A birth and a death of a tradition
Back when I was a kid, I used to refer to traditions as Things you do over and over again that don't ultimately have any meaning.
Man, was I stupid.
In each realm I travel in - whether it's church, or youth or school or travel - traditions seem to become more and more important to me.
Almost three years ago, we started a Traditions service at Our Savior (not even the name could be traditional!), a church that prides itself on being the first church in the Missouri Synod to go all-in on contemporary worship back in the late 1990s. The "new" worship service would be based on the blue hymnals that we had lying around. It rose from a desire to meet the needs of a minority of our church that enjoyed worshiping with acoustic instruments and following the Divine Service (so-called). We also thought it would be a good alternative to the contemporary service, and hoped that it would attract others who had left their old Lutheran churches, but preferred to worship liturgically. As a church that wanted to be a hub for other churches, we also hoped that it would provide practice for deacon leaders who might find themselves leading a Lutheran church elsewhere.
After about a year, as we evolved into a worshiping culture, we decided to buy some of the new Lutheran Service Books, which had five different Liturgical Settings and a host of new hymns and ideas. For a traditional church, it was a pretty contemporary book.
While there were four regularly worshiping families (totaling about 15 people per week), the service never caught on to a wider audience, and so our last service will be Aug. 24, 2014, two weeks shy of our third anniversary.
Over the three years, we have developed a leadership from within our community, so that when I was away, I had two able helpers to lead service with even a gentle rise in quality from when I'm there. We have baptized four kids in our little church and provided an opportunity for many to sing some great hymns in our little room.
The reasons to end: The pressure of preaching three times in three hours is trying for any preacher. The extra time will allow both Pastor Brian and myself to accomplish some important ministry that we otherwise could not.
I called our church this week and told them the sad news. They understood why the church had decided to end the service, but it saddened them nevertheless. I know how they feel. I like the world better knowing that there are people singing poetry that have withstood the test of time, who have provided a service of Word and Sacrament (in that order).
I know that I will miss choosing hymns that match up with the church calendar (even though our church does not.) I will miss chanting the kyrie, and singing "This is the Feast," and songs like "Beautiful Savior" and "Holy Holy Holy" and "Earth and All Stars." No, not songs, hymns. There's a difference. I can write a song.
It takes tradition to make a hymn.
Lighten the load
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so the story goes, sent a telegram to 12 prominent men in England. Some were lawyers, bankers, politicians, men of letters and clergymen. The anonymous telegram was the same: “Flee at once. All is discovered!” And the story continues that all 12 men fled the next day and were never seen again. I wouldn’t, because I’d know it would come from Gerod. And I don’t think this would work today. With the sheer juggernaut of information we receive through email from Nigerian princes and email scams, I think it would be hard for us to believe something like that was meant especially for us, and not another clever marketing scheme. One thing is the same then as now, however, and that is there is a place deep inside of us that fears greatly being discovered, that if someone found out what is really inside of us, All would be lost. I will make you this promise: Today’s sermon could save you money. I will guarantee that if you do everything I tell you to do in this 15 minute sermon, you could save 15 percent on your therapy bill. We are in a series called The Road to Recovery, and it’s based on a series of messages written by Rick Warren, the creator of Celebrate Recovery, and each of the letters in Recovery stands for something on that road. So we have R for Realize I’m not God. God is God, and you’re not. Say that. E stands for Earnestly believe that God exists, which is harder than it sounds because if God exists, our behavior, thoughts and actions will change. C stands for Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control, which has a lot of Cs in it. Today, we are in the O of Recovery, which I think is the most important concept of all. O stands for Openly examine and confess my faults to God, to myself, and to someone I trust. This is Rick Warren’s message about guilt and he has three reasons why guilt should be eliminated from your life. He says Guilt destroys your confidence, damages your relationships and keeps us stuck in the past.
I love guilt. I am pro-guilt. I think guilt is one of God’s greatest inventions, next to caramel apple pops and fjords.
Without guilt, we would never know that what we’re doing is wrong, and think about a world like that – a world of billions of people acting like there are no consequences for their actions. If you hate guilt, and want to get rid of it, you’re doing it wrong. There’s good guilt and bad guilt, and bad guilt is called shame and SHAME is awful. The difference between guilt is shame is this: Guilt is feeling bad about something I’ve done. Shame is feeling bad about who I am. Guilt is feeling bad about something that I’ve done. I cut someone off in traffic, I drink too much, I throw an angry beaver at a guy on a scooter, I take God’s name in vain, I’ve done something wrong. I feel bad because of what I did. Shame is feeling bad about who I am, someone I’ve become. The best example is Job who said If I am guilty—woe to me! Even if I am innocent, I cannot lift my head, for I am full of shame and drowned in my affliction. The idea of being drowned in your affliction goes along with what a friend of mine at George Fox named John Church said to me. He is a licensed therapist and he sometimes asks his clients to picture themselves as carrying around a giant shame bucket. Lady came to me – experiencing intense symptoms. night terrors. She would go to bed and have terrors where she was fighting off demons, where there were flames. She videotaped herself, and she was in an all-out battle when she was sleeping. She would never wake up. She was putting herself in hell every night, but at the same time fighting it off. Went to sleep experts, doctors, nobody could help her, so she ended up seeing John. It came down to what was in her shame bucket. She did not ever want to tell John what it was. We have to do this, we have to go there. She had an abortion. She was tricked into it, Later in life, when she learned how a baby grows, she realized that she killed a human life. So shameful for her, permeated every inch of her shame bucket. she deserved to go to hell, penetrated to her core, that she would get the punishment she deserved every night. She was a murderer. As we got that out of her shame bucket, that all went away. She was able to forgive herself, think about it correctly, to live in forgiveness. No more night terrors. Completely different woman, because she was able to relieve herself through her shameful experience. Each time you do something wrong, you feel guilty – or at least you should. That’s why God placed the Holy Spirit inside each of us, to give us a conscience to tell us that what we’ve done is wrong. When your conscience grabs you, you confess your sin, receive God’s forgiveness and move on. Shame is different from guilt, and it wears many different disguises. I’m ugly. I’m a drunk. I’m lazy. I’m disgusting. I’m greedy. How you got to that place of shame is often by unresolved guilt about things you’ve done, or who you think you’re supposed to be.
The best actress Oscar this year went to not only the best actress, but pretty much the most beautiful woman on the planet, Lupita Nyong’o. Can you imagine this person ever thinking she was anything but pretty?
but when she was a little girl, she used to pray to God to make her skin lighter so that she could become beautiful. When she finally saw a dark-skinned model, she said, “ It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy.” Those are words from the shame bucket there. If we believe we are shameful creatures, inadequate children of God, it makes it so much easier to wallow in our shame bucket, so we keep on doing the things we hate, and hating the person we’ve become.
Because once what you do becomes who you are, you have moved from guilt to shame, and then you have to call my friend John at $110 per hour, because shame is not easily removed. So how do we avoid carrying around a full shame bucket? Let’s take the five steps to forgiveness. (applause) Take a personal moral inventory The guiding verse here is: Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts; see if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24
Earl is kind of a loser, who happens to win the lottery, but then he got hit by a car. While he was in the hospital, his wife divorced him and lay there in despair until he learned about karma: if you do good things, good things will happen to you, and if you do bad things, bad things happen to you. His life was full of bad things, and so in order to have a good life, he started doing good things. And the first thing he did was make a list of every bad thing he’d ever done. like. 73 Always took a penny, never left a penny 5 Picked my nose in public 27 Made fun of people with accents. 35 Stole an organ from a church. 84 Faked death to break up with girl 116 Rolled John Fenster down a hill in a porta-potty Earl made a great start, because he honestly looked at himself and came up with a list of things he’d done wrong. And he took the next important step – he accepted responsibility for what he did. And then he did an even harder thing – he made up for what he did the best he could. Some things were impossible to directly make up for – you can’t unpick your nose in public, for example – that would be even grosser. But he returned the organ to the church, and he gave Joy a fabulous new wedding. He taught English as a second language. This actually makes sense to society. Karma is kind of a divine justice for people of the world – it’s so simple, it makes sense. The idea of crossing things off a list and finally being good is very attractive. But Christians have a better way, because we don’t cross things off the list – we put the list on the cross. Hear the gospel – every wrong thing you’ve ever done, every wrong thing you’ll ever do is laid at the foot of the cross and was buried with Christ. He wiped your sheet clean. You are forgiven of all your sins. **Earl’s motto was “The Secret to Life is Fixing all the Bad Things You’ve Done.” You can never do that, no matter how long you live, and no matter how short your list, but Christ did it for you. Christ has fixed all the bad things you’ve done. We can learn from Earl for a couple of reasons though, and one is the idea of restitution. When it is within your power and it causes no harm to the other, please make up for what you’ve done. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Earl did the first two steps, which is to take a moral inventory and then he accepts responsibility for his faults, and that’s our next fill-in the blank: Accept responsibility for my faults. This can be even harder than the first step. You can make a list of all your sins, but accepting responsibility for them is the difference between being God’s superstar and hell’s worst sinner.
What is the worst sin of all time?
a) committing adultery, murdering the husband and then covering it up
b) betraying the messiah to death
c) denying you know the messiah to save your own skin?
d) b and c
How is it that the sin of Judas and the sin of Peter are almost identical, but one person was led to despair and suicide while the other was led to despair, confession, restoration and ultimately, whose confession of Christ as lord is the rock upon which all Christian churches are built? Judas ultimately could not accept responsibility for his faults, could not believe in a God who could forgive him for betraying his only begotten son. Peter did take responsibility for his denial of the Messiah, and Jesus took special care in restoring him, welcoming him back to the fold. How could a very similar sin lead to two completely different outcomes? The answer might actually be in letter A. When David committed adultery, plotted Uriah’s murder and cover-up, he was confronted by a prophet of the Lord. When Nathan told David that he was the man, David immediately responded, with I have sinned against the Lord. When you accept responsibility for your sin, you are proclaiming your faith in a loving and forgiving God.We know the consequence for our sin is death, but not eternal death, because we were buried with Christ and raised with Christ through the waters of baptism, which now saves us. Ultimately, accepting responsibility for your sin is an act of faith, and leads directly to the next step on the path to forgiveness: This has to do with our key bible passage for today, but I’d like to expand it a little more. I don’t think John could be say this any stronger : ** if you think you don’t sin, you’re not only fooling yourself, you’re calling God a liar, because God knows what’s in each one of us, and it is sin. But if that sweeping, true conviction drives us to despair, the next sentence is sweet relief: If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness/ That’s God’s part – to forgive. Our part is to admit our sin and ask for forgiveness. Both sides should be happy with the equation. That’s the end of it, really. This could be called “The Three Steps of Forgiveness,” because most of the sins I commit are between God and me. The normal guilt cycle we talked of earlier, of committing the sin, admitting the sin, confessing the sin, receiving forgiveness – most of that can all happen between you and God. But there are those sins, the ones that truly bother us, whether or not anyone has been directly harmed or not, and for this stage, I Admit my fault to another person. The guiding verse here is James 5:16 - Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. In Luther’s small catechism, on the section about confession, we read, “Before God, we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer; but before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts.” To which you might respond, “wait, what now?” We are supposed to confess our sins to our pastor. Out loud. To his face. On a regular basis. This could be the scene in front of Pastor Brian’s house every Saturday night. Very brief Lutheran history lesson. In the 16th century, when Martin Luther broke off from the Catholic church, one dispute was over whether private personal confession should be kept as a sacrament in the new Lutheran Church. Catholics and Protestants agreed that baptism and communion should be retained, but Luther said the other five – last rites, marriage, ordination, confirmation and confession – did not rise to the level of Sacrament, which should only be kept for the ones that give the forgiveness of sins and have an earthly element attached to it. But the man who wrote the Augsburg Confession says that the Lutheran church should have three sacraments. Philip Melanchton argued that the Lutheran church should keep confession as a sacrament, Luther said no, and so we only have the two. Luther never intended for Lutherans to stop going to private confession. He is famously quoted as saying, “When I urge you to go to Confession, I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian.” So there are some Lutherans, such as myself, who want to offer private confession as one of the options in a 21st Century Lutheran church. When we think of confession, we think of the sweaty sinner in the confession booth opening up the screen, father forgive me, it’s been 30 years since my last confession… But it doesn’t have to be that, and to show you how it’s done, I’m going to ask Elder Dan Pielak to come up and do a quick run through.
In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. One of my favorite parts of regular church is when Pastor Brian creates a unique confession each week. I don’t know if you appreciate what he goes through to try to convict you of your sins each week, but it’s not for the amateur. He and I and many of you were raised with the Lutheran confession of sins “I have sinned against you in thought word and deed by what we have done and what we have left undone..” etc. And there is value in that confession as well, as that time can be taken to consider our unworthiness before God. But as for impact. This is it. Dan just spoke to me something from his list and I looked him in the eye and proclaimed his forgiveness before God. And God has given you that right to forgive sins when a brother or sister has confessed to you. Jesus said to his disciples, ** “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone their sin, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” In the Lutheran hymnal they have a form of private personal confession and it contains a key line in it. After forgiving the sinners sins, you say to him or her, “Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?” And the answer must always be, “Yes.” Do you believe that? Good. Because that leads to our last step, **Accept God’s forgiveness and forgive myself. This too, requires faith, and for some people who love to live in their shame bucket, this is the hardest part. You mean God loves and has forgiven me? How can God love such a terrible person? Paul writes in Romans: For all – how many? all! – have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all – how many? all! – are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Let’s read the first part of our key bible passage: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. Everything we’ve been talking about this morning has been about light and dark – the darkness of guilt leads to the lightness of forgiveness; the darkness of sin was blown away by the light of Easter. If we claim to be a follower of Christ, we are followers of the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” My challenge for you is to take the lid off that shame bucket and let the light of Jesus Christ burst it wide open. I want you to take a moral inventory, to honestly sit down and take stock of who you are, and what you’ve done. And once you’ve done that accept responsibility for what you’ve done wrong – don’t blame anyone else for what you’ve done, but take responsibility for the sins you’ve committed. If this sin is still bothering you, if you can’t shake it, confess your sin to another person. You don’t have to tell everybody, but tell somebody, so that you can hear the word of forgiveness. And finally, receive God’s forgiveness and above all, forgive yourself, or else it’s all for nothing. And that’s how you can save 15 percent on your therapy bill. God in heaven, Satan would like nothing better than to have us live in our shame bucket. We know that we will sin, we know that we will stray, we know that we are estranged from you when we do not follow your path. Help get us back on the right path by facing the facts about our life, confessing our sin and receiving your forgiveness. And Father, we thank you for sending your son as Redeemer and your Holy Spirit as our sanctifier. But today we are bold to pray for someone to come into our lives who can serve as our confessor, a trusted Christian friend from whom we can hear the words, “You are forgiven.” In your son’s holy name we pray,
You're walking down a rainy street and all of a sudden, you use your umbrella as a prop and begin singin' in the rain.
You're crucified; your family and friends are singing what a superstar you are.
You're on a march for segregation in Baltimore. Queen Latifah leads the way and you're perfectly choreographed in your song and dance.
You're a nun. You dance on the hills in Austria singing sounds that make music.
You're in a gang in New York. You meet your rival gang and have a dancin' and singin' battle.
And these are some of my favorite musicals.
So when I saw Distant Voices, Still Lives
this week, I had to redefine what I mean by favorite musical, because this was a realistic musical.
One of the few times I had this same feeling was watching Truly, Madly Deeply when Alan Rickman and Juliette Stephenson started singing in their joyous reunion around their apartment, playing whatever instrument they could find.
But this film featured dozens of songs sung in pub or at home or at a wedding, naturally. These are not trained Broadway musicians, they're just Brits who love to sing a cappella when the spirit moves, whether drunk with joy or drunk with sorrow.
Angela Walsh's version of "I Wanna Be Around" sung by a wife who realized that her husband was not so far from her abusive father, is heart-wrenching. That was a weeper, but most of the songs are pub friendly and raucous, like Beer Barrel Polka.
I have begun to appreciate the classic musical, realizing that camp and un-realistic staging is just part of the genre. But this film tops them all for its realistic take on growing up in post-war Britain. Outstanding.