Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Why?

Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  --Matthew 18:3

I conducted a chapel service this morning at the church day school where my son attends.  After it was over and I was driving home, I began having some serious reflections about my experience leading worship with these kids and the experience I've had leading services for adults.  It led me to a "things that make you go, hmmm." moment.

Mind you, my experience with leading worship for adults is colored by my service in a mainline denomination, having attended a mainline seminary, and being informed with mainline Christian doctrine and theology.  In no way does my experience represent the totality of Christian worship.  With that caveat, please allow me to proceed.

The children: This morning it rained.  The playground and its equipment is off limits, so the kids won't be getting much exercise and have no real way to let their energy out today.  Knowing this, I suspended the rules for Lent.  We sang, "Ha-la-la-la" or "Shake Another Hand" or whatever other name you wish to call it.  The kids clapped and danced and shook hands and hugged and scratched backs and patted heads without a care that we were breaking the rules of Lent.

The adults: More than a few liturgical Lutherans would roll over in their graves if such a thing were done in worship.  "How could we not honor the sanctity of Lent?  How dare you proclaim the "A" word when it's reserved for Easter?  There is a reason for the seasons of the church year, and we should adhere to them with as much respect and dignity as possible.

The children:  Pure exuberance.  In singing the songs they knew well, the children clapped, danced, and sang at the top of their lungs--even if they missed the notes completely.  They just didn't care about whether or not they sounded good or what they looked like as they danced around.  They just sang and offered their praise.

The adults: "I can't sing, so I don't."  "Clapping isn't allowed in church because it's disrespectful.  If you are clapping because of someone's singing or such you are honoring them and not God.  If you clap for one person/group and not another, someone will get offended."  "Dancing is appropriate in a dance hall, but not in worship."  So, many times, the church is full of people with only a few who are actually singing, and those not too loudly lest they slip on a given note.  Praise is muted because of a fear of embarrassment.

The children: During my sermon, I asked numerous questions.  The kids don't even wait for you to call on someone, they blurt answers right and left--even if they are wrong.  Undaunted, they come back time and again and respond time and again.  The sermon actually is a dialogue--a give and take of ideas and thoughts as we interact with one another.

The adults: Hardly a word is spoken.  Hardly a head is moved in acknowledgement or disagreement.  Inviting a response and pulling a wisdom tooth have much in common.

The kids: Spontaneity rules.  At the end of service, I said, "Y'all did such a good job singing and interacting today."  Without hesitation, a little girl chimed in, "You're welcome!"

The adults: If it isn't printed out or scripted, it more than likely isn't going to happen.

The kids: Chapel service is obligatory, but there is no whining.  There is no complaining.  There are smiles, laughter, and the general mischievousness that goes along with a bunch of two, three, four, and five year olds.  No one skips school because it's chapel day.  The kids make the most of it even if they don't know the songs or get a little bored.  And they learn.  They hear the lessons.  Other parents and the teachers have informed me about how much those little tykes remember, and it is always a joy to have my children singing the songs I have taught them at chapel service.

The adults: Church is voluntary, and there's always an excuse to skip.  It's raining or it's too beautiful to be inside.  It's too early or too late.  There's no other day to sleep in and/or I've got too much to get accomplished before Monday hits.  Etc. Etc.  For those who feel church is an obligation, there seems to be little happiness in how they engage and interact.  Playfulness and mischievousness is sporadic to non-existent. 

In my experience there is a MARKED difference in how children and adults participate in worship.  Given Jesus' command that I quoted at the beginning of this blog, I have just one question:

WHY?

9 comments:

Kathy said...

I am not lying; when I read your post just now -- the part about your denomination -- tears came to my eyes.

"Mind you, my experience with leading worship for adults is colored by my service in a mainline denomination, having attended a mainline seminary, and being informed with mainline Christian doctrine and theology. In no way does my experience represent the totality of Christian worship. With that caveat, please allow me to proceed."

I have lots and lots of time these days to write comments -- since I have been banned from almost every ELCA website. I think you have a open mind -- and more importantly -- a Christian Spirit. I totally need to work on these areas. I am truly opinionated and, in the words of the last pastor who banned me: "Spewing venom."

Having said that... I would like to comment on what your wrote. You have good points about Spiritual Childhood. Of course, as you know, many of the Saints -- in particular -- Therese of Lisieux -- have written about Spiritual Childhood. I would highly recommend that, instead of wasting your time, eyesight, effort, etc. on cr*p like the Bowen System -- you read the Saints.

Now I will get a bit more subtle. The big, big problem here is the destruction of the Mass. You guys do not have the Mass. That is reason #1 -- and I don't care what Chicago says -- that the ELCA is collapsing. The Mass has rules and form. They are Spiritual Rules. The Mass can be modified for children -- but not much. (I have seen horrors in the CC -- I once was fired from a teaching job for complaining -- about what a Liberal priest did to a high school Mass. A long story. It has to do with a slightly well-built girl dressed to look like the Virgin Mary. One problem: the dress was transparent. This was to celebrate the Immaculate Conception. It's true -- I lost a job over this.)

My point: IF -- and I mean IF -- you were a Catholic priest -- it would be unwise to change the Mass for the little darlings. Kids are spoiled enough already. Much, much better to retain the form of the Mass -- AND TEACH THE LITTLE DARLINGS SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE.

Just sayin'.

Kevin Haug said...

From an email response:

The children are FREE...free of the knowledge of their sinfulness...free to be themselves and to express themselves in boundless energy and acceptance. If they were told they were sinners, they would most likely accept the knowledge, accept foregiveness, and continue singing and dancing in their happiness because their lives are simplified and fun. "Jesus loves me" and I'm okay.

The adults are BURDENED, they have been told repeatedly of their sins, and although foregiveness has been provided by our Savior, adults' lives are filled with sin. Sermons to the children are "stories"...sermons to adults
are "reminders" of our sinfulness and although salvation is ours...we are disciplined into restraints. "Jesus loves me" but how do I get through today?

The children do not see the sinfulness of man around them...adults see it
everywhere and live it. It's a heavy load. Thankfully, the children haven't yet been burdened and are free to run, sing, jump, and delight in their innocence.

Kevin Haug said...

There are very few responses that I receive on my blog that cause me to evaluate my preaching and teaching. While I will continue to stay truthful to the law/Gospel paradigm of Lutheranism, I cannot help but be moved by the email response I received.

Do we preach the law too much?

I ask because if Christians continue to feel burdened by sin, worry, stress, wondering "how will I get through today," then as a Church we are not helping people "become like children."

Perhaps we are well intentioned in what we are seeking to do, but it seems as though we are not turning out disciples who are filled with the joy of the Lord, who are willing to worship with exhuberance, spontaneity, singing at the top of their lungs even if they cannot carry a tune in a bucket, and who interact without having to be prompted all the time. While I do not believe Lutherans should try to be like Pentecostals or any other such group, there is something to be said for a group of people filled with joy and expectation.

This email made me look deep within to see if I bring such things to the table. Does my preaching reflect the joy of Christ? Does it reflect childlike wonder? Does it lead others to feel free--free from sin, free from being burdened, free from false, human imposed expectations? Does it lead to joy-filled following of Jesus?

This I will be exploring deep in my spirit.

Anonymous said...

Interesting concept . . . that of becoming more childlike. I received training several years ago regarding the attitude of a church worker -- someone wearing multiple hats. We watched a video of a toddler playing in a box. The box was empty, full of Styrofoam peanuts, and only one side was open. The toddler crawled in and out of the box, gathered additional toys and put them inside, took the peanuts out and laughed, rolled and pushed the box around the room imitating the sound of a train. The child was occupied with the box for over an hour.

We, as Christians (no denomination needed), tend to put ourselves inside a spiritual box. Unfortunately, we forget the packing supplies and it is inside the box that we choose to remain. Soon the box becomes a comfort zone - never moving. Eventually, we become a part of the box and are soon buried deep inside a spiritual grave.

One of my favorite Christian friends was called home at the beginning of March. He did not suffer with illness, nor did he have a massive "attack," he was simply called home - his heart stopped beating. Each day, he openly spoke to and encouraged his patients to seek Christ in all they do. Not only was he a physical doctor, he was also a spiritual doctor reflective in a sign hanging above his door which read "My job is done, let God do the rest."

I believe the question you ask dwells on the effectiveness of reflecting a joy found only in Christ. My answer is as long as you reflect the childlike wonder found in the joy of Christ -- as long as you break free of "the box" -- as long as you strive to lead a Christ-like life (which is neither free of sin or burden) -- your cup will overflow. And you know what? The overflow runs over to others -- you may never know how, or why, or who receives that overflow, but one day -- when God calls you home, your spiritual patients will remember your healing touch. As far as the "childlike attitude," I hope I never grow up.

David said...

When the worship leader bids the congregation: "The Lord be with you." Lutherans will respond in an instant "And also with you."

Unless someone leave it out of the bulletin........sigh

Good post!

Kevin Haug said...

Anonymous, thank you for reading and for your insight. A very well, thought out comment.

David,

ROFLOL!!!!

Kevin

Kathy said...

There is nothing wrong with your preaching. It is always great.

Kevin Haug said...

Kathy,

I am nowhere near the preacher that I have the potential to be. God is still working on me. I have much to learn, but thank you for your compliment.

Kathy said...

This is a comment about the "email response" and "Anonymous." I am writing it because I believe you are fair-minded and intelligent, and I am not saying this to "manipulate" you, as I was accused of doing on another site by an ELCA pastor -- before she banned me. I have no intent to be uncharitable. There is nothing in this for me -- that I can see.

There is a very serious issue raised in your post and in the comments. You recently have included in your posts various pieces of Scripture. Good. The problem is, as I have tried to say before, who chooses the Scriptures and why? Who interprets the Scriptures for us and the Church?

Here is a very important Scripture: "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." John 20:21.

You spoke earlier today of the "historic faith." As doctrine developed, and the Sacraments became defined, the Scripture above was used to define the Sacrament of Confession. Martin Luther did not intend to change this.

You wrote: "Rooted and grounded in the historic, orthodox faith and in the revelation of God given in His Holy Word, what should our public and private focus entail?"

Apparently, you have at least one parishioner who is suffering from a conscience burdened with guilt. The other one (Anonymous) has risen above his guilt to the true freedom of a child of God.

But what about the one who sent you the e-mail? His guilt would be relieved if he knew that he could confess his sins privately to a descendant of the Apostles in the room that day after the Resurrection, and personally receive the words of Absolution from Christ.

This is the path for the future, the orthodox faith. "Change or die" has Truth in it.