Sunday, October 22, 2017

Does anyone here see the contradiction?

It is a shallow ecumenism, indeed, when a Roman Catholic Cathedral serves as a borrowed home for the "installation" of a female ELCA bishop by the female ELCA presiding bishop.  If you do not have the guts to say "no" to something which contradicts Roman Catholic teaching so clearly, then what hope do we have of a real conversation on the doctrinal differences between Rome and Wittenberg?  In the end, these are not exactly confession Lutheran folks so we might presume that Roman lite is also the flavor of the Marquette cathedral and diocese. 

Orthodoxy welcomes foreigners. . .

According to 2015 reports, nearly half the nearly 1 million Orthodox Christians in the United States today are converts.  Although for now the majority of these married into the church, a growing number are converting because of attraction for Orthodoxy itself.  While for now the majority of the laity have been raised in the church, it may be very soon when that is not the case,

More than 70 percent of the roughly 75,000 Antiochian Orthodox Christians in the United States are converts. The Orthodox Church in America, with roots in Moscow and about 85,000 adherents, reports a 50 percent figure. In Greek Orthodox Christianity, by far the largest branch in the United States with almost 480,000 members, it's about 25 percent.  Some might say the Greek Orthodox Church has remained mostly Greek because the culture is so powerfully wed to that jurisdiction -- much more than others.

When the day comes and a majority of the Orthodox Christians in the USA are converts, it will dramatically change a church known for its ethnic identity -- perhaps more than any other denomination in America.  The numbers of people attracted to Orthodoxy include Hank Hanegraaff among the converts from Protestantism, in particular evangelicalism.  Their numbers account for a significant numbers of those who have swum the Bosporus but not all of them.  Lutherans have contributed a fair number, as well.  What is clear, however, is that those attracted are not from the ordinary ethnic backgrounds Orthodoxy has usually been associated with - Greeks and Russians, in particular.

Lutherans were heavily defined by ethnic backgrounds once.  In fact it almost exclusively contributed to the plethora of Lutheran groups a hundred or more years ago -- before the merger phenomenon and the transition into more Americanized groups.  Some, in particular the ELCA, have embraced their American identity even more so than their Lutheran identity, choosing to diverge from that Lutheran-ness when they believed it was in the wrong (homosexuality being one example).  It has created a huge gulf between the more conservative Lutheran groups and contributed to an ecumenical agenda that has favored unity in diversity more so with non-Lutherans than with Lutherans.

What will happen to Orthodoxy when it is populated more by converts than by those raised in the faith?  One thing that might happen is that this may slow the Americanization of Orthodoxy since those attracted to Orthodoxy are intent upon remaining out of the mainstream (one of the very reasons they went church shopping in the first place).  If this happens, Orthodoxy may be one of the few denominations to actually become more conservative (not the best term but one we all understand) as it becomes less ethnic and more American in its complexion.  That would certainly confound some of the folks who may think that Orthodoxy needs a face lift to meet modernity.

It is interesting that, at least anecdotally, this is exactly what is happening in my own parish.  Those coming from outside of Lutheranism are not coming for the Lutheran lite style of Lutheranism which minimizes Lutheran distinctives.  No indeed, they are coming to be fully Lutheran -- in faith, in worship, and in piety.  They are instructing the long time Lutherans in what it means to be Lutheran and encouraging those who have grown rather comfortable in their faith to rediscover what it means to believe, confess, and teach the faith with conviction.

In any case, it will be something to watch.  Orthodoxy, at least the Antiochians, have even tried a Western Rite Orthodox worship format to reach out even more to those running from American churches whose faith has grown cold, weak, and shallow.  How far that goes in all of this, I cannot say but Orthodoxy is aware of the interest from those outside and is encouraging it. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Unleashing the Gospel. . .

Read here for the Archbishop of Detroit's call to mission.  It surely has some things in it that make Lutherans a bit uneasy but overall it is a remarkable document to come out of a Roman Catholic diocese.  Clearly, the Archdiocese has embraced the new evangelization with what some might call a Protestant sort of fervor. 

If you are interested enough to read 45 pages or so, you might find several sections rather surprising.  In 3.3, The Roots of the Crisis, there is a clear and compelling diagnosis of what has happened along the landscape of Christianity and within the culture to bring us to the present crisis.  In the next section, 3.4 Good and Bad Habits, there is a frank discussion of virtues and vices on the part of the Diocese.  Jumping ahead to the Markers, you find a clear call to repentance and a call to believe that sounds like it could come from almost any Protestant denomination.  I found the Marker on Scripture (3.2) exceptionally interesting.  The Action Steps give clear direction to the Archdiocese as to how they expect to address the crisis and make improvement toward the stated goals. Within the document is even a frank admission of responsibility for some of the sins of the clergy and the church structures with regard to the abuse.

In any case, it is certainly interesting and, if they intend to live by these words, we are seeing a clear shift in the way a diocese operates as they address the future.
This letter ends where it began, in chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles. Here we see the Church living an authentically Christian communal life: following the teaching of the apostles, practicing fellowship and care for one another, partaking in the sacraments, and praying together. And we see how God blesses them by adding to their numbers. We see a mystery, a reality at once human and divine, the created manifestation of the work of the Creator Spirit. The Church is the sacrament of the risen Christ in our midst. She is alive because he is alive. She grows with the vigor and power of his divine life. And her living is not for her own sake but for the sake of her mission. Her Lord sends her to proclaim the good news that “the crucified one has been raised,” just as he was sent by the Father.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Me first. . .

Sent to me by a blog reader. . . very interesting!

On Sunday morning October 7, 1894, parishioners filled the Bedford Avenue Baptist Church of Brooklyn, New York, in anticipation of experiencing what The New York Times termed a “novelty in communion service” (October 8, 1894). Two newspapers had announced in late September that this church would implement individual cups. The September 28, 1894 issue of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle quoted Bedford’s pastor, J. H. Gunning, as saying that the cups would be used at the next communion service. However, attendees who arrived expecting the individual cups “were disappointed” to see the same old six silver goblets (The New York Times, October 8, 1894). After the service, Rev. Gunning called a business meeting during which he said he was anxious that his church be the first in Brooklyn to use individual communion cups. A majority voted, by standing, to purchase 200 three-inch tall silver cups lined with gold at a cost of thirty-five cents per communicant.

Up until the 1890s, Protestant churches throughout the world used common communion chalices. Some used just one, while others were known to use several in order to administer the fruit of the vine in a time-saving manner. However, churches using multiple chalices still had tens or perhaps hundreds of people sipping from the same cup during a communion service. In the late-nineteenth century, when outbreaks of diphtheria and tuberculosis were common, American sanitarians agitated to reform this religious practice—though no disease contraction had been linked to the use of a common communion chalice.

Reformers proposed several alternatives such as intinction, individual fistulas or siphons (straws?!), scalloped-rim chalices, and disinfectant cloths. However, among all proposals, individual cups emerged as the most popular method. Enough pastors and laymen became convinced of the sanitary need to use individual cups that the idea took hold, then rapidly spread into the twentieth century. This reform changed what was believed to be an almost 1,900-year-old method.
From what I understand, individual cups then entered Lutheranism a generation or two later.  Fear entered the mind and heart and with that fear distrust over the Lord's Word and then a reasonable, rational, and sensible solution to prevent disease.  It is a small thing, perhaps, but it illustrates well how fear challenges what the Word of the Lord says and yesterday's unassailable truth and practice becomes today's object of concern, fear, and rejection.    It should not come as any surprise that the suggestion for individual cups first came in an article written for “The Annals of Hygiene, of Philadelphia,” and not from theological perspective.

Lutherans knew nothing of individual cups until we saw what our Reformed cousins and the rest of American Protestantism was doing.  Then we too got on the bandwagon -- perhaps out of novelty but more likely because we, too, lost confidence in the Word and promise of the Lord and succumbed to the fear of disease (what turns out by every study to have been and still be an irrational fear).

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Where do you think you are going dressed like that?

Sermon for Pentecost 19, Proper23A, preached on Sunday, October 15, 2017.

    Is there a child alive who has not heard from mom or dad, “Where do you think you are going dressed like that?”  Not a few husbands have heard that as well.  Sometimes we forget that the job of clothing is supposed to make us look better – not worse – better than we are.  Beauty is NOT in the eye of the beholder.  Some things just need to be covered up.
    So in the Gospel for today, Jesus told a story of a King who had a wedding for his son and of the many invited, who were called, but did not come.  What do you have on your calendar?  The truth is we often consider going to things hoping we will get a better offer later.  They had better stuff on the calendars.  Some times anything is better than the things we don’t like.  Like church on Sunday.  It is a calendar appointment that always seems to give way to anything better that comes along.
    Usually there are no consequences other than the awkward meeting of people whose invites you have blown off.  But not here.  There were consequences.  And the consequences were grave.  The King’s anger sent off the servants of his wrath to kill and destroy the murderers who had killed the prophets and refused the call of God’s Word.  Surely there are not such dire consequences for skipping church.  Or are there? 
    If the invited refuse and are killed, who takes their place?  The unworthy.  The sinners without pedigree and without place are given a place at the table and a part in the wedding feast without end.  By the way, in case you did not get it.  The unworthy refers to you and me; we who were no people until God’s people rejected the promise and God extended the great invitation of grace to those who had not heard the Law and the Prophets.  We are those sinners who came dirty  and were washed, who came without proper clothing who had to be given a wedding garment.  The good and the bad,  called and gathered by God, to sit in the place of honor.
    One fellow, however, was without that wedding garment.  Where do you think you are going dressed like that?  It seems cruel at first but it is not.  The man had refused the gift of a garment.  He wore his own clothes.  He was dressed up in what made him comfortable.  He wore his own good works.  He was not simply casual.  He was prideful.  If it is good enough for me, it ought to be good enough for God.  How many still think that?
    All those who think God cares only about your sincerity take note here.  The sincere are not saved.  The repentant are saved. Those who give up their rags to wear the glorious clothing God alone provides, the righteous robes of Christ given in baptism to the good and the bad, all unworthy, to wear by faith.
    There are consequences.  It isn’t really “just as I am I come” to God but in Christ, clothed with His righteousness, wearing the clothing He has provided, I come.  The consequences of rejecting God’s righteousness is the place of darkness, of gnashing of teeth, the outer darkness of hell.  His clothing may have been comfortable but it cost him the comfort of grace.
    The good and the bad are covered only by the righteousness of Christ.  It matters what you wear.  This parable is shockingly without comfort.  Those who belonged were killed and the sinners unworthy of the King took their place.  They were declared righteous and wore Christ’s own righteousness.  In other words many are called but few are chosen.  God does not call the righteous but declares righteous the called. Sinners can enter because they wear the right clothing of righteousness.
    What do we say to this?  Paul teaches us.  “Rejoice! Do not be anxious!  God’s peace will guard you.”  Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder.  God decides what is beauty.  God has declared YOU, a sinner, beautiful because He has so clothed you, your sin is covered by Christ’s righteousness.  Without this clothing there is only darkness and gnashing of teeth but with this clothing there is peace and joy.
    Some complain about this.  Some are not so sure that beauty ought to be an end.  Remember the response to the woman who wasted expensive ointment anointing Jesus?  How many look at church buildings or pipe organs and think this money could have gone to do something useful?  Is beauty too expensive?  First think what your beauty cost the Lord -- His suffering and death; not with silver and gold but with His holy and precious blood were you bought and washed and clothed.  It cost God everything to clothe you in  forgiveness and righteousness.  Wear this clothing by faith.  Do not exchange it for your own works, no matter how comfortable those works may be.  They offer no hope and no joy.  Live then to the praise of Him who has redeemed you.
    Where do you think you are going dressed like that?  Some will surely remind me at the door, “Pastor, clothing does not make you holy.”  That is wrong.  The clothing the Lord puts on you does make you holy.  That is also why we act as we do – we see how we are dressed in righteousness and we seek to live up to that clothing and be God’s righteous people.  You will not be saved by the clothing you put on your selves but you will surely be saved by the clothing the Lord puts on you.
    So what does it mean? Is there a dress code for worship? Yes there is.  We come wearing Christ’s righteousness or not at all.  How does this translate into what you put on when you look into your closet on Sunday morning?  I will leave that to you except to say there is something not quite right about being too comfortable in our own skin.  After all, the practice of dressing up for church began not with the desire to impress other people or God but to reflect the faith of the heart, remembering what God had clothed YOU so that you may be righteous, holy, and beautiful.  Amen.

Asperges on steriods. . .

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Bad Manners or Bad Truth. . .

The world around us has come to judge manners above everything else and then to define manners not as politeness but as approval.  So some insist that it is bad manners to speak of something as sin or someone as a sinner.  Being nice is more important than being right.  Good manners means treating people with whose lifestyles you disagree with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.  Anything else is just plain mean.

Let me say upfront I agree that we ought to learn how to be polite to one another -- even toward those with whom we disagree.  That said, what good comes from acting like we approve of things which we do not approve?  Are we being nicer to the person by ignoring the false truth or heresy they confess?  Are we being nicer to the sinner by not identifying the sin?  I am not at all suggesting that we be rude in our condemnation of sin or in our call to repentance.  Indeed, there is no room for smugness or superiority.  To say we are all sinners is not to make light of sin or to dismiss it but to admit the seriousness of our fallen condition.

Christian manners have come to mean that we ignore those who live together without marriage, those who break their marriage vows, those who make homosexuality and heterosexuality equivalent, and the culture of anything goes consensual sexual behavior.  There are no good manners in telling lies: as Scripture says, the truth is to be spoken in love.  Love cares about people who live lies (gay or straight).  The great equalizer is not the acceptance of all kinds of sin.  No, indeed, the great equalizer is the call to repentance, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

I will agree that when the Church picks and chooses the sins to preach about or the sinners to call to repentance we do a grave disservice to the Gospel.  Yet we do the very same disservice when we purposefully refrain from addressing the sinner with the truth of Scripture out of fear we will offend them or sound bad in the face of a society ever more tolerant of moral failure.

It may be easy to think or speak as if this were all about sex.  It is not.  It is about morality built upon rights and wrongs.  It is about God's Law which refuses to be diluted or changed by the whims and preferences of time and culture.  We could be addressing everything from vulgar speech to callous indifference to truth and to the needs of the neighbor.  It is not all about sex although, as we learn from Eden, sex seems to the first place to start when we consider our fallen condition.

Either the Church is right in what it teaches about human sexuality, or it is wrong. Either the Church is speaking the higher way of love which is more than desire or the Church is speaking lies to its people. Even though a great number of folks are convinced that the truth is offensive and that mere politeness requires us to hold our tongue, the Church is showing the utmost disrespect by failing to be honest with those who violate the truth with regard to the evil of abortion, the nobility of virginity, the sanctity of life, and the self-control that places limits upon the free reign of desire.  It may well be that the day is soon coming when the Church will find the Gospel as hate speech and traditional morality to be judgemental and disrespectful.

The truth is not always respectable or respectful in a world set against the enduring truth of God and His Word.  It is an inconvenient truth that we cannot approach every sin and every sinner with kid gloves.  I am not countenancing being rude or disrespectful but suggesting rather that God's Word will be found intolerable and untenable in a world set adrift from that Word of Life.  I am not being prescient or even wise, just being realistic.  The Gospel will always be judged offensive as long as do not believe in sin and therefore find a Savior superfluous to our modern lives.  So for this reason the Church will be required to speak the Law as well as the Gospel or risk being found unfaithful before the judgement seat of Christ.  We cannot avoid it but neither should we work against the power of that Word by being offensive on purpose.