Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Day 62: Happy Reformation!

If you're looking for John's clinic appt info for the day, scroll down, it's in the next post down.

Yes, I know Reformation Day is actually tomorrow and most everyone celebrated it this past Sunday, but for me I like today, as today is also the anniversary of my confirmation and it and Reformation Day just belong together, and if the churches can just willy nilly move it, I think I get to too.

I spent some time trying to explain to John that when we celebrated Reformation we were celebrating the revealing of Jesus, that the church had covered him with useless traditions, indulgences and such and that what Martin Luther did was take away these things that hid our Lord from us. I've run into lots of people over my years as a Lutheran who believe that our liturgy, the pastor's vestments, and old hymns are more of these useless traditions that hide Jesus from seekers and young people. I've never understood this, we aren't requiring praying to saints, we're not seeking money for elevation out of purgatory and we surely aren't conducting the worship service in a language foreign to the people.

For me coming to the Lutheran church was a life saver. Ever since I 'asked Jesus into my heart' as a child in the Baptist church I worried and wondered, fretted and despaired that I hadn't done it right, that I didn't really mean it or that maybe I only meant it then but didn't mean it today. As a teenager I was tempted by all the things that other teens are tempted by and surely if Jesus came and lived in my heart I wouldn't be tempted to do these things. I went forward at nearly every altar call hoping, praying that someone could assure me that I was really a Christian. To this day I cringe every time we sing 'Just as I Am', not because it's a bad hymn, but because it brings back bad memories of fear and despair.

As time went on I was confused by the insistence that the wine that Jesus made at Cana was really grape juice and since that wasn't really true I was able to start discounting a lot of the rest of the scriptures also. It started with Creation, that's a hard one to swallow and so it, like the wine, must not really be what it said, and then of course Virgin Birth, resurrection and so on and so forth until I came to the point in my life that I was pretty sure that Jesus was really only the Savior of Christians and all gods were pretty equal and equally useless.

The first rescue from this disastrous line of thinking was the death of my dad. It's hard to think of something so heartbreaking as a lifeline, but it was, because I hurt and I missed him so very much that I had to figure out where he went. Evidence in my dad's life pointed to Christ and to heaven as his home, that started me thinking that maybe I should give this religion thing another try, after all the things that I was doing wasn't making me happy and in fact I was spiraling into depression. So I called my sister and asked if I could attend church with her for the month of September 1994. I was sure that I needed to go for a whole month to give it a chance, and then if that didn't work I would move on and try other Christian denominations until I found one that could fill the hole that alcohol, smoking and trashy friends weren't being able to fill.

My sister attended Our Savior Lutheran Church in Stevensville, Mt and that is where I headed that Sunday morning in September. I was shocked that the walls didn't fall in or the roof crumble on my head, surely if God knew all the things that I had done the pew that I chose to sit in would turn into an ejection seat and I'd soon find myself flying back out to the parking lot. Instead I found peace. I spent most of the first service just sitting listening in shock. I had never heard the liturgy before and I was amazed, I was in awe, all these people were speaking Words that I knew were from the Bible, Words that spoke of Christ. Most of them spoke the liturgy without the book in their hands and I was so amazed that these Words were a part of them, I wanted them to be part of me too. The hymns sang about Christ too, not about me, but about Christ and what He had done. I was eager to return the next week.

The next week was just as wonderful and this time I actually found that I could follow along in the hymnal a bit. I really liked that the service was the same, it made it timeless, like I had never left last week, and gave me more time to absorb those wonderful Words that these people knew and lived. I wasn't offended or put off by the old hymns, the Thee's and Thou's or any of the liturgy, on the contrary it had a majesty, a holiness, somehow when it was going on and the people were speaking and singing, it was like being in a different place, like being in heaven maybe, maybe better than any being in heaven had ever been described to me before.

Soon the pastor preached a sermon in which he said that if any part of you, even the smallest part desired to be with Christ and to be good, then you already were a Christian. I was shocked. All this time, since way before I had 'asked Jesus into my heart', way before I was baptized I had wanted to be a Christian and be good to others, I had been a Christian all along. He went on to talk about faith not depending on us, that it depended on Christ and His work. Another shock, you mean it didn't depend on me trying to be good, it didn't depend on me chasing out my own doubts, somehow that made being good and believing even easier to do, it didn't make sense but for the first time in a long, long time I was starting to feel hopeful. But still there was that nagging feeling, if only they knew the things that I had done they wouldn't be sitting in church singing and speaking of Christ, they'd be marching me to the parking lot and helping me on my way.

The very next week the pastor preached a sermon on forgiveness, he told me, surely he was just talking to me, that God knew my sin, even those sins that were so awful that I could barely even manage to admit them to myself, God knew and Jesus died to pay for them and they were all forgiven, every last one, even the ones that I couldn't speak out loud. That wasn't the first time that I sat in church and cried, and it certainly wasn't the last, but it was the first time since I was a little kid that I felt free, felt that even I could be loved by God, indeed was loved by God. I needed to be here, I needed to be surrounded by this wonderful liturgy and hear these words all the time, why exactly didn't we have church every day.

The pastor wasn't much on catechesis and poor Mark has had to fill in a lot of blanks since then, but I was confirmed on that Reformation Sunday, the 30th of October, 1994. All of this was just in the nick of time, of course in God's perfect time, because it was then that our church, yes - my church, had a vicar, the vicar that I fell in love with and the vicar that is now the pastor that I love to this day. Without this beautiful liturgy and these Words of Christ spoken through a pastor, well I don't even like to think about where I would have ended up or the wonderful things in life that I would have missed out on.

I still run into people that find the liturgy and old hymns of the church too restrictive. I love the TLH, I love those hymns and yes some of the hymns out of the newer hymnals too, they give me freedom, the freedom to live each day without fear of the sins of the past and with the love and desire to take care of the people, the neighbors that are here now. I was thinking about this last night and to me the closest comparison to the freedom given by the liturgy and real hymns is the freedom given to John by his specialized chair. This chair is rather restrictive and keeps the trunk of his body stable so that he can concentrate on moving his arms and head and mouth and such. This is what the restriction of the liturgy does for me, it holds me up and supports my weak faith so that I can spend my energy battling my sinful nature and taking care of my family and my neighbor. I am too weak of a Christian to indulge in the fads and trends of contemporary worship. I constantly need the Words of Absolution spoken in my ears to remind me that I am forgiven, and as often as possible I need, I crave the forgiveness given in the Lord's Supper. I often think that Jesus had me in mind when He instituted this, knowing that I'm so stubborn and slow to believe He made His forgiveness so real that I could touch it, smell it and taste it and offers it over and over lest I forget and slide back into the despair of unbelief.

Honestly this is what I miss the most about home, I certainly miss being with Mark all the time, being in our house and having our church family around, but when it comes right down to it the thing that I miss the most is standing amongst my church family singing the liturgy and hymns, being fed forgiveness in all its wonderful forms and knowing that for that little while my feet may be on earth, the rest of me, the rest of me is somewhere else, somewhere in the very presence of Christ with these who have become my friends and family, and those of my family who have gone there before me.

So Happy Reformation Day from me!


elephantschild said...

>>I really liked that the service was the same, it made it timeless, like I had never left last week<<<


>>>and as often as possible I need, I crave the forgiveness given in the Lord's Supper.<<<

ME TOO. How do other Christians go without this? I don't understand it.

Good writing. Thank you.

Just us Wryms said...

I don't understand it either. I did have a long conversation one afternoon with Professor Marquart about loved ones who didn't crave this and whom I worried about, and he told me that they are denying themselves the comfort that is available here on earth, making their own road more difficult to travel. That we should continue to pray to them and to answer questions as we are asked, but to concentrate our efforts on the unsaved of the world. I so miss that saint!

elephantschild said...

You should consider submitting your story to Word and Sacrament. :)


I have a friend here in the area of a Bapticostal sort of background. She's not happy at the Southern Baptist church they attend now, but I can't get them to consider the LCMS. She and her husband just can't "buy" the whole sacraments idea. They are going thru interviews now to join an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church. (!!! YIKES!) I so wish I could email her your story - but I've said enough to her already, and now I've got to be quiet!

Just us Wryms said...

Honestly the sacraments took me a long time to get. Mark worked with me over and over and with patience and love taught me again and again. Finally I realized that the thing that I loved the most about the Lutheran church was that God's Word was God's Word and it didn't need any dressing up or explaining away, and so if God said it was really body and blood or that baptism really saved, I didn't have to understand it I just had to believe it.

I look back and am amazed at how strenuously I objected to these simple, lovely means of grace when now they are the center of my life. My sister and mom used to attend the Lutheran church and are back in the Baptist church (actually probably the same one your friends are joining) because they just never believed that the sacraments are what they are. I tried, in vain, to persuade them that God's Word says and so it is. Finally, thanks to Professor Marquart I just loved my family and went on with life.

I will look at that website, and thanks for the encouragement.

Cheryl said...

This is an awesome post, Gina. Thanks for sharing your story (and for continuing to keep us posted with updates & pictures of John--whenever I see a photo I just wish I could reach in to the computer and pick him up and hug him).

Just us Wryms said...

Oh you're welcome, it's nice to have people to share with!

Weekend Fisher said...

Found you through the Lutheran Carnival. This post meant a lot to me. Thank you.