The 2007 convention of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is history now. It is sad history, and it doesn't portend a bright future for the church body that I grew up in and toward which I am warmly affectioned in spite of myself. I read the results of the votes taken as the Synod turning away from the sort of Lutherans I believe myself to be for something else. It is depressing, really.
We are in the doldrums of summer. The heat is coming on, delightfully late this year, but coming on none-the-less. There are no movies out there that I want to see, in particular. The last Harry Potter book is out, and read already by that fictional series' most ardent fans. It looks like we have weeks and weeks of weeks and weeks ahead with no real excitement to look forward to. I am sure that something will come up, but I don't what, and the next weeks or months seem to be promising an exercise in doing the same stuff over and over again.
Something about that sort of forecast makes something in me, and probably in others as well, want to shake things up, find some excitement, or just cut loose somehow. We modern Americans generally like a little drama in our lives. But this, the calm, the quiet, the unthreatening and unexciting, is what the Christian life is about. At least much of the time.
Someone said that 'Character' is how you handle yourself when no one is looking. I think that the same can be said for the Christian faith, or at least for Christian Character. The big choices are often the easiest. It is the little stuff that will derail you. Christian living and morality requires consistently doing that which is right and good, even when it makes no difference to anyone else at all, and may not even seem to make any difference to you at the moment. The most significant times in your life as God's child, then, may well be the times when there is no drama.
That would be true because the times when there is no drama are the times we find difficulty focusing on what we are doing. Nothing is happening, so to speak, so why would it require our attention? Pain causes us to seek relief. Trouble brings us to our knees to pray. Monotony? The everyday, ordinariness of life? That sets some of us to imagining, and others to dreaming and desiring, and still others to creating mischief just for the sake of a little drama in our lives. People go on vacation to escape the ordinary, not the exceptional.
Life without drama gives us breathing space to recuperate from the times when we have too much drama. It can be used, by the child of God, for rest, prayer, reflection, and study in order to be prepared when the next great drama in our lives springs up. The pains and challenges of life often leave us with questions, and always with a sense of what we would have liked to know (or possess) when we faced the challenges of this or that situation. The times that do not challenge us - the moments or days or weeks without drama - offer us the opportunity to answer those questions, learn the stuff we found that we were deficient in, or equip ourselves with that which we had wished we were equipped when the drama of life swept us up last.
If there is nothing else to occupy us, we could at the very least memorize a Bible passage or two, or perhaps commit to memory the verses of a hymn that cheered us, or impressed us, or comforted our anxiety when life pressed just a little too closely in times passed. Ah! But memory work is for children, right?
Wrong. Children memorize more easily, and retain better than adults, and lots better than older adults - but memorizing is always good for us. Once memorized, a hymn or a precious passage of Scripture is not forgotten entirely. We may lose access to it, but God does not. When we next find ourselves in the need of the words, the Holy Spirit knows where our mind filed them away. He can call them forth, to our amazement, to arm us or to comfort us at just the right time. What we do not put in, we cannot expect the Holy Spirit to call back out. I am often amazed at how I can be teaching on a topic in Bible Class, and out of my memory pops just the right things, thing I haven't heard of or thought about for years or even decades. This isn't so reliable that I can forego preparation for teaching a class, and expect everything I need to just spring into my consciousness, but time and again, I have the delightful surprise of fact 'A' or illustration 'B' dropping into my lap at just the right moment for its use.
The challenge of those times of life without drama is that we like drama, and we don't like to be without it. We may not enjoy the sorts of drama that fill our lives - angry neighbors, children finding sorrows and troubles and sharing them with us (but not allowing us to do anything effective to help them or protect them), appliances breaking down or automobiles failing us at crucial moments, and such like - but there is so much busy-ness and drama in our lives that we become accustomed to the pain and find the quiet times hard to deal with.
Human life throughout the ages has tended to be without much drama for long periods of time. A century ago, most people lived on farms. Life was made up of hard work and very little money. They didn't have radio and television to distract them. They didn't have telephones and computers to keep them entertained. They had work, and chores, and whatever entertainment they could rustle up for themselves. That was why church was a big deal in their lives, they got together with other people! Barn dances were a highlight because it was a social outing. Communities had band-shells and big festivals with parades and picnics to add some drama to their otherwise humdrum, work-a-day lives.
Most people alive at that time - pretty much any time prior to 1900 - thought that their lives were pretty good, because they did not expect anything else. There were a few who couldn't take the slow pace, and they would run off to the circus, or go to the big city only to discover that life was pretty much the same sort of thing, just under different conditions of labor, and different ways of handling the same, old same-old. Some went for the theater, considered a disreputable occupation for good reasons, back then. Some went into crime - it was filled with drama, although usually of the most painful sort. Generally, however, they had to find a way to fill great gobs of time that had no drama. They did it with hobbies, studies, often elaborate courtesies, and prayer.
We have become accustomed to a much faster pace of life, and so we are more often intolerant of a lack of drama. We often say we want things to slow down, but when they do, we get antsy. The child of God is no less susceptible to this condition than anyone else. Our response to it, however, should be different than that of the rest of society around us. We are different, after all. We have - or should have - a different perspective on life. We have forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. That changes things.
Forgiveness deals with sin. We must recognize sin, and confess it, and repent - turn away from it. Our lives are spent, then, in pursuit of holiness in our behavior. We want to be rid of sin and free from its domination in our lives and our words and our thoughts. We want to treat others according to the law of love for the neighbor, not because they deserve it, but because it is fitting for us and pleasing to God who has forgiven us all our sins. We want to live out the reality of God's gift of righteousness which is ours by the justification which we have through Jesus Christ. It doesn't earn us anything, it is just "meet, right, and salutary" - appropriate, proper, and beneficial for the child of God.
Possessing eternal life alters the way one looks at sickness, and risk, and death. We cannot be frightened by the approach of death if we believe that we have the cure, by grace through faith. Illness takes on a different character for those who cannot be destroyed by it. It doesn't become more enjoyable, but it is seen as serving some other purpose than merely a threat to our lives. Our task in illness, then, is to find the purpose or meaning, or opportunity, of sickness, particularly of serious illness. One thing for certain, we cannot be frightened away from what we know we should be doing by the risk it threatens us with, if we know we have everlasting life already all sewn up.
When we understand and believe that we have salvation, we can then perceive that we really have everything that we need, and our lives become more about making sure others have what they need, too. It is not about accumulating the most 'stuff', because 'he who dies with the most toys' does not win, he is just dead. He who dies possessing the gift of salvation is not dead at all, and even the unfortunate stillness of his or her body is only a temporary condition, to be remedied by Jesus on the day of the resurrection of all flesh. What a delightful gift to give to someone else!
Times without drama in our lives are times to study, listen to the Word of God, and rebuild and refresh for the battle. The old, evil foe finds those times a fertile time for planting strange ideas and giving root to temptations among those who find the quiet times empty and boring, and chafe under the lack of drama, and yearn for something to distract them from being alone with themselves. Life without drama gives us time for reflection, soul-searching, and repentance and renewal in the Word and in prayer. Often, our lack of doing just that is like those "to do's" that we have waiting for a quiet day. They wait because we really don't want to do them for one reason or another. Prayer and Bible Study and self-examination often wait in our "to do" list because we really don't feel the desire to do them, either - for one reason or another.
The battle is being fought just as hard during the quiet times of our lives as it is in the midst of excitement or sorrow or pain. It is the time when you answer the question character, so to speak. You face what it means to be a Christian - a member of the body of Christ - when no one is looking. What do you do with all that 'quiet time'? When you hunger for a little drama to get things back up to the speed you are accustomed to, what sort of activity do you use to get the drama back? Is it prayer? Is it Bible Study or self-examination? Do you look for the opening to confess Christ to a family member, neighbor or friend?
The truth is that you do not need to stir things up. Things have a way of getting all stirred up themselves. The summer doldrums pass - if you are lucky enough to have a summer slow-down. The best way to approach the life without drama is to confess and believe that you are right where God has placed you. If you have time, you need the time. You don't need to fill it with T.V. or an extra shopping trip, although there is no law against it. You can fill it with prayer for friends, family, or even your church. You can use the time to read that good book (presumably about the faith, somehow) that your pastor has recommended, and if he hasn't recommended one recently, ask him. You could even fill the time by sharing your time with someone in the congregation, and strengthening the bonds of love in the fellowship of the saints.
You might even want to pause to thank God for those rare times when you have life without drama!
Yours in the Lord,
These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due.
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.
Send Pastor Robin Fish an email.