Monday, July 2, 2018

The true markers of the Church. . .

The true marks of the Church and our life within that Church lie not with what we do but with what God has done.  We so often forget this as we survey the broken landscape of Christianity and attempt to revitalize the dying congregations and dying structures of denominations.  We presume that the marks of our livelihood and relevance lie with us and what we do and how others see us instead of placing them where they belong -- with the actions of God and the Word that makes them known. tell people to run to the cross but this is not a call to internalize or symbolize the work of God.  We meet the cross where God has placed that cross in our midst through His Word and Sacraments.  God will not deal with us apart from the external Word and Sacraments.  He has said this; we do not confine Him but He has bound Himself to these means of grace.

The Church is where God calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies her -- where His Word speaks and His sacraments cleanse, absolve, and feed His own, that they may know Him and live under Him in His Kingdom now and forever.  The means of grace are the holy things of God set in the midst of those whom He has declared holy.  These are the holy things for the holy.  Yet as long as treat the Church like a human institution made up of volunteers or people with shared interests or preferences, we will miss the holiness and fail to be the holy.  It is the Lord's Church.  He is holy and He can only be worshiped by those who worship Him in holiness and truth.  He makes this possible.  It is not the fruit of our own wills and desires but His act in making the once for all sacrifice accessible to us now through these means of grace.

Worship is in reality handling the holy. God does what is holy but He gives this holiness to us -- not only as the clothing of the baptized but as the things of God that feed and nourish and bring to completion what He began in us in that baptism.  What we ought to be asking is not whether the folks who walk into the Church feel welcome but whether or not they meet the Holy One in His Holy Things there.  For the truth is that we have become so casual and comfortable and informal about the things of God, that the people not yet of the Kingdom do not discern anything in the ordinary Christian church that suggests there is anything holy there or any holy activity going on or any holy things being bestowed.  Have we surrendered the holy in pursuit of the earthly?

We are in a hurry to get it all done and over with so that we can go back to the things really important to us.  Being in a hurry is wrong.  Sunday morning is not a race against the clock.  We meet in the Divine Service the eternal, the holy, and it cannot be rushed.  The chronos has been suspended by the kairos.  We leave our watches behind and we close our calendars not because these things are not important but because we have met something of greater importance in the place where God comes through Word and Sacrament.

Where is the ache of our hearts?  Is it for the moment that will come and go or for the eternal that will always be?  In love with the now, we have no desire for that which is to come and will never end.  The markers of the Church are not our desires and preferences or even what we have done (or the earthly measures of success) but God's works delivered to us in the informal formality and relaxed dignity that has its focus upon what Christ has done and how the fruits of His redeeming work come to us, transform us, and direct us to the day whose sun will never set.


Anonymous said...

Yesterday, my wife and I visited a rural ELCA parish, and I cannot help but mentally contrast this article with what we saw there.

It was a Communion service, conducted by an ordained woman (the regular Pastor was away on at a youth gathering across the country). The weather is hot right now, so the service was held in the air conditioned basement, rather than in the very beautiful but non-airconditioned upstairs worship space. I think I saw two ladies other than my wife wearing skirts; all the rest wore pants or shorts. Many of the men were wearing shorts, while the rest wore blue jeans. There was only one man beside myself wearing a coat.

The Pastoress (or is it Pastorette?) was wearing a clergy shirt and pants; no vestments of any sort. On the small altar there were two candle sticks, but no candles in them, and certainly non lit. The altar was against the wall, but it served more as simply a tale (a prop), from which she picked up things to show to the people (loaf & chalice) when she would turn to the people.

The Communion service could only be described as exceedingly brief, casual, indifferent, and irreverent. With a small congregation of about 35 people, it was all over and done in about 5 minutes, and we were out of there.

There was no evidence or even a suggestion that these were holy things or actions. It was simply some words that had to be gotten through ASAP.

It was not always this way. I can remember when Lutherans had a rather high churchmanship, but it has vanished in the wind. I have to ask, "WHAT HAPPENED?"

Continuing Anglican Priest

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Pastor.
I served the last year as Deacon/Vacancy Pastor in a small church as I completed the Colleague Program. I had to drop out due to health and the thing I miss most is leading the Liturgy right out of the Hymnal. As the 1982 Hymnal (my least favorite Hymnal) said so beautifully: "the rhythm of our worship is from God to us." He speaks through the Liturgy and we listen. I am back in my home church now and the liturgy every Sunday with OT, NT and Gospel Readings taking us through the entire Bible every three years is so comforting. I still prepare for the Sermon every Sunday and the practice of looking at the readings and looking at the Prayer of the Church and the Introits gives me peace during the week.
Our Pastor was a Music Major on college and the Hymns and singing is wonderful.
Do not rush through the Liturgy: savor it. God is taking to you; pay attention.
Timothy Carter, Kingsport, TN