blood of the sacrifice was once offered before it was once for all offered on Calvary?  When did David's spontaneous dance before the Lord become normative for Christian worship and the carefully laid pattern of temple, priest, and sacrament become optional?:

There may be differences between cathedral and country parish but these are due not to preference but to access.  Both places and both parishes offer God nothing less than their best for His glory -- in response to His best offered to us in Christ, once on Calvary and the fruits of Calvary offered regularly in the Word and at the Table of the Lord.  There is something terribly wrong when we come to Church on Sunday morning and ask for the flavor that appeals to us but care little of what is faithful to God's design and faithfully delivers His promises and faithfully responds with our best for His glory. 

One final rant, reverence is an essential ingredient to all ice cream worship.  Reverence is not wooden and stiff formality but external respect that flows from internal faith.  Last I checked there were no casual Sundays in Scripture in which we came when we felt like it, wore what felt comfortable, did what we wanted, and went home when we got tired or bored with it all.  If I am wrong, show me. 

None of the pagans ever accused the early Christians of being casual about their God or their faith or their worship.  In fact, the early Christians closed the doors and did not allow those outside the household of faith for the most intimate expression of God's communion with us -- the Sacramental Meal.  Now we have so abused this great mystery of God's presence and gracious gift that we routinely tell everyone to come no matter what they believe or who they are or even if they have not been baptized.

Sure, you love "banilla" and good for you.  Sure, you love page 15 TLH (or 158 LSB), and good for you.  Sure, you love jeans and that faded old Budweiser tee shirt and good for you.  Sure, you love country music or soft rock and good for you.  None of this has anything to do with what should happen on Sunday morning.  There what matters is what God has given, where God has promised to be, and all our best for His glory in response.  Far from resenting it when it seems worship is too fancy, we ought to be offended when it appears we are doing anything less that our best in response to His best for us.  But that would be the real surprise...

If on Sunday morning Lutheran people came to church and asked where is the choir?  where is the organ?  where is the chanting?  where are the acolytes?  where are the vestments and paraments?  where is the crucifix, altar, and pulpit?  where is the incense?  The real shocker would be if they insisted not only on these and more -- not because they liked it all or because they gave it in memory of Grandma Hoopindinger but because they were humbled by God's offering of His best and were shamed that we did received His best in Christ did so little in response.  Now that would be the day when Lutheran people said we should do more!!


Janis Williams said...

Since I 'officially' converted to Lutheranism around 5 years ato, here goes:

1. More, please?

2. I would say the true pagan's idea of worship flavor would be, "It's all banilla; just different toppings..."

3. God doesn't call us to be creative. We are given His 'methods' or flavors/toppings in Holy Scripture. We top the 'banilla' with the EXACT toppings He has given us (Word & Sacrament). Whether we choose Hershey's or Ghiradelli, it still MUST be chocolate.

4. If you've been eating Hershey's and have any relish (for worship) at all, you'll switch to Ghiradelli.

tubbs said...

Who is this painter?
A beautiful work of art.