The Work of the People

Pastor's Monthly Newsletter Article for April, 2014 In a recent conversation, it was pointed out to me that the church of today has two options: the first is to pretend as though the times haven’t changed, and to worship as if we were living in the 1950s. The second is to realize that people aren’t the same as they were back then, and if we are going to reach them our worship needs to seem more like the Tonight Show than the liturgy of our ancestors.

I don’t doubt that the changing times have changed us. Many of us don’t respond to classical music the way people once did. Many of us have a far shorter attention span than was the case sixty years ago. Many of us have far more complex lives, and may very well be more distracted at worship than our parents and grandparents were. (Although it isn’t hard to imagine the owner of a family farm in the 1950s being distracted by thoughts of a sick cow, the rising or falling price of hog futures, how much grain was in the silo, and whether or not the carburetor on the John Deere needed to be serviced… Our lives aren’t as extraordinarily complex as we like to imagine they are.)

That said, it seems to me that there is a third option. We might, as a worshipping community, decide to honor the liturgy of our ancestors, and acknowledge that there is a depth and a mystery to it that most “modern” forms of worship miss. If we should make this choice, then it would be important for us to train ourselves to prepare for and enter into this kind of worship, knowing that God promises to meet us there.

After all, it is liturgy that we are proposing to do. The word has its roots in the Greek noun λειτουργία (leitourgia). In ancient Athens, “liturgy” was a public office or duty performed voluntarily by a rich Athenian. In the history of the Christian church, liturgy is the work that God’s people are called to do together each week as the Gospel is proclaimed purely and the sacraments are administered rightly (the Lutheran definition of worship, according to Article VI of the Augsburg Confession).

In some Christian traditions, worship is a relatively passive experience. Worshippers expect to be moved by what takes place on the platform, and the intent is that this draws them to a place of deeper trust in God’s promises, and stronger commitment to live as God’s people. Lutheran worship is different in this regard. It is far from passive. We assemble to work together, giving our very best as we prepare ourselves thoroughly, arrive with high expectations, and enter wholeheartedly into the liturgy of the day.

I am convinced that when God’s people are well prepared, and committed to worship with heart and soul and mind, the ancient forms of liturgy which stirred our ancestors can stir us today as deeply as they ever have. To that end, on Sundays in the Easter season, I am planning to lead a “Pastor’s Class on Worship” in the Covenant Hall. If you’d like to understand more about our Lutheran worship traditions, and prepare yourself to get more out of worship at Saint Peter, I’d love to have you join me. Put it on your calendars. I’ll see you on April 12th!

Easter blessings to you, Pastor Dave