21 June 2010

On Worship and "Issues"

I really try not to engage in church schadenfreude, as it's not particularly polite. Brother Martin might even argue it's a violation of the 8th Commandment. Whatever - today I'm engaging in it just a little bit because of this. Suffice it to say that if you're dumb enough to publicly state "God's will" endorsing your own interpretation of what to do and where to go, some of us will find a lot of humor watching it blow up in your face.

The comments led me to pondering how to be healthier in dealing with issues that can be divisive. One commenter at the Pretty Good Lutherans story mentioned that at her church, an officer of the congregation was allowed to state his/her "side" on an issue during worship, which to me seemed a gross violation of the way to go about being the church together, regardless of the issue/interpretation at hand.

It comes down to this: whatever our differences may be, they all pale, dramatically, in comparison to the duty and joy of worshiping God together. One of the primary responsibilities I have as pastor to a community of faith is to ensure that whatever the issues, whatever our differences may be, we are first and foremost a band of sinners called and gathered by the Holy Spirit to praise, thank, serve and obey God - together. If we can't worship together, can we really expect to do anything else together?

I recently had the opportunity to worship with one of the primary movers and shakers in The Unbloggableness. Seeing that person walk into the room and sit down made me instantly furious all over again. Not the most conducive mindset for worship, right? But in the course of the hour, hearing God's word together and receiving the body and blood of Christ together reminded me that whatever our differences, we are both sinners in need of forgiveness. In fact, Jesus insisted that reconciliation is more important than worship, something with which I have struggled over the past few months. I'm not reconciled to this person, and at this point, I'm no longer trying to be. Try as we might, sometimes we simply cannot reconcile ourselves to one another, and perhaps it is at this point that a severing is the best way forward. I'm sorry that it came to this, and I'll admit that I'm to blame, not completely, but I'm definitely part of the problem here. Rather than continuing to be part of the problem, we went our separate ways, and maybe that's partially what Jesus was saying. I think he knew that not every disagreement can be reconciled, for an infinite number of reasons. Better to worship with a new community, perhaps, than to continue pretending all is well in the old when it is not.

Using worship as a venue to promote a specific agenda, however, is wrong in every instance. Worship is about God, not us. Worship is about proclaiming the gospel, not airing the dirty laundry. Worship is about being God's baptized and forgiven children, not squabbling over the petty daily problems that arise whenever two or more sinners have to rub elbows regularly. Of course, the old sinner within us will try to violate the sanctity of worship from time to time. I've done it, and regretted it almost from the instant I did it. I've seen it happen in other places, and the end result is never pretty. Pastors walk a particularly fine line at all times, since we have, by far, the greatest number of chances to hijack the gospel to serve our own ends.

There is a genuine need to discern the will of a congregation when division is present and anxiety is high. Upholding the sanctity of worship does not permit any of us to willfully ignore problems, nor does it give pastors and worship leaders the right to duck the challenge of the gospel when it needs to be spoken boldly. We all need to be reminded, however, that no matter how our discernment may differ, we have a responsibility to one another to refrain from threatening or impugning the devotion of our brothers and sisters with whom we worship. Paying lip service alone won't cut it - if we are to be authentic, cohesive communities of faith, we must use our worship time for adoration and our discussion time for conversation, and in all things we must assume that each and every one of us is being as faithful as we can be. Perhaps that's what was missing in the case of Schadenfreude Lutheran Church above - the assumption that, regardless of the difference, they were all faithful people attempting to find the faithful way forward. I pray for healing, and for humility on the part of all of us as we continue to seek for ways to live together, faithfully.

Grace & peace,

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