Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Lutherans

So, as I said, we went to the Lutheran church on Reformation Sunday. The late service: proof we had no kids. No need to get up early. I should start by saying I had never been to a Lutheran church before. Well except for Girl Scout meetings. I did not know any Lutherans. I had never been in any liturgical church except the Catholic church when I was in kindergarten and a funeral when I was 17. And what I remember from the funeral was that I kept going with the Lord's Prayer but everyone else had stopped.
I had also never been in a church where the peace was shared, and the only time anyone processed in my home congregation was for the service of Lessons and Carols. I never left my pew for any purpose growing up because you were served communion in the pew with the trays being passed. My church had no altar and no image of Christ on the cross, just a simple cross on the communion table. So there was a lot I was not equippped for and I didn't even know it before that day.
We walked in and there were lots of very happy peeople buzzing around. The greeters were eager to shake our hands and fill them with bulletins. We sat in the back. The church which holds about 250 was full. And unlike my home church, people were sitting down and talking in the pews instead of being quiet.
And then the full choir was lining up behind us to process with the cross. And I see my coworker- I wave unobstrusively. This prompts the people in the pew to introduce themselves and ask if I know her and how, and is this your first time to worship here. And I learn they are still getting used to the new worship book ( the LBW).
The service was vibrant, the pastor gave an animated sermon. The congregation were belting out the hymns- Luther would be proud. No as loud on the liturgy but it was still pretty new.
And I have no clue where we are a lot of the time between the bulletin and the LBW, sit, stand, kneel. But the music was great, the sharing of the peace inspiring. No mere casual shaking of the hand on either side. The pastors are coming through the church, people and the choir are out of the pews and walking around. It takes abotu five minutes of hugging, handshaking, laughing and getting back where they belong for the rest of the service.
And my husband, the lapsed Catholic is happy because he has been to enough masses to know more about the liturgical service than I do. He seems comfortable. So by the end of the service we have been met, greeted, and embraced by this group of people.
We decide to worship there again. And so it continued for awhile.
My beloved's initial response to church up until this point was " I will go, but don't expect me to join." After about a month or so, he pronounces "Ok, I will join, but don't expect me to do anything." This is progress. But suddenly it dawns upon me that I am not sure whether I can be theologically a Lutheran.
I have been raised in the shadow of Calvin, predestination, the importance of works, and that communion is a remembrance not a time of the real presence in the elements.
What if this is not what I can embrace?
So I began to read a little Luther, and do alot of thinking. And the overwhelming things I found was that the concept of grace was so compelling. Not that Presbyterians do not believe in it, but still a different perspective. Each Sunday the pastor is preaching about grace, but at a certain level I was still bothered. It seemed like our actions were immaterial because we have grace, that it did not matter whether we tried at all to be different. So I went back to Luther.
And for me what I found was not that we should not care because we have grace, but that our knowledge of grace should inspire us to more. Not that our works earn us anything, but that if we are not inspired to do God's work, maybe we need to re-examine our faith. And I had long conversations with the Pastor. As for communion, I feel that it is for me so much more comforting to believe that God is present in communion in, with and under the elements rather than a more distant sense of our Father.
So we became a part of a new member's class and joined in February of 1990. By then I was singing with the choir and ringing with the handbells. Though there is much more I could say about faith and our time in this congregation perhaps the most important post-script is my beloved. He later went on to become involved with evangelism, then serving on Council, and chairing evangelism. And now serves on an inter-synodical committee for campus ministry. Had I insisted he do any of this, I am sure it may well have turned out very differently, but watching his faith and service develop has been a great joy. We hope we are passing this on to the Lutheran Chicks.
Much more to be said about our home but as I look back over the almost 19 years, it seems hard to imagine not being here.


David said...

Great story illustrating how the Spirit works so differently in all of us. We have had new members describe their forst experiences with us, and a few who were new to Lutheranism said that they loved the liturgical service. Funny how some of the things we take for granted are those same things people hunger for.

LawAndGospel said...

Aside from the very enthusuastic people, as a musical person, the liturgy really touched me. Even now when sometimes we see it as rote, I will focus on the words intently because they are so great. I have stood next to tone-deaf people who still belt out the liturgical settings. Proof that it is moving for many.

Diane said...

yeah, I love the liturgy too, but not everyone feels this way. I loved your story and how the Spirit worked through all aspects of worship for you and your husband, the words, the music, the pastor, the people.
Also by your struggle with grace vs law/works.
My favorite thing by Luther is The Freedom of a Christian.

Pastor David said...

Definately Freedom of a Christian - but also Luther's Two Kinds of Righteousness; I think the two go hand in hand.

LawAndGospel said...

Looking at where we are all from, these comments represent four different geographic areas of the country, now if only we were all under 31 this would be a young rostered leader conversation- sadly I am not under 31.

Pastor Eric said...

...but I think we are all young at heart. The spirt is willing but the flesh is weak :)

Anyway...great story. I too worry about the liturgy becoming too rote. It is one of the reasons why I use a number of different confessions and forgiveness liturgies. I want to force people to think about what is going on.