This year, March is the month of Ash Wednesday. As I write this we are looking forward to the "Gesimas", Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. The largest part of the Synod around us, and the church in general, I suspect, is celebrating the modern, longer season of Epiphany - eight weeks long this year, as long as it can get. They still have Transfiguration Sunday ahead, which we just celebrated last Sunday. This place in the church year is a special place in my mind, and this year it brings a mixture of emotions. The one that struck me as I sat down to write my article was sorrow over how the Church Year we have all known is soon to be passing into history, and we must say "good -bye".
Fewer and fewer of us still follow that historic church year, although there are some young stuck-in-the-mud's who are turning back to it because they recognize its value and historic place in the Church. But, the Gesima's are going, slowly but surely, just like our beloved hymnal and the liturgies it contains. Forms of those liturgies are still being used widely, but the old "Anglican Stomp" (as the 'salesmen' for Lutheran Worship used to call the music of TLH's liturgies) is quickly receding as is that way of worship. My high-church friends tell me that the liturgy as I have known it is but a blip in history and an aberration. That may be, particularly for the music forms, (I don't know) but it is the aberration I grew up with and learned to love as the shape and sound of the worship of my Lord and of my faith. Parish after parish is turning away from the TLH and, inevitably, one day it will be simply a museum piece.
Time Marches On. The historic lectionary, used by our Fathers back to the time of Luther (and beyond), is also being supplanted by those three-year series. They were created at first by the ecumenical movement people who wanted all of the Christian churches - so called - to use the same lessons every week and so show us that there is 'really no difference between the denominations' so we could all get together, and hold hands, and forget all that doctrine-stuff that divides us and be one big happy family. Happily, very few were deceived by that ruse, and the "experts" in our Synod's Commission on Worship revised those series so that even if we do not have the historic lectionary any longer, we don't have the same three-year series the rest of the world is using either!
The point is, everything is changing and the old things are quickly passing away. That is inevitable, I guess. It is just a sorrow. But it reflects a theological truth and can teach us something of value even if we don't enjoy watching it happen. Those wonderful old things are passing away, and among those old things, we must count ourselves. We are passing away too. We may even beat the Gesima's into history! I rejoice that I am not yet forced to surrender the liturgies I love and the historic lectionary and the familiar old hymns to the modern spirit of innovation, as so many in our churches have been forced to do.
Change is the hallmark of the world we live in. Some change is even good. In the faith, however, change is not usually a positive thing. Truth never changes, and when we change our truths, we are running the risk of losing touch with the faith once delivered to the saints. Unfortunately, we can also run that risk by uncritically refusing any and all change. As the world changes about us, we have to make some changes to keep our place in the world and to hold onto what we already have.
That sounds so strange - you have to move to stay in the same place - but it can be true. It helps to think of the world as floating on the stream of time. If you want to hold your place in a river, you have to move against the current, or you just drift away. In this world, language and customs and the conceptual framework of the culture around you is always changing, moving like a stream, and if you don't move against the current, constantly adjusting yourself to keep your place, so to speak, you will drift away from where you think you are and where you want to be just as surely as you would in a boat on a river.
Think about the changes in technology around you. They make a good marker for the flow of change. Our cars have changed. Our telephones have changed. Our televisions have changed. How we approach most everything we do in daily life has changed along with the technologies we use to do them. We have, for example, gone from party lines to individual phones for each person, and they are not connected to a place, but to a person now. Pay phones are almost a thing of the past. Telephones that are simply telephones are a novelty today. Many people have done away with home phones as redundant and unnecessary expenses. I didn't want a cell-phone at first. I avoided getting one. Now I cannot imagine what I would do without it, and I worry about how I am going to contact people when I leave my phone at home.
Computers are another example of how technology has changed our lives. I know very few people who don't have a computer. Some people who like to think that they don't need a computer would be amazed at how many computers they actually use - in their cars, in their appliances, banking, and shopping. They simply have avoided the step of owning a personal computer or learning how to use one, and limited their options in a number of ways by doing so. Newspapers are going out of style, books are following quickly. It will not be long before the Post Office becomes an expensive luxury, with most people using the internet and email for their mail, for their news, for their banking and shopping. It will become an expensive luxury not to have a computer soon. There are almost as many people who will read this newsletter article from a computer as those who read it by mail or by a printed copy that we provide.
With life changing so radically - and I have just touched on a few technological changes in our modern world, does it seem realistic to expect that church and worship and the ways we exercise our faith will remain unchanged? People are already looking to podcasts for Bible studies, and even my sermons are on the internet, both in print and in sound, so some things have changed to a degree already. But as things change, we have to approach change with our eyes wide open and shape how change effects what we do and what we believe, teach, and confess.
In point of fact, what we believe, teach, and confess ought not to change, even while the vehicle for sharing the faith or learning it is undergoing certain unavoidable changes. The more things change, they say, the more things stay the same. Mankind doesn't change. Sin continues to dog our steps. We continue to face frustrations, sorrows, loneliness, fear, and so forth. We still need the Gospel, and we still need the gifts of God through Word and Sacrament, and we still need - even though some may have stopped feeling the desire for - the fellowship of the saints. Just as the Church in every age gone by has had to figure out how to be church and do church in the face of their society and their culture and their technology, we have to figure it out for our age and time. The challenge of our time is the nature and the speed of the outward changes, while we meet the same old needs of the inner man and inner realities.
We also have to confront changes in language and the ways our technological evolution has shaped the ways we approach information and other people, and pull all of those things together into being a congregation and doing worship and fellowship. Of course, we don't have to. We are just seventeen people as a congregation. We can keep going as we have been, and do things as we have always done them until we are all gone. It might be easier if we did.
But the truth is that we are not just seventeen people. The congregation is somewhat larger than those whose names appear on our rolls. There are several who support our congregation with their gifts, and read and listen to the sermons, and read our newsletters who cannot gather on Sunday with us because they live too far away - by hundreds of miles. There are others who share our sermons and / or our newsletters but don't share in supporting our work in the Gospel. They are part of our congregation, and some of them don't even live on the same continent with us. I only know about them for sure because they write and say "thank-you" once in a while, or when something touches them in specific ways.
We have these realities to keep in mind, too. They are part of the work God has given us to do, and some of them share in the doing of that work as well. It would be 'meet, right, and salutary' if we could conceive of how to better serve the whole congregation, and serve the needs of the widespread and diverse group of people who choose to participate with us in the gifts of God in the Gospel. Doing that, however, may involve changes that we cannot even foresee at this moment.
For those of you who might feel like part of this work in the Gospel that we call a congregation here, but are not identified yet as members of this congregation, we invite you to make yourself known to us. We can work together better when we know that we are working together and sharing. We can imagine how to be the people of God together better if we know where you are and who you are and what needs you have that we could better meet. Contact information is printed on the calendar, and, alternately, is available on the internet on sites you may use to follow our newsletters and sermons. We encourage you to make yourself known. For friends and relatives who get this in the mail, we already know who you are!
Among the changes that we cannot make, are changes in doctrine. That is all God-given, and we cannot let go of anything God has spoken to us. We can look for better ways for sharing it with people who are caught up in our changing world, but we have no desire to see a single 'jot or tittle' lost or altered. We also do not want to lose the wonderful fellowship we have when we gather for worship. Our age prizes individuality and independence, but the Church prizes our mutual love and support for one another. As our existence is atomized by the computer and cellphone and social relations devolve to electronic social media for so many, we know we need the precious face-to-face time of the congregation and the worship service. We delight in not just the familiarity of the liturgy, but in its commonality. We share it. We know it and one another and are encouraged and strengthened by the sharing together of our faith and confession.
But these are things that we have to fight to hang onto. The world around us is trying to pull it away, and the church around us is all too willing to set it aside and move on to whatever is next. Some change will be needed, but some will not be acceptable. Some may be unavoidable, even if we do not want it. Which is why we have to be saying goodbye to things we would rather not lose. Before we let go of anything, however, we must be sure that we are not losing something precious and good and wholesome. So, among the things we may need to say goodbye to is the world around us.
We will stand out. We will be the ones who hung on to the service even when technology and society offered us a different vision for being church or doing church. We need our Bibles - the electronic ones are convenient and useful, but the paper ones work even when the power is out, and no one can mess with what the words actually say, once they are printed in hardcopy. We need our gathering together. Nothing can replace the presence of God with "skin on" that our heavenly Father has given us in the church, for you are the presence of Christ in this world for me, and, hopefully, I am His presence for you. We need the together time for Communion. It is impossible to participate together in (koinonia) anything if we are not together. Facebook just cannot suffice here (although Facebook has a place)!
So, we have a balancing act to do. We have to say goodbye to anything that stands in the way of the Gospel - whether that means saying goodbye to something old and familiar, but not necessary or necessarily useful in our changing age, or saying goodbye to the new and the modern and the with-it and accepted because it stands as a threat to the church and to our spiritual health. It also means that we have to face saying goodbye, at least for a time, to one another, as our time of departure from this life approaches. The changes of this life keep forcing that reality before us too. It makes sense to prepare for that goodbye too.
But that is one goodbye we can welcome. We can welcome it because it isn't permanent. It is only until the Lord returns and raises us up again. Frankly, that brief goodbye is one we should look forward toward. It means no more of the troubles of life, and it means the fullness of the experience of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Time marches on, and this month it is marching us into Lent where we will celebrate and solemnly observe the crushing reality of our sins and the overwhelming reality and depth of the love of God for us. So, hello, Lent, and goodbye worldly comfort and ease. Don't you just hate saying goodbye?
Yours in the Lord,
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