Obedience is so Mid-Century Modern

The photograph above looks really dated.  There is nothing about the actuality of mid-century modern architecture and style that should ever be repeated, and yet, many hours of HGTV tells me that we’re in for a 1960s reprise.  For some reason, as I read the Collect for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, all I could think of was the awkwardness of the late 50s and early 60s.  Obedience just seems like such an outdated word, something to which we can never return.

Marion Hatchett tells us that this Collect comes from the Book of Common Worship in the Church of South India.  That text, published in 1964, was the culmination of a decade and a half of hard work to bring together disparate traditions into one, big, ecumenical tent, and it was, like any liturgical text, a product of its times.  In most of the world, a bride still pledged obedience as part of the marriage vows (in a very American move, TEC eliminated the word in the run up to the 1928 BCP).  In a world still reeling from a World War and coming to terms with growing tensions between America and Russia in the Cold War, obedience to the ideologies of your country and its allies was of utmost importance.  Heck, Father Knows Best had only gone off the air in 1960.

In the intervening five decades, a lot has changed, not least of which is our attitude toward the word obedience.  As a culture, beginning with Baby Boomers and gaining strength in each successive generation, we’ve come to be suspicious of those who would claim authority and command our obedience.  These days, everyone wants to be their own boss and make their own rules.  Even one of the football teams vying for a National Championship this evening is doing so by embracing horizontal leadership and without yelling.  Obedience is a lost art, and yet this Sunday, like every Second Sunday after the Epiphany, we’ll pray that Christ might be “known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.”

I wonder if our 2015 minds can even begin to imagine what that would look like?  Have we strayed so far from obedience that we can’t imagine a world united under Christ’s reign? Have we become so obsessed with I’m OK, you’re OK “theology” that we can’t fit obedience to God in our image of discipleship?  Obedience just feels so outdated, so counter cultural, dare I say, so radical, a claim that perhaps its worth exploring in a sermon this week.

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