This is so. I was 17 years old when the Lutheran church body I called home adopted a new hymnal: The Lutheran Book of Worship. I loved it. The liturgies were updated and lively, at least compared to what I had known before. More than this, though, I was getting to the age where I knew that I would not be forever in the small church in the small town that I had called home my whole life long. And I can remember thinking to myself that if I were to walk into another Lutheran church in another town anywhere else in the country that while everything else might look different, I would at least be able to join in at worship, for this much would surely be the same.
I was beyond naive, of course. Indeed, as soon as any hymnal is adopted, it becomes dated and at least in some places, people are already looking for other options. More than this, of course, the internet with all of its gifts, has enabled congregations to pick and choose hymnody and liturgy from all sorts of choices, pointing to the certain truth that my 17 year old imagination was far too limited! No, while these things can and should reflect what is at the core of who we are, there is not only one way to do this. Indeed, there are countless ways to celebrate and give thanks for and pass on these central gifts of the faith:
- That God is the Actor in the covenant which Jeremiah articulates now… the one where the relationship is imprinted on our hearts…
- That we can’t earn or deserve the gifts of God by what we do, but that as Paul writes in Romans, these gifts are received by faith…
- And that the truth of God’s love and God’s power and God’s grace means freedom for God’s people. Freedom from and freedom for in so many ways…
And so it is that the power and the promise of all this came home to me in these last days. This is how it was.
Two weeks ago a young man named Andrew came to worship with his dad. It turns out that Andrew grew up in the same church I called home when I was 17 (and came to that faulty insight about that new hymnal!) He has since moved to a group home here in DeKalb. His parents have tried to get him to church most Sundays, but they are traveling more now and it is time to get Andrew established where he lives.
Andrew lives just a few blocks from our church with five others. His excitement about being here was evident as he told me that he wants to invite his friends. So I have been wondering about how to make this happen in a way that will be welcoming to them ever since.
For this is so. While we like to think that we are welcoming and relaxed, the length of service and our leaning towards more formal Lutheran liturgy might be less than accommodating for some. I just didn’t know. And so late in the week our Christian Education Coordinator and I got in the car and drove over to Andrew’s home. We found Sarah, the house manager and one resident visiting outside. Sarah quickly invited us in and gave us a quick tour. We sat down to visit, and as she spoke about the residents there, she pointed out that not a single church in DeKalb/Sycamore (with a combined population of more than 60,000) has an intentional ministry for the clients she works with!
Now this is just the beginning of our dreaming, but on Sunday Andrew (and perhaps some of his friends) will be in worship with us. And from here on out it will be ours to wonder about how we take the basics of our faith and share them in such a way that they will be accessible to those whose minds may work differently than ours, but whose hearts are every bit as open (and maybe more so!) to having God’s love and grace and promise and peace engraved upon them! I can’t help but wonder what that will look like. Indeed, I cannot help but wonder how we might all be changed by as we are invited to share them in new ways.
This Sunday we celebrate Reformation Sunday in my tradition. It occurs to me now that this has always been the point of it — that this gift of grace and power, love and hope is still and always ours to pass on. But part of ‘ever reforming’ is that we are not now and never have been bound by the old ways of doing so. We will not, should not, all do it the same. Even so, in ways ever new and important, these gifts are still and always ours to share. And in so doing, perhaps it is so that it gets engraved on our own hearts as well!
- Do you celebrate Reformation Day in your tradition? In your estimation, what are the gifts of this day that we are called to pass on? What might it mean to do so in new , more accessible ways — as some would argue Martin Luther did?
- I have made an attempt to succinctly summarize the basic messages of three of our readings for this week above. Would you take any of these in a different direction?
- How are you called to share these precious gifts in new ways in your context? What has changed? What remains the same?