It is easy to fit in.
Not that it is actually easy to fit in, but it is easier than you might think. You see, there is a flow in the world, in reality, a direction that things are going in, a set of notions well on their way to becoming pre-conceived notions for future generations. It is a process that has been going on since the very beginning, since the first thing happened twice and people began to look for it happening again.
Rockets flying to the moon, carrying untold tons of metal and plastic, future space garbage to be sure, out of our atmosphere used to be the kind of thing you’d get out of school to watch, or at least have come kind of assembly so people could witness this miracle. They don’t even televise them anymore, except on the NASA channel, you wouldn’t happen to know which one that is on your cable dial, would you? They’ve become ordinary, common enough that we don’t notice or maybe they’ve just lost the luster of something new and have become old hat.
Something happens, then it happens again and then it happens often enough that the people who are born, well they’re not aware of a time when it didn’t happen, it has become tradition, or at least a habit, and we don’t think about it any more.
People in church circles worried what would happen when the practice of celebrating Communion went from being a several-times-a-year thing to a monthly thing, then to a weekly thing.
They worried that if it happened all the time, then people would forget how special it is, that it would become so common that it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, wouldn’t make a ripple in the waters of people’s lives.
I guess they just didn’t trust themselves to teach communion well, to understand how to enact it as a ritual, to empower it as a gift of grace, which is weird since that is what they went to school to do.
The kids in our church today will grow up in a world where communion is celebrated each week; where the transmission of God’s grace to us through the sacraments is free-flowing and expresses God’s abundant love.
They will also grow up never knowing how to use a card catalog in the library, or how anyone ever had an idea on the way home from school but had to wait until they got home before they could call someone and let them know about it.
Their pre-conceived notions are different from ours and their children’s will be different from theirs because the world will have changed and different things will be commonplace and new things will be special and fresh.
If you want to fit in, just adopt whatever comes down the pike, whatever leaps fully formed from the minds of the Silicon Valley geniuses. For the people with different pre-conceived notions than mine, the phrase “down the pike” comes from a time when new ideas and new things had to arrive in your town via the highway and not the internet or the television; yes, there was once a time when new things appeared in person without even being advertised.
Fitting in is just as easy as doing what everyone else is doing and worrying, like everyone else, if you are a day late, a little stale, maybe you still have a Myspace page?
But fitting in is also how you become commonplace. Remember the NASA launches? Doing the same things as everyone else, hewing so close to tradition that you lose sight of the horizon, these are surefire ways to anchor yourself in a place in space and time that is unmoving and unmoved, the knock on so many churches for the longest time was that they were not moving with the times, that they were too tradition bound.
Churches were not fitting in.
With the best of intentions, of course, trying to stake a claim that this or that was the “right way” to worship, to preach, to practice your faith
It seems like a bad set of choices, either go with the flow and become commonplace and ordinary, or stand your ground and become antiquated and passé, yet those were the choices set before the church in the seventies and eighties, which is why, I should think, you see so many churches these days that look little different from Amway meetings, or theater productions and so many other churches that look like tombs.
On the one side there is what Jaroslav Pelikan said, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living, and it is traditionalism that gives tradition a bad name.” Do we stay stuck or do we try new things? Do we worship the traditions of our forefathers and foremothers or do we worship Jesus?
The flip side is no better; going with the flow is easy but is it prophetic? Jim Hightower wrote a book once titled “Swim against the current, even a dead fish can go with the flow” and that is just as true as the previous quote and just as damning.
How much of the world outside do you really want intruding into the worship of the church?
I was at a board meeting for Mount Cross yesterday and one of the other pastors was mentioning the worries that go with modern worship and she said she worried “if the PowerPoint presentation was going to load” since at her church they don’t have hymnals anymore.
Yeah, technology makes things look more like the entertainments and advertisements of the outside world, but it also leaves you vulnerable, and more than that, somehow weaker, susceptible to more newer and fresher kinds of failure, like suddenly being unable to sing hymns because the power went out and your projector is off.
(Seriously? Hamstrung because your technology has made you less adaptable, less able to deal with problems or shortcomings? I thought faith was meant to strengthen you?)
Plus, I didn’t want to be the one to tell her, but the new newfangled worship mode is to ditch PowerPoint altogether and to program everything into Flash presentations, almost like a seamless movie playing in the background.
Going with the flow is a tough road sometimes it would seem.
So if we are to avoid the pitfalls of sticking so close to our traditions that they block our sight of the rest of the world and also avoid the trap of constantly chasing the newest, the most hip, the freshest, staying on top of which social media outlets we ought to use, which worship style we ought to employ and constantly chasing and changing and always spending more and more. If we are to avoid getting trapped in either of those two paths then we’d better decide what it is we will stake our faith, our future and our church on.
I’m just spitballing here, but how about Jesus?
I know, I know every church says that Jesus is their focus but sometimes it is hard for me to tell, what with all of the stuff they’ve wrapped Him in, the bands and the rituals and the banners and the screens and the PowerPoint presentations and the incense and all the rest. Whether it be glitzy and modern or staid and stuffy, if the stuff ever becomes more important than the Christ, if the wrapping is ever more valuable than the package, then the church is lost.
If “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” If that is what we confess then we’d better start there, we’d better be sure that what we are about and who we claim to be and what we scream into the void of hopelessness and pain is rooted in the Christ. I don’t see how that can fail us.
Because everything that we take for granted today, every ritual, rite, piece of liturgy, everything that we anoint with the label “tradition” happened for the very first time once.
Every new thing, every flashy “advance” in “worship technology” also happened for the first time once, just way more recently.
Just because it has been around for centuries doesn’t mean that it conveys Christ to a modern audience, nor does it mean that it is necessarily stale or no longer relevant. On the flip side, just because it is new does not mean that it is shallow or trite nor does it mean that its newness is the only thing it needs to recommend itself to you.
Old or new, traditional or contemporary are only categories that we put on the wrapping we adorn the Christ child with and, honestly, given how precious the package, they ought to be as transparent as possible.
They ought to reflect Christ as well.
A new year dawns and we begin as we always do, in the beginning. As we make our journey through the year, through the church calendar let us make ourselves aware of the things that we do, inside of the church and outside of it, and whether or not they are rooted in our faith, whether or not they reflect the glory of God.
Especially inside the church, however, we ought to learn not to take anything for granted, even things we have done a thousand, thousand times, like saying the Lord’s Prayer or reciting the creed, or confessing our Sins.
Weigh it all, measure it against the witness of your faith in Christ and see if what you invest in it, how that investment bears fruit in your life, see if that is founded solidly on Christ and if so, then do it with gusto and if not, then maybe we should talk, we can explore the meanings of the worship, the Kyrie and the Sanctus and the other Latin words we sometimes use that obscure what we mean.
Kyrie – Lord, is our confession that Christ is Lord and we are not, that His mercy is what sets us free and not our works and so we ask, God have mercy, Christ have mercy, God have mercy. Sanctus is the moment when we ask that holiness might be present in our sacrament of the table, that Christ might be present in wine and in bread and that we might taste of that holiness, Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus; Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord.
”Was Christum treibt” was Luther’s litmus test for what was important, what was worthy of praise and adoration. What carries Christ. In the beginning was the Word, from then on, everything that carries the Word is holy and worthy of us, new or old, tried and true or just down the pike and will reflect of the glory of God and the fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ.
You can truly do anything building on such a foundation. What will we build together in the New Year? Whatever it is, let’s try and make sure that the wrapping is true to the package, that the form doesn’t overshadow the Word, that everything that we do carries Christ.
Then In the beginning will meet our today and ensure a blessed tomorrow.