Category Archives: Ancient Future
Devotional Thought of the Day:
For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 Now if I live on in the flesh, this means fruitful work for me; and I don’t know which one I should choose. 23 I am torn between the two. I long to depart and be with Christ — which is far better — 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. 25 Since I am persuaded of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that, because of my coming to you again, your boasting in Christ Jesus may abound. Philippians 1:21-26 (CSBBible)
Self-denial consists in the voluntary renunciation of every thing which is inconsistent with the glory of God and highest good of our fellow men.
Thus Luther writes: “Christians are a special, called people and are denominated not merely ecclesia, church or assembly, but sancta, catholica, Christiana, that is, a Christian holy people that believes in Christ, for which reason it is named a Christian people and has the Holy Spirit who sanctifies it daily, not only through the forgiveness of sins (as the Antinomians2 foolishly assert), but also through the putting away, purging, and destroying of sins, wherefore it is called a holy people.
The mission necessarily puts us in contact with the cross of Christ. This is the sign that the mission is in accordance with the Spirit of God. It is only by “dying” to everything else that we understand what we are asked to do and thus discover the right ways to do it. “I can assure you that if the grain of wheat that falls to the ground does not die, it remains alone; but if it dies it gives much fruit” (Jn 12:24).
As a Lutheran pastor, I often talk about the people of God, being drawn to the cross. We are cruficied there with Christ, as we are united to His death and resurreciton.
But there is something there that happens, a transformation that I am not sure we talk about enough. For if we did, and if we depended on the work of the Holy Spirit, how different would the world look?
What if we were only concerned about this life, because it was necessary for the sake of others? What impact would we have if we were far more invested and desiring eternitym than being concerned about out rights, and our happiness. We are called to imitate Jesus, but somehow He’s been replaced by Narcisus. And we are enslaved by temptations that cater to our pleasure, to our preferences, to our theories of how life should be.
Our only hope is found in the work of the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit circucises our hearts, purging from us that which is not of God. This is done as we are drawn to the cross, and crucified with Christ. That is why St. Paul writes, “13 For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.” Romans 8:13 (NLT2)
This is what the church needs today, people compelled by the Holy Spirit to choose to live, not for its own sake, but for others, all the while looking forward to the day when we see our Lord face to face. We need to be freed from Narcissis, and be found in Christ. Thank God, that move is not up to our will andability, but is found simply depending on Jesus.
This is where we need to be…crucified with Christ.
A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).
C. F. W. Walther, Church and Ministry: Witness of the Evangelical Lutheran Church on the Question of the Church and the Ministry, electronic ed. (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1987), 30.
Pope Francis, A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings, ed. Alberto Rossa (New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013), 366.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
I know what you are doing. Everyone may think you are alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! You have only a little strength left, and it is almost gone. So try to become stronger. I have found that you are not completely obeying God. †3 Remember the teaching that you were given and that you heard. Hold firmly to it and turn from your sins. If you don’t wake up, I will come when you least expect it, just as a thief does. Rev. 3:1-3 CEV
Oh, what union is this! It is a depth which reason cannot fathom, that we thus feed upon Jesus. “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” It is also an invitation to enjoy fellowship with the saints. Christians may differ on a variety of points, but they have all one spiritual appetite; and if we cannot all feel alike, we can all feed alike on the bread of life sent down from heaven.
2735 In the first place, we ought to be astonished by this fact: when we praise God or give him thanks for his benefits in general, we are not particularly concerned whether or not our prayer is acceptable to him. On the other hand, we demand to see the results of our petitions. What is the image of God that motivates our prayer: an instrument to be used? or the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? (2779)
Since the Holy Scriptures call Christ a mystery over which all heretics break their heads, we admonish all Christians not to pry presumptuously into this mystery with their reason, but with the holy apostles simply to believe, close the eyes of reason, take their intellect captive to obey Christ, comfort themselves therewith, and rejoice constantly that our flesh and blood have in Christ been made to sit so high at the right hand of the majesty and almighty power of God!
When I was in doing my undergraduate work in preaching, the British pastor Spurgeon was held up to be a paragon of reason. A great man who explained the scriptures in a way that amazed people. We were urged to imitate him.
Yet I don’t remember the passion in his quote above (in purple) nor his appeal for the Lord’s Supper and to realize it is unexplainable, unfathomable, by our greatest minds. Read it again, see the incredible appetite that he notes all believers should develop, an appetite that displays our unity in Christ!
Likewise, the quote from the Formula of Concord, admonishing those who would pry presumptuously into this mystery with their reason, tells of something wonderful, and amazing. It encourages us to let Chirst take our intellect captive… to turn it over to God, and rejoice!
The Catholic Catechism’s rough question, about how we perceive the God we pray to nails our intellect once more. Give up trying to reason God into what you want, stop trying to find the way to manipulate Him, and realize this is the Father who sent Jesus to suffer on a Cross for you…
This is how the situation the church is facing in Sardis is avoided. People who were considered mature in their faith, but lived an empty life. That forgot the wonder of the teaching that Christ had made them His own, a gift for the Father. A teaching that left them in awe, that made them realize the moments in prayer, and in sharing the feast together in the presence of God were beyond any treasure they would ever know. That nothing could explain it.
Some may thing this means following Christ is not for the intellectual, the people who are brilliant, who are able to capture the knowledge that is beyond so many of us. That simply isn’t true, for these blessings are beyond their ability to explain as well…and the smartest people know their limitations as the ancient philosopher Socrates did, as well as the Solomon. (That time wandering with God will make the earthly knowledge more practical in its application to the benefit of man!)
The more I age, the more I seen the wisdom of this passage from Paul, “
1 Friends, when I came and told you the mystery that God had shared with us, I didn’t use big words or try to sound wise. 2 In fact, while I was with you, I made up my mind to speak only about Jesus Christ, who had been nailed to a cross. 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 (CEV)
This matters… and makes all else relevant, for if we don’t know Jesus, we simply chase after the wind…
He loves you! He died for you, so that you would rise with Him! And the Spirit dwells with you, until Jesus returns.
Rejoice.. and desire to experience His love more and more….e
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 656.
The Formula of Concord: Solid Declaration: The Person of Christ. from Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 609–610.
Devotional Thought for Today:
1 First of all, I ask you to pray for everyone. Ask God to help and bless them all, and tell God how thankful you are for each of them. 2 Pray for kings and others in power, so that we may live quiet and peaceful lives as we worship and honor God. 3 This kind of prayer is good, and it pleases God our Savior. 4 God wants everyone to be saved and to know the whole truth, which is, 5 There is only one God, and Christ Jesus is the only one who can bring us to God. Jesus was truly human, and he gave himself to rescue all of us. 6 God showed us this at the right time.
1 Timothy 2:1-6 (CEV)
“I think more of the place where I was baptized than of Rheims Cathedral where I was crowned. It is a greater thing to be a child of God than to be the ruler of a Kingdom. This last I shall lose at death but the other will be my passport to an everlasting glory.” (St. Louis IX, King of France)
746 From there, where you are working, let your heart escape to the Lord, right close to the Tabernacle, to tell him, without doing anything odd, “My Jesus, I love You”. Don’t be afraid to call him so—my Jesus—and to say it to him often.
In the same spirit of humility he directed in his will that the following inscription and noting more should be vut on his gravestone:-
WILLIAM CAREY, BOTRN AUGUST 17th, 1761.: DIED-
“A wretched, poor, and helpless worm…on Thy kind arms I fall.”
The king and the missionary knew the same thing.
They understood what truly mattered in life. Both had amazing successes, and failures beyond imagination. They were known and loved by some of those they served, and hated by others. Neither was perfect, yet both knew what mattered in their life, to the extent that I would hold their words up to you, and ask you to come to similar conclusions.
The same conclusion that St. Josemaria urges us, even as we work diligently, to let our hearts escape into God’s presence, and declare boldly, “my Jesus…”
You see that is what the great missionary to India meant, as he fell into the arms of Christ. Nothing else in his life was worth recognizing, save that. The King, choosing more important the moment where the Father unites him to Jesus, in the death and resurrection of Christ, (see Romans 6, Colossians 2) says the same thing.
Everything that is critical in life boils down to to that point, where Jesus makes us His people.
This is what we need to pray, that as God is revealed to people, that they know His love, and His mercy, so shown to us at the cross.
It is the presence of God that we need in our lives. That is where everything changes. To realize that is what Jesus gave up to gain for us, to be welcome there in the presence of the Father, to be drawn into the glorious love in which the Trinity dances, this is everything.
That is the point of the religion we call Christianity. Not to just explore where we have come from as humanity. Not just to reign in behavior, teaching people how to be good to each other.
Our purpose is that everyone, from people in France and India, clergy and politicians and those they lead, know the miracle of being welcome into the presence of God!
This is why we pray for people, surely asking for God to help them in their times of being challenged, but that they might now Him as well.
So my friends pray for all… and pray they come to know the living Lord Jesus, and then together with Louis, and Josemaria, and William, find the peace that passes all understanding, as we experience the Love that goes beyond explanation.. and know I pray you know this too!.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Spurgeon, Charles. Morning and Evening – Morning, August 29, Logos Edition
Devotional Thoughts for this Day
2 I was resolved that the only knowledge I would have while I was with you was knowledge of Jesus, and of him as the crucified Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:2 (NJB)
929 The cross on your breast? Good. But the cross on your shoulders, the cross in your flesh, the cross in your mind. Thus will you live for Christ, with Christ, and in Christ; only thus will you be an apostle.
The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Lord said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”226 Life in Christ has its foundation in the Eucharistic banquet: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.
The comfort extended by Luther is rooted in the fact that the person assailed by temptation is a member of the communion of saints and is armed with God’s Word. The tempted person, however, should realize that there is always a benefit that accrues to him from such assaults, although he dare not attempt to divine it. Finally, he invites the tempted person to a fuller faith in Christ, but Luther warns that before the trials subside, they will first flare to greater intensity.
There is a growing multitude of problems that have been caused by the pandemic. Beyond the health concerns, there are significant challenges in finance, in education, in mental health, in social dynamics – of homes and of communities.
Many of us are challenged by depression and temptation, as anger and pain can only be hidden for so long. Often, when we do strikeout, the target is not who it should be. We might even tear ourselves up, thinking that everything is our fault. This is not reasonable, yet there is no reason in a pandemic.
The Apostle Peter writes, “Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.” (1 Peter 3:15 (NLT2)) In doing so, he calls me back to remember the hope I do have, a hope that I barely hold on to it at times. More important, that Hope, He holds on to me.
That is why Jesus is all Paul wants to think of, and specifically Jesus – crucified. Jesus bearing every sin, every injustice, every bit of brokenness. Jesus, lifted up, to whom we are not just drawn to, but into whom we are drawn. The Catholic Catechism righty uses the word intimate in regard to our union with Jesus. It is more than we can explain, it is more than we can cognitively know, yet in that movement, it that taking and eating, we go beyond a casual acquaintance with God,.
That is why St Josemaria would have us fixated on the cross. That is why Luther talks about coming out of a time of trial with a faith that is far greater than when we entered. For faith is knowing the presence of Jesus so well, that we just live and move dependent on Him.
That intimacy is not all we need, it is all we have.
Realizing that is the challenge, along with remembering it as we are assailed, as we see the brokenness, as we deal with our issue. not alone, but as He is here, with us.
That is the reason I have hope, this relationship with Jesus- the one crucified for us…
The One who is alive! Praise God – and because He is risen, so are we. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 351.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 182.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
28 So then, you should each examine yourself first, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For if you do not recognize the meaning of the Lord’s body when you eat the bread and drink from the cup, you bring judgment on yourself as you eat and drink. 30 That is why many of you are sick and weak, and several have died. 31 If we would examine ourselves first, we would not come under God’s judgment. 32 But we are judged and punished by the Lord, so that we shall not be condemned together with the world. 1 Corinthians 11:28-32 (TEV)
Seventh, when a man has this hunger and so is prepared for the sacrament, he must carefully avoid receiving it while trusting in his own worthiness. Nor must he merely pray, as some do, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but say only a word, and my soul will be healed” [Matt. 8:8]. I am not rejecting that prayer, but one should be aware of something else. I am referring to the words Christ spoke when he instituted the mass: “Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you. Take, drink, all of you; for it is the cup of the new and eternal testament in my blood, poured out for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins” [Matt. 26:26–28].
Although the priest utters these words softly during mass (would to God that he would shout them loudly so that all could hear them clearly, and, moreover, in the German language), every Christian should have these words close to himself and put his mind on them above all others. For just as they are meant for us all, so they are spoken by the priest in the stead of Christ to all who stand around him. We should take all of these words to heart, placing our trust in them and not doubting that with these the Lord invites us to be his guests at this abundant meal.
928 You are right. “The peak,” you write me, “dominates the country for miles around, and yet there is not a single plain to be seen: just one mountain after another. At times the landscape seems to level out, but then the mist rises and reveals another range that had been hidden.” So it is, so it must be, with the horizon of your apostolate: the world has to be crossed. But there are no roads made for you. You yourselves will make the way through the mountains, beating it out by your own footsteps.
It seems like the last month (or is it the last decade) has brought one more challenge after another. And just s one challenge is climbed and another challenge looms. Not all are mine, yet some I walk over with others, for the church never journeys alone. We weep and laugh together, we strive together, even as we sometimes strive against each other.
The reality St. Josemaria paints is painful, to know this journey isn’t easy, to know the pains we will feel, the times where we are spiritually out of breath and feel like we cannot walk one more step.
Then we look up, and we realize that on this mountain is something worth the effort, something that is worth it, something that will sustain us, give strength to our weariness, and heal our brokenness.
The Lord’s Supper is neither about our worthiness, or a brief confession (often without thought) of our unworthiness. It is about the promise, the incredible blessing of what Christ promised as He broke the bread, as He blessed the cup. He invites us to share in His being broken, that we can also be made whole.
I have seen it over and over again, the sinner, barely able to address their brokenness, finding peace there, at the communion rail.
This mountain is different, it not another challenge, it is the destination. It is the feast with God, long foreshadowed in the Old Testament, and which foreshadows the final feast…
May we never lose our hunger and thirst for it…
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 173.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional thought and Prayer of the Day;
2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:2 (NLT2)
It almost goes without saying that if we realize God’s love and live it, we will heal the divisions and brokenness within Christendom. Only if we realize God’s love is this possible, for no merely theological reconciliation is enough. The tragedy of denominationalism arose through a lack of love, not only a lack of knowledge or theological orthodoxy. Indeed, we cannot even understand what orthodoxy is without love, for orthodoxy means right belief about God. And God is love.
We split God’s visible Church (no one can split the invisible Church) because we were selfish. We decided to be our own conductors rather than all following the divine baton. That has to be the root cause of denominationalism, for God is peace and unity, so if we all loved and obeyed and followed His leading, we would necessarily sing in harmony. We are not singing in harmony, therefore we must have disobeyed Him, disobeyed love. The diagnosis is inescapable.
And so is the prescription. Though a thousand further details need to be addressed, here is the most important ingredient of all in the prescription for reunion. Here is the root of all true ecumenism. All churches and denominations must approach dialogue with purity and simplicity of heart. They must seek not triumph or power or self-justification or conversions but simply to follow God’s will. If that were done, a miracle would happen. Impossible healings of our divisions would become possible. Reunion without compromise would happen. And the world would once again sit up and say, astonished, “See how they love one another!”
The sacrament, Luther says, is not and should not be for those who come solely because they are commanded to do so, but for those who recognize their personal need and are inwardly driven to receive it. Recognition of his sinfulness and unworthiness should not prevent a man’s reception of the sacrament. Indeed, the Lord Jesus Christ intended his Supper precisely for sinners who trust and believe in the words of institution
In the midst of the present crisis, stress is taking its toll on leadership.
And we begin to see that stress move divide the church even more. Not at the congregational level, I continually hearing of how congregations are doing amazing things. But at denominational levels and in inter-denominational levels.
It is sad and disheartening, and Shakespeare’s words to the Houses of Capulet and Montagu are oddly prophetic, “a pox on both your houses!”
It is in this time that we need to stop the fighting, the backbiting, the games, and strategic sessions. of how we will deal with “them”.
The Apostle Paul is right, the only answer to this is the answer we all need to hear. It is not the best preaching or the best academic theology that will provide unity, that will create the bond we need to heal the brokenness in the Body of Christ. That has not accomplished it in the last 120 years. Kreef is right when he discusses that we cannot truly be orthodox without the experience of love.
I might be naive, but I think that Kreeft is absolutely correct about seeing miracles occur when we seek God together; when we confess our sins and are forgiven; when we share in the feast the is the purest of love, the sharing of the Body and Blood of Jesus.
For that is why the altar is there, why the pastor/priest urges us to remember Jesus, brutally crucified, His Body broken, His blood being poured out. Not for the people who have it all together doctrinally, not for those who are without love claiming some form of Orthodoxy. His Body was broken, His blood poured out, and is there on the altar for those who need healing, who need reconciliation, who need a miracle.
That is where unity and revival find are generated, as we pray together, as we we seek His face together, as we experience His love and mercy. That is where the miracles happen.
As we prepare for Pentecost this year, as we look for the regathering of saints, perhaps it is time to allow God to bring us together, to let His love wash us clean, to invite the Holy Spirit to do the miracles that would truly bring us back together.
Lord, help us to love, as you love us!
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 151–152.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 169.
Devotional Thought of the Day
23 I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign LORD, then the nations will know that I am the LORD. 24 For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land. 25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.
Ezekiel 36:23-27 (NLT2)
23 For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24 and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” 25 In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NLT2)
16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. . James 5:16 (NLT2)
Sacraments are “powers that comes forth” from the Body of Christ,33 which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church.
18 A sacrament is a ceremony or act in which God offers us the content of the promise joined to the ceremony; thus Baptism is not an act which we offer to God but one in which God baptizes us through a minister functioning in his place. Here God offers and presents the forgiveness of sins according to the promise (Mark 16:16), “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” By way of contrast, a sacrifice is a ceremony or act which we render to God to honor him.
I saw a friend share part of the Ezekiel reading the other day, and my mind flashed back to a baptism 5 years ago this week,
A pastor I know and admire posted about baptizing someone yesterday in their front yard with family looking on from an appropriate distance.
I’ve talked to pastor and priest friends, who all agonize over not being able to provide the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper to those whose faith is so challenged in these days.
Sacraments are not some magical incantation, the words accompany the promise, and the means God promised real to those whom HE blesses in that moment.
That water, because God promised, because He is pour/sprinkling/immersing people with it, give what He promised – the cleansing of our sin, the change of heart (and mind) that we need, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
That bread that we place in their hands, it is the Body of Christ – given and shed so those people can realize GOd’s love, His mercy, His presence in their lives.
The words of forgiveness, which ring out, not because the pastor likes you, but because God wants you to hear them – YOU ARE FORGIVEN!
This isn’t about us doing the work, about our obedience, about our religious acts. It is about God coming into our lives, about God doing His work.
Those who are ordained to make sure these gifts are delivered are crushed, because we hear the need across phone lines, through texts and messages, and in the posts on social media. We can and are responding to some of those cries in person, but it is another thing to celebrate it all in person.
We look forward to the days when services and masses are the gatherings they should be. But this time helps a little I think. For we begin to understand a little more clearly what it means to cry out for Christ to return, for the great gathering that will happen, when He welcomes us home.
I think we take heaven for granted at times, as we might the Lord’s Supper or our baptism, or that moment when you hear your shepherd tell you that you are forgiven because Jesus said so. One has seemed so far away – a lifetime. The others, the sacraments have always been there, they always should be. Their removal, and the threat of death, combine to help us think of the biggest reunion.
We learn to yearn for the future, because of the absence of the present. We learn to look to eternal life, as we are reminded that this life is easily threatened. We long to have Jesus return to us in the sacrament, even as we are learning to yearn for His second coming!
Let me say it again, for it is worth saying! I long for the day when the people I pastor can re-gather, and celebrate Christ’s feast together. But even more, I am understanding why I should long for the feast to come when all of God’s people are welcomed home…and the celebration begins.
May God’s peace, poured out on you in Christ, nourished through word and sacraments, sustain you until the re-gatherings. This will happen, for He has promised, and He is faithful! AMEN!
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 289.
Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 252.
Devotional Thought for the Day:
27 Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. Mark 2:27 (NLT2)
6 Dear brothers and sisters, if I should come to you speaking in an unknown language, how would that help you? But if I bring you a revelation or some special knowledge or prophecy or teaching, that will be helpful. 7 Even lifeless instruments like the flute or the harp must play the notes clearly, or no one will recognize the melody. 8 And if the bugler doesn’t sound a clear call, how will the soldiers know they are being called to battle? 9 It’s the same for you. If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space. 1 Corinthians 14:6-9 (NLT2)
For it is the existential presence of the celebrating, praying faithful which makes the liturgy into the worship of God; change is necessary so that their awareness of what is going on and of their part in it are not restricted by extraneous factors. Roman history reveals a most eloquent example of a form of worship which had become unintelligible. After three centuries no one any longer understood the ritual, the ceremonies or the meaning it was all meant to express, with the result that religion dried up and became an empty shell, although it was no less practiced than before. The lesson is that, if liturgy is to retain its vitality and have an influence on individuals and society, there must be a continual process of adaptation to the understanding of believers. For believers too, after all, are people of their time, people of their world.
Over the past 40 years, I have participated in just about every flavor of worship service and liturgy on could imagine. I have play pipe organs in my youth, and electric guitars and keyboards, done traditional non-denom worship, and straight out of the hymnal liturgy.
I have my preferences, and they would probably surprise most people who know me.
Preference laid aside, and it must be, there is only one reason to change the wording of the liturgy or the way a church worships.
It is what Paul is the very pragmatic reason Paul is discussing, in relation to the very real gift of tongues, in 1 Corinthians 14. It echoes Jesus teaching about the Sabbath.
Does your liturgy, your order of worship allow people to hear God, and does it allow them to respond to Him?
The Lutheran confessions talk of the mass’s chief purpose to give people what they need to know about Jesus. His love, His mercy, His presence in their life. What they need to know – not just with their mind, but with their heart, soul and strength.
Do the words said and sung communicate this in an understandable way? If not, reset them. Do the people have the opportunity to experience the awe of being in the presence of God and respond to Him with joy? If not renew your service, focus it on the incarnate God who loves them. Open up the lines of communication, ensure that they know God speaks to them in a way that anyone can understand.
Maintaining the liturgy that doesn’t communicate to people is a waste of time. So is changing it for any other reason is just as much a waste of time.
Lord, help us to guide your people until with heart, soul, mind, and strength realize that You love them all. And then, help us guide their discussion with you, their prayers and praises.
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 79.