3 thoughts on “First as Tragedy, then as a Link”
  1. Not sure I’m a big fan of the Cyzewski article. To be sure, we’re called to grow up in the faith and not be spoon-fed all the time, but I’m not sure that means we should diminish the preaching of the Word – especially if its to make room for turning the pastoral ministry into a coaching service (telling us what we should be doing if we were “real” Christians). Surely the focus of the Christian community should be less on what we ought to do than on what Christ has already done. Besides, as near as I can tell, most preaching out there has already shifted to a “10 steps to be a better disciple/be a better neighbour” model. Frankly, I’m not clear on how it differs from any other self-help seminar (save for the occasional religious word sprinkled here and there).

    Maybe it’s just my Lutheran inclinations, but I’ve always thought the real purpose for attending “divine service” is just that – to be served by the Divine. We go to be served by God in both Word and Sacrament; and then to return thanks to him for that undeserved service. He calls us to feed upon the Gospel Word which is more life-giving than bread. He invites us to feed upon his Body and Blood, inviting us to take eat, take drink the very banquet of forgiveness. In other words, he calls us to feed upon grace. For so it is that Jesus reminds us the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; it was created for our benefit, not to load us down with new regulations and works.

    It’s grace we need if we are ever going to truly serve others as Cyzewski desires. We need constantly to be reminded that we serve others because God first served us – because he continues to serve us, day in, day out, week in, week out in Word and Sacrament, constantly pouring out grace upon grace to drown the Old Adam raging within us.

    We need constantly to hear the Gospel because the message of the Cross is far more than a one-time story; we aren’t saved once and then expected to live out the remainder of our earthly lives in our own strength. We need mercy daily. We need the promise of forgiveness whenever we fail to serve others as we ought so that we do not simply throw up our hands in frustration, cursing a God who demands too much of us. Likewise, we need constantly to be reminded that our good works, while necessary, are nevertheless imperfect (for we are all simul iustice et peccator), and that we therefore require God’s mercy in our works as much as in our deliberate sinning. For when we realize that God accepts our works not because they are perfect but because Christ is perfect, what freedom comes! We can serve others joyfully, not fearing judgment for not doing enough, not worrying about not getting it quite right. No, we can serve others joyfully because we trust God to get it right even though we can’t.

    In other words, I think the very purpose of church is to feed Christians – to remind them that their salvation is already won, to encourage them to serve others with the same grace God daily showers on them, and to give them regular opportunity to voice thanks for that grace. Certainly we can study the Scriptures on our own; but the whole point of pastoral ministry is to administer Word and Sacrament, like good doctors caring for the health of their patients. That’s the real meat of a pastor’s work; the rest (while good) is gravy.

    As the old saying goes, you are what you eat. And if we want to be little Christs, then what we desperately need to eat is Christ and his Gospel. For it is only in that way that we come to be able to confess with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” That trust in grace, that recognition that Christ empowers us, indeed, overwhelms us with himself, subsumes our identity into his own – that’s the basis for good works. Works won’t come if pastors simply call us to be better people; let them instead preach the Gospel, feed us weekly on Word and Sacrament. Only then will the fruits of the Spirit take root in our hearts.

  2. Very Lutheran indeed, Cap’n. 🙂

    I’ll admit that I’m more ambivalent about Cyzewski’s vision: certainly I don’t want to discount the teachings of the apostles when the Church gathers, and I do think that oratory is the vehicle by which some of the best such teaching happens. That said, I’m also inclined to see Church, as presented in the New Testament, as nothing short of a true ekklesia, a gathering that has its own being that’s distinct from even if not separable from the acts of those gathered. To put it in terms of another Pauline image, the body of Christ in a place that therefore acts in the name of the Messiah.

    In other words, I think Cyzewski’s post, even if it shades away from the traditional Lutheran conception of the gathered-faithful, does helpfully steer towards a conception of Church that encompasses both the saved-people image and the body-of-Christ image.

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