Rubrics: Maximal and Minimal

I’ve gone on a rubric kick the last week as I contemplated (now preparing for) ministry at Grace Lutheran Church. They are higher church than Redeemer, and so I have some studying and homework to do. For instance, at Grace the Pastors genuflect during the confession, at the Words of Institution etc.. They use a lavabo and incense as well. All things I do not use here.

What’s funny about this is that the Lutheran blogosphere is in a tizzy about rubrics and ceremony even as I am doing this homework and study. They are debating how much and how far and “is it necessary” and all.

What I want to do is learn. We don’t have a good published official ceremony and only the mere suggestion of rubrics in our hymnal and altar books these days. We have a living tradition of mediocrity and minimalism and pragmatism in the LCMS, even while many deplore the traditional ceremony because its “tradition.” What do I mean? I learned conduct of the liturgy through years of watching other pastors while I grew up, pastors who were faithful and genuine, but who themselves had only watched others and made adjustments, who watched others or made adjustments, all without a foundation of what is supposed to happen at this “Mass” which we as Lutherans never abolished.*

On this matter, I think the Orthodox have a better handle and philosophy than modern Lutherans. Orthodox Christians are about the maximum. They worship and pray under the assumption that all is good and more is better. They make adjustments for pastoral reasons, but are taught the most and told how to make allowances. (Of course, I’ve terribly minimized Orthodox theology. Call me irony-man).

This approach is present in Lutheran theology and worship, but is drowned out by modern minimalism. Lutheran theology says all our sins are fully forgiven in the absolution at the beginning of the worship service. But our sins are fully forgiven in the Holy Eucharist as well. Why double up? Why not just forgive them fully once? Because more forgiveness is better. Because our God is not a CPA. He forgives more than we sin. He gives more than we either desire or deserve. God gives all. The maximum. This is our theology when it comes to justification, but strangely absent when it comes to worship and the liturgy. In worship we became minimalist, determining that we don’t need this or that. That such is too catholic, or too redundant, or “not necessary.”

So…for those of you liturgy gurus out there, tell me what I need!

The Rome or Geneva Post by Pastor Peters

Pastor Peters hit another one out of the park a few days ago. Here’s a choice paragraph:

For every parish or Pastor who might be accused of mimicking Rome on Sunday morning, there are fifty who openly borrow from Willow Creek or Saddleback or which ever place or program is in vogue this week.  The damage that this does is not limited only to the particular parish that trades in the sturdy Lutheranism for a flashy modern incarnation of a not so Christian Christianity.  It ripples throughout our church body stealing our unity, raising conflict between brothers in the ministry and parishes that claim the same confession.  It presents a muddled and muddied view of Lutheranism to the world — one that wears so many masks it does not even know who it is anymore.

Be who you are.

St. Cyprian: An Unlikely Saint

I really enjoyed a sermon I recently read by St. Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr, as recorded in The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers (4 Volume Set). While the sermon was included for the the Fourth Sunday in Lent, the sermon itself was a long exhortation on giving alms and the value of alms for our salvation. I thought he must have been one of those Fathers who gave everything away and languished in poverty for the sake of the Gospel.

Not so. And his story is much more complicated than that. He was born into some wealth, and gathered perhaps even more, but at one point only gave a portion to the poor, keeping his Villa and then some. Nevertheless, the poor of Carthage loved him and when he was elected Bishop ~249 AD they supported him, though a number of the clergy did not. Matters grew worse when persecution erupted and Cyprian fled and ministered to the flock through letters and emissaries. While all Bishops preached against pursuing martyrdom, a bishop who actually fled was another matter.

And to make matters worse, when Cyprian returned a year later, he was very strict and impatient with those who had “lapsed” and made sacrifices to other gods and fought against their return to the Church and receiving the Eucharist. More and more began to oppose him until a second persecution arose. This time Cyprian was exiled and then allowed to return to his Villa under house arrest. Finally, he was sentenced to execution and beheaded a martyr.

I think he is my new favorite Saint. Here is one who preached the necessity of giving alms, and indeed, gave a portion of his wealth…but kept his villa, and maybe had a little stinginess of his own in there. Here is one who hypocritically criticized those who lapsed under persecution, for he had fled and was not put to the test himself. He was opposed by many, and perhaps for good reason. None of this paints a very attractive picture of a saint.

What it looks like is a sinful man. It looks a lot like a sinful pastor. Someone who preaches, yet falls into sin himself; someone who points the way to God but stumbles on this or that point too. He’s a pastor like me who makes mistakes. He’s a pastor like all of us, a Christian like all of us. I do not own a villa, but I do not always give to the poor like I should. I have not fled persecution and abandoned my flock, but I have not always spoken up for Christ when I should have and neither have I always been present for my parish and people when I should have.

But in the end, St. Cyprian is that– a Saint, a Marty. Why? Because he was perfect? Because he earned it? No. Because when the blade was held to his neck He proclaimed Christ crucified. Perhaps he was a bad bishop. Perhaps he was a lousy Christian. But he was saved and is honored because of his confession of Christ, because he suffered with Christ. Because the cross came to him and he received it by the grace of God.

Weekend Report

We had a wonderful weekend in Tulsa. We arrived Friday night and had a nice visit with our friends who moved from Enid a few months ago. Saturday held the Winter Guard Competition at Union High School. They have quite an impressive campus–more on par with a small private College than a public high school. Amazing. The Winter Guard competition was fun. Enid HS had probably their best performance ever, and was awarded with First Place in their division–by several points too! All the teams performed we saw performed well and were very entertaining. Saturday evening ended with the awards presentation and burgers at our friend’s house.

Sunday I woke early and attended worship at Grace Ev. Lutheran Church in Tulsa. Another amazing facility! Pastor Tiews conducted the liturgy with grace and reverence and proclaimed a fine sermon. The family joined me for their coffee and fellowship time and then once again we attended Divine Service as a family. I can’t remember the last time we were able to do that! After liturgy, some members of Grace gave us a tour of the facility and then took us to lunch afterward. Our trip ended with a visit at the Tiews home, where Mrs. Tiews gave me a long-missed taste of authentic German hospitality. Yes, such a thing exists, and the Germans entertain graciously. We returned to our friend’s house, packed up and drove home, exhausted from a long weekend.

It’s good to be home again too.

Ceremonies and Their Purpose

Here is an excellent post by Fr. Larry Beane (yes, a Lutheran “Father”–believe it) about our worship “style” or “height” be it High Church or Low Church. There are really too many passages worthy of being a pull quote, but here’s one:

Ceremonies are not about looking pretty, but rather about communicating well and with excellence.  Ultimately, it’s all about charity, humility, and love.  A man who loves his wife will “take pains” in the way he acts around her, treats her, and speaks to her.  Christ took great pains for us on the cross.  And we “take pains” to confess this truth with clarity and in love.

In the final analysis, it is all about God’s grace.

My congregation has grown in ceremonies over the years I have been here, from a relatively low church, Creative Worship format on many, if not most Sundays, to using Divine Service I and III, Holy Communion on Feasts and Festivals (not every Sunday yet), use of chasubles and chanting. But as Fr. Beane writes, it was carried out not for prettiness’ sake, nor for traditionalism, nor for preference, but for the Gospel. The people learned that the liturgy sustains, that behavior follows belief, and belief follows behavior (my translation for lex orandi, lex credendi), That if Christ is present in Word and Sacrament, then we acknowledge Him with reverence and submission, starting with me. I taught them the chasuble was not Roman, nor a vestment of honor, but an apron, a serving garment that I wore to serve them Christ. They were taught chanting does not draw attention to me (or them) but to the words, as a gem is placed in a crown, or a photograph in a frame.

Does everyone at Redeemer know this? No. And most of us cannot put it into words. But this is why we do what we do, and why Lutherans should do what they do.

Go read the article now  and enjoy.

The Call and the Ministry and the Battle

Which place does God want me? I mean seriously…which place does God want me to serve, at Redeemer in Enid, or at Grace in Tulsa? That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? So I should pray and pray and even fast maybe (it is Lent, after all) and figure out where God wants me.

Except it’s not that hard. God has issued a divine call to both places. I still have the divine call to serve Redeemer Lutheran in Enid. And I have the divine call to serve as senior pastor at Grace Lutheran in Tulsa. Both apply. Both are real. Both are divine calls, God’s will expressed through the congregation, through God’s people. He has called me to be in two places at once.

So I have freedom. Freedom to decide where I want to be, and what is good for my family. I don’t have to fret and moan and vision-quest for God’s will.  I don’t have to wring my hands and sweat and fear to make a wrong decision. He’s already revealed it.  God said “yes” to both.

I will have challenges either way. Some I can guess, others I cannot. I will have joys in either place, joys of preaching the pure gospel and seeing its effects on people’s lives and faith and hearts, and joys unknown and undreamed of. Sorrows too, and mistakes as well. Dangers, too, for this job is one fraught with hardships and traps. As St. Macarius says, “The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there (H.43.7).”  The pastoral ministry is one of dragons, of fighting on the front lines–not of a “culture war” perish the thought–but on the front lines of the great spiritual battle we all are facing whether we know it or not, where the slings and arrows of the evil one are hurled our way with unrelenting accuracy and malice (Eph 6:16).

On this battlefield the pastors shield and protect and lay down suppressing fire and hold the line. Some of us get taken out early, while others flee shell-shocked and damaged and mangled. Some of us fight long and hard and never advance a meter, while others run far forward and weaken enemy lines with ease. Yet the call is there and the battle is real, though it is fought with unseen weapons. Not against people. Not against your brother or sister. Not against that dude you always gets in your way. No, they are victims, they are under heavy assault. It is not flesh and blood we war against, but against the powers of this present darkness (Eph 6:12).

We cannot flee from this battle, lest we loose something precious, perhaps even our own soul. The dragons are real, but so are the angels and blessedness, light and Christ. He is here with us. Always. And though the battle rages, the victory is won, the Nazguls flee and the gates of death have been destroyed forever. It is in light of this final victory we fight and pray, knowing that all is won and victory in the end.

Pastor Peters and Policing

Pastor Peters’ blog Pastoral Meanderings is a real gem. He offers the kind of pastoral wisdom that comes from years of experience, but retains the courage and conviction that all too often dies out as years in the pulpit increase.

He posts today about a Roman Catholic priest removed for refusal to pray the Mass according to the rubrics. He does not advocate such policing in the LCMS but raises the point: whatever happened to submitting to one another for the sake of good order?

Go over there and read his blog and add it to your reader. You’ll be enriched because of it.