The Grateful Christian

Essays, opinions, and works-in-progress by a conservative Lutheran pastor.

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Location: West Michigan, United States

In order of importance, I am a: Husband, father, pastor, hobby programmer, writer. Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.

--C.S.Lewis, The Apologist's Evening Prayer

Monday, March 27, 2006

Popular Commentary Now Online

This is cool. It is the online version of Paul E. Kretzmann's Popular Commentary, a time-honored classic from the early 1920s, still much in use, I think.

I started reading Kretzmann's Boyhood In A Parsonage (no date) last night, a bit of light children's reading that we found in an antique store. Stumbled across the online commentary while trying to find out a probable date.

Postscript: Turns out a Pastor McCoy has a copy of the same book, and has made it a PDF, which you can look at here, if you're curious.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Brief Observation

I've long noticed this:

When I talk to people about God, I understand God better.

When I talk to God about people, I understand people better.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Timeless Message

We live in a world fascinated by newness. Fads come and go. People dash from this to that, searching for the Next Big Thing. Of course, not everyone is attracted to the new; some react against it, preferring the Old Days and the Old Ways, the values and workmanship of Back In The Day. In their reactionary way, they too play the newness game. "New is Better" is the progressive slogan; "Old is Better" is the motto of conservatives; both obsess over calendar time.
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Into this kind of world comes the message about Jesus Christ, the message of Holy Week. In the year A.D. 33 it was new news, but by now it seems like old news. In reality, though, it is quite apart from the whole new-versus-old game. It is timeless.

Yes, the story has been repeated often. It is "the old, old story/Of Jesus and His love," as the revival-era hymn puts it. Hearing this, conservative foks stand up and holler. "Three cheers for the OLD! Hip-Hip-Hurrah!" They'd better sit back down; this is not a point scored for their side. The message about Jesus isn't good because it's old; it's good because it is true. It tells the truth about sin, and what Jesus did to save us from it. This salvation is a transformation: out with the old, and in with the new. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come!" the apostle Paul proclaims to the Christians in Corinth. Though you do well to conserve the message, it calls you to stop making its antiquity into an idol. It begs you to free it from the museum-exhibit cage you've put it in. Blow off the dust and get that message out! "Behold, I am making all things new," the risen and ascended Lord Jesus says in Revelation.

At this, the progressive types stand up and high-five each other. "NEW! Yeah! Awright!" Sit down. Your side didn't win a point here, either. The new life that Jesus brought with Him out of that grave on Easter Sunday is new-kind, not new-recent. The message about Jesus isn't good because it's radical; it's good because it is true. It tells the truth about the shallowness of the hip and the trendy, and offers a real answer to modern meaninglessness. It calls you to repent of the way you dismiss out of hand anything written before your lifetime. It urges you to turn away from the arrogance and snobbery which assumes that the faith of our fathers is inadequate for us moderns because we are so "advanced." The Good News about Jesus can transform, but first the Ten Commandments must take you over God's knee and give you an old-fashioned spanking. If you want to be saved, you will have to admit that Jesus is right, that old wine is better than new (Luke 5:39). Give up the new wine of looking to self-help gurus, yoga, holistic this-n-that, Oprah's book club, the Internet, and getting in touch with your inner spoiled brat. Savor the old wine of confessing your sinfulness and trusting in the blood of Christ to forgive you.

NEWS FLASH: Jesus is alive, after taking our place in torture and death. From Good Friday to Easter. From cross to empty grave. From "crucify him!" to "my Lord and my God!" The story of Christ's passion is our only story, and this story is not going away.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Of Birds And Bushels

Anne over at Open Epistle posted recently about birdwatching in Taiwan. She writes,
I've always believed that the female of most bird species gets the short end of the stick, especially when it comes to those named for their color. I spotted a vinaceous rosefinch while hiking on Jade Mountain ... [thanks to a guidebook] I discovered what a fabulous looking mate this one must have. He would have a wine-colored (that's what vinaceous means) head, back, and breast, with a striking silver-white eyebrow and brown wings and tail. But she's the one who came out for groceries in her housecoat while he stayed home, vainly arranging his feathers.

This got me thinking about the curious juxtaposition of "city" and "lamp" in Matthew 5:14f.
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I think many of us are familiar with the parabolic saying of Jesus, about not putting our light under a bushel. (Little kids learn the words to "This Little Gospel Light Of Mine" but they tend to mis-hear that part, so they learn: "Hide it under a bush, oh NO! I'm gonna let it shine!" A few minutes of every Vacation Bible School at Good Shepherd is given to helping them know what a "bushel" is and why it's a dumb place to put a light.)

Here is the parable quoted from the ESV:
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. [15] Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. [16] In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

We know about the light and the bushel, but what's with the city on the hill? Now hear and attend, O best beloved! The city is like the oil lamp because both must deal with a tension (worthy of inclusion in my dynamic duo list) between security and effectiveness. Light an oil lamp, and there are drafts that might blow it out. Under a bushel basket, it is safe from drafts, but it achieves that safety at the cost of defeating its purpose. A city is like that too. A city needs commerce. It needs to be found by caravans, and new residents. On a hill, it can be spotted from the caravan routes. Its fame can spread, and its location can be published. Its accessibility (location, location, location!) is the key to its success. BUT. Raising its profile by building it on a hill also raises its risk factor. It becomes an easy target for bandits or an invader's army. It would be much safer in a valley or a ravine. Plundering bands of bandits, even whole armies, can easily spot it there. It will need defenses: a wall, gates, a watch.

Anne's comment about the sexual coloration differences in birds remind me of this tension between safety and effectiveness. The duller female is better camouflaged, harder for predators to spot, therefore safer; the male needs to be flamboyant in order to attract a mate, and keep her when competitors come calling, but that strength also makes him a more visible target.

Jesus cautioned us to take a middle course between two ditches. The one ditch is the extreme of doing good deeds for show, to be seen, seeking the praise of men. In Matthew 6:1-4 (ESV), He says
"Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
"Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
Christians don't need flash, the bright coloration, because we're not trolling for love. Love found us, claimed us, called us out, and named us Bride.
'Nuff said about that ditch, I think.

The other ditch is the extreme of "Secret-Service Christianity," of just doing good things for others without even a mention of God. This ditch is present, I believe, in the oft-quoted dilly "Preach Christ constantly; if necessary, use words." If you are resolved to not use words, it feels "safer," but it puts a basket over the light. It forces the recipient of your good deed to come up with his own explanation of why you were nice to him. If hold your tongue in a situation where he might conclude that you are just a nice guy, you have robbed him of light. Your deeds benefited him in a civil sense, but your silence withholds something he needs even more.

Abraham Maslow was a brilliant man, but do not think that God is bound to his hierarchy of human needs. As Jesus said to Satan, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." It seems cruel to meet physical needs without addressing the overarching need that each of us has: a message from God. If you let him think it is your own good nature that has motivated you, you lie. If you let him think, "Cool! So there are still a few decent people left in the world!", you cruelly set him up with a false optimism in human nature. The illusion of safety-through-camouflage is based on a fear of something other than God, so it is based on idolatry. Even if stealth-Christianity is motivated by a fear of screwing up, fear of "saying the wrong thing," fear of inadvertantly dishonoring God by some misstep, the charge must be made: "your god is too small." Of course your actions are not infallibly good. Of course your motivations are not 100% pure altruism. When we are at our very best, our righteousness is still nothing more than "filthy rags!" But our God can, and does, take our sow's ear and turn it into a silk purse!

So how do you navigate between these two extremes of flamboyance and frumpery? Don't draw attention to your good deeds. On the other hand, when the comment or the question arises from your action, have an answer ready. (See 1 Peter 3:15f, although the context there is slightly different.) Ephesians 2:10 says that good works are in our path, laid there by Jesus: we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Opportunities are there as we respond to human needs; but we let His light shine when we refuse the credit for doing it, and redirect the gratitude to Him as the source of our compassion. "Don't thank me; I'm just passing it on, what God did for me. Thank Him." "I'm just the waiter; but I will pass your compliments along to the Chef."

And of course, although it shouldn't have to be said, if a "good deed" is only done in order to draw someone into a religious conversation, it's dishonest manipulation, and unworthy of someone claiming to be a Christian.

The words of Jesus show us the way:Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Good works + a clear and humble explanation that you it comes from God's goodness to you = light.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Mallow Out!

Hat tip to Kelly's Blog for finding this wonderfully side-splitting site:

LORD OF THE PEEPS

Friday, March 17, 2006

Frankenstein Project

I finished Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN a few days ago, and the fizz is just starting to come to the top now.

I decided that I am going to write a paper, like I was in college again. But I have a particular methodology in mind. I'm not going to read what other people have written about Shelley's work, (although I did read a comment here that says it is "considered the first science fiction novel.") (Hat tip to Dr. Veith over at Cranach for bringing adherents.com to our attention. What an interesting site!)

My goal is to reflect on the book and interact with it on the level of my impressions, rather than as a scholarly collation of what other critics and scholars have written.

Of course, I will be "reinventing the wheel." I will be saying things, like a college sophomore, that are not new thoughts or discoveries in the field of literature. But they are new to me, and I'm more interested in the process, than in the results.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Watch And Pray

Homily for March 15th Lenten Midweek Service
Matthew 26:36-46 (ESV)
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I go over there and pray." And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me." And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, "So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, "Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand."

“Watch with me.” “Couldn’t you watch with me one hour?” What was Jesus asking His disciples to do? He didn’t say, “Watch me,” but “Watch with me.” Keep me company. I have stuff to do, prayers to pray. Just stay awake with me, keep vigil, ok?

They couldn’t do it.
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They failed their Master. Matthew and Mark both say, “their eyes were heavy.” Luke adds that “they were exhausted from sorrow.” Jesus told them that they should pray too: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Now they had something to watch out for, something to pray against. They had the Master’s explicit command, but their flesh betrayed them, and they failed Him again.

Perhaps, in one of two of their muzzy minds, the last thought was “I’ll comfort Jesus later; I’ll be more available to Him when I’m fresh; I just need a little nap…” Maybe one or two of them managed to feel a twinge of guilt as he slipped into unconsciousness, but it was quickly dispatched with “It’s okay, the others can look after Him for a few minutes.” Ten tired, sad men slipped away one by one, and Jesus spent His time in prayer utterly alone, bereft of human support.
Then, suddenly, it was too late. Torches lit up the night, revealing a crowd and a contingent of the Temple Guard, and Jesus was being betrayed by Judas and arrested. There was an abortive and ineffective fight to defend Him, and then they fled, every last one of them.

They failed Him, but He did not fail them. He stayed on task, refusing even a taste of wine vinegar to assuage His thirst, lest it cheat the pain even a little bit. He was faithful, and died for the faithless, for those who fell asleep on the job.

This command was not given to us; but another one was, that is very similar. In Gethsemane they were to watch with Him; on another occasion they were told to watch FOR Him. The Son of Man would come again, He said. Suddenly, visibly, dramatically, on the Last Day. He warned them, and us, in Luke 21:34 and following, "Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."

Watching for Jesus, not watching with Him, but the warning is the same. The danger is the same. We’re supposed to stay alert, vigilant. But our flesh is tricky. Three dangers are listed:

dissipation – this word is defined by one dictionary as “when the head refuses to function.” Like when you get a bad case of the afternoon sleepies. Or when you have just come in the door from a four hour trip in the car. You’re stupid, stupefied, by monotony, or the hour, or your blood sugar level, or too much TV. Much of modern life ought to come with a warning label: Do Not Operate Heavy Machinery While Taking This Medication.

drunkenness – this is when we do things to make ourselves stupid. Even a teetotaler can be drunk—-drunk on success, distracted by the drive to become popular, addicted to CNN or the Internet, totally absorbed in “Lost” or “Desperate Housewives,” planning their week around NASCAR or the kids’ sports events.

anxieties of life – worry and depression, too many bills and not enough income, a weird-looking mole or a persistent cough, all can take our eyes off the skies. But then, too, even the ordinary business of day to day living can make us forget that Jesus is coming to bring it all to an end. We have to make plans, and we forget the warning in James chapter 4:
Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." The eleven disciples were sleepy from sorrow. We get sleepy from sorrow too, and boredom, and from just trying to get by.

We will die, or Jesus will return; either way, we are supposed to be ready. “Ready” means always holding before our eyes the picture of Jesus on the Cross, faithfully dying for those who fail Him. “Ready” looks to the past, and to the future. The past: He loved me so much He died to forgive my failures. The future: He loves me so much He’s coming back to rescue me. That’s why we have the Word and the Sacraments: to keep our eyes glued on the once and future Savior.


And in response to that picture, we pray. Prayer is like a walkie-talkie, right? Push to talk. But when we forget to look at Jesus, we misuse prayer. We act like kids playing with a walkie-talkie, or a Dad in the video store asking Mom if we’ve already rented The Princess Bride, and getting instructions to pick up a gallon of milk on the way home. Instead, we should think of ourselves as soldiers on patrol. We have binoculars to keep watch. We have a walkie-talkie to call for backup, to check in with Headquarters. In some wars, soldiers who fall asleep on guard duty were shot. In this war, if we fall asleep on patrol, we’ll miss the rescue mission, or get blown to bits. It’s a bad idea to be sleepwalking in a minefield.

What do we watch? We watch our step. We watch for those things that warn us we’re getting off the path. We watch out for deceivers, false prophets, the siren song of the world that promises so much pleasure, but we know it’s a trap. We watch out for the dangers of getting comfortable and complacent here in the war zone. We watch what happens in the world, but we don’t get panicked, we don’t get caught up in it, we keep one eye on the skies, because Jesus will come, or we will go to Him, any day now.

What is our prayer? God, don’t let me forget! Don’t let me forget what my Savior went through to save my sorry self. Forgive me for all the times I forgot the mission, forgot which side I’m on, forgot that I’m a soldier. O God, I am so weak. I cannot make it without You. Hurry, Lord Jesus, and keep me trusting in You until Your return! We pray because we know how weak the flesh is, so our prayers have a note of desperation; but there is also confidence, because we know what the littlest child in our midst knows: “I am weak, but He is strong!” “YES, Jesus loves me!” And that too makes us “push to talk” often, because we are loved, and we love Him, and we can’t wait to see Him.

We pray as the Church has always prayed: “Hurry, Lord Jesus!” Amen.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Holding Out For Heaven

While I was walking the dog tonight, a snatch of Springsteen's "Thunder Road" descended on me out of nowhere. I haven't thought of any of The Boss' music for a long time. It's a great song, although of course I don't approve the values and attitudes that it represents. It's vibrant and poetic and brimming with energy, like so much of his earliest work.
Well, now I'm no hero:
That's understood.
All the redemption I can offer, girl,
Is beneath this dirty hood ...

The persona is that of a bad-boy type calling on his somewhat more reserved girl to jump in his car and go for a drive, with the clear warning that it might lead to some serious fooling around. Throw caution to the winds, he's telling her. But he uses religious language, which is kind of funny.
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We got one last chance to make it real:
To trade in these wings on some wheels.
Climb in back,
Heaven's waiting on down the tracks.

Up to now, I'm guessing, she's "been good," been rebuffing his advances; hence the wings (he could have said, "lose the halo" but wings-to-wheels works better).
Oh, come take my hand,
Riding out tonight to case the promised land.
Oh Thunder Road...

"To case the promised land"--I love that line.

Thinking of that got me thinking about another song. Zip forward thirty-some years. Leaving the gritty garage-rock devil-may-care feeling of the E Street Band, we find ourselves grooving to the techno-dance beat of Steely Dan's "Century's End."
Time to find some trouble again
Make a bid for romance
While the dollar stands a chance
Dumb love in the city at century's end.
The juice and reckless passion of Thunder Road give way to the jaded, cynical hipness of the club scene.
We cut to this blonde
Dancing on a mirror
There's no disbelief to suspend
It's the dance, it's the dress
She's a concept, more or less
Dumb love in the city at century's end
Yet still they're "casing the promised land"--or are they?
At century's end
Nobody's holding out for heaven
It's not for creatures here below
You just suit up for a game
The name of which we used to know
It might be Careless Rapture
They've given up on delayed gratification, having decided that their nature renders them unsuitable for whatever rewards there might be for those who wait. "We're just earthly creatures, so we have to take what we can get in the here and now." This sounds suspiciously like the scoffers of 2 Peter 3:3f, in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this `coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." They have declared that there is in fact no promised land, and if there is, it doesn't fit our nature as animals who just happen to use bipedal locomotion. Having redefined ourselves thus, we are free to follow our desires.

It's not so great, though;
Time to shoot the love scene, my friend
Which means look, maybe touch
But beyond that not too much
Dumb love in the city at century's end.
The last time the "nobody's holding out for heaven" bridge comes around again, the last line has been changed to "By now it's second nature." What once was "Careless Rapture" fades away into "dumb love," love that either cannot think, or cannot speak, or both. Hemmed in by the threat of STDs that can kill, and the general ennui of the end of the 20th century, they settle for what they can get.

There's no juice, no pulsing in the veins, just the dull mechanical bop of the drum machine. The synthesized-harmonica solo line makes ample use of the pitch wheel, but its just so much Muzak.

Back in the day, when Western society still had taboos, there was frustration, but there was also pleasure. Sometimes it was stolen, and so was wrong, but it seems to me it was more human. Today, everything is allowed, hence nothing is enjoyed. The more we eat, the less satisfied we are.

Me, I'm holding out for heaven.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Call Me Joe

Over a year ago, I decided to get involved in this blog business. But before that, I had stuck my big toe in the water, by taking part in some of the conversations at World Magazine's blog. I decided to use my real name, and my title.

Lately I'm just using my first name. I'm still a pastor, but after a year of experimenting with taking part in a public forum, my original reasons for commenting as "Pastor Joe Fremer" no longer carry much weight.

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What were the original reasons? I offer one that was intentional and examined, and one that was lurking beneath the surface.

  • A distrust of my flesh. I thought that, if I were hiding behind a pseudonym, the temptation to "post first, think later" might prove too strong. I felt that I needed accountability, of the kind that could only come if it were possible for someone to look up my RL phone number and call me on the carpet for something I said. I've never been that kind of a person, to mindlessly flame someone, but in the heat of a debate, you don't know what might happen...
  • A desire for recognition. I thought if the word Pastor were in my comment name, it might make people say, "Hey, who's this guy calling himself a pastor? I'm just gonna check him out." In short, there was somewhere in there, still in perfect working order after all these years, the willingness to use God's calling for my own selfish interests--in this case, to get people to visit my blog. This started when I coveted a position on the sidebar of World Magazine's blog, where it listed "Blogging Pastors." I never made it, and a good thing too. My blogging tends to be infrequent and quite marginal. I do not deserve to be in the same list mentioned alongside people like Paul McCain, Rev. Cwirla, and Aardvark Aalley. (Where do they get the time?)
The first reason is worthy, but I think I have demonstrated that I can bite my tongue and think first. The second is despicable. I thought I was over that. God forgive me!

He does. He did before, too, when I was entering my teens, and telling people I wanted to be a pastor because it got me good strokes. When He confronted me with what I was doing, I assumed that I'd blown it. He let me think that for a while, so I could fall out of love with the image of myself as a pastor. Then He tapped me on the shoulder and said, "You know, I never did say you couldn't be a pastor."

So, suitably humbled and genuinely repentant, I became a pastor, but I always thought of that as a privilege, not as a badge of status. (I never liked the word "reverend.") My goal has been this: always to sound like a Christian, never to sound like a pastor. If you've met guys who carry the pastor thing around them, like a cloud of perfume--guys who sound like a pastor even when they are phoning in an order for chop suey--you know the type that I mean.

Call me Pastor--it's the title I love best--but if you are not in my flock, it's quite all right with me if you call me Joe.


Monday, March 06, 2006

"We Would See Jesus"

Recently acquired an old book: Book Of Hymns for the Evangelical Lutheran Joint Synod of Wisconsin and Other States. [no date] Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee. It's really cool. Pocket sized. Words only (in English, too!) Arranged alphabetically by first line within several broad categories.

Here's a gem attributed to Anna Warner, 1832.

We would see Jesus; for the shadows lengthen
Across this little landscape of our life;
We would see Jesus, our weak faith to strengthen,
For the last weariness, the final strife.

We would see Jesus, the great rock foundation
Whereon our feet were set by sovereign grace:
Nor life nor death, with all their agitation,
Can thence remove us, if we see His face.

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We would see Jesus, other lights are paling,
Which for long years we have rejoiced to see;
The blessings of our pilgrimage are failing;
We would not mourn them, for we go to Thee.

We would see Jesus; yet the spirit lingers
Round the dear objects it has loved so long,
And earth from earth can scarce unclasp its fingers;
Our love to Thee makes not this love less strong.

We would see Jesus: sense is all too binding
And heaven appears too dim, too far away;
We would see Thee, Thyself our hearts reminding
What Thou hast suffered, our great debt to pay.

We would see Jesus: this is all we're needing;
Strength, joy, and willingness come with the sight;
We would see Jesus, dying, risen, pleading;
Then welcome day, and farewell mortal night!


This hymn made me think of the pastor who trained me on my vicarage (LC-MS for "seminary internship year"). He told me about a vacation trip he had taken. On Sunday he worshiped at a local church. When the service was over, and he met the pastor on the way out the door, he wanted to hand the pastor a scrap of paper with the words John 12:21 on it: "Sir, we would see Jesus." (21st century American English translation: "Sir, we want to see Jesus.") May no one ever want to say that to me after one of my sermons!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Semantics of Liturgy

[Joe's note: although I am not permitted to post entire prayers, there are other "gems" in the 1936 Liturgy & Agenda that I can use, in the Fair Use way.]

General Semantics (one of my interests) is a system of, call it, practical epistemology. One of the things that was a hallmark of Korzybski's methodology is what he termed consciousness of "levels of abstraction"; that at different levels, there are different behaviors and interactions between the mental map and the external "territory."

Thus General Semantics really laid the groundwork for "systems theory." Anyway, there is a basic recognition that there are fundamental differences to be expected between a complex object when conceived of as a collection of parts, and the same object when viewed as a system. Or as we say in English, something is "more than the sum of its parts."

What does this have to do with liturgy? Simply this: in the public services of a congregation, is it simply a bunch of individuals coming together to worship God individualistically en masse? Or it is something more?

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If it's hard to think what that would be like, just focus on the worshipers, each with his own personal conceptions of God, coming together to commune only vertically--"Me & My Jesus" writ large. Holy Communion in such a setting is only vertical. The other people are related to me in that we share responsibility for paying the utilities, but what happens in the Sacrament is intensely, and exclusively, personal. Sound familiar?

The Lutheran answer has always been, "It is definitely something more. It is a horizontal communing as well, and not just in the Sacrament."

In 1916 "the Committee" wrote this in the preface to the Liturgy and Agenda.
Whatever forms are adopted to express the homage of a company of believers, they must center around the communal interests of Christians. In the worship of the congregation the vox ecclesiae is to be heard, responding to, and reechoing, the vox Dei in the Scriptures. Accordingly, the grand central truths of the Christian faith must find sole recognition and expression in a Christian formulary of worship. While the individual worshiper comes, indeed, to feed his own soul at the common banquet spread for all, and satisfies the special needs of his inner life from the stores of divine grace provided for all; while the individual believer in his heart undoubtedly connects with the common prayers, praises, petitions, and thanksgivings of all believers particular meanings which the words have assumed to him because of the peculiar way in which his Christian course is being shaped for him, still there is in the liturgical formularies of the Church little, if any, room for the expression of private spiritual experiences. For these, other provisions must be made. The liturgy of the Church and the official sacred acts of her ministers must be characterized by objectiveness.
Objective justification; objective truth; mirrored in an objective liturgy that is jointly held in what Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann termed the "social stock of knowledge" (The Social Construction of Reality, Doubleday, 1966).

I don't think this has to mean liturgical uniformity. I don't think The Committee meant that either. But the pandering to individual tastes that is so prevalent today in all aspects of life--the annoying overuse of the word "My" in Windows XP, for instance--the pernicious customizability of modern life--ought to be resisted in corporate worship. When we gather, we are more than just an aggregate of individual idiosyncratic believers.