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

We Should See More of Each Other

“We should see more of each other.” That was my dentist’s gentle way of admonishing me to avail myself of his professional care for my teeth with greater regularity. Going to the dentist is likely not among anyone’s favorite activities, but I’ve been through enough dental issues over the years to know that I really can’t afford to neglect this aspect of my health and well-being.

I was struck by the comment, because it was sincerely spoken and to the point. It did not occur to me for even a moment, nor would it ever have crossed my mind, to suppose that he was interested in getting more of my business and my money. He’s a good dentist, and his practice has never been hurting for patients. He’s cared for my family’s teeth for many years, and he’s always demonstrated a genuine interest in us as people. His office has been generous and gracious in making time for us and meeting our needs, without ever gouging us. So, I knew that his comment was not about his income but about my teeth. I also knew that he was quite right.

The other thing that struck me, even as I was sitting there in the chair and reflecting on his point, was how apropos the same comment would be in the context of my pastoral care for the people entrusted to my oversight as a minister of the Word of Christ.

I’ve not actually used the phrase with any of my parishioners, but it has certainly crossed my mind in many cases. To those who are in church only rarely or intermittently, to those who absent themselves from catechesis, to those who do not avail themselves of confession and absolution when it is offered, and to those who do not seek me out for pastoral care when they are facing issues in their lives or contemplating difficult choices and decisions, I should very much like to say, “We should see more of each other.” And it would have nothing to do with their “business” or their money, but about my care and concern for them as their pastor.

In conversations with many of my colleagues over the past couple decades, especially with those I am closest to, I know that anxious concern for those who are too often absent from the Liturgy is at the forefront of most pastors’ minds and weighs heavily on their hearts. But most do not know how to express this in a way that may be heard and received as it is intended. If anything is said at all, it is likely to be met with resistance, defensiveness, or excuses, perhaps even with anger and increased avoidance, the very opposite of the desired response. A pastor recognizes that such reactions are themselves a symptom of the underlying problem, which is the lack or absence of the spiritual care which is so necessary for spiritual health and strength.

Those who avoid and absent themselves from the liturgical life of the Lord’s Church are often fond of saying that they don’t have to go to church to be Christians, to be “spiritual,” or to be saved. Such comments betray the sickness of a dead or dying faith. It is true, of course, that the good work of going to church, simply going through the motions of being there, will not earn or merit forgiveness, life, and salvation. But staying away and refusing to go to church is far, far worse; it is faithless and sinful, and it is detrimental to the point of being deadly to the Christian faith and life. Because being in the Lord’s House in the fellowship of His Body is not a matter of impressing Him or anyone else, but it is the primary way of worshiping the Lord, the one true God, by hearing His Word of the Gospel and receiving His grace, His forgiveness, His divine Life and eternal Salvation, in the flesh and blood of the incarnate Son. It is a matter of being cared for by the Good Physician of soul and body, within the Liturgy of His Word and Sacrament, through the ministry of His called and ordained servants.

Spiritual self-care and spiritual self-medication are far more precarious and ultimately hopeless endeavors than attempting one’s own dentistry would ever be. Obviously, to pray and confess the Word of the Lord is a daily discipline of every Christian, regardless of age or circumstances. But nobody can pray or confess what he has not heard or received, nor can anybody pray to One whom he does not know. Which is why it is the self-defeating height of self-righteousness to suppose that being a Christian and being saved could ever be a do-it-yourself project or program. And to suppose that a pastor is being legalistic when he says, in so many words, “We should see more of each other,” is to misunderstand the Gospel or to miss it entirely.

No mother would simply dismiss the absence of any of her children from the family table. No father would cavalierly ignore the absence of any of his children from house and home at the end of the day. And no doctor or dentist with any kind of conscientious integrity would neglect the needs of his patients. Neither can a pastor set aside his concern for the sheep of the Good Shepherd who have been entrusted to his care. It’s not a desire for cash or crowds of people, nor a craving for celebrity or popularity, but an exercise of love for the children of God.

Beloved of the Lord, you and your pastor “should see more of each other,” that you might hear and receive the Lord Jesus in the Liturgy of His Gospel, in the courts of the Lord’s House, in the fellowship of His family, the Church. God grant that I and all His pastors might find the ways and words to say so as gently, sincerely, and to the point as my good and faithful dentist.