Friday, February 12, 2016

A real feeling or feeling the new reality. . .

Sermon for Ash Wednesday, preached on Wednesday, February 10, 2016.

    No less an icon of pop culture Madonna sang “like a virgin,” putting into words and notes the longing of a people to feel new, fresh, clean, and pure -- after finding themselves feeling dirty, used, and discarded by spouses no longer loved, relationships gone sour, work become a prison, and pleasures that no longer satisfy.  She sang to a people who know exactly what she means.  We have indulged in a promiscuous pursuit of happiness and pleasure that did not satisfy but only left us feeling all the worse for wear.  But her words sing only of an exchange of feelings -- not really clean or fresh or pure but only feeling as if it were the case. Absent the prospect of anything more, feelings have become the tolerable substitute for real newness, cleanness, and purity.
    Christian life sometimes seems like this.  It is an endless cycle of indulgence to desire and then confession of our sin on Sunday morning without making any real headway toward holiness.  We are supposed to feel better but is that all faith is about -- feelings?  Without real repentance and without the promise of the God who delivers what He says, Christian life might seem to be mere resignation to the fact that we will soil ourselves with sin and but we have a God who takes us back anyway.  But that is not what God promises.  Christian life is not about feelings but a new reality.
    The false reality of feelings cannot be rejected until the Spirit leads us to to see the false treasure of the emotion of the moment, of good works never really enough and feelings that fade fast when we count on them most.  Today on Ash Wednesday, the Lord tells us we cannot settle for an imagined newness; we need the real newness.  This is God’s work in us - not better or longer lasting feelings but the new reality of what His Word and promise declares.
     Repentance is not about shaping up your life to earn God’s favor.  Repentance is the fruit of God’s favor at work in you.  It is first His treasure that will lead us to reject all false treasures.  His reality declared in the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin is more real than what our eyes see or our hearts feel.  Nowhere is this more clear than on Ash Wednesday.
    Without God's aid, our eyes are blind to how perishable things are.  Even when we glimpse their temporary reality, sinful desire would gladly choose a moment in the sun with money, fame, and power over righteousness.  Our hears fear that the worst consequence of life is disappointment but the real worst consequences are death and hell.  The treasures of this life are consumed by moth, destroyed by rust, and stolen by thieves.  All that we see is already passing away.  Even our own flesh.  Dust you are and to dust you shall return.
    You are perishable.  You body is failing and you cannot escape death.  It is the one thing we can all be sure of.  You were made from dust and to dust you shall return.  Hope would end right there if God had not chosen to inhabit dust.  Because our Lord Jesus Christ wore our dusty flesh died the death of dust, God has hidden His life even in dust.  Where Christ is, there is our hope.  There is our life.  God has entered our flesh to bear the stain of our sin and died our death to kill death once and for all.  This is where true repentance begins -- where the new reality of what God has done is revealed!
    The Word of the Lord endures forever.  Turn off your cell phones, let go of the distractions of this mortal life, and forget trying to find solace in your feelings.  Hear and believe!  That is the call of Ash Wednesday.  You were baptized into a new reality.  Sin is swallowed up by forgiveness and death is swallowed up by life.  Return.  Return to the Lord who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  This is the word not for the pagan who knows nothing of God but fear or disdain but for the people who know and forget who they are by God's grace and mercy.
    God never waiting for humanity to wake up to the emptiness of the world and its false hope of mere feelings before He acted.  While we were yet sinners and enemies He came in His Son to save and redeem, to satisfy the law and paid our debt.  Even now He does not demand that you shape up your life before He loves you.  God does not wait for your actions to match up to your words.  He meets you where you are -- in ruins of your sin, in the darkness of your death, and in your failed pursuit of newness, happiness, and holiness.  In the ravages of the wreck of our lives, God comes declaring that these are old and YOU are made new!  Lent is time of renewed awareness of this reality declared in the Word of God and written in the blood of Christ.
    He swallows up sin with the blood of His Son.  He provides forgiveness to the unworthy and undeserving.  He swallows up death by the power of the life that death could not contain.  So the call to repent comes because God has already provided for you, for your salvation, for your forgiveness, and for your new life.  God does not offer you the feeling of newness or being clean or pure.  He makes it so!  You are made new!  You are forgiven!  You belong to Him! 
    So do not play at faith.  You cannot serve two masters nor can you bank on two treasures. Your feelings are not trustworthy.  You don't need different feelings.  You need the new reality born of your baptism and written in the Word that endures forever– so real that death cannot over come it.  Ashes, dust, decay and death are the outcome of a world ruled by feelings and content with a brief moment of peace.  But God offers you the reality of a clear conscience, the concrete reality of new life, the eternal clothing of Christ's righteousness, and an imperishable treasure, hope, and life.  Don’t settle for merely feeling new when God offers you the real new life. Repent. Return to your baptism.  Hear His Word.  Eat His flesh. Drink His blood. Believe and live; you are already new.  Even in ashes is the sign of our hope in the cross.  Return to the Lord, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen

A false reading of Luther. . .

From an Italian book on Luther, Luther by Angela Pellicciari,:
The push for subjectivity was one of Martin Luther’s arguments in his anti-Roman preaching. Angela Pellicciari writes: “With the elimination of the function of the magisterium, the denial of the priestly order, the exaltation of individual freedom and the rejection of the importance of works to achieve salvation, everyone makes his own decisions. Everyone reads the Bible and interprets it his own way, trusting in the Holy Spirit’s assistance.”
In the end, the risk of the institutionalization of “case by case discernment” is to arrive at the “by Scripture only” (sola fide) notion that Martin Luther promoted. The priest who discerns on a case by case basis puts aside the function of the magisterium and founds his activity on his personal interpretation of the Scriptures. He wields enormous discretionary power, but it is much more a human power than one derived from God.
In his encyclical Spe Salvi, Benedict XVI asks: “How could the idea have developed that Jesus’ message is narrowly individualistic and aimed only at each person singly? How did we arrive at this interpretation of the “salvation of the soul” as a flight from responsibility for the whole, and how did we come to conceive the Christian project as a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others?”
Angela Pellicciari responds: “It did so because Luther has misinterpreted as slavery to Rome the universal charism of Peter and his function in defense of the whole Church. As a consequence, “the body has been abandoned”, it seems “in favor of souls, that is, of the most interior part of each of us, which corresponds to our conscience. It is as if soul and body are set one against the other, and each of them goes on its own. As if obedience to conscience is a substitute to obedience to Peter.”

These are still the main themes of our times. Unchaining the faithful from the authority of the Church, Luther gave to princes, the secular power, a fundamental role. He even claimed the authority of the secular power against the Pope, if the Pope makes mistakes. But the Pope’s authority, his sovereignty, is justified by the need for independence from secular power. Only this way – St. Leo the Great explained – can the Church be credible and really free.
Those who read Luther in this way are taking his points out of context and also treating Luther with the radical reformers who neither intended nor appealed to the fathers or catholicity.  Luther's appeal to conscience was NOT an appeal to individual conscience and reason and he did not seek to exchange one papacy for the papacy of every Christian to determine what Scripture says.  No, indeed, Luther appealed to conscience in the classic manner of conscience captive to the Word of God, the catholic doctrine and practice that has always surrounded that Word.  His condemnation was that Rome was the innovator -- drawing upon non-Scriptural sources to establish doctrine and govern practice in ways that violated the very catholicity that was claimed by the popes themselves.

It is certainly true that Luther was naive in his belief that accessibility to the Scriptures in their own tongue would result in orthodoxy and uniformity of doctrine and practice.  Luther's hope and faith was that Scripture let loose from its constraints in Rome would encourage unanimity of faith and practice.  Clearly Scripture was used as a step stool for those whose ultimate appeal was individual conscience alone and the primacy of reason and intellect.  While Luther did not foresee such an abuse of the freedom to read and understand the Scriptures, Luther himself did not presume the individual conscience to be above the Word of God nor did Luther join his more radical contemporaries in rejecting church history, creedal formation, or the liturgical framework (and even texts) of the Mass.

There are those in Rome who love to blame Luther for everything Protestant but even Luther would be appalled at the way conscience and reason have become the masters of the Word instead of them being captive to that Word.  That is the sour fruit of the Enlightenment and the development of humanism in which man and his potential are not seen against the backdrop of the Fall and original sin.  Enamored with the potential of man's intellectual power, liberal Protestantism has evolved to the point where the clear word of Scripture no longer constrains anyone and the gospel has become a mere principle of love and toleration instead of the convincing voice of the cross addressing sinners captive to sin and death.

Luther believed that the Christian Gospel was aimed at every individual but neither subject to the individual's intellect or conscience to define or delineate but the Word that endures forever is the same from generation to generation.  In rejecting Rome's exclusive claim to be Catholic because of the Pope, Luther sought a true catholicity that was the guarantee not of one individual or many but the fruits of faith captive to the Word of God and instructed by the Spirit who alone creates the unity of faith and is the final guarantor of its right understanding and catholicity.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

God gives more than gifts. . .

One of the greatest revelations to me was to begin to understand that the Giving God whom we know in Christ is not merely the bestower of gifts but the One who gifts us with Himself.  Perhaps I could blame parents or Sunday school or simply my fallen nature for the mistaken idea that God is a larger version of Santa Claus who gives gifts not once but all year round.  Prayer is the same as sitting on the lap of old St. Nick and whispering in his ear your hopes and wants and dreams -- all the while acknowledging that he already knows before we speak and will watch to see if we are naughty or nice or worthy of the things of which we have asked.  Nevermind where I got it, I venture to say that it is the typical and usual understanding we have of God, of prayer, of grace, and of His gifts.

So it is not unusual for people to be disappointment when they have poured out their hearts in prayer and rehearsed all the reasons why what they wanted is both reasonable and they are worthy of these gifts . . . and then nothing seems to happen.  It is not unusual for Christians to worship regularly, to do their Christian "duty" in all things as they see them, and then find out that they are subject to the same ills and illnesses that characterize the mortal life of non-Christians as well.  We have fallen back into the default idea that the gifts are greater than the Giver, or at least of greater concern and importance to us than He who gives them.  We have left our focus upon the things He gives and not upon Him who gives them.

The gift God gives that is most amazing and most surprising is the gift of Himself.  He gives Himself to us as a Child born of the Virgin and the Holy Spirit.  He gives Himself to us in the Lamb of God revealed in Jordan's baptismal water and acclaimed by John for all the world to see.  He gives Himself to us in the righteousness that covers all the unrighteous and in the sacrificial blood that cleanses filthy sinners from their sins.  He gives Himself to us in the cold darkness of death's grave and in the life that refuses to go gently into the dark night but rises with victory for all the dead.

We are transfixed by water into wine, bread magnified to feed thousands, lame that walk, deaf that hear, mute that speak, sick healed, and dead raised.  We want this from God when God has given us so much more.  He has given us the gift of Himself.  Epiphanytide was all about this -- the revelation not of works but of God in flesh for us.  Lent will show us what this God in flesh is all about.  But until we realize that the gift is great but the Giver greater still and that the Lord of Life has given Himself to us, it is too easy to be both fixated upon earthly gifts and disappointed that Christians do not seem to fare much better than non-believers when measured by earthly standards of health, wealth, and happiness.

In fact this is the exactly why the health and wealth preachers do so well among us.  We want to believe what we hold dearest -- that the greater gift is an easier, happier, healthier, wealthier, more successful life and that God and eternal life with Him are extra bonus gifts on top of what we really want.  This is why they are both so successful and so dangerous.  They distract us from the Giver who gives Himself.  Only sacramental churches who acknowledge the vibrant and robust means of grace in which God has hidden Himself in word, water, bread, and wine have an immediate presence of the Most High as their refuge and joy.  Apart from the God who gives Himself, everything is but a bartering tool and faith but a negotiation to get what we want right now.

From Martin Luther, Confession Concerning Christ’ s Supper of 1528:
These are the three persons and one God, who has given himself to us all wholly and completely, with all that he is and has. The Father gives himself to us, with heaven and earth and all the creatures, in order that they may serve us and benefit us. But this gift has become obscured and useless through Adam’’s fall. Therefore the Son himself subsequently gave himself and bestowed all his works, sufferings, wisdom, and righteousness, and reconciled us to the Father, in order that restored to life and righteousness, we might also know and have the Father and his gifts.

But because this grace would benefit no one if it remained so profoundly hidden and could not come to us, the Holy Spirit comes and gives himself to us also, wholly and completely. He teaches us to understand this deed of Christ which has been manifested to us, helps us receive and preserve it, use it to our advantage and impart it to others, increase and extend it. He does this both inwardly and outwardly——inwardly by means of faith and other spiritual gifts, outwardly through the gospel, Baptism, and the sacrament of the altar, through which as through three means or methods he comes to us and inculcates the sufferings of Christ for the benefit of our salvation. 
(LW 37:366)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lenten Resources

Look no further than Synod and our own Chaplain and Worship Director for a couple of good resources for individual, parish or school usage. . . and they are free!

Ash Wednesday Poetry

"Ash Wednesday" by Christina Rossetti

Part I
My God, my God, have mercy on my sin,
For it is great; and if I should begin
To tell it all, the day would be too small
To tell it in.

My God, Thou wilt have mercy on my sin
For Thy Love's sake: yea, if I should begin
To tell This all, the day would be too small
To tell it in.
Part II
Good Lord, today
I scarce find breath to say:
Scourge, but receive me.
For stripes are hard to bear, but worse
Thy intolerable curse;
So do not leave me.
Good Lord, lean down
In pity, tho’ Thou frown;
Smite, but retrieve me:
For so Thou hold me up to stand
And kiss Thy smiting hand,
It less will grieve me. 
“Lent” by Christina Rossetti
It is good to be last not first,
   Pending the present distress;
It is good to hunger and thirst,
   So it be for righteousness.
It is good to spend and be spent,
   It is good to watch and to pray:
Life and Death make a goodly Lent
   So it leads us to Easter Day.
Psalm 130 - KJV
Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?
But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.
My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: 
   I say, more than they that watch for the morning.
Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.
And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Psalm 51 - KJV

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: 
     according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: 
     that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: 
     and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: 
     and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: 
     a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, 
with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: 
     then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Cross-ly Glory

Sermon for Transfiguration C, preached by The Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, February 7, 2016.

    All of us like to be in the presence of greatness.  It's exciting to be near people who are on top of the metaphorical mountain.  It's part of our human nature to exalt and praise those who've done great things.  We construct hall-of-fames to immortalize athletes for their feats.  It seems like every month there's some sort of award show to congratulate actors and musicians for their artistic abilities.  We love these things because they give us a sense of being around these people, around their glory.  We get to stand near home-run hitting bats and MVP trophies.  We get to watch glamorous actresses glide on the red carpet and across the stage.  We like to witness glory and exaltation, and so too did Jesus' disciples. 
I.    Peter, John, and James were witness to Jesus' divine glory.  They saw it first hand on top of the Mountain of Transfiguration.  Our Lord took these three disciples with Him up on the mountain in order to pray.  While they were up there, in a foreshadowing of the prayer vigil on the night of Christ's betrayal, these disciples fell asleep as Jesus prayed.  When they awoke, they saw Jesus' glory.  This was no dream.  Luke tells us these men were fully awake.  With clear eyes and conscious heads, Peter, John, and James saw Jesus' divine glory physically manifested.  As Jesus prayed, the appearance of His face was altered and His clothing became dazzling white.  Moses and Elijah, two of the great Old Testament prophets, also appeared with Christ in glory.  They were there with Jesus, conversing with our Lord. 
    When Moses and Elijah began to leave, that's when Peter spoke up.  He said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here.  Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah" (Lk 9:33).  Peter wanted to stay up on the mountain.  He didn't want this glorious revelation to end.  He wanted Moses and Elijah to stay.  He wanted to continue in Jesus' glory.  Peter was content, he was happy, he was pleased to witness Jesus' glory.  This is how Jesus should always look; He should always display His glory in the way.  And we would be happy with this too. 
     We want to be on the Mountain of Transfiguration.  We would love to be up there with the disciples, seeing Christ's face, seeing His dazzling white clothes, standing in His glory.  This is the Jesus that we want to follow, the glorious one. 
    We want Jesus to always appear in His divine glory, then there would be no doubt that He's God our Savior.  Seeing His face, seeing His dazzling heavenly garments we would be certain.  We could point to Him and say, "See!  That's God.  Look at His greatness, His splendor, His majesty."  This Jesus is easy to follow.  He's easy to see and He's pleasing to our eyes.
     We want Jesus to always perform mighty and glorious works.  The disciples were blessed to witness Christ's glory in His many miracles.  They saw Jesus heal people with physical ailments and all kinds of disease and illness.  They saw Him provide an abundance of food for thousands.  They saw Him calm a storm with just His word.  They even saw Him cast out demons and raise people from the dead.  This is the Jesus we want to see.  We want Him to come into our hospital rooms to heal us and loved ones.  We want Him to provide us with all we need for life, and then also give us all our wants and desires.  We want Him to show us His almighty power.  This Jesus is easy to follow.  He makes our lives easy and free of struggles.
     We want to always feel Jesus' presence.  We want our hearts to always be filled with joy, never feeling the depression and stress of life.  The hurt feelings from broken relationships, the uncertainty of things to come, we want Him to take it all away.  If we never felt these things, then we'd never doubt.  We'd be certain who Jesus was; we'd feel it.  This Jesus is easy to follow.  He makes us feel good and happy all the time. 
     Yes, we want the Jesus clothed in glory, the one the disciples saw on the Mountain of Transfiguration.  We want the Jesus of glory, the one who will give us glory, the one that will lead us to the mountaintop.  But this type of glory isn't Christ's glory.  His glory, His exaltation doesn't come from the Mountain of Transfiguration, it comes from His departure, His exodus, His cross.
II.    When Moses and Elijah appeared and were talking with Jesus, they were talking about His departure which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem (Lk 9:31).  In the original Greek, it says they were talking about Jesus' exodus.  Moses, the prophet who led the exodus of God's people out of slavery in Egypt, was talking to Jesus, the true Prophet, who was about to accomplish His exodus on the cross.  With this exodus, with His innocent suffering and death, Jesus leads God's people out of the slavery of sin and death.  This is where Christ's exaltation comes from.  His glory is revealed in His work of salvation. 
    On the mountain, a cloud overshadowed the disciples and the voice of God said, "This is my Son, my Chosen One, listen to Him!" (Lk 9:35).  These words recall the Father's words at Jesus' baptism, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (Lk 3:22).  God the Father announces His pleasure in His Son, in His Chosen One, whose sole work and purpose is to save God's people, to save you, from sin and death.  And this can only be done with Jesus death on the cross. 
    In this suffering, with this sacrifice, Christ Jesus paid the penalty for your sin.  He took your just punishment of death, and He overcome your death.  He freed you from its slavery and leads you into everlasting life with Him, into the promised land of God's kingdom.  This is where Christ's glory comes from.  If it wasn't for His suffering and dying on the cross, the glory that Peter, John, and James saw would be meaningless.
     These three disciples were blessed to see Jesus' glory manifested that day on the mountain, but they couldn't stay up there.  What they saw was just a glimpse of Jesus' glory.  They had to come down, back to the ordinary everyday world, the world filled with sin, suffering, depression, and death.  This is the world we live in today.  Everywhere we turn, this is all we see.  We see it in others, and we see it in ourselves.  We wish our lives would be filled with Christ's glory that the disciples saw, we wish our lives would be free from suffering.  But Christ never promised us this.  He tells us in His Word that our lives will be filled with suffering.  But even in the midst of all our in-glorious struggles, Jesus still gives us a glimpse of His glory, the glory of His cross.  
     We get to see this glory when He miraculously saves children and adults from sin and Satan in the life-giving waters of Baptism.  We are witnessed to this glory when He speaks the renewing words of His absolution through pastors.  We get to see and taste this glory in His body and blood in the Lord's Supper where He forgives us our sins and strengthens our faith. 
     We aren't left without a glimpse of Christ's glory.  We see it every Sunday in the Divine Service, and every day of our lives.  Every time we hear God's Word, every time we receive forgiveness of sins, every time we forgive others, we are witness to it.  Even in the midst of life's struggles and sufferings, in illness, in depression, in the death of faithful loved ones, we see Jesus glory.  In these, He is with us, sustaining us in our faith and bringing us through them. 
     Peter, John, and James witnessed an amazing thing on the Mountain of Transfiguration.  They were blessed to see Jesus in His divine glory.  But they couldn't stay on the mountain, because that's not why Christ came.  Jesus came, He humbled Himself, so that His glory would shine forth in His cross.  Without the cross, without His sacrificial and saving death, we would never know His glory.  It's in Jesus' suffering that we see His exaltation.  It's His death, and our Baptism into it, that assures us that when He calls us home, or on the Last Day, whichever comes first, we'll see His divine glory in its fullness, forever.  In Jesus' name...Amen. 

Persecution in China. . .

The number of churches targeted for demolition in the Chinese province of Zhejiang has reached 1,500 in just two years, according to  After claiming 2014 to be the worst year for religious persecution in China since the Cultural Revolution, observers in and outside the country say this year saw the situation deteriorate further in 2015. Relations between China’s religious groups and the Communist Party have not been this strained since the days of Chairman Mao.

The claim is often made that there are perhaps 100 Million Christians in China.  Though there is no way of actually counting them, Christianity in China is complicated by the fact that most churches and most Christians are unofficial -- that is, they belong to house churches which have no official sanction or approval.  In contrast to this, China does officially allow some churches, however, even these have faced increasing governmental scrutiny.  Clearly the only churches the government can tolerate are those it can control.  So the aim of the government has been to make churches more Chinese and more friendly to the goals and purposes of communism and the current leaders.

We hear little of the persecution of Christians from those who are charged with watching out for such persecutions.  The US government is strangely silent about the plight of Christians in China or in the Middle East, among other areas.  That silence does not and should not be interpreted as things improving.  Christians face more oppressive regimes today than in a long time.  It has been said that Christians fared better under what the West considered to be authoritarian and oppressive dictators than it has where those governments have been toppled.  That said, Christianity in China has not enjoyed very many protections and there, among other places, Christians bring great risk to themselves and their families by attending worship.

Our prayers and our voices should be raised on behalf of those who do not enjoy any protection for the exercise of their faith.  Governments may be silent in the face of this effort to silence or reduce the numbers of Christians but churches in America and throughout the West should not be silent.  We have a duty to tell their story even as we pray for them and for the protection of their right to worship without fear or sanction.

Don't forget them.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Orthodoxy is the new radical. . .

In an age in which self-expression is deemed the highest goal of freedom and in which it seems there are few boundaries left to be traversed in the pursuit of individuality, perhaps the most radical thing one can be is an orthodox Christian!

The media have presumed to know all things about theology and to discern the intent of Scripture that transcends its clear and plain word.  Liberalism has escaped the fence of creed and confession to embrace a gospel which has little if anything to do with the cross, empty tomb, forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Social justice and advocacy have become the pursuits of the evangelistic fervor of evangelicalism with a conscience and liberal Protestantism.  Personal happiness and achievement have taken over the rest of evangelicalism and even threatened the agenda of ordinary Protestantism.

The boomers remain deluded in the pursuit of personal preference and still think that strumming a guitar in church is the cutting edge of contemporary and emergent Christianity.  The feminist, gay, lesbian, transgender, and every other agenda have become the new orthodoxy of too many Christians and too many denominations claiming to be Christian.  There is tolerance for nearly everything that a generation or two ago would have been labeled a perversion but there is no stomach for doctrine and morality consistent with the Scriptures and the early church fathers.

No, if you want to be radical in this age, orthodox doctrine, creedal and confessional theology, and historic, catholic liturgy (with the expectation that God actually works through the means of grace) is about as radical and odd as you can get in the world today.  As one who danced to the tune of the moment in his youthful rebellious years, I have learned that the most radical thing there is and every has been is orthodox Christianity which takes the Scriptures at their word, seeks the fullest catholic expression of doctrine and practice, and finds the vibrant surprise of God's presence not in feeling or thought but in the Word and Sacraments that actually do what they say and deliver what they promise.

In a strange turn of events, the most conventional Christianity of all is the one that has been transformed by the spirit of the age, that listens to the heartbeat and pulse of the moment, that seeks to be on the forefront but not too far ahead of every movement of social change, that loves technology more than the unchanging Gospel, and divorces the gospel from text and story until it becomes merely a moral of the story and tacit approval of what we have always wanted or desired.  To be radical is to gather around the Word and Table of the Lord, to believe the Scriptures without seeking to find hidden meaning or principle that trumps the fact of what is said, and to rejoice that God is with us in the concrete splash of water, voice of absolution, taste of bread, and sip of wine.

There is nothing stranger to our world than a conscience and life captive to the Word of the Lord.  There is no sight more out of keeping with modern sensibility than a smokey setting of incense and prayer, chant and liturgy, preaching and Sacrament.  There is no truth more radical than one which does not adjust or change or reflect the times and tenor of the people from age to age.  There is no God more radical than the One who would inhabit a Virgin's womb, a manger bare, a crude instrument of suffering, and a cold, dark tomb.  There is no more radical hope than in death life is born and this life will transcend all earthly reality, dream, and imagination.  There is no more radical conviction than because He lives, I shall live also.

Nope, if you want to be radical, try being a confessional Lutheran gathered with other confessional Lutherans around the Word and Table of the Lord, paying homage to catholic ceremonial that flows from catholic doctrine, singing the chorales of yesteryear while adding the best of the best to the heritage of faithful song, praying with the saints the Amen of Thy will be done, joyfully giving tithe and offering in testament to God's giving love, and walking out the door to fulfill the baptismal vocation of worship, witness, prayer, service, and works of mercy.