Saturday, October 25, 2014
Friday, October 24, 2014
Then I stumbled across a traditional Catholic blog which not only mentions synod but talks about various aspects of its meaning.
The Pope Emeritus tells us that the word used in Luke for Jesus, Joseph and Mary's travelling up to Jerusalem is synodia meaning a "pilgrim community", or a travelling caravan. The other word, which seems similar, is synodos, meaning an "assembly" or "meeting".Read the whole of it here. I am marginally disappointed that this author has not used precisely the same terminology the by now legendary definition of synod that we in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod use -- walking together on the way -- but close enough.
The synod in the past week represented more of a synodia than a synodos. But, are not both definitions true? The Church at large now sees the great divisions many of us have seen locally. Those with a "gay agenda" are trying to steer Holy Mother Church way from the truth concerning marriage and the family.
But, a synodia has to go somewhere, a pilgrimage always has a goal. And, a true pilgrimage must be penitential.
Some leaders want synodia not synodos. Some want constant change and new horizons in doctrine or even pastoral care.
Sure, some of you will say that ELCAites use Synod to refer to Districts and there are some micro synods among the myriad of Lutheran acronyms. All I can say is that the ELCAites do not really mean it and the only micro anythings I pay attention to are breweries (as is salutary and good).
If you are Missouri Synod and reading this, you can also be relieved that someone else is preoccupied by an obscure term which we hold near and dear. Ahhhhh, it is a good day in Synodland when somebody besides us is defining the term that nobody on earth seems to know but a few Missourians (and even fewer micro Lutherans) -- and even most of them are not sure what the word actually means!
Bill’s passion for reaching God’s lost people has resulted in two unique ministries: CrossPoint Community Church (LCMS), a multi-site church with two campuses and two partner churches it is helping launch, with a vision for 20 campuses and partner churches by 2020; and FiveTwo, a “how-to” network for sacramental church leaders who want to more effectively reach God’s lost people in the U.S. and around the world. FiveTwo desires to equip 10,000 sacramental entrepreneurs who launch 1,000,000 sacramental communities for lost people by 2044.
Watch snippets of him here. . .
Does he sound Lutheran to you? Not to me either. . . but he is the guru of the Texas District LCMS and trying to awaken the sleeping giant of the LCMS using the poison pill of Evangelicalism (worship, theology, and style). . .
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Sitting with a few shut-ins puts some of these things into a slightly different perspective. One couple spends too much of their time shuffling from one doctor appointment to another. They are not overly busy but overly tired -- weary of the endless litany of ailments, tests, diagnoses, and pills. They know what is wrong with them. They are old and old age brings a certain unpleasantness that is unavoidable (no matter what the pleasant mythology of aging tries to say). This is a wisdom which they wish they had not learned. They have found their length of days a mixed blessing -- as it surely is -- but they are wonderfully happy to spend time with their Pastor, who has come to inquire about them, to speak God's Word to them, and to feed them upon the body and blood of the Lord Jesus.
In the same day, another set of shut-ins finds a slightly different twist to their day. Time moves ever so slowly during the day but quickly through the months. One is suffering from the ever increasing ills of memory loss and his world grow ever smaller with each passing day. His wife watches with a measure of sadness and relief -- sadness that their golden years have lost some of the shine and relief when he wakes, when they manage to get through the day without falling or some other household trouble. They are also happy when their Pastor stops by to break the routine, bring news from their church and church family, and listen to the measure of the day so far. Visitors do not stop as often as they would like and come more often because of need and not simply to say "hi". The memory lost has not yet left him unable to speak the Our Father and ask to receive the body and blood of the Lord Jesus but he does have trouble swallowing and receives the Sacrament from a spoon.
The ministry of Word and Sacrament is all that but it is also a ministry of presence. Amid the press of time, the urgency of a thousand problems, emails, phone calls, social media alerts, lessons to prepare, sermons to write, parish calendars and publications to prepare, etc... there is time just to sit, to talk, to look around, and to look into the lives of those entrusted to your care. It is not always the kind of stuff that seems urgent or the kind of stuff that fits on a report or the kind of stuff that leaves you with statistics to share... but this is the stuff of a Pastor's day.
How we care for the youngest and for the oldest within the church is often a truer measure of the church's life and health than the raw statistics of attendance, giving, visitor follow ups, etc... that supervisors want to see. How do you report these indicators of faithfulness also essential to the life of a Christian (Lutheran) congregation?
So after spend about half the day with shut-ins, there are still some phone messages to hear, calls to return, and a 90 minute youth catechism class to teach (finishing up a unit on baptism). At the end of the day, it is sometimes hard to point to concrete accomplishments ("This is what I made/did") -- but there is purpose, value, and importance to it. One of the great lessons of pastoral ministry is learning that pastoral care is not glamorous, it is hard to chart on your schedule, and difficult to report but it is often one of the most valuable things you will ever do.
PS... The phone calls were about baptisms to schedule (5 so far) and new families to bring into the family of faith hat is this congregation. These things are easier to chart and report. So at the end of the day a little something for the statistics after all -- though it is a darn shame to characterize the great mystery of water and God's Word as a statistic!?!
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Why I stand with the Houston five.
And then the arrow broke through... But even then, once the point was understood, it was not granted.
"You believe the Word too much..."
A blessed accusation, to be sure! If one is left with the choice, the Lutheran chooses to believe more in the Word than in human work or act as the basis or promise of salvation. It is the all encompassing sacramental theology of Lutheranism boiled down to the fewest of words -- you believe the Word too much...
But we do. Hidden in the water of baptism is the ark that saves us. The Word put it there. No matter that you cannot see it with the eyes in your head. It is there. The Word has promised it. Hidden in bread is the Body of Christ and in the cup His blood. The Word put it there. No matter that it still looks and tastes like the bread and wine it was, and still is, by earthly sense, it is the Body and Blood of Christ. The Word has promised it.
We believe the Word too much. If there was ever a Lutheran fault, I think it might be this. But what we might call a fault in our world of seeing is believing is the greatest of all virtues. We learned it from Mary, Blessed Virgin, who heard and at once became the Mother of God, the Son of the everlasting Father living in her womb! Yes, shocking as it is, the BVM is the Mother of All Lutherans. She believed the Word too much. We believe the Word too much.
That is why I am not Roman Catholic or generic Protestant or even Orthodox. This is why I am Lutheran.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Undoubtedly you have heard the Gospel reading before and undoubtedly you have heard stewardship and citizenship sermons and some of them undoubtedly came from me. And there is nothing wrong with that. But today I think we need to explore another aspect of Jesus’ words about what belongs to Caesar or government and what belongs to the Lord.
What began as a typical conversation complaining about taxes – one that might very well take place here and now – turned into something much different. It was nothing less than an attempt to trap Jesus between God and Caesar. We always talk about taxes and how to relieve ourselves of this burden so that we can do what we please with OUR money. But Jesus offers us no out. He asked for a coin and pointed to Caesar’s image. Pay what you owe. In other words, Jesus refused to justify avoiding paying what is rightfully owed to Uncle Sam.
It is sinful to refuse to pay what you owe because it proceeds from a selfish heart. None of us is trying to keep from paying more to the government in order to give more to the Church or have more money for the poor. Jesus knows this. He is blunt. Yet, as hard as this is, this is the easy part of Jesus’ words. Taxes to pay for the common good, such as defense, are sanctioned by God, just law, and just responsibility.
Living as a citizen means sharing obligations for the common good and for the common need. In other words, we have a duty to our neighbor and even to the stranger with whom we share both privileges and responsibilities of citizenship. We may glory at cheating the government of their due but Jesus offers us no cover and refuses to countenance such behavior.
But the conversation is not over. Then comes the part that is much more difficult. Uncle Sam wants only a part of you, a small percentage. God is not content with a little bit of you, with a part of you, or with sharing you. He has invested the blood of His Son to redeem you and you belong to Him. You were bought with a price. You belong to Him. To run from this is to cheapen Jesus’ suffering and death and to act like the tenants we heard about last week who refused to give what was the right and duty owed to the owner.
Let us approach this a different way. Instead of thinking about a coin, think of YOU. Whose image do YOU wear? For that is what tells us what is due and to whom it is due. Whose image do YOU wear? Do you belong to the world? Or, do you belong to the Lord who became Your Savior?
God’s claim would be easy if it were merely a claim on the time or money we call our own. But that is not His claim. His claim is on US – all that we are. Our very selves belong to Him. This is where it gets hard. God claims all of us or none of us.
We were created by God and marked with His image, made in His likeness. His claim on us is the breath that gave us life and the life that we live out before Him. But God claimed even more. He also claimed our sins. He sent forth His own Son to pay the sacrificial cost of that sin and to enter into the horror of death and tame it for us. We are therefore twice His. Once in creation and once in our baptism when He marked us again as His own, setting us free from our captivity to sin and death and allowing us to live under Him in His kingdom as was His creative intention. What the world owned died in your baptism and what arose belongs to God.
St. Paul says the same thing. You are not your own. You were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body. It is easy to give Caesar what is his due – it is but a percentage of our money. But to give God what is His, to acknowledge His ownership over the whole of us, that demands nothing less than absolute faith. For just as God has claimed us, cleansed us from our sin, and set us free from death, so does He continue to provide for us, for this body and this life, and His mercies are new every morning.
We are tempted to cheapen God’s claim on those who wear His image – 10% of our money, one day a week for worship and only a couple of hours then. God is not satisfied with token ownership of those whom He has purchased and won with the very blood of His Son. He demands all of you. Nothing less. How is that for stewardship! Yet our jealous God is not selfish about us in the sense that we are over our things. He is jealous for us out of love, desiring to save us and providing for us to keep us in this blessed faith and hope until no distraction or distortion of life can afflict us again and we are His in everlasting life.
We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works... present yourselves as living sacrifices to the God whose image you wear. Well, what do we sing every Sunday? What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me? It is not a rhetorical question. It expects an answer. You belong to the Lord. You wear His image. So do not sing it on Sunday unless you are prepared to live it Monday through Saturday. Do not try to live as if you had two masters. One is Lord, even Jesus Christ, and it is His domain in which we live this mortal life of ordinary responsibilities and duties to nation and neighbor even as it is His domain in which we live the new life that marks us for eternity. God help us to wear His blessed image born in us by baptism now and to endure in this faith and hope to everlasting life.
It seems that Rome has picked up on this idea as well. The designated replacement of Francis Cardinal George of Chicago is described as a "pastoral" bishop. In other words, unlike, say, Cardinal Burke, this fellow will not be so intent upon enforcing the doctrinal stance of the Roman Catholic Church and will be more likely to, say, bend the rules rather than follow them. No one is saying he is a heretic or out on the fringes but he is described as a moderate or pastoral -- sort of like Francis.
Frankly, I am sick and tied of the way we use pastoral to describe those who are more likely to ignore doctrine and toe the line on its practice. There is nothing pastoral about a pastor (bishop, pope, you name it) who thinks doctrine is less important than people. There is nothing pastoral about a pastor who has decided that dogma is optional and it has no particular practice associated with its belief. Whether you are Lutheran or Roman Catholic or Orthodox or Methodist -- it does not matter -- holding to doctrine should not be a bad thing. In fact, we have far too many people questioning doctrine, challenging the truth of Scripture, wondering about the historicity of this person or that event, dismissing the historic boundaries of morality, and discounting the ability of anyone to know for sure about much of anything of Scripture, truth, and God.
There is little love in the person who refuses to tell the truth to people who might be offended by it. The Gospel is just as offensive as the Law, just as scandalous to the modern heart, and just as far fetched to the modern mind. Love means telling the truth, telling it not as a weapon to wound but as the only means to salvation, healing, forgiveness, and life. No church body needs people who are less likely to be truth tellers because people might not understand it, might be offended by it, or might use this truth as an excuse for keeping their distance from the God who made and saves them. Just the opposite! We believe that God's Word is truth and that this truth has the power to save, to bring about repentance, and to create faith. It is the promise of Isaiah 55 that God will not find His Word empty but will rejoice in the fruit for which He has issued that Word (through the mouths of His people and through the faithfulness of pastors who are not ashamed of doctrine and dogma).
A wise retired Army chaplain once said to me that the kiss of death for a chaplain is to only say "no" to his commander. "No, I cannot do that, but I can do this." said the same chaplain. In other words the real distinction here should be between those who only say no to wrong and those who say no to wrong but find in it the occasion to speak the yes of God's grace. Pastoral should not mean that you do not say God's "no" but rather that in addition to speaking God's "no", you also speak God's "yes".
The real pastoral pastor (bishop, pope) will seek the truth of God's Word and its faithful confession and practice and follow it. This is not in antithesis to love but its fullest expression.