Deep calleth Unto Deep

In 1981 I attended a Synod-sponsored introduction of the then “new” hymnal, Lutheran Worship. This is where we adapted the thoroughly inaccurate “And also with you” in mimicry of Rome. Our new, new hymnal Lutheran Service Book (How I wish they had named it Lutheran Book of Service. The acronym would have been priceless.) retained it saying that it was so popular now there was no way of going back. Rome about- faced easily enough in their new order. Give us another 20 years, and we probably will too.

Twenty more years is two more hymnals according to the presenter at the October 2006 Synod-sponsored introduction to Lutheran BS I means Lutheran SB. He said the life of a hymnal is only about 10 years. So TLH had a life of about 40 years; LW a life of about 20; and Synod expects LSB to have a lifespan of 10. By that mythical year 2525, immortalized in song, it will be a new hymnal every Sunday. O wait the contemporary, emerging “church” is already doing that.

In any event, at the 1982 event the presenter told the story of a pastor thinking there was something wrong with his mic saying, “There’s something wrong with this mic,” and the congregation dutifully chanting, “And also with you.” I always thought it was apocryphal till I read this delightful vignette from The Story of Religion in America first published in 1930.

Here’s the account from the 18th century: “The story is told of a New England deacon, who, because of failing eyesight, found difficulty in reading the first line of the Psalm and he apologized by observing: ‘My eyes, indeed, are very blind.’  The choir thinking this the first line of a common-meter hymn immediately sang it; whereupon the deacon exclaimed: ‘I cannot see at all.’ This the choir also sang. Astonished, the deacon cried out: ‘I really believe you are bewitched’ and the choir responded, ‘I really believe you are bewitched,’ whereupon the deacon added, ‘The mischief’s in you all,’ and after the choir had sung that, the deacon sat down in disgust” (57-8).

The words thrown back and forth between pastor and people really do matter. If they are shallow and trite they will be like the vesicles and responses between cheerleaders and fans. “We’ve got spirit! How about you?”  If the Words are those belonging to God then deep is calling unto deep.  The Spirit of the Lord searches the deep things of God according to 1 Corinthians 2:10.  The Spirit is connected to the Words of God not to the words of men no matter how cheerfully, enthusiastically, or seriously they are said. Likewise no matter how feebly, limply, or shakily the Words of God are said all the Spirit of God goes with them.

Funny things do happen in Divine Service. Like the time a pastor said in a sermon, “And Simon drew out his sword and cut off his Peter.”  All one can do is laugh at times like this. What we don’t want to do is have divine services that share things back and forth that are laughable in and of themselves.


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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