Category Archives: Worship
Christmas Eve – 7 PM – Lessons and Carols
Christmas Day – 9 AM – Divine Service
Come and Worship. Worship Christ the Newborn King.
So Tomorrowland had a bad opening. Tomorrowland was the Disney produced move staring George Clooney that you can roughly guess the story from the title. (Admission, I also did not see it. I am going on reviews and trailers.) It has something to do with a rosy optimistic futurism that might be best captured by Walt himself and a nostalgic view of the race to the moon. The only troubles this futurism can admit to are either those of bad people holding back the future or speed-bumps on the way to greatness. Mad Max: Fury Road in its second week almost met Tomorrowland. Max of course is the flipside of Tomorrowland, a pessimistic futurism. A world where the sane are mad holding on to hope and escaping trouble today just means your road ends tomorrow.
As a liturgist one of our forgotten truths is that we embed our greatest truths in ritual. We all have ritual, even you atheists and Baptists. About a year ago our family took part in one of those rituals – the grandparents took us to Disneyworld. Disneyworld is the Vatican of that Tomorrowland futurism. It’s a great trip. Don’t take this as a complaint. Every American child really should go once – like on the Hajj. It is part of being American. Part of the American experience and birthright is the idea that we can do this. From the Pilgrims on the Mayflower to failure is not an option. Disneyland is the architectural realization of that ideal every bit as much as Chartres is of medieval Catholicism. But as my oldest child warmed my heart by saying when asked if she wanted to come back, “no, it’s all fake”. That might have been the harsh judgment of youth, but she parsed truth from a half-truth. The truth of we can do this in Disneyworld is hidden behind the half-truth of it is easy if we just clear the path and keep everything clean. Clearing the path and keeping everything clean in tomorrowland takes massive injections of outside funds. And even then “it’s all fake”.
I’ve been trying to think of the ritual expression of Mad Max and I think I know it now, the social welfare state. That state might have started out as an expression of Tomorrowland, but now it is simply an expression of power. When the sane observe that it doesn’t work and might have made things worse they are met with cries of cold-hearted bigot. The outcome of the ritual is not important. It is the fact of the ritual and our heart’s intentions. We mean to make life for the poor better. We have the right belief. Government is the only thing we do together, the ultimate ecumenical expression. Yes, we lost the war on poverty, but government goes on. Your road might end tomorrow, but the government will survive and keep on the fight. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. What are you, mad?
Tomorrowland and Mad Max are alternate expressions of the progressive worldview. And Satan could care less which rituals you want to take part in, because both are false and half-truths. He wins when you are led astray. What he doesn’t want you to see is the truth embedded in the church’s liturgy. I am, we all are, the bad people standing in the way of Tomorrowland. The bad people are not some others, but ourselves. I am “a poor, miserable sinner”. “I have sinned in thought, word and deed, by what I’ve done and what I’ve left undone.” The admission that we are by nature sinful and unclean takes care of that “it’s all fake” problem. We can still do great things, but it is going to take a massive injection from outside of us. Which we hear in the absolution. “Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for His sake God forgives us all of our sins.” That is not fake but as real as a cross.
Likewise contra Max, this road is going somewhere. “This is the feast of victory for our God. Worthy is Christ the lamb…the lamb who was slain has begun his reign.” We believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. The intersection of this life and death is found in that highest ritual, the Lord’s Supper. We admit the gritty reality a Max. It took flesh and blood. It took sacrifice. But that sacrifice was not madness. That was the sacrifice of a true innocent which covers us. In this supper we have a foretaste of the feast to come. We have a celebration of the marriage feast. We have a glimpse of the end of the road. We are not mad to persevere, because in our flesh we will see God.
We all have ritual or liturgies. And those liturgies form us and how we see the world. Be careful of the yeast of Tomorrowland or Mad Max.
Maundy Thursday @ 7PM – Last Supper Commemoration
Good Friday @ 7PM – Tenebrae Service (St. Mark’s Reading of the Passion)
Easter Sunday @10 AM (8:30 AM Potluck Easter Breakfast)
A couple of pictures can’t capture the smell though…
Here is NPR’s take on what the church sings.
By and large, for what is a 4 minute segment built around a songwriting couple, it gets a bunch right. The one thing that is interesting is the complete absence of those congregations that never caught the CCM wave. It is written as if the entire chruch dropped hymnbooks for a while and then discovered them like Josiah finding the book of the law. As one of those congregations that hews to the hymnody of the church that is odd.
The best thing that they got right is the true dynamic of hymns and praise songs. Quoting Getty (the profiled couple)
The couple came to town to write songs not for individual artists, but for what Keith Getty calls “the congregation.”…There’s no definition for what’s a hymn and not a praise song. But Keith Getty says it should be singable without a band and easy for anyone sitting in the pews to pick up. And it should say something bold.
The hymn, because of its metric nature and usually simple tunes, should be immediately singable with minimal accompaniment. And because of the verse structure can actually say something. What has become known as the praise song is more musically complex. The performers sing it and maybe you get to join on the snappy chorus.
Now I’m not one to rule out the praise song (even though we don’t use them here), but what I would say is what is the intention of singing in church? Is it to emote, or is it to hear the word? Do we come to church primarily to bring what we’ve got to God, or to hear what God has for us? What you sing, even if you don’t know it, supplies an answer to that. The praise chorus can have proper places, but in my experience of it, where it is bunched up in front of the sermon, the purpose of that form is to emote and bring to God. The historic liturgy put the Kyrie (Lord have mercy) first. We praise after we’ve received the gifts – namely the mercy of the Lord. Putting praise before, as in “bringing all my worship”, is a misdirected understanding of what happens in church.
There is nothing that makes a pastor more humble quicker than talking about evangelism. It is real easy to get hard numbers. How many baptisms? How many visitors? How many new members? These are things you can count without a big problem. And there is no end of people and places who will sell you a program. Many congregations and many pastors jump from one program to another to another. I’m not sure where is all started. My guess is that the first pastor of the church at say Thessalonica, about a year after Paul left, had other saying “hey, lets look at what the Temple of Nike is doing to goose attendance”.
One of the more hardy perennials are various fugues on how you can change your worship to appeal to those on the outside. The greatest exponent of that philosophy is Willow Creek. It is Bill Hybels and Willow Creek that popularized the term “seeker services”. The original idea was make your Sunday service as non-threatening as possible. That lead to things like: removal of crosses, replacement of altars with platforms, “worship” songs that don’t reference Jesus directly but instead just God, sermons that focused on “7 things you can do” instead of “this is what Christ has done for you”. That list might sound more negative than I mean it to be. If you were asking me what seeker services accomplished I’d say two things. First, they built a modern agora which is a reference to Paul’s method of going to the public gathering places to preach. All kinds of people will wander through a modern mega-church to talk general spiritual things. Second, the builders of these places are usually great preachers of the law. I don’t mean that is a specific moral law way. They are not great preachers of the 10 commandments. What they do very well is proclaim the way of wisdom. If you do and behave this way, good things will happen to you. And the best of them are wise and dispensing good advice. That is why there are plenty of people they can always bring up as examples. Here is the problem – and if you asked me Rob Bell is probably an example of this – the law kills. Even the best at keeping the law (paging Rob Bell), eventually crack under the strain. (I bring up Rob Bell because his story of hiding in the closet before he was preach one day is an acute case of the law.)
What went missing, and Willow Creek eventually admits something close to this, is the gospel. Thousands of people just burned out and went away mad. Thousands of other felt something lacking or dissatisfied with their spiritual life. They were doing all these things, and it didn’t work. They wouldn’t put it exactly this way, but they lost the bridge from talking in the open market to actually proclaiming Christ crucified for you. Evangelism a noble goal, but if you lose Jesus in the process what are you evangelizing too?
If we believe the small catechism it is the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies. The sheep hear the shepherds voice. It might help if the sheep of the shepherd acted like it, but God’s will is done regardless. We are invited to be part of the mission of God, but it is not dependent upon us. (Thanks be to God!) One of the conclusions I would draw out of that theology is that worship is for Christians. The way the Spirit works is not through our mastery of psychological technique, but through the proclamation of the word and the administration of the sacraments. In a paradoxical way, the stranger those are, the more effective they might be. Because there, in church, in word and sacrament, is where the holy touches the unholy and makes it clean. Hiding the holy is just hiding the face of God and lowering the volume on the Spirit. Another form of what Moses did when he put on the veil when he came down the mountain. After Christ the veil has been lifted. I’ll continue this further.
This is from our Children’s Pageant this year. Click on any of the photos to be taken to a slideshow version. If any parents want a snapshot, you know where to contact me.