HE MAKES THE SOUL TO THINK AND THE SPIRIT TO SING
REMEMBER the Generation Gap? That was what happened when the GI generation came face to face with its children, the Boomers. These generations had such different personalities. Granted there was one in between, the "Silent" generation born between 1925 and 1942. It had the values of the GIs, but the temperament of the Boomers, but the main confrontation did not involve these. It was between a materialistic, outer-directed, very gregarious older generation, and an inner directed, easily-distracted, self-motivated younger set. These younger people grew up as Christians in the church. The older set had provided a lot for them, but it had not provided what the Boomers wanted most of all; uplifting flexibly-structured spiritual snacks, so the youth turned to other things. The older Boomers turned to Yoga, drugs, psychics, cults, and "life-management techniques." Ten years later the younger Boomers turned to pop evangelicalism. What did the GIs make of this? At first they thought the weird things were just toys that the Boomers would outgrow, but they were distressed at how the younger generation passed up the toys that the older ones had made for them: the youth choirs, the organizations to learn parliamentary procedure - such as Walther League, the guilds of acolytes and junior chancel ladies that dealt with the worship infrastructure, the high school Bible classes. These were all too much like school for the Boomers. They wanted something that would make them feel good, so they turned to paganism and false prophets who gave them what they wanted.
The older generation held to its traditions. In themselves traditions are not bad. If you are familiar with the short stories of Sholem Aleichem, his main character is Tevye the milkman. He says Without tradition our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof. For us tradition has been a solid anchor, preserving God's Word and Sacraments. The tradition is our tool for responding to God's mercy, but there is a demon in tradition. It can become a way of token fulfillment of religious duties. If you find that divine service is a grudging offering to get God off your back, then tradition is failing you. The prophet Amos saw that happening in ancient Israel, and told the people Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to your instruments... Religion without compassion, without charity, without a genuine encounter with God and man no matter how traditional, is a demonic substitute for genuine worship. Even as I say this, I don't want to join the chorus of religious commentators who have been giving tradition a verbal beating for about 50 years now. Of course there have been places where the soil went dry, but there is no need for Orthodoxy to be dead While the temptation of the older generation was to reduce the church to administrative machinery, it did not always yield to that. Often the church had genuine love among the members. The Orthodoxy was very much living.
Change in itself is not bad either. As long as the ark of faith is anchored to the cross, the rope is rather long. Each Christian has his own space, as long as the center is the Word made flesh, the Lamb that was slain, offered in pulpit and altar. Once the center becomes anything else, such as increased numbers, then the rope has been cut. The Great Commission is to baptize and teach, not to attract customers, nor to make people feel good.
How things have turned around! Now the Boomers are the older generation, still wanting flexibility, inner-directed programming, and innovation. The young Millennials, born since 1982, are hungry for tradition, but the question isn't who's young and who's old. The church has to do what Jesus said. There must be worship, there must be education for the young and the mature, there must be Christian discipline and guidance, and there must be organization. To make things simple, the church has to think and the church has to sing. The tradition is good at getting people to think, but not at getting them to sing. Even if they sing on the outside, they don't always sing on the inside. The innovators have tremendous enthusiasm, lots of song, and praise for the Lord, but they are not very discriminating. They talk about spontaneous emotion, but usually settle for manipulated emotion. They feel forgiven, but keep on living in sin in one way or another.
Our primary concern should be that we're going God's way. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He brings us to repentance, He causes us to remember Jesus, He keeps shaking the church. He will not let us go to sleep. We must never get to the point where we cling to the ground Jesus walked on instead of the cross He died on. The Holy Spirit gives the church her true treasure. Best of all, He does not have to choose between thinking and singing. God made the soul to think and the spirit to sing. The Holy Spirit makes us think about sin and grace, then He makes us sing about it. He makes us think about the hope of heaven, then makes us sing about it, and He connects us to the church of the past - the largest part by far. Does He want us to be spiritual? Careful, that world is divided, too. We are always behind enemy lines, never more so than when we think we're holy. The reality is the cross and the empty tomb. Christ was handed over for our transgressions and raised again for our justification. We must think because the situation is serious. We must appreciate how serious our salvation is. We must be happy about it. We sing because the victory is real.
Once there was a spring which made people dream wonderful dreams. People came from all over the world to drink from it. The local owners put in motels and restaurants, card and souvenir shops, movies about the spring. By and by the stuff around it became more important than the spring itself. When an occasional visitor wanted to drink from the real spring, the locals didn't want to bother with it. they called him a hopeless traditionalist because he wouldn't settle for the expensive kitsch. Dear friends, our spring is the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Our dippers are the Word and Sacraments. These are the true treasures of the church. We may have honest differences, but never lose sight of these. They are what makes us a church. AMEN.
~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross