Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of the Lenten season, a penitental season where we focus our attention on what we deserve because of our sinfulness and what Christ Jesus did for us through His Passion. The focus is to be upon our Lord, not upon us. That is important to remember - the focus is upon Him and His Passion. It seems that the focus of Lent has been changing to be upon us and upon our actions. How pious can you be? Can you out repent the next guy? Are you "really" more penitent than me? I need to work at being more sorry, more sinful and more active in showing that I am both sinful and sorry.
All right, maybe that is an overstatement. And perhaps I am judging others when I need to take the log out of my own eye. If you think you are sinful, let me tell you about how sinful I am...wait a minute, I have just slipped into that very thing that gets my goat. It is so easy to do. We make our penitental activity something for others to see, to take part in, and to be amazed at.
I read the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday. And I understood where the Lutheran Church was coming from for so many years. It also made me wonder where the Lutheran Church is going in these recent years. "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven...And, when you fast, do not look gloomey like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who see in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:1, 16-18 ESV) The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod I grew up in, that I was confirmed in, that I studied in, that I spent time at Concordia Seminary, St Louis and that I have ministered in, has not been one given to the outward signs that were a part of other churches.
I guess what has gotten me is the whole imposition of ashes. It is a fine outward action - but when did it become the Lutheran action? I know that there will be those who point to Luther and say, "He did it." But those will be the same ones that are moving our church backward into more of a Roman point of view in practice rather than remaining Lutheran in practice. I can hear the firestorm that will hit because of that statement. But I am not Roman or Orthodox. I am Lutheran. I do not enjoy the high church, mega-liturgy, ultra chanting type of worship. Neither do I get any spiritual uplifting from the imposition of ashes. I can remember be taught by Rev. Kaeding that such outward signs are nothing more than pious actions meant to point the person to themselves and their actions rather than to the Lord Jesus Christ and His actions. And as I listened to all the talk about ashes yesterday, I kept wondering, what is happening to the Lutheran Church? Is the pendulum swinging so far the opposite direction (away from the "free-wheeling, throw out the liturgy, fire up the Praise Team and let's be like the non-denominational mega-churches because that is how we will get people in the door" type of worship) that we are looking more Roman than Lutheran?
Now I know there is nothing wrong with such things. Vestments are great. The Luthean Church is not part of the radical reformation that sought to get rid of vestments, liturgy, chanting, etc. But for years the Lutheran Church was not one that tended to the high-church, Roman vestment type of worship. The Gospel procession, the incense and all the other actions that just reek of Romanism sets my teeth on edge.
What happened to the Lutheran Church I grew up in? What happened to the Lutheran Church I was trained to be a pastor in? Is that so bad? I know that some will point to the fact that there are people who greatly appreciate the Roman style of worship (as long as it is made Lutheran in theology). But isn't that the same argument that was used for the left-leaning non-liturgical worship of the 80's and 90's that lead us into this ultra-liturgical time of the 21st century? It is Lutheran in substance while it is something else in style. Why was it wrong for the "liberal" set and right for the "conservative" set?
In the end, I guess I feel that I am having the ashes and all the other stuff rammed down my throat and I am supposed to like it. For if I don't accept it and like it then I am seen as being less than true, confessional, liturgical Lutheran. But that isn't true. The joy of being a Lutheran is that even if I don't use ashes, even if I don't chant and bow at just the right times, even if I don't wear the chausible and all the other stuff, I am still Lutheran, devoutly, confessionally Lutheran.
Enough said. Or perhaps I will ramble on this again. Who knows?