Sunday, February 1, 2009

...and Disappointment is Transformed into Joy

I spoke about my struggle on this deployment in finding proper religious support previously.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised when I visited the chapel this morning for the "not Lutheran but will be familiar" liturgical service. He was right. It was not really Lutheran. There was a great deal that I missed:

- The attendance was small... only three or four.

- We read liturgical responses and read the lectionary, but did not sing any hymns.

- There is no organist available for the service.

- The Lord's Supper is open communion and it is obvious that the "Armed Forces" liturgical book has carefully phrased the rite to not step on anyone's toes about what the Supper actually is. You can drive a truck through the holes that the language leaves open for interpretation.

- The service was very informal and casual. One could say that it was only liturgical in format and not really in practical execution. The only rubrics that were explicitly given were standing for the Gospel, approaching the table for communion, and the chaplain made the Sign of the Cross during the benediction (which, sad to say, is an amazingly rare thing to see in the protestant chaplaincy!)

There are other liturgical services in the area that have much more of the nice things in the liturgy. If I want hymns and organs and kneeling, I can go to the Presbyterian chaplain's service... but I am going to stick with this one. Me... the "Liturgical Nut". Why?

Because deep down, it is always - always - about substance over style.

The humble chaplain, in military uniform and not liturgical garb, stood at a music stand, put down the yellow papers with his notes, put one hand in his pocket...

...and proceeded to preach Christ crucified as the redemptive answer for we who are nothing more than wicked, sinful men! He was quiet and unassuming, but the clarity of Law and Gospel thundered in my thirsty soul. With the exception of when I was home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, this was the first time I had heard good preaching from a pulpit since the middle of October. How I missed it!

I would love to have those great outward things (and hopefully we will gently start to add them as we are able), but I will go without every single one of them if that is the only way that I can hear God's Word preached rightly. His insights were things that I’d never even considered.

Here is a quick review of his sermon. I hope I do it justice:

His source was the Gospel for the day: Mark 1:21-28 (imagine that! Preach the lectionary?!?)

He started out by talking about evil in the world… but he pointed not just to the things that we see as personified evil (Hitler, Stalin, etc), but also those things that we ourselves do (murder, adultery) and those things that we all do daily (lies, hate, greed). He even mentioned those external things that are evil because of the fallen condition of this created world as a result of Adam’s sin (illness, death, birth defects).

He then jumped back to the text. It was a little jarring because the segue was not clean at all. It seemed as though he was preaching two separated messages because he then dropped the thought about evil and jumped straight into this encounter with Christ in the temple with the demon possessed man.

The chaplain observed that it was interesting that Christ told the demon to be quiet and cast it out right away. The demon was professing that Christ was the Son of God after all. Isn’t that good for Christ’s publicity? Isn't that getting the message out? Isn’t this an amazing testimony of His divinity? Why silence this demon when He is speaking the truth? Wasn’t this an effective (read relevant) way to present the truth about Christ?

The chaplain then went to Peter’s profession of faith in Mark 8. He quoted the whole passage and remarked that it was interesting that Christ told the apostles to not tell anyone that He was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Isn’t that good for Christ’s publicity? Isn’t this an amazing testimony of His divinity? Why silence all these witnesses that are convinced by what they have seen that Christ is the Son of God?

The chaplain then spoke about the crucifixion in Mark 15. He quoted the verses that spoke about Christ’s final moments on the cross. He then talked about the centurion who saw Christ’s moment of death and said, “Truly this man was the son of God!” The chaplain pointed out that, unlike the previous testimonies, this man was not told to be quiet.

He then tied his two desperate points about evil and the Gospel of Mark together with a simple, artful explanation. He said, “Mark really doesn’t care that Christ is a miracle worker. Even false prophets can do miracles. Mark's gospel is not concerned that we get that Christ is a great healer or an exorcist. Mark is not writing so that you will know that Christ is a good teacher. All of these things are true, but hear what Mark is saying: Mark is pointing us to the redemption that is found nowhere else but with Christ on the cross… this is God’s definitive answer to all the evil and sin that we face every day.” He then spoke in greater detail about the forgiveness and hope of our salvation. Praise God!

Crux sola est nostra theologia! Lutheran preaching, Oh how I have missed you!

No comments: