Thursday, December 5, 2019

Test of our resolve. . .

There are no pastors who have not enjoyed endured some not so humorous joking about the length of sermons and worship services.  The sacred hour of worship is generally 59 1/2 minutes or less as most of us know or have been told.  That said, the only real constraints we face in worship are our own scheduling (when multiple service times must inhabit the same space) or our own lack of attention to the things of God.  What a strange idea it is that a fitting distribution of time leaves God with but an hour a week and the rest of left to us from recreation to rest to work!

In one sense, the suspension of time within the Divine Service is both for our benefit (in the gifts that God gives us there) and a test of our actual resolve and desire to be holy, to attend to matters of faith,  and to love being in the presence of God.  Often we set rather lofty goals for ourselves about the time we plan to set aside in devotion and prayer, the attention we will give to good works on behalf of the poor and needy, and time in His Word.  In most cases, our ambitions are greater than our follow through.  We carry a bit of guilt about the failure of our noble intentions.  But it might be good for us to ask ourselves if we have trouble dedicating even Sunday morning to the Lord without fidgiting or being distracted or clock watching, how will we ever come close to setting aside time for prayer, devotion, and the good works of our piety the rest of the week?  If it is such a labor for us to get ourselves to church at the prescribed time, to meet the Lord where He has promised to be in His Word and Sacraments, to respond in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, and to take to heart and to remembrance the things we heard in preached to us, then it will surely be a stretch to doing much of anything godly the rest of the week.  If our minds are so easily bored or distracted that we cannot concentrate upon the means of grace provided us with the framework of the Divine Service, then how shall we presume to keep our attention upon the Lord when we are not constrained by the rhythm of the liturgy, by music in service to the Word, by the preaching of the faith, and by our participation in the great mystery of His flesh in bread and His blood in wine?

Every pastor lives within the constraints of the time he knows people are willing to give.  So it is routine that the shorter selections of the readings are often the default choices and hymns are chosen either because they have fewer stanzas or have their poetry and development derailed by an arbitrary choice of verses to be sung.  Yet, as real as these considerations are, should they exist at all?  Is a hymn to be discarded only because it exceeds three or four stanzas?  Is an edit of the reading better than the full account from the Old Testament, Gospel, or Epistle?  Do we justify our shorter sermons with the craft of a good preacher who says more with fewer words when the reality is that we just don't want to hear them at all?  Yes, the sad reality is that we are reluctant to give God much of our money but we are more likely to give Him that than our time.  Is it no wonder that the world looks at us and wonders how important this God and His worship could really be if we only endure it and wish it were over a long time ago?

1 comment:

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Each pastor has to work through these issues you have raised. We must remember that according to 2Timothy1:7, God has given us "a sound mind', that has the ability to reason and discern, solve problems, address issues, including practical ways of scheduling and formatting the worship service. We should use the mental talents and resources He has given us to advance the Gospel message in the best way possible. I personally think that the WELS church around the corner does a good job in organizing Sunday worship. They have one service at around 10 AM, not two or three. They have no contemporary service. The liturgy is used, and the hymns are sung regardless of the number of stanzas. If only 4 out of 7 stanzas is sang, do we really think this is offensive or an issue to cause us worry? The pastor gives much attention to the sermon. They have a Sunday Bible study. They seem relaxed, unworried, close knit and social, welcoming visitors who have joined from other Lutheran churches as well as former Catholics, and others. My daughter left the LCMS to join the WELS. The pastor had her go through Lutheran orientation and tested her on the doctrines of the faith for months before she was permitted to be a member and receive communion. Interesting. She had already been a Lutheran for many years, but went through the learning process again, claiming it was entirely beneficial and she learned so much. Her pastor is very keen on teaching scripture as well as Lutheranism.
Now I will simply say that I am with the LCMS, and will never leave it, but I honestly believe we can use our heads, pastors and congregation together, to make our Synod and churches better. We need to pray about it, and use the "sound minds" the Lord has given us more diligently.