Saturday, July 4, 2015

A right place and a right time. . .

Reprinted from last year by popular request. . .

Here in the South it is not uncommon on the patriotic Sundays (nearest Memorial Day, July 4th, Veteran's Day, etc...) for churches to have patriotic services.  A color guard brings in the flag.  Patriotic songs are sung and perhaps a Sousa march is played.  A sermon inevitably addresses the sacrifices of those who paid for our liberty with their lives, on the need for national repentance to regain God's favor upon our nation, and on the special status of America before God.  I do not know if this is done in other nations but here it is common to weave together the fabric of faith and patriotism, at least on certain Sundays of the year.

I consider myself a patriotic American.  I am jealous about the good name and noble virtue of American exceptionalism in the world.  I am in awe of the faithful folk who have stood guard against our enemies and whose blood was shed on battlefields far and near for the sake of this nation and the freedom we value so highly.  I grew up carrying those white crosses adorned with poppies out to the cemeteries of fallen soldiers.  I still shudder when the guns of a military salute go off and tears well up in my eyes at the funerals of veterans when a soldier gets down on one knee and presents the flag to the bereaved on behalf of a grateful nation.  But there is no American flag inside the nave or chancel of this church and there should not be.

It is one of the gravest of sins to presume God's loyalty to a people or a land and to interweave faith and patriotism.  The resulting fabric will not be faithful to either cause when we assume that God is one of us (Americans or any other nation and people) and when we declare ours the only righteous land and citizenry in the world.  We do not do our nation or our faith any good by beating our chests and proclaiming God in our hip pocket.

If you are a patriotic American, then pray for the our President, the members of Congress, your Governor, state legislature, judges, mayors, and all levels of civil servants elected and appointed.  Do not pray for those you like or those with whom you agree but for all manner of leaders in the kingdom of the left.  Pray for their wisdom, for their faithfulness, for their faithful exercise of the powers entrusted to them as servants of the people, and pray for them to be people of truth and integrity who love justice, who act mercifully, and who carry the solemn mantle of public service humbly.  And while you are at it, do not speak so disparagingly of our politicians that no one of good repute and noble character would deign to serve the public good.

If you are a patriotic American, then render unto Caesar the things that are his as your civil, patriotic, and solemn duty.  Don't cheat on your income taxes and call it the great national sport.  Don't sit at home while others cast their ballots for people, initiatives, and referendums.  Don't be a silent minority or majority but engage the issues, causes, and conversations of the public square, guided by principle and faith as well.  Don't refuse to speak circumspectly or to act virtuously but show forth good citizenship as best you can until and unless to do so would violate God's law.

If you are patriotic American, then teach your children our history -- the good and the bad -- and urge them to give nothing less than their best for the cause of liberty, the rule of good law, and the common good.  Teach your children the sacrifices of those who went before them on lonely beachhead, in jungle heat, on thunderous wave, and cloudy sky to protect, preserve, and defend our freedom.  Teach your children not to squander this legacy of liberty in the pursuit of selfish endeavor or to justify lustful desire but to pursue it with honor, integrity, and virtue.  Teach your children to honor the flag without confusing flag and cross and thereby diminishing both.  Teach your children how the government works and prepare them for their own time when they must pass the torch to their own sons and daughters.

If you are a patriotic American, cheer on the defense of the defenseless, the protection of the vulnerable, the cause of the unborn, the aged, and the infirm, and challenge oppression, hatred, and bigotry in all its forms.  Honor life as precious gift and not as the prerogative of  rich, the powerful, or those who intimidate.  Refuse to allow life to be valued by the almighty dollar, the parade of accomplishments, or how productive one can be.  Protect rights without dismantling morality or diminishing virtue or surrendering right to wrong, goodness to evil.

Going to worship on a Sunday close to a national holiday and raising up the flag where Christ alone should reign helps neither patriotism nor the faith.  Be wary of those who intermix and confuse the two for they are prone to abuse one for the sake of the other.  God is not an American but live your life and profess your faith so that your patriotism will not diminish your faith and your faith will ennoble your life as citizen and both will be honored.  I know that there will be those who might take offense at what I have written but a patriot is more than someone who waves the flag a couple of times a year.


Here in the South it is not uncommon on the patriotic Sundays (nearest Memorial Day, July 4th, Veteran's Day, etc...) for churches to have patriotic services.  A color guard brings in the flag.  Patriotic songs are sung and perhaps a Sousa march is played.  A sermon inevitably addresses the sacrifices of those who paid for our liberty with their lives, on the need for national repentance to regain God's favor upon our nation, and on the special status of America before God.  I do not know if this is done in other nations but here it is common to weave together the fabric of faith and patriotism, at least on certain Sundays of the year.

I consider myself a patriotic American.  I am jealous about the good name and noble virtue of American exceptionalism in the world.  I am in awe of the faithful folk who have stood guard against our enemies and whose blood was shed on battlefields far and near for the sake of this nation and the freedom we value so highly.  I grew up carrying those white crosses adorned with poppies out to the cemeteries of fallen soldiers.  I still shudder when the guns of a military salute go off and tears well up in my eyes at the funerals of veterans when a soldier gets down on one knee and presents the flag to the bereaved on behalf of a grateful nation.  But there is no American flag inside the nave or chancel of this church and there should not be.

It is one of the gravest of sins to presume God's loyalty to a people or a land and to interweave faith and patriotism.  The resulting fabric will not be faithful to either cause when we assume that God is one of us (Americans or any other nation and people) and when we declare ours the only righteous land and citizenry in the world.  We do not do our nation or our faith any good by beating our chests and proclaiming God in our hip pocket.

If you are a patriotic American, then pray for the our President, the members of Congress, your Governor, state legislature, judges, mayors, and all levels of civil servants elected and appointed.  Do not pray for those you like or those with whom you agree but for all manner of leaders in the kingdom of the left.  Pray for their wisdom, for their faithfulness, for their faithful exercise of the powers entrusted to them as servants of the people, and pray for them to be people of truth and integrity who love justice, who act mercifully, and who carry the solemn mantle of public service humbly.  And while you are at it, do not speak so disparagingly of our politicians that no one of good repute and noble character would deign to serve the public good.

If you are a patriotic American, then render unto Caesar the things that are his as your civil, patriotic, and solemn duty.  Don't cheat on your income taxes and call it the great national sport.  Don't sit at home while others cast their ballots for people, initiatives, and referendums.  Don't be a silent minority or majority but engage the issues, causes, and conversations of the public square, guided by principle and faith as well.  Don't refuse to speak circumspectly or to act virtuously but show forth good citizenship as best you can until and unless to do so would violate God's law.

If you are patriotic American, then teach your children our history -- the good and the bad -- and urge them to give nothing less than their best for the cause of liberty, the rule of good law, and the common good.  Teach your children the sacrifices of those who went before them on lonely beachhead, in jungle heat, on thunderous wave, and cloudy sky to protect, preserve, and defend our freedom.  Teach your children not to squander this legacy of liberty in the pursuit of selfish endeavor or to justify lustful desire but to pursue it with honor, integrity, and virtue.  Teach your children to honor the flag without confusing flag and cross and thereby diminishing both.  Teach your children how the government works and prepare them for their own time when they must pass the torch to their own sons and daughters.

If you are a patriotic American, cheer on the defense of the defenseless, the protection of the vulnerable, the cause of the unborn, the aged, and the infirm, and challenge oppression, hatred, and bigotry in all its forms.  Honor life as precious gift and not as the prerogative of  rich, the powerful, or those who intimidate.  Refuse to allow life to be valued by the almighty dollar, the parade of accomplishments, or how productive one can be.  Protect rights without dismantling morality or diminishing virtue or surrendering right to wrong, goodness to evil.

Going to worship on a Sunday close to a national holiday and raising up the flag where Christ alone should reign helps neither patriotism nor the faith.  Be wary of those who intermix and confuse the two for they are prone to abuse one for the sake of the other.  God is not an American but live your life and profess your faith so that your patriotism will not diminish your faith and your faith will ennoble your life as citizen and both will be honored.  I know that there will be those who might take offense at what I have written but a patriot is more than someone who waves the flag a couple of times a year.

- See more at: http://pastoralmeanderings.blogspot.com/search?q=july+4th#sthash.SN1wR5wv.dpuf

Friday, July 3, 2015

Do not be afraid.

Sermon preached for midweek service, based on Luke 5:1-11 and  I Kings 19:11-21.

    Elisha had the call of the Lord on him; he could not plow nor sow any longer so the oxen were slaughtered and the pursued the Lord who had bidden in the still small voice to Elijah.  The kingdom of God will not take second place in our lives – not for mighty prophets of old or old pastors today or a people gathered in the Lord’s house on a Thursday morning.
    The disciples found it just this way on the Lake of Genneserat.  The biggest catch of their lives was threatening to sink them and Peter says to Jesus “Get away from me.”  To follow Jesus means to leave behind every fisherman's dream.
    Who among us will not admit some fear in this call?  Some of it is borne from the fear of not being up to what God is calling us to.  Some of it is the fear of leaving behind the known and familiar in face of that we do not know and perhaps are rightly suspicious.  Some of it is the surrender of control that lays its doubts at the foot of Jesus wondering if Jesus will do what He has promised.  And some of it is just plain fear because we have learned that if you expect the worst, you will probably not be disappointed.
    Don’t be afraid?  But how can I not be afraid?  Mothers who send their children out in to the world know the world is a dangerous place and it is still dangerous for those who are born in but not of it.  Dads who struggle to protect and provide know that the older their children are, the harder to help and fix the hurts and wounds of this mortal life.  And the children who stretch their wings know that while some fly high, all will crash and burn at some time or another.  Life since the Fall of Eden is filled with fear.  Our homes have become as much places of refuge as they are welcome stations for guests.  Husband and wife, parent and child, neighbor and friend – we often prefer the misery we know to the fearful future we cannot predict.
    Part of that fear is our suspicion of Christ and of His Kingdom.  Elijah lamented that he had done all the Lord asked of him and not he alone was left to bow his knee before Him.  Every pastor has felt that fear. The disciples knew how to fish but they did not know how to witness for the kingdom.  They were rightfully fearful of a calling in which the primary vocation was trusting what you could not control or see or predict.  Every pastor has felt that fear.  And now we have a new pastor among us who will learn the sad truth that the shepherding of God’s people is a vocation fraught with fear and requiring trust.
    I wake up every morning wishing to fulfill my sinful desire and control my destiny but the call of God is a call to faith -- especially for pastors.  Elijah learned not to trust in what his eyes saw but to trust the Lord.  Elisha learned to burn his bridge behind him and trust his future to the Lord.  The disciples on Lake Genneserat learned to leave behind the familiar fishing for the uncertain calling fishing for men. The world rejects such call and will not trust unless the risk can be balanced by reward.  But we are called to trust, to follow the Lord in ventures of which we know not the ending through paths as yet untrod. “Do not be afraid,” says Jesus.  It is painful and awkward and unpopular and uncomfortable.  The way of life in the Kingdom demands faith because there is nothing else.
    The primary vocation of every Christian is trust.  Leaving behind the tried and true for the unknown of God and His kingdom.  Exchanging the familiar present with the promise of that which is to come.  Leaving our sins into the hands of Him who can bear them and believing they are gone.  Resting our weariness upon Him who promises a new body where disease and death no longer reign.  Living not to grab what we think is our right but to give and serve in mercy even strangers and our enemies.
    God is not watching to see if we fail, He walks with us in mercy.  The baptized people of God live by faith.  Fear meets faith, sin meets repentance, reason meets love, and justice is tempered with mercy.  Do not be afraid.  It is the sum of all Christ’s teaching.  Fears for ourselves, for our pasts, for our futures, for our callings, for our success – all of these are met in Christ.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  Faith is the greatest wisdom and trust the highest call.  Do not be afraid.

From President Harrison on the SCOTUS decision in favor of same sex marriage. . .


Synod president responds to SCOTUS same-sex marriage ruling | LCMS News & Information:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress (Psalm 46:1–7).

A one-person majority of the U.S. Supreme Court got it wrong – again. Some 40 years ago, a similarly activist court legalized the killing of children in the womb. That decision has to date left a wake of some 55 million Americans dead. Today, the Court has imposed same-sex marriage upon the whole nation in a similar fashion. Five justices cannot determine natural or divine law. Now shall come the time of testing for Christians faithful to the Scriptures and the divine institution of marriage (Matthew 19:3–6), and indeed, a time of testing much more intense than what followed Roe v. Wade.

Like Roe v. Wade, this decision will be followed by a rash of lawsuits. Through coercive litigation, governments and popular culture continue to make the central post-modern value of sexual freedom override “the free exercise of religion” enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

The ramifications of this decision are seismic. Proponents will seek to drive Christians and Christian institutions out of education at all levels; they will press laws to force faithful Christian institutions and individuals to violate consciences in work practices and myriad other ways. We will have much more to say about this.

During some of the darkest days of Germany, a faithful Lutheran presciently described how governments lose their claim to legitimate authority according to Romans 13.
The Caesar cult in its manifold forms, the deification of the state, is one great form of the defection from the [true] idea of the state. There are also other possibilities of such defection. The government can forget and neglect its tasks. When it no longer distinguishes between right and wrong, when its courts are no longer governed by the strict desire for justice, but by special interests, when government no longer has the courage to exercise its law, fails to exercise its duties, undermines its own legal order, when it weakens through its family law parental authority and the estate of marriage, then it ceases to be governing authority.
Raising such a question can lead to heavy conflicts of conscience. But it is fundamentally conceivable, and it has time and again become reality in history, that a governing authority has ceased to be governing authority. In such a case there may indeed exist a submission to a superior power. But the duty of obedience against this power no longer exists. [Hermann Sasse, “What Is the State?”(1932)]
As faithful Christians, we shall continue to be obedient to just laws. We affirm the human rights of all individuals and the inherent and equal value of all people. We respect the divinely given dignity of all people, no matter their sexual preference. We recognize that, under the exacting and demanding laws of God, we are indeed sinners in thought, word and deed, just as are all (Romans 3:9ff.). We confess that the “blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all our sins” (1 John 1:7). We confess that God’s divine law of marriage and the entire Ten Commandments apply to all, and that so also the life-giving sacrifice of Christ on the cross is for all. It is a “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:22).

However, even as we struggle as a church to come to a unified response to this blatant rejection of the entire history of humankind and its practice of marriage, “We shall obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). Christians will now begin to learn what it means to be in a state of solemn conscientious objection against the state. We will resist its imposition of falsehood upon us, even as we continue to reach out to those who continue to be harmed by the ethic of radical sexual freedom, detached from God’s blessing of marriage. And we will stand shoulder to shoulder with Christians, churches and people of good will who are resolute on this issue.

God help us. Amen.
Rev. Matthew Harrison 

Anglicans are at it again. . .

The feminist Anglicans have unveiled their latest campaign.  Now that they’ve succeeded in getting women ordained as priests and bishops they’re pushing for the language of the liturgy to be changed to call God “Mother.”  Here are twelve reasons why you can’t call God “Mother”

So begins a column by Father Dwight Longenecker.  You can read him here.   The good father has given us an expansive list of twelve decent enough reasons why you cannot call God "mom" but really he needed only one.  This is one of the reasons why I sometimes struggle with rationale, often from a Roman Catholic perspective, which refuses to rest simply upon the one reason needful.  Jesus tells us to call God Father.  That is all the reason you need.

But that is the point.  Liberal Christianity has long ago stopped listening to Jesus.  When it comes to the ordination of women, the acceptability of homosexuality, gay marriage, sexual promiscuity, cohabitation, divorce, birth control, etc. . . those who don't like what Jesus says, don't listen to Him anymore.  So why would it be different when it comes to what you call God?

The sad reality is that even for sometimes conservative Christians, the fact that Jesus said it and Scripture teaches it no longer carries all that much weight as an argument to silence opinion or control desires.  We do what we want when we want to do it. . . When it comes to the Bible, it says what we want it to say and we accomplish this by ignoring what it says.

While this is certainly true of liberal Christianity, it is often no less true of so-called conservative Christians as well.  People have said that Jesus did not mean to approve of wine when He turned water into it or used it to give us His blood to drink. . . or that Jesus did not mean to suggest that these little ones who believe in Me meant infants and children. . . or that Jesus did not mean to say that if you divorce your wife and marry another you make both women adulterers. . . or that Jesus did not mean to say that pastors absolve by divine authority the sins of the penitent. . .  Even some who think themselves good Lutherans have serious problems with what Jesus said and insist that what He meant was something far different than what He said.

All of this is merely the ongoing power of myth over fact, legend over truth, and my own willful opinion or feeling over the Word that endures forever.  We don't have to explain what Jesus meant when He said to pray "our Father" -- what we are called to do is pray that way.  Period.  Perhaps things will change more for all of Christianity when we stop trying to put words in Jesus' mouth to make Him more palatable to the modern mind and ways and begin to trust that the only-begotten of the Father knows whereof He speaks.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

To touch Jesus and be touched by Him. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 5, Proper 8B, preached on Sunday, June 28, 2015.

    Mark tells us a powerful story.  A old woman with a 12 year hemorrhage watched her life waste away.  She was a pariah from family, prodded and poked by doctors, and suffered the medical opinions of ordinary folk.  Her life was almost over.  On the other hand, a 12 year old girl who lay dying before she had had much of a chance to live at all.  The woman believed that if she touched Jesus she would be healed and the girl’s father believed that if Jesus touched her, she would live.
    In the midst of pain and suffering, illness and affliction, we found hope and faith in the touch of Jesus.  Some might call it superstition.  Strange how hard it is to know the difference; faith is often mistaken for superstition and superstition for faith.  But Jesus knew the difference.  And He still knows.
    The bleeding woman and the father of a dying girl came to Jesus not for magic but for healing from the Healer whom they believed had power to address their hurts, their pain, and their death.  But the woman touched Jesus before Jesus could touch the daughter of the synagogue ruler.  At that point everything stopped.  Jesus called out the woman.  Perhaps she feared that Jesus would take back her grace.  Instead Jesus commended her faith and sent her forth in peace that passed understanding.
    Meanwhile the news from home was the worst it could be.  The girl had died before Jesus touched her.  In his despair, he would trouble Jesus no more.  But Jesus had other plans.  “Do not fear; only believe.”  Taking Peter, James, and John, our Lord visited the dead girl.  Where Jesus saw the moment ripe for grace and life, the people laughed at Him.  But no one was laughing when she rose from death to life at Jesus touch.
    You and I marvel at such stories.  We want to believe but fear the power of illness and death are beyond the reach of God. Week after week our Lord has called us to faith, to trust in Him and in the power of His grace.  For if we do not believe God can heal the sick or raise the dead, how can we trust Him for eternal life and salvation?
    Interesting is the fact that the verbs to heal and to save are the same word in Greek.  It is not different grace but the same grace that rescues us from our sins and restores our wounded bodies.  It is not different grace but the same grace that raises the dead to life and restores our unity with God our Father.  We might distinguish them, but God does not.  Heal, save, make well – different words but the same grace and God at work.
    In it all is one compelling truth. Jesus’ touch is enough.  It is enough for the bleeding, for the dying, and for the lost. It is enough for the fearful, for the fallen, and for the future.
Faith is the hand that reaches out to touch Jesus, the heart that trusts in His promise, the mind that grasps His Word, the will that surrenders to His will being done, in us, among us, thru us.
    Some of us come here today to touch Jesus.  We reach out to Him when guilt shames us, when anger consumes us, when bitterness and skepticism imprisons us.  We come to reach out to touch Jesus in the splash of baptismal water and in the bread and wine that is His flesh and blood. 
    Some of us come here to be touched by Jesus.  We find it hard to believe anything or any one anymore.  We have been disappointed too much and life has come crashing down on us.  We come to feel the touch of Jesus in absolution, hear the voice of Jesus in His Word, and feel the presence of Jesus in His Holy Meal.
    And what do we find?  A woman who had bled for 12 years and a 12 year old girl.  One died slowly and the other suddenly.  Both found life at the touch of Jesus.  Faith led them to that touch and faith did not disappoint them.  Faith still leads us to the touch of Jesus that heals and saves and touch us He does.   He touches our sins with forgiveness, our death with His life, our sorrow with His joy, our upset with His peace, our wounds with His healing, our afflictions with His patience, our fear with His power.
    Like the old woman, some of us come after long struggles, long afflictions, and long lives.  Like the young girl, some of us come at the dawn of life while everything is still new.  No matter our age or our experience, all of us come as sinners in need of forgiving grace, as those who live in the shadow of death looking for the light of life.  And we will NOT be disappointed. 
    If fear has brought you hear, believe.  If faith has brought you hear, trust.  If disappointment has brought you here, hope.  For there is healing, salvation, and life in one name only, the name of Jesus.  Before Him we come, praying, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief...  Thy will be done...”  Amen.

Can my body lie to me?

By now everyone in the world has seen Caitlyn Jenner and we have heard more than we wanted to hear about the woman supposedly inside this man's body.  I certainly do not want to add to the sensationalism but I do think there are some legitimate questions here.

Can my body lie to me?

When I look down and see my sexual organs, can my body lie when it tells me I am a man or I am a woman?  If my body can lie to me, then how can I know anything for certain.  Or is it more likely that my body is not lying to me but my desires are?  Is it more plausible to presume my body got it wrong and I ended up in a body which is foreign to my desires or is it more reasonable to consider that my desires got it wrong and they are at war with my body?

I am no expert and do not sit in judgment over Bruce or Caitlyn Jenner as an individual.  That is God's domain.  But the issue of whom we trust when our desires conflict with our anatomy remains an issue before us as Christians -- in a very public way.

What I am raising is the larger issue that every adolescent and teenage youth has to deal with -- what do I do with desires that conflict with God's creative order, with who I am when I look in the mirror, and with my sexual identity?  Though we do not have more homosexuals as a percentage of the population, we do have more people experimenting, trying out things, acting on the impulse of desire -- even when those desires are disordered or in conflict with their gender as a body.

It is a modern idea, only within the last several generations, and one that had its impetus largely from new in psychiatric circles that one’s “sex” and one’s “gender” were distinct matters, sex being genetically and hormonally determined from conception, while gender was culturally shaped by the actions of family and others during childhood.  The issue of lying bodies has become accepted and normal for psychiatric diagnosis and treatment but should psychiatrists concentrate on trying to fix the minds of those who find body and desire in conflict or should we work surgically to fix their genitalia?

"Transgender” advocates have allied with the gay liberation cause and argue that their members are entitled to repair the conflict between desire and anatomy with the surgical solution and that their sexual dysphoria is a true and authentic conception of their own sexual identity. The overwhelming evidence lies more and more that this is a disorder of the mind and not of the body -- as many Christians have been saying for a long time. Despite the protests of the T part of the GLBT movement the psychology of the past is more and more challenged and fewer and fewer hospitals do sex reassignment surgery.  This is a good thing.  But it is not public enough.

Read what one distinguished professor of psychology has writtenAs for the adults who came to us claiming to have discovered their “true” sexual identity and to have heard about sex-change operations, we psychiatrists have been distracted from studying the causes and natures of their mental misdirections by preparing them for surgery and for a life in the other sex. We have wasted scientific and technical resources and damaged our professional credibility by collaborating with madness rather than trying to study, cure, and ultimately prevent it. 

The truth is that we are not doing any service to children to encourage desires in conflict with their anatomy or even to suggest to them that their feelings in conflict with their anatomy have any real legitimacy.  This is illness and this disorder is one of the terrible fruits of sin that has not only corrupted our relationship with God and each other but has left us with desires that are not simply wrong and at odds with His creative will but destructive of our own mental health and well-being.  The worst possible thing we can do is to treat mental illness with surgical solutions.  The best possible thing we can do for those beginning to realize sexual desire is to point them away from the disorder and to the truth.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

From against to for. . .

As once we transformed the argument from being anti-abortion to being pro-life, so the Church must reinvent the cause from a stereotypical antagonism against modernism to a positive presentation of God's design for husband, wife, and family.  This was never simply about who may marry and who may not but about what marriage is, how society is built and depends upon the structure of the home and family, the vision to see children as both gift and purpose of that home and marriage, and the fidelity that once and still marks the distinguishing character of marriage.

We cannot afford to be simply against gay marriage and the debate cannot be allowed to be simply about who can or should marry.  What it must be about is what marriage was intended to be and how husband and wife live it out within the bounds of our sinful and frail humanity but still within God's positive and gracious design.  Such a discussion does not begin with same sex marriage but with a renewed call and expectation of fidelity for married and chastity for those not married (gay or straight).  In a hook up culture when marriage is peripheral to the enjoyment of sexual pleasure (safe and without responsibility for disease or children) and when reproduction becomes a personal and individual right made possibility by our technology, what the Church must hold up is the radical shape of faithfulness, sacrificial love, and fruitful creation that is a mirror God's own fruitfulness in creation.

We Christians must begin with our repentance.  We have not taught our children well.  We have not held them or each other to be fully accountable for our choices and habits.  We have not struggled to make marriage reflect God's own design and purpose and so it has become our personal preference, choice, and definition.  Once having repented as pastors, church workers, parish leaders, and Christian lay people, we must then begin a renewed time of teaching, nurture, and noble living out of such godly relationships.

We can, if we choose, decry the decisions of the SCOTUS that struck down any and all barriers for who may or may not legally marry.  And we will.  And we should.  There will be much wringing of hands, weeping, and gnashing of teeth among us.  There will be those who will refuse to preside at weddings and marry anyone lest they be required to marry everyone and others who refuse to preside except to bless some couples and there will be others who do little differently than they have.  There will be those who cautiously continue what they have been doing and hope the culture will ignore them and those who will be militant in their rejection of the SCOTUS opinion and same sex marriage and will fight both aggressively and publicly to be noticed.  I have no solution here and will not tell you what to do in this regard realizing that some of us will choose different paths.

What I am concerned about is not the fight that will and should take place in the political arena and courtrooms and ballot boxes but what happens in the congregations, from the pulpits, and in the classrooms of our churches.  Our parishes are often woefully unprepared to say anything but "no" on this issue.  We have not equipped our people to give answer and we have left them dangerously vulnerable to the power of feelings, peer pressure, anecdotal evidence, and sentiment from an extraordinarily effective GLBT lobby.  But we cannot just say "no" or we will be labeled simply as naysayers within and outside our parishes.  We must speak positively of the created order of man an woman before God, of marriage and children by His design, of home and family as the first place where Christ is known -- or our children and grandchildren will not know about nor appreciate the very gift and blessing of this creative order by God's design.

When sex was divorced from marriage and marriage from children, no one was set free and we were all imprisoned to the insatiable god of personal preference and the worship of desire.  The rampant explosion of quick and easy divorce, the rapid rise and acceptability of cohabitation, and the reduction of goodness to personal preference and satisfaction have not added to marital happiness, enriched the lives of our children, answered the loneliness within us, or ended the terror of our fears and doubts.  We are lost.  We are alone.  We are afraid.  And we have passed this onto our children -- leaving them without the joy of childhood and with adult responsibility and erotic desire before they can shoulder their weight.  We need hope.  We need help.  We need a higher calling and a nobler perspective than me and my momentary whims.  This is what the Church is uniquely poised to offer to a world in love with freedom but unable to use it positively.

When gay people come to us, we must be ready to say more than their desires are bad and their behavior is sinful.  In fact, we must not simply begin there but with a positive picture of God's creative will in which gender is not the driving force of personhood and sex not the defining aspect of nature.  Self-denial in sexual desire does not stand in isolation from self-denial when it comes to indulgence in every area of life.  When straight people cohabitate we must do more than simply say what you are doing is wrong.  We must give them a vision of a higher love, a still more excellent way, in which sacrificial love begins with publicly accountable commitment, sanctioned by the God who gives us the power to live it out.  When children come to us we must do more than tell them what they must not think or do.  We must teach them how vulgarity of all forms cheapens them as God's creation and for whom Christ died and call them to live high and holy the noble calling of their baptism.  We must provide for them good and wholesome environments in which to grow, learn, and experience the world God has made (home, school, church, neighborhood, etc...).  We must speak the Word of the Lord into their ears that it may inhabit their thoughts and desires.

This is what we should have done and still must do.  No less.  The "NO' is not a sufficient replacement for the "YES" of God acting in creation and redemption out of love for us. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A race to the bottom. . .

I must admit some glaring ignorance about the ordinary liturgical practices of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.  Since they used the same hymnal as the LCMS for many years, I had assumed that the liturgical practices were fairly consistent between the LCMS and WELS.  When their Christian Worship: A  Lutheran Hymnal came out in 1993, I found it odd and curious in different ways but not entirely unrecognizable within the TLH tradition.  That all changed when current and former WELS members began talking to me about the inherent bias in the WELS against liturgical things (everything from making the sign of the cross to chanting to more frequent celebrations of the Eucharist).  It prompted me to take a second look at that hymnal.

The Common Service claims to be a version of the history liturgy of the Christian church and a revision of The Order of the Holy Communion from TLH.  I began to notice the absence of rubrics (directions) and realized that in the Invocation there is no symbol of the cross to indicate that the sign of the cross may be made.  It turned out that this was a sign of things to come.  Though the cross symbol appears in the absolution, there is no direction to indicate what it means.    As expected the word "catholic" was not present in either the Nicene Creed or the Apostles' Creed but it turns out it was omitted from the Athanasian Creed as well (where it was retained in TLH).

Unlike LSB which presumes that the full Eucharist is the norm (If there is no communion), CW presumes that this is ordinary (when there is no communion).  Even more odd is the absence of the Our Father from the canon and its placement at the prayers.  While I have always resisted the Lutheran innovation of the Our Father prior to the Verba, the connection between the Verba and the Our Father is most ancient and it represents a clear departure from catholic practice to omit the Our Father here.

It is not at all obvious that the pastor's portion of the liturgy could or should be chanted.  In fact, it is pretty clear from the pew book that the expectation is that the pastor will NOT chant, that chanting is an exception and, perhaps, an unwelcome one.  Even if the notes are in the pastor's book (or altar book), it certainly makes it appear that neither the publishers nor the folks in the pew expect the pastor to chant.

The sign of the cross is also conspicuously absent with respect to the morning and evening prayers of Luther and his bidding to make the sign of the cross at the invocation and how to pray.

One subtle hint lies in the fact that the clerical collar is a rarity among Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod clergy.  What you wear is not the primary thing but what you refuse to wear just may hint at your bias. All of this combined with the legendary affection WELS has with the Geneva Gown instead of the historic vesture of the pastor, leaves me with but one conclusion.  Perhaps those former and current WELS complainers are absolutely correct.  WELS does have a liturgical style and it is decidedly low church, a race to the bottom of the liturgical ladder, if you will, in which ceremony, vestments, and catholic tradition are suspect and unwelcome in the parishes of this church body.

How sad it is that a Lutheran body once captive to the liberal view could recapture its more orthodox theological underpinnings and then eschew the liturgical shape of that orthodox doctrine on Sunday morning.  It remains a problem for more the WELS.  Even in Missouri we have many who would find Luther's liturgical practice too shockingly katholisch to be tolerated in a Lutheran parish today.  How strange it is that some Lutherans today would be uncomfortable with the Lutheran praxis of Martin Luther, the second Martin (Chemnitz), the orthodox Lutheran fathers, or our most famous church musician, J. S. Bach!!

Addendum from Fr. Hollywood in 2009 RE Wisconsin Synod practice:

According to this Q&A from the WELS's own website, there have been at least two instances where laywomen in the WELS have said the Lord' Words of Institution over bread and wine and served it, claiming that it was the body and blood of the Lord. The practice was in no way condemned by the WELS hierarchy, but rather, the practice is current under a "moratorium" in order to "keep from offending our brothers."

This error has come about by the intersection of an error on the doctrine of the ministry combined with a legalistic view of the role of women.

First, WELS does not believe the pastoral office has been divinely established, and further teaches that "The Bible establishes all of public gospel ministry but does not establish a pastoral office as such or vest certain duties exclusive to that office" (Emphasis added).

From this starting point, WELS adds the next premise that the differences between male and female are limited to a legalistic "thou shalt not," as the article puts it:
"Since the Bible does not assign specific duties to the pastor, WELS approaches the matter of women communing women from Scripture's man and women role relationship principle. WELS doctrinal statements on the role of man and woman say that a woman may have any part in public ministry that does not assume teaching authority over a man. That, of course, would include women communing women" (emphasis added).
And this has moved beyond the theoretical into the practical: "WELS has had only two instances of women communing women, and our Conference of Presidents has since issued an indefinite moratorium on such practice to keep from offending our brothers until the matter is mutually resolved" (emphasis added).

My Comments:

As you can tell from the Q & A quoted from the WELS website, our Lutheran kin are in a race to the bottom in other ways as well -- functional understanding of the office of pastor and the distinction of that office and its functions to prevent women from serving ONLY when it places them in authority over men.  Odd, yes!  Lutheran, no!