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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A parable, sort of

Whether you're Norwegian or not, bear with me for a minute.

Some of us, at family gatherings, argue about lefse. Not just how to spell it ("lefsa" or "lefse" -- my spell check doesn't recognize either version) but how to eat it. White sugar and butter? Brown sugar? White sugar and cinnamon? Heated or cold? Ask people how they like to eat lefse and you'll get a startling variety of responses.

In some families, however, you'll find a whole different level of questions. Ask the question, "How do you like to eat lefse?" and some family members will respond, "What's lefse?" In the Scandinavian ghetto where I grew up, everyone knew what lefse was and everyone ate it the right way -- with butter and white sugar, of course. But as I moved out into the world, I found that not only were there people who ate lefse differently, but there were people who didn't even know what it was. (Me, in the bakery at the local grocery store in Port Orchard, Washington: "It's sort of like a tortilla made out of potatoes ..." Grocery store guy: "You're kidding.")

I was recently at a gathering with several other pastors. Since one of my hobbies is listening in on other people's conversations, I spent a good deal of time comparing things. I noticed that there were two kinds of conversations happening around me. In one set of conversations, we discussed Holden Evening Prayer vs. Taize, albs vs. no vestments, the Heidelberg Disputations vs. the Augsburg Confession. The other set of conversations revolved around one simple question: How do we connect a dying world to Jesus, the giver of Life?

Often Christians are guilty of majoring in the minors. Contemporary vs. traditional worship? NIV vs. NRSV vs. KJV vs. ESV? Arminianism vs. Calvinism? Predestination vs. Open Theism? Seven Day Creation vs. Theistic Evolution? Wooden pulpits vs. Plexiglass? Hymnals vs. projected words? Transubstantiation vs. Real Presence vs. Meal of Remembrance?

I know, I know, I'm going to get angry emails from people telling me that these things are Really Important. And in some sense, they are. But they are important in the sense that it's important to know the difference between a dogpaddle and an Australian Crawl if you're going to compete in the Olympics. If all you need to do is get to the riverbank so you don't drown, it's not an important question. Christians need to realize that our main job is to introduce people to Jesus, what the Bible calls "making disciples." It is not our primary task to teach these disciples the difference between the Council of Chalcedon and the Council of Trent.

So, for example, one of the arguments that rages this time of year between Christians is this: How soon is it appropriate to start using Christmas carols in worship? Some will say December 24th is as early as it should happen. Until then we sing "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and "On Jordan's Banks the Baptist's Cry" and such. Others say that once Thanksgiving is over, it's fair to sing "O Come All Ye Faithful" and all the rest. What if we quit arguing about such trivia and asked instead, how can I best invite those who don't know Jesus this Advent to know him?

Such a question might rock our churches. But then, they might need to be rocked.

Pass the lefse.

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