Saturday, August 19, 2017

Fr. Martin's version of sex. . .

Father Martin puts forth the notion that the Church has misunderstood God’s plan for human sexuality for her entire history and that she must now switch to a new teaching, namely that the union of man and woman in marital love is not the only path for the true and good expression of human sexuality.  In his new book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity (HarperCollins), Jesuit Father James Martin critiques the Roman Catholic Church’s characterization of homosexuality as "disordered" and the failure of Rome to constructively engage “the LGBT community.”  Of course the point underlying Fr. Martin's book is that God made people the way they are and to reject how they are is to reject God and His making grace.  Father Martin said some of the language about homosexuality used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church should be updated and suggested that “objectively disordered” might be changed to “differently ordered.” “As I say in the book, saying that one of the deepest parts of a person — the part that gives and receives love — is disordered is needlessly hurtful,” he said.

Father Gerald Murray, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in New York City, has rightly said the phrase “differently ordered” is not merely a change in vocabulary but would constitute a grave change in Church teaching. “It would mean that God created two different orders of sexual behavior which are both good and right according to his will: Some people are homosexual by God’s design and some are heterosexual by God’s design. If that is the case, then homosexual acts themselves could no longer be described, as they are in the Catechism ... as ‘intrinsically disordered.’ If the inclination is simply different, and not disordered, then acting upon that inclination is simply different, and not disordered. It would be natural behavior for ‘differently ordered’ people.”

In “One Priest’s Plan to Queer the Catholic Church” on Vice.com, Xorje Olivares asks Father Martin whether he thinks “full inclusion” of “LGBT” Catholics is possible in their lifetime. Although Father Martin said “LGBT” Catholics are already part of the Church by virtue of their baptism, he responds favorably to the question: “Yes, I do,” citing Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” comment and his reminding “LGBT” people “before all else” of their dignity in Amoris Laetitia.  According to Martin, the only way to rescue the relationship between the LGBT community and the Church is to affirm the LGBT as differently ordered but not disordered, that the fault lies with the Christian tradition in misunderstanding sex from the get go, and the people who must change are not those who, outside of marriage are called to live chaste lives, but rather the Church in embracing the new sexual ethic of preference, feeling, desire, and form (it's all good! in other words).

Fr. Martin asks the “families, friends and allies” of “LGBT” persons this question: “You are wonderfully made yourself! And your family member or friend is made in a different, but no less wonderful, way. What does this say to you about God’s ‘works’ and God’s ‘thoughts’?” (p. 114). He asks “LGBT” persons: “What enables you to accept yourself as you are?” (p. 123).  But, that is the point, we admit who we are but we cannot accept who we are.  And thanks be to God God does not accept it either but has sent forth His Son into the womb of the Virgin, into a life of obedience, into the pain of the cross with its suffering, into death and the cold, darkness of the tomb -- all to keep us from the prison of who we are!  This is the power of redemption.  But there is no power in glorying in our sin and there is no comfort in the refuge of our broken selves.  Fr. Martin is not merely talking about a new way of dealing with the LGBT community but a new Gospel that is built upon something other than the cross and its redemptive fruit, born of suffering and death!  And that, we cannot embrace, or we have nothing at all to offer the LGBT community or anyone -- except learning to be comfortable with who you are and the death that shadows your life and brings you to an end.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Sermon for Pentecost 10, Proper 14A, preached by the Rev. Larry A. Peters, on Sunday, August 13, 2017, at Faith Lutheran Church, Union City, TN.

    The story is told of 3 pastors who went fishing together often until the Methodist minister took a call and left. So the Lutheran pastor and Roman Catholic priest decided to ask his replacement to join them.  They were out on the boat for hours, drinking from their big thermoses of coffee, when the priest gets up and says he needs to excuse himself and walks across the water to the trees.  He comes back and another hour passes until the pastor says he also must excuse himself and walks across the water and into the trees on the shore.  The Methodist minister is now clearly uncomfortable but is sure that he can do what any Lutheran or Roman Catholic can do.  He gets up out of the boat, takes a few steps on the water, falls in and drowns.  Carrying the body back to town mostly in silence, the Lutheran finally speaks.  "Do you suppose we should have told him where the stones were?"
    Walking on water is always easy when you know where the stones are.  Indeed, we often think that is why Jesus is so important.  He knows where the stones are, where you can safely put your feet and where you can’t.  We want Him to let us in on the secret.  We want to know where the secret stones are so that when the storms of life come our way, we know where to walk to avoid the onslaught of wind and wave.  We want to know the safe places to put our feet in a world that is neither safe nor certain.  But that is not what Jesus does.  Jesus has not come to be guide or guru.  He is not a life coach or a mentor.  He is come to save us and the only way He saves is when we see Jesus and Him only.  He is the rock of our salvation. 
    In the Gospel reading for today Peter and the disciples are tossed and turned upon the waters by a storm that did not relent.  They were tired and weary, they were worn and worn down, and they were afraid.  Just when it seemed nothing could get worst, someone called out that Jesus was out there walking on the sea.  Perhaps the first inclination of the disciples was that somebody needed to save Jesus.  Jesus was not a fisherman, after all, but a carpenter.  The next guess was that they were seeing things – a ghost, a shadow, and a mirage.  But it was Jesus.
    Jesus came to them, where they were.  He came walking upon the waters of the very storm that threatened them.  He came walking to them when they were most afraid.  When the disciples realized that it was Jesus, they were not comforted but were even more afraid.  How could it be real?  Was it Jesus or some ghostly dream?  They were ready to dismiss it all out of hand, when the unmistakable voice came to their ears:  “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid.”
    Peter, yes, it had to be Peter.  Peter ventures forward.  “If it is you, Lord, tell me to come to You on the water.”  Notice what he did not say.  He did not say “because it is You I will come to You.”  No, this was not faith talking but fear – pure, raw, and unadulterated fear.  Jesus answered back with the scariest word of all.  “Come!”  And then Peter had to eat his words or trust the word of Jesus.
    In the beginning, perhaps with the first few steps, Peter believed the word of Jesus.  But then he began to look down to consider the power of the wind and the waves, when he saw them he no longer saw Jesus.  He began to sink and cried out in fear for Jesus to save him.  Peter was apparently a fisherman who could not swim!  His fears turned his vision from Jesus until the only things he saw were his fears.
    In the end, Jesus makes it clear what this business of Christian life is all about.  “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  Life is filled with storms.  We are daily beaten around by the winds of change and the waves of discontent.  We are threatened day in and day out by forces beyond our control.  Jesus does not offer Peter secrets.  There are no secret stones on which to stand.  There is only Jesus.  There is no secret wisdom to make sense out of life’s storms.  There is only Jesus.  There is no secret path around those storms.  There is only Jesus.  There is no safe place in which to hide until the storms pass.  There is only Jesus.
    What was true for Peter, is certainly true for you and me.  We come to Jesus looking for short cuts, for the easy paths through life’s threats, for a sanctuary where wind and wave dare not come.  What we get is Jesus.  Jesus who does not run from us when sin had made us unlovable.  Jesus who does not abandon us when we are suffering from a predicament born of our own willfulness and pride in the Garden of Eden.  Jesus who does not shrink from the cost of loving us even when that cost is His life of suffering upon the cross.  Jesus who does not wait for us to find a way to Him but comes to us and is born as one of us in flesh and blood, amid the poisoned air of sin and the stench of death that accompanies every one of us.  Jesus who reaches out His hand and holds on to us when we are ready to let go.
    I cannot promise you an easy life or even a safe life.  I cannot show you a hidden path around suffering or pain.  I cannot give you tips on how to life holy or, if not holy, at least happy.  All I can do is point you to Jesus.  And here He is.  His voice still speaks to us in our ships of discontent, amid waves of destruction, battered by the winds of change.  His arms still enfold us with the absolution that takes our sins away.  His hands still feed us the rich food of His flesh and blood wherein we enjoy forgiveness too rich for us to buy and peace that passes understanding.
    Even now you may be hoping that a magical solution will come along.  A pastor you can afford but who is better than you can afford, someone to lead you through your troubles, make strong and mighty your little congregation, overcome all obstacles and fill the pews and the coffers so that you can rest from all your labors.  Somebody like that will never come along.  But a pastor who will preach Jesus to you will come along.  A pastor who will address you with Christ’s absolution, will come along.  A pastor who will feed you Christ whose flesh is hidden in bread and whose blood is hidden in wine.  A pastor who will point you to Jesus when all you see are the storms and who will speak hope to you when you are too tired to go any further.
    But you need to do two things.  You need to get out of the boat.  Let go of yesterday’s disappointments, today’s anxieties, and tomorrow’s fears and step out in faith.  Leave behind your works and your desires, and trust in Jesus.  And keep looking at Jesus when the distractions of this world beckon us and Satan would use them to create doubts within.  Keep looking at Jesus.  When distractions come and temptations show their wares and life’s storms make it hard to see anything at all, you need to look at Jesus.  That is the power of faith.  Faith sees beyond eyes and hears beyond ears.  The Holy Spirit is the power of this faith to hold onto Jesus and let go of your works, your merits, your sense of fairness, and your past.  The Holy Spirit empowers you to look not by sight but by faith and to see through the storms to the cross and through the cross to heaven.
    The world is filled with the exploits of the brave.  But in the midst of the crises, they did not look brave all all.  They were called fools.  The world will call you foolish when you put your trust in Jesus, when your confidence in Christ refuses to waver even when the going gets impossible, and when you gladly and willingly surrender your works for the one work of Christ on the cross.  Faith Lutheran Church does not need brave people or mighty leaders.  This congregation needs people of faith who will look to Jesus first and always.  This life does not require heroes but men and women and children of faith who believe and who live this faith when the storms of life threaten them most of all.  People who confess Jesus, the Lord of life who suffered all even death to rescue and redeem a lost and condemned world.
    And when it is ended.  When you have taken off the life jackets and secured the boat on the beach and when the wind and wave have passed on for now.  Then let it be said with one voice from this place and from this people.  Truly He is the Son of God.  For this confession is your hope.  By this confession you will endure.  By this confession the world will hear the Gospel.  And by this confession, you will not stand alone but with the saints of old, great and small, and your family of faith around you now.  Together we are a people convinced that God is with us, that His grace is sufficient for all our needs, and that faith is all we need to endure the storms, struggles, and sorrows of this mortal life.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

To Own the Mass or Be Owned by it. . .



There is no shortage of goofiness resplendently enshrined for the world to see -- all courtesy of YouTube and the internet.  But some should not be viewed (except as a warning not to do what is being done while you watch).

The principle of inculturation says that the Mass is to be "owned" by the people and their culture.  In other words, it is a raw form to be adapted in culturally relevant ways by those for whom the Mass exists.  It is a strange idea, to say the least.  First of all it forgets that the Mass is its own culture and neither adopts nor borrows the culture around it.  Second it commits the error of suggesting that the Mass is about us.  Of course it is for us (given and shed for you. . . ) but it is definitely not about us.  If for that reason alone, we should refrain from attempting to interject culturally relevant forms into the form of the Mass.

BTW this is not about the kind of culture we find here -- there is no cultural elitism here or racism.  It is just as wrong if there is an oompah band and polka dancers.  The Mass has its own culture, the culture of the means of grace, which engages and transforms the culture around it.  By making what happens in the chancel merely a stage for the display of what is cultural relevant or reflective of personal preference, we make our Lord and His eternal Word secondary to us and the moment in time in which we live.  Further, it means the Mass must be constantly adapted and updated to reflect the changing tastes and usages of the moment -- something which is not wise at all.

The mark of that which is catholic is continuity.  Change must be incremental and not captive to the moment.  We see this already in the abiding language of the Our Father that transcends cultural and linguistic changes.  But we must also be careful not to enshrine one glimpse of time into the Mass and make it the perfectly pristine moment which must be guarded against any and all development.  It this is true for Rome, it is also true for Lutherans.  I wish it were merely a matter of tolerating some goofiness from time to time but the end result of inculturation has been to make the Mass a platform for us to perform, to make the participants into soloists and stars on God's stage, to reduce the Lord to mere spectator, and to steal from Him both the gift and blessing of worship. It matters not who does it nor does it matter how sincere the people are.  The Mass remains the Lord's and it is His gracious will to invite us into it so that the Word of the Lord may enter our ears and make its home in our heads and in our hearts and the flesh and blood of the Lord may cleanse us body and soul. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

If everyone agrees, perhaps we should continue to disagree. . .

According to the Religious News Service:

Amid ceremonies this year marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, one of Protestantism’s leading branches has officially said it now agrees with the Vatican on the main issue at the root of its split from the Roman Catholic Church half a millennium ago.

The World Communion of Reformed Churches, holding its once-in-seven-years worldwide General Council in Germany, signed a declaration this week endorsing the 1999 Catholic-Lutheran agreement on how Christians might be worthy of salvation in the eyes of God.


The ceremony took place in Wittenberg, where in 1517 Martin Luther unveiled the 95 Theses that launched the Reformation and with it centuries of dispute about whether eternal salvation comes from faith alone — the position of the new Protestant movement — or if it also requires good works on Earth as Catholics argued.

This decision by the WCRC — representing 80 million members of Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed, United, Uniting and Waldensian churches — marked another step in a gradual but remarkable reconciliation on this issue among Christians who once fought wars and declared each other heretics over just such questions.

The World Methodist Council formally endorsed the Catholic-Lutheran accord, known as the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, in 2006. The Anglican Communion is expected to do the same later this year.  [The Anglican Communion will probably do the same later.]
The Reformed noted that nothing separated them from the Lutherans.  Hmmmm.  I am not sure what part of the word agreement is being missed here but something is definitely being missed.  When people agree to a common vocabulary but fail to agree with what the words in vocabulary actually mean, it is not agreement.  It is an agreement that disagreement does not matter.  There is no real reconciliation if we all get to use the same words but attach different meanings to them.  Reconciled diversity is not communion or agreement.  And, if Calvinists and Rome and Lutherans can all say they agree without addressing the historic differences between them, it is the most shallow and weak form of ecumenism which will bear no good fruit.  Listen here. . . 

It is a great photo op but it is little more.  Hail the agreement as something profound but that does not fix what is missing here.  I do not want to disagree and would rejoice the day we could all come together and confess with one voice justification by grace through faith.  Yet even then, if we cannot agree on the second part of it, sanctification, we remain distant and at loggerheads.  I long for true ecumenism and for true unity, as every child of the Augsburg Confession should, but in this, because the Reformed, Methodist, Anglicans, and Romans say "we agree," it make me more hesitant than ever to sign on the dotted line and say it must be so.  Pray for true agreement and for something more than an anniversary photo op.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

We heard from Rome, now from the CTCR. . .

The LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) provides study documents, opinions and statements on theological issues. Established by the Synod in 1962, the commission provides guidance and leadership in the areas of theology and church relations -- something formerly done through the seminary faculties.  The Commission was not established by the Synod to function as a kind of “Roman curia” or “ecclesiastical Supreme Court” that issues final answers to all kinds of questions. Nor is it charged with responsibilities of ecclesiastical supervision or doctrinal review of materials produced by Synod entities.  Its reports and opinions have weight but no official authority; they are not the official positions of Synod until adopted in Convention. 

Piggybacking upon my post of yesterday regarding the position of Rome with regard to the elements used in the Lord's Supper, the CTCR represents guidance but, without the sanction of the Convention, its documents do not have authority to regulate practice in the LCMS.  Nevertheless, from the CTCR of the LCMS regarding the elements:  

There is scholarly consensus that our Lord employed the earthly elements of bread and wine in His institution of Holy Communion. [17]

a. The Bread

The Greek word for bread in the New Testament texts, artos, is generic. It applies to bread in general. [18] While Greek has a more restricted term, azumos, for unleavened bread, it is not found in any of the New Testament accounts of the Lord's Supper.

The fact that unleavened bread was used in the Passover and that the three evangelists set the time for the Lord's Supper "on the first day of [the Feast of] Unleavened Bread" would strongly suggest the use of unleavened bread in our Lord's original action (Matt. 26:17; cf. Mark 14:12 and Luke 22:7). Therefore we have reason to conclude that unleavened bread should also be used today.

Since the Scriptures are silent on the source of the bread, it may be baked from the flour of wheat, rye, barley, or other grains. While the form of distribution should reflect reverence for the elements, there is no specific guidance on the size or shape of the wafer or portion.

b. The Wine

All four accounts of the Lord's Supper speak of "the cup." The content of this cup was most definitely wine. The references in Matt. 26:29 and parallels to the "fruit of the vine" would not have suggested anything else to Jesus' listeners than the grape wine of the Jewish Passover ritual. [19]

In 1 Cor. 11:21 there is corroboration that the early Christian church understood wine for "fruit of the vine." Some of the Corinthians, sadly, had abused the Holy Supper by becoming drunk.

The color, type, or origin of the grape wine is a matter which Christians can select in accord with their situation.

In the oft-cited pastoral circumstance of an alcoholic communicant, the counsel of foregoing Communion for a period of time or the action of diluting the wine with water (perhaps done at the Lord's Supper itself) are preferable. In the extreme situation where even greatly diluted wine may lead to severe temptation, no fully satisfactory answer, in the opinion of the CTCR, can be formulated. The counsel of completely foregoing Communion is clearly unsatisfactory. In this situation, too, the actions of diluting the wine with water or intinction would be preferable. The substitution of grape juice raises the question of whether the Lord's instruction is being heeded.

Luther's openness to Communion in one kinds is difficult in view of confessional texts which strongly urge the Biblical paradigm of both kinds, though the Confessions do not address the extreme situation.

A similar pastoral problem is posed by those rare instances where a severe physical reaction is caused by the elements (as, for example, when the recipient is concurrently taking certain medications, or is simply allergic to one or the other of the elements). The pastor, in such cases, will surely stress the Gospel's power and total effectiveness in the individual's life and patiently seek a practical solution that both honors Christ's word and satisfies the desire to partake in the Lord's Supper.

[17] Representative of such a consensus are the following commentaries: A. Schlatter, Der Evangelist Matthaus (Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1948), pp 741-45; William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), pp. 504-09; I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), pp. 792-807; C.K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), pp. 264-70; Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, trans. Norman Perrin (Philadelphia Fortress Press, 1966), pp. 41-88.
[18] Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 110.
[19] "Fruit of the vine" is, exegetically, synonymous with wine. Cf. H. Buechsel, "genema," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, I (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1965), p. 164; W. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1974), pp. 508-09; H. Seesemann, "oinos,"  Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, V (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1967), p. 164; Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to Mark (London: St. Martin's Press, 1966), p. 547.
I might add that the unleavened bread of the Passover, Matzo, matza or matzah (Hebrew: מַצָּהmatsa; plural matzot) is unleavened flatbread.  Matzo that for Passover is plain, from flour and water only, but the flour may be wheat, spelt, barley, rye, or oat.  The CTCR appears to acknowledge this in part but Rome is more restrictive, wheat only.  In any case, it would be a stretch to include rice or other grains which were unknown for the Passover at the time of Jesus.  In any case, the report of the CTCR is descriptive and offers guidance without the authority to require conformity.  Yet, in both the CTCR and Roman instruction the common theme is that we do not add but detract from the Sacrament when we depart from the forms of our Lord's institution.  That said, it is clear that Lutherans are not reading the CTCR report (or, in the case of the ELCA, their own official instructions on the means of grace) and presume the freedom to do what works for them.  Clearly, this is not beneficial for the larger church and actually detracts from our confidence in and our appreciation for the Lord's Supper (and it remains His and not ours).

I repeat:  I am not in a position to say that such Sacraments that violate form or matter are not Sacraments but anything that would draw our confidence away from the Word of Christ that we are receiving what He promised is not a good thing but a grave abuse of the Sacrament.  No pastor or parish has the right to determine what works best for them in this regard.  While we do not have the same structures as Rome does, the District President is clearly locally responsible for episcope, supervision of doctrine and practice and this is something every DP needs to deal with.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Fear Not

Sermon for Pentecost 10, Proper 14A, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, August 13, 2017.
 
    We try to convince ourselves that death is no big deal, it’s nothing to fear.  We say it’s a normal part of life, even though it’s the opposite of life.  We lie and say death is a good thing, especially when it brings an end to suffering.  We do everything we can to take the fear out of death...and yet...we still fear it. 
    We fear death.  We fear our own and the death of loved ones.  We’re afraid of how we’ll die.  Will it be painful?  Will I suffer long?  What will happen to my family when I’m gone?  These questions haunt us.  But Christ encourages us in the face of death.  He says “Take heart, and don’t be afraid,” not because death is a small thing and isn’t scary, but because He’s the Lord of Creation who saves you from death.
    The disciples feared death.  Early in the morning, before the sun was up, out in the middle of the sea, after a long night on the sea with strong waves beating against the boat, the disciples saw Jesus coming to them, walking on the water.  What an amazing sight this should’ve been, seeing their Lord performing another miracle, walking on water.  But the disciples weren’t amazed, at least not in a good way.  They were terrified, thinking Jesus was a ghost, a bringer of death. 
    Knowing their fear, Jesus spoke to them saying “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid” (Matt 14:27).  These words of Jesus weren’t an empty platitude or shallow encouragement.  They didn’t comfort the disciples simply because they assured them that Jesus wasn’t a ghost.  No, these words comforted the disciples because they identified Him as the Lord of Creation, as the great “I am,” God Himself. 
    If we go back to the original Greek of the New Testament, Jesus identified Himself by saying “ε?γώ ει?μι,” “I am,” the very words God used to identify Himself to Moses in the burning bush.  God is the “I am.”  He’s the Creator of all things.  He laid the foundations of the earth.  He set the limits of the sea, and Jesus Christ is God.  He’s the Son, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.  All things were made through Christ and without Him was not anything made that was made (Jn 1:3).  Jesus is the Lord of Creation.  He holds it all in His hands, even the wind and waves.  The disciples didn’t need to fear a watery death because Christ was there.  He was in control. 
    Jesus’ words encouraged the disciples, and Peter asked Him to call him out onto the water.  Peter got out of the boat and walked on the sea to Jesus.  Peter was walking on the water; but seeing the wind, he again feared death, and in this fear he began to sin.  Immediately Christ grabbed Peter and pulled him from the water and said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt 14:31). 
    Why did Peter doubt?  Why did he fear death again?  The Lord of Creation was right there with him and He wasn’t going to let anything bad happen to him.  But Peter still feared for his life because of his imperfect love.  That’s why the disciples were afraid...and that’s why we fear death.  We’re afraid of death because of our imperfect love:  imperfect love for God and imperfect love for others. 
    In thesis 14 of his 95 Theses Luther wrote, “Imperfect piety or love on the part of the dying person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater the fear.”  We fear death because our love is imperfect.  We fear it because we fail to love.  We fear death because of our sin.  We know we deserve death because of our sin and this punishment is frightening.  Adam and Eve hid after eating the fruit because they were afraid.  Children hide the lamp they broke because they’re afraid.  We try to cover up our sin because we’re afraid.  We afraid of its punishment.
    Our fear of death comes from our imperfect love for God.  Like Peter we don’t trust the Lord of Creation to protect us, to care for us.  How often do we worry about the necessary, and also the not so necessary, things of life?  He promises to take care of us, but do we believe Him?  We don’t trust His Word to do what it says.  He says faith is produced by hearing His Word, and yet we think we need to change it to get people to believe. 
Our imperfect love for God is seen in our imperfect love for others.  If we loved God, we’d follow His commands, and we definitely don’t love others as He commanded.  Our relationships are tainted with lies, hurtful words, adulterous actions, and thieving thoughts.  We deny forgiveness to others, even though we want it ourselves. 
    We should rightly fear death.  It’s the just punishment of sin.  And yet in the face of death, the Lord of Creation, Jesus Christ, comes to you and says “Take heart; it is I; [ε?γώ ει?μι], don’t be afraid.”  He says this to you not because death is a small thing or a normal part of life, but because He’s come into His creation and overcome death with His perfect love.
    The Son of God became incarnate; He left His place in heaven, and took on our flesh so that He could also take your punishment of death upon Himself.  The Lord of Creation entered creation to redeem creation.  Jesus came into this sin filled world to go to the cross to pay for your sin.  All of your sin, all of your imperfect love, Jesus carried to the cross, and there He died for it, in your place.  He received God’s wrath so that you wouldn’t.  On the cross, the punishment of sin was fulfilled.  And three days later, Jesus rose from the grave, defeating death, winning everlasting life for you and for all who believe in Him, all who have faith in Christ’s sacrificial death, all who confess that Jesus is Lord. 
    This new life God gives you in your Baptism.  Just as Christ pulled Peter out of the sea, the Lord of Creation has pulled you out of the sea of Baptism.  In that water your old sinful man was drowned, along all his imperfect love and sin, and a new man was raised with faith and love for Christ your Savior. 
    With this faith and love, you trust in your Savior.  You trust His promised words of life, “I am [ε?γώ ει?μι] the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn 11:25-26).  You trust in the forgiveness of sins that He won for you on the cross, and in the face of death, with faith, you don’t fear eternal punishment.  Instead you stand encouraged, knowing the Lord of Creation has saved you from it. 
    Does this mean we don’t mourn when friends and loved ones die?  No.  Does this mean we act as if death is no big deal?  No.  Death is still painful.  It’s still a big deal.  Death is never good.  It wasn’t part of God’s creation.  Our sin brought death upon us.  But in the face of death we don’t fear it, because our Savior has conquered it. 
Jesus took your punishment and gives you life.  His perfect love overcomes death.  Christ your Savior, the Lord of Creation, saves you from the punishment of death and with faith you take heart and fear not in the face of death, for you know that He gives you everlasting life.  In Jesus’ name...Amen.

What bread? What wine?

Rome has issued clarifications regarding the elements to be used in the Mass. This was necessary because of the frequent use of questionable elements which call into question the Sacrament itself. According to Rome, the Sacrament has both matter (elements) and form (Words of Christ pronounced over the elements) and both are required for the Sacrament to be valid. While Lutherans do not use the same distinctions, the message ought to sound an alarm for the manifold violations of the elements the Lord used and tradition has affirmed as well as consideration to the Verba themselves and the tendency for some to paraphrase the Words of Christ.
“The bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition. It follows therefore that bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament. It is a grave abuse to introduce other substances, such as fruit or sugar or honey, into the bread for confecting the Eucharist. Hosts should obviously be made by those who are not only distinguished by their integrity, but also skilled in making them and furnished with suitable tools” (n. 48).

“The wine that is used in the most sacred celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice must be natural, from the fruit of the grape, pure and incorrupt, not mixed with other substances. […] Great care should be taken so that the wine intended for the celebration of the Eucharist is well conserved and has not soured. It is altogether forbidden to use wine of doubtful authenticity or provenance, for the Church requires certainty regarding the conditions necessary for the validity of the sacraments. Nor are other drinks of any kind to be admitted for any reason, as they do not constitute valid matter” (n. 50).
My own associate has come back from visits to other LCMS churches with an experience of other choices between wheat hosts and grape wine.  His experience and mine, along with the reports from our members, means that people are using a variety of things in the Sacrament -- practices which violate the Lord's intention.  This is everything from the low gluten hosts that may be used without question (for those with real issues and not simply a choice to follow a gluten free diet) to rice based "bread" and low alcohol wine (mustum) to grape juice (good old Welch's) and other fruit juices (from apple to whatever). 

“Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.  Low-gluten hosts (partially gluten-free) are valid matter, provided they contain a sufficient amount of gluten to obtain the confection of bread without the addition of foreign materials and without the use of procedures that would alter the nature of bread” (A. 1-2).
Mustum, which is grape juice that is either fresh or preserved by methods that suspend its fermentation without altering its nature (for example, freezing), is valid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist” (A. 3).
I am not in a position to say that such Sacraments that violate form or matter are not Sacraments but anything that would draw our confidence away from the Word of Christ that we are receiving what He promised is not a good thing but a grave abuse of the Sacrament.  No pastor or parish has the right to determine what works best for them in this regard.  While we do not have the same structures as Rome does, the District President is clearly locally responsible for episcope, supervision of doctrine and practice and this is something every DP needs to deal with.