Monthly Archives: October 2008

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

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Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

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Bishop and Christian, October 2008

How are your feelings related to your worship?  That is a question that is behind many of the arguments in the church related to worship.  Talk to enough people from various congregations and it will not be long before you come up against a division between those who, on the one hand, know that they have been to church if they feel good, or different, or forgiven and, on the other hand, those who do not seem to care whether they feel anything at all.  The division can be seen most clearly when someone leaves a particular (“stale,” “dead,” “boring”) congregation for another (“refreshing,” “alive,” “exciting”) one in which the Spirit seems to be moving more noticeably.  What is striking about those conversations is that the descriptive words are completely tied to individual perception: that is, for worship to be good, everything depends on the feelings of the individual who is participating in the worship experience.  If someone does not feel (there’s that word again) that he or she “got anything” from the service, and if this experience goes on long enough, such a person may be inclined to seek out a church where something (the “something” is rather ambiguous) is “gotten.”  You may recognize a friend or a family member-or yourself-in that description.

Notice how purely subjective are the standards for good worship: if you do not feel anything, then nothing is there.  Quite apart from whether God is present, what matters is that you are present with your full attention, with all the right motives, and with your heart and mind open-open to how your faith might be deepened or how you might learn something new or how you might be moved by your worship of God.  At the least, if something or Someone is there, it or He cannot get to you because you have not opened yourself or you have not prepared yourself sufficiently.

I am not saying that you should not feel anything while worshiping the Creator of heaven and earth.  The prophet Isaiah in chapter 6 felt something when God’s Presence was shaking the temple.  Moses certainly felt something when he encountered God in the burning bush.  And the disciples felt something very significant when they found themselves addressed by their heavenly Father in the presence of the transfigured Jesus.  If God has made us to be creatures who experience emotionally the events in our lives, it would be strange if we did not also experience emotionally His presence with us when He gathers the Church to receive His gifts and worship Him.  The question we should ask is: Have our individual feelings and emotions overstepped their bounds and become the standard by which we judge whether God is present in His Church?  (As if we had some say about whether or not God might choose to be present!)  The question is whether the feelings we have as we worship are created from within or whether they are a result of something that comes to us from outside ourselves.

So, what is actually happening and who is actually working in the services of God’s House?  Are feelings and emotions beneficial for the worshipers of God?  Yes.  But they are not nearly as important as we have made them to be in the context of American Christianity.  It is not a secret that American individualism has infected the Christian Church, though its destructive results go unrecognized more often than, for example,

materialism.  It is precisely this individualism that has enthroned my feelings and my response as the judge of an authentic or meaningful worship experience.  When I make “how I feel” the way to tell if this week’s worship was good, I put God’s action in the service in a footnote and position my own subjective experience as the deciding factor in whether what God is doing is valuable.  The person who makes feelings supreme might say that I receive Jesus’ Body and Blood only if I feel His presence.  But does God speak His Word only if I experience His speaking as such?  In other words: is God really present with and in His Church as I worship-or, more starkly: whether or not I worship?  Or are my right feelings required?  (Because they have some sort of influence on whether or not He is present?)  If the questions are answered according to how I feel, then all certainty is removed from the people of God.  And uncertainty about where God is acting is the enemy of faith.  Uncertainty keeps you questioning and wondering, rather than rejoicing in the assured presence of a God who is present, without any doubt, to save.

The Church of Christ has never been the Church of How I Feel.  God created us to be men and women who feel and experience emotionally, so I take it for granted that feelings are important and necessary.  But when we make our feelings the gauge of what we get out of a service in God’s House-which is to make our (sinful, fickle, distorted) feelings the gauge of God’s presence itself-we elevate our feelings above the God in whom we should be rejoicing and whom we should be worshiping.  Believers call that idolatry, and since we do not have feelings apart from our actual selves, we might as well call it self-idolatry.  (Is there really any other kind?)  The solution to this idolatry of feelings is to repent of feelings created from within and allow God to do His work from without.  As God comes to us in Jesus Christ to forgive and save-always from outside of us-we may or may not experience an emotional response to God’s action (although it might be a warning signal if we feel nothing more often than something).  God does not promise that we will feel something in the services of His House, but He does promise that He is present to forgive. If God is present to forgive, and if He actually delivers that forgiveness in His Word and Sacraments, then how strange it would be for me to say that I did not “get anything out of the service”!  Such a statement makes sense only if God does not actually give out His forgiveness in tangible and experiential ways.  It only makes sense if everything depends on me.

We Lutherans call the main service of the Church the “Divine Service” in order to remind ourselves that God’s saving service to us in the really present Person of Jesus is most important.  If the presence of God really depended upon whether I left the church building feeling inspired, or educated, or uplifted, God simply would not be present every week.  This does not mean that the forgiveness of Christ should not inspire and uplift, or that the Word of God should not educate, but it does mean that God’s work within the Divine Service does not depend in any way on our work. To make my inspiration, education, or uplifting the determining factor in the Church’s worship is a reversal of how things actually happen between God and man, and it is a denial that we remain sinners until our dying day.  Taking our sin and God’s grace seriously requires that we go to church to receive the gifts of God, even when we do not feel like it, or when we think the pastor is a bore (that is a different problem), or when we do not like the people.

Thank God that He works for, on, and in us no matter how we feel!  And if we do not feel like being present at the services of God’s House, we only demonstrate how much we need to be there, where the Spirit of God is driving out those sinful feelings and creating in us new hearts, with new feelings and new desires.

*St. Augustine said, as Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; but with you I am a Christian.”


Bishop and Christian, September 2008

[We continue hearing from Pr. Heath Curtis-see July and August for the previous sections-on the ceremonies of the Church’s worship.  As always, the invitation stands for you to discuss with me any questions or thoughts.]

Ceremonies that Teach

Along with the traditional liturgical forms, the Apology notes that we keep the traditional ceremonies as well. In the Divine Service these ceremonies are numerous. The folding of the hands with left thumb under right, bowing the head at the Name of Jesus, various places of making the sign of the holy cross, genuflecting during the Creed and after each consecration, standing, sitting, kneeling, etc. These ceremonies are prescribed in the rubrics that accompany the Historic Western Divine Service. The Liturgy is the words that are spoken, the rubrics are the ceremonies performed.

Why these rubrics? Why ceremonial worship? Isn’t it all just putting on a show? Making the pastor look high and mighty? Just high church drama queens doing their chancel prancing? Now that we have discussed the drama of the Liturgy I hope you begin to see that this is not the case. Rather, the traditional ceremonies of the [Divine Service] are actions that fit the words and realities of the [Divine Service]. As such, they support the words and teach the laity what the words mean. Or as the Confessions say, “The purpose of observing ceremonies is that men may learn the Scriptures and that those who have been touched by the Word may receive faith and fear and so may also pray.” (Ap. XXIV.2) “For after all, all ceremonies should serve the purpose of teaching the people what they need to know about Christ.” (AC XXIV.3)  And consider again that everything in worship teaches. Every action is a ceremony. [We] cannot decide not to have ceremonies, but [we] can decide which ceremonies to have. Consider the following.

Scene 1. A man clad in professional attire (suit and tie or business casual) walks over to a small wooden table set off to the side of a large stage area to the left of a five piece band; the stage is adorned with ferns and a tall wooden cross with a dove over it. In the audience people sit in theater seats. He picks up a brass plate with little pieces of bread on it and says in a clear, loud voice in a normal cadence “On the same night on which he was betrayed….” When he finishes those words he places the plate down and touches a stack of aluminum trays containing plastic cups filled with wine and says in a clear, loud voice in a normal cadence, “In the same way also he took the cup after supper…” When he is done with these words he looks at the audience and says, smiling, “The Peace of the Lord be with you always!” When the people are done receiving, they toss the used plastic cups in a wicker basket lined with a plastic bag.

Scene 2. A man clad in bizarre attire – a black robe, then a white robe with a rope belt…and over all a colored poncho with a Y-shaped cross on it faces a table in the center of a smaller anteroom set above a larger room where people are kneeling. The table is adorned with a large crucifix in its center and is draped with several cloths. He lifts a golden plate with little pieces of bread on it, bends low, and chants in a slow, clear cadence “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the same night in which he was betrayed, took

bread…” When he is done with these words, he lifts one of the pieces above his head and whispers, “My Lord, and my God!” He then sets it down and genuflects on his right knee. Then he takes a golden cup full of wine, lifts it slightly, bends low over it and chants in a slow clear voice, “In the same way also, he took the cup after supper…” When he is done with these words, he lifts the golden cup above his head and whispers, “My Lord and my God!” He then sets the cup down and genuflects on his right knee. He then lifts one of the hosts over the cup and turns to the people and chants “The Peace of the Lord be with you always!”…

Now a few questions. Which of these men, the man in Scene 1 or Scene 2 believes in the real Presence [of Christ’s Body and Blood] in the Lord’s Supper]? Assuming each scene takes place in a Lutheran Church, I am content to say that they both believe in it. I confess that both are valid celebrations of the Lord’s Supper and that the laity in both congregations received the true body and blood of Christ. But which scene better confesses these realities? Which scene’s actions match the words? Which scene better teaches the people what is really going on? If you were to turn off the sound and just watch the actions, would you guess they were doing the same thing? Is there anything in Scene 1 that wouldn’t be done in a church that denied the Real Presence? Is there anything in Scene 2 that could be done in a church that denied the Real Presence!  That is the power of ceremony. Everyone has ceremonies: will [we] use the traditional ceremonies designed to confess Lutheran doctrine or will [we] use other ceremonies? That’s the only question.

[…]

Augsburg Confession VII notes, “It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places.” This quotation is much quoted by those who advocate the use of neo-Evangelical worship forms. They protest that though the churches of the Augsburg Confession at the time of that confession kept the traditional liturgical forms, that confession itself here gives them the leeway to do what they want no matter what their sister congregations were or are doing. But they rarely give thought as to why the AC had to say what it said – why does it have to point out that a basic unity in form of worship is not what unites Christians? Consider statements in the form “x is not necessary for y.” These statements tell us nothing of the usefulness of x for y. For example, both of these statements in that form are true: A) “Green apples are not necessary for a healthy marriage.” B) “Saying I love you each day to your spouse is not necessary for a healthy marriage.” Both A and B are true. But certainly saying ‘I love you’ daily is more useful for a healthy marriage than green apples. Indeed, it’s so helpful that one might be tempted to think that saying ‘I love you’ daily was necessary to a healthy marriage. Indeed, in the right circumstance it might be necessary to confess that this isn’t necessary. So it is with unity in ceremonies and Church unity. Unity in the form of worship is so helpful for Church unity that we might mistakenly think that that is what such unity consists of. Furthermore…Solid Declaration X [says]:  “We believe, teach, and confess that true adiaphora or things indifferent…are in and of themselves no worship of God or even a part of it, but that we should duly distinguish between the two, as it is written, “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the precepts of men” (Matt. 15:9).”  Amen. The ceremonies created by men – folded hands, kneeling at this place or that, chanting, genuflecting etc. – are no part of worship. Worship, as the Apology notes, is the desire to receive God’s gifts. But as we have seen above, we cannot escape ceremonies. Simply because ceremonies are no part of worship does not mean that we can choose any ceremonies we like and all things will be equal no matter what we choose. Some ceremonies will support our worship and others will not.

[I hope these excerpts from Pr. Curtis have given you some things to think about as we rejoice in the gifts of our Lord and worship Him in the splendor of His holiness.  Pastor Winterstein]


Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

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