Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020

From our first reading, these words of Isaiah: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being
shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the
robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself
with her jewels.” Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

It’s not unusual for me to preach about faith and spiritual matters which I am still working on
personally. The truth is, I don’t always practice what I preach, but I am still very much a work
in progress, with plenty of room for growth. And this morning I’m going to speak an area I
need to grow in… the emotional side of living as a child of God and worshipping God.

I believe I have shared this with you before, but as a young child I was very emotional. I cried a
lot and threw a lot of tearful tantrums. And as I grew up, I struggled with impatience and with a
horrible temper, which followed me into my adulthood. But somewhere along the line I sort of
turned it all off… or learned to hold it all inside, at least for the most part.

I must have heard it hundreds of times: “Big boys don’t cry!” Eventually that took hold and I
slowly but surely learned to stop crying, and also that my impatience and temper were going to
get me into increasing trouble. So, I guess I kind of outgrew my emotional outbursts.

Along the way, I also unfortunately learned that emotions were not really a part of faith, or even
of worship. At church every Sunday I was surrounded by stoic Lutherans, perhaps a few smiles,
some laughter… but not during church. Worship was serious business! Lutherans didn’t laugh
or cry or get very emotional at all. We left that up to the crazy Baptists and those charismatics.

Eventually I learned a little bit about why we Lutherans were like that. A big part of it was
cultural, a reflection of our Germanic heritage. But part of it was theological. It can be quite
problematic to tie our emotions too closely to our spirituality. If we get all emotional and jump
around and dance and laugh and cry and shout, it can become very easy to associate that with
experiencing the Holy Spirit. Maybe that’s okay, but what happens when the emotions fade.
Does that mean the Spirit has left us… or, worse, that we have left the Holy Spirit?

I continue to believe that this is a legitimate concern. It can be problematic to think that we are
only experiencing the Spirit when we are emotionally all fired up. Emotions rise and fall and
can be quite fickle, and if in the context of worship we become dependent on the music and the
preaching to always create a state of ecstatic emotions (or at least effectively entertain us) before
we feel we’re truly experiencing the Spirit, what happens when it all grows stale or boring?

Now, with that said, it is a real weakness of our human character that we tend to go from one
extreme to the other (and yes, I do believe this is true in the political realm as well!). It seems
that Newton’s third law of physics applies to many other areas as well: that for every action
there is an opposite and equal reaction. Lutherans have tended to react to our concerns about
the potential for getting carried away emotionally by trying to eliminate emotions all together
from our worship. We criticize others for confusing ecstatic emotions with experiencing the
Holy Spirit, and then we go to the other extreme and act as if the only way to worship is
stoically, repressing and keeping our emotions in check. Are we—am I—a bit out of balance?

The scriptures are full of emotional responses. Especially the Psalms. The truth is, there are
some theological issues with what is expressed in many of the Psalms. If we were to base our
understanding of God and His ways on what is expressed by the various writers of the Psalms,
we would quite frankly return to a works righteousness theology of salvation and would not at
all feel called to love our enemies. Actually, many of the Psalmists do pray for their enemies…
that pray for their downfall and destruction, sometimes in very brutal and shocking terms.

The Psalms are not given to us for theological understanding but demonstrate that is it good and
healthy to express ALL of our emotions to God. Questions and doubts, anger and frustration,
struggles and repentance are all parts of our journey. And, of course, the Psalms are also filled
with wonderful expressions of joy and happiness, praise and thanksgiving, faith and trust. They
show the value of a balanced emotional/spiritual walk with God and give voice to our emotions.

Consider the pure joy expressed in our text: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall
exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe
of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her
jewels.” What is more emotional and joyful than a wedding?! How ought we to feel when we
come to increasingly understand that the guilt of our ugly sinful self has been removed, and that
we are now clothed with robes of salvation and righteousness?

To see the entire spectrum, consider the journey of Mary, one which began with the shock of the
visitation of an angel, the humble and yet also spectacular and meaningful birth of her firstborn
son. The parenting of Jesus surely had to be filled with all of the joys and struggles of family
life, lots of love and laughter. But then came the adult years. Mary witnessed at least the first of
her son’s miracles—the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana, which enabled the
joyful celebration to continue. Then followed a few years of miracles and teachings which some
praised and others vehemently condemned. Surely Mary heard and pondered all the rumors.

But Mary had heard and certainly pondered over the years the warnings of the prophet Simeon
in the story from our Gospel reading, who took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God, but
concluded with these words: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword
will pierce your own soul too.” How utterly heart-shattering the final days of her son’s life must
have been for Mary. But then came the resurrection! Talk about an opposite and equal
reaction! What sheer joy.

Our lives are truly emotional roller coasters. And it is right and proper for those emotions to
play an important role in our spirituality. Our prayers can follow the examples of the Psalmists,
expressing the whole range of our emotions. And our worship can follow suit. It is right and
proper for us to laugh and cry as we gather to encounter our God in this place. We can get
excited and sing for joy, and we can express fear, heartbreak and disappointment as well.

Given the kind of year we are more than ready to bid farewell to, I can’t help but feel a whole
range of emotions as I express to God my gratitude for the incredible blessings he continues to
shower upon me and my family, including the opportunity to be part of this church family. And
at the same time, I come here to express my fears and concerns, commending them into the
loving and powerful hands of my Abba Father. This is a place to get emotional! Amen.

 

 
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