Indifference is not characteristic of the liturgy
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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Is Article 21 Still Relevant to Lutherans?

By Larry Beane

Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us.  We "have all we want" is a terrible saying when "all" does not include God.  We find God an interruption."  As St. Augustine says somewhere, "God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full - there's nowhere for Him to put it."  Or as a friend of mine said, "We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it's there for emergencies but he hopes he'll never have to use it."  Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him.

~ C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Perhaps the reason why so many modern men and women are having difficulty integrating their lives, and thereby finding meaning and satisfying relationships, is because they are confused about the roles which their work, their play, and their worship are playing in their lives.

~ Gordon Dahl (quoted in Leisure, Play, and Reflections on Recreation by David L. Jewell)

I think a lot of people have a tough time figuring out where to "put" God in their lives, how to integrate faith with their work and leisure time.  We see this in the culture that surrounds us.

This newspaper article not only deals with liturgy - if only in passing - it invokes (in a certain sense) Article 21 of the Augsburg Confession (The Cult of the Saints).  I'm obviously being a little tongue-in-cheek here, but only a little.  In our culture, entertainment, rather than worship, is what drives architects and builders to fashion magnificent towering structures, and is also what impels people by the thousands to fill them.

When do cultural phenomena cross that thin line from just having a little good clean fun, having an innocent distraction from the worries of the workplace, to being rank idolatry?  The question is especially poignant when popular culture intersects with Christ in the Church's worship and in the hearts and minds of believers?  In this sense, does Article 21 still have something to say to us Lutherans - especially here in America?

Article 21 is indeed about something good (the veneration of the saints) being corrupted into something bad (the worship of the saints).  At its core, Article 21 is really a practical application of Commandment 1.  And for modern Lutherans, I wonder if we make a good connection with Article 21 any more, or do we see it just as a hammer with which to bash our Roman Catholic brethren over the heads.  For though we might not pray to the Blessed Virgin or ask St. Anthony to help us find our car keys, I think we Lutherans (being poor miserable sinners) also must be careful that we don't "drop the ball" when it comes to raising veneration of creatures and creaturely luxuries - and even innocent distractions - to the status of worship.

And this phenomenon is not just a New Orleans thing - though we in this particularly Roman Catholic region of America often make explicit use of Christian terminology applied to sports - sometimes even blasphemously.

At its heart, Article 21 is about (as Luther said somewhere) letting "God be God," and not crossing lines that should not be crossed.  There is indeed much by way of pastoral wisdom to ponder on this topic.