By Bob Hiller –
Last Sunday was amazing! My congregation in beautiful Escondido, CA hosted our circuit’s Reformation service, and it was epic! (A “circuit,” for those of you outside of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, is a group of congregations close in proximity to each other). A massive, multi-congregational choir, an orchestra, a guest preacher from Concordia University (who totally delivered the “goods” of Christ for us), the Sacrament, and, afterwards, an outstanding Octoberfest celebration all worked together for the good of the church! If this incredible service and celebration wasn’t enough, I came home that night to listen to one of the greatest World Series games in recent memory (though, last year’s Game 7 is hard to top). Game 5 of the Astros/Dodgers series was an epic, extra-inning, home-run heavy 13-12 victory for the Astros. I’ve never experienced a game that incredible on a stage that big. Sunday was amazing!
But then came the rest of the week. Though the congregation was still buzzing from Sunday’s service, the church staff dove right back into the normal old routine. For me, I had to start planning for the next Sunday, making hospital calls, prepping Bible studies, scheduling meetings and, yes, fielding complaints about minor hiccups during our epic service. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining. I loved Monday! I love what I’ve been doing all week. It is just that, well, Sunday was exhilarating! And Tuesday afternoon was just mundane.
Incidentally, the World Series sort of went the same way. Game 6 was good as the Dodgers had to fight to keep themselves alive, but Game 7 was, for lack of a better word, bland (unless you are an Astros fan, of course). Houston could not wait to score in Game 7 and came out swinging. The Dodgers, on the other hand, looked like they had just shown up for a normal day of work. Apart from the intensity of the first two innings, it was a pretty lack-luster game for the casual fan. The Dodgers never really threatened, nor did I get the impression they had that killer instinct necessary to win. It was Game 7 of the World Series, but if you didn’t know any better, it just felt like an average game.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, there was still a lot to enjoy about that “normal” game of baseball! The coaches’ decisions on pitching changes, the mind-games between pitcher and hitter, the great defensive plays, and so on may have been somewhat normal and mundane, but the normal and mundane of baseball is still beautiful and fun! It was not a boring game by any stretch of the imagination. Game 5 was the exception to the rule. It was the sort of game even a non-baseball fan could have fun with. That’s what baseball is like at its pinnacle, the best of the best. From a game like that, anyone can see why baseball is the greatest of all sports. But to truly appreciate the beauty of Game 7, it takes more time, more investment, more thought. It’s harder work. But the person who invests in all 162 games of the regular season will tell you, the intensity of Game 7 was still palpable. For those fans, all 162 games, regardless of who plays and how much the game matters, are each works of art in their own right.
It struck me this week, after such an amazing Reformation celebration, that Sunday at our church was like Game 5. Everything was perfect, exciting, and full of emotional joy. It was the sort of service anyone from the street could have walked in on and said, “This is truly beautiful!” But trying to recapture that every single Sunday would be an exercise in futility. Further, to think that worship or our work is only “beautiful” when it is exciting and sensually exhilarating is to miss the glory of the mundane. Not every service in our congregations has a massive choir and an orchestra. But every service does have a congregation of sinful saints being forgiven with the same Word that forgave them last week. Our churches can’t always bring in a thrilling guest preacher. But we do have pastors who sit with their congregation members in the hospital, in their homes, and in weekly Bible studies so that they are ready to bring an important message on the normal, old 18th Sunday after Pentecost.
Work in the church and regular Sunday worship can be routine and mundane. But just like with any given game in the middle of the baseball season, that doesn’t mean they lack beauty or significance. The regular services are just as important to the life of the disciple as the high feast days. In fact, to truly appreciate the high feast days, it is crucial for us as Christians to be participating in the regular life of the church. Such discipline will open your eyes to see the depths and intricacies that make those high holy days more than just ascetically pleasing. A baseball fan who sits through game after game, season after season, found a depth of joy on Sunday night that is not easily attained by the casual fan. At the risk of sounding pietistic, though the depths of a beautiful service on a high festival day can be enjoyed by all Christians, those who engage in the regular life of the church more clearly see heaven breaking in during such festivals. Living in the mundane helps you see the beauty in the exceptional, but at the same time, the exceptional aids you in enjoying the true beauty you receive as a gift in the mundane.