Saturday, October 20, 2018
Americans are not so divided over other issues as they are over abortion. The rhetoric has escalated to the point where it has come to define the political parties. Is there such a thing as a real pro-life prominent Democrat or even the potential to be one, anymore? Is there such a thing as a real pro-choice prominent Republican or even the potential to be one, anymore? Most of us would say that this is a foregone conclusion. Dems are all for being able to flush away what lives in the womb and Repubs are all for keeping that life at all costs, save, perhaps, the life of the mother (not her health but her life). How has one issue so characterized political parties that seem to be a broader umbrella of other positions on other subjects?
I will admit I have no understanding of why a mother would want to end her pregnancy. I certainly do understand it is costly to bring the pregnancy to term -- costly in so many ways -- but the choice, if there is one, was made before the pregnancy text was positive. I have lived with the regret and shame of many choices made and suffered for them. I am not comparing these to the abrupt awareness that you are pregnant with a child you do not desire. What I am saying is that the common drive for abortion is the desire to have a way out, a do over, a release from the responsibility of a choice already made. This is not unique to a woman who finds out she is pregnant. It is the common malady of sinners since the Fall. We are all like Adam in our pursuit of any alternative but the one consequence of a choice already made. But that choice is usually one with smaller consequences than the death (not of a fetus but) of a child. This only magnifies and puts directly into the cross hairs the nature of our fallen lives and how we deal with regret.
That is the key. We all wish we could live without regret. That is why we have some sympathy for the women who find themselves pregnant with a child they do not want. We have all been there, lived with the regret of a choice made, and in desperate search for way out. No one but a monster would look at the frail figure of an aborted child and say this is good. But everyone of us knows what it is to look with regret upon a choice we do not want to live with but cannot live without. So when it comes to abortion, most Americans may not be ready to say it cannot ever be allowed but they are very ready to say it SHOULD never be necessary. In other words, Americans think it should be legal but rare, so rare, in fact, that we never hear about it. Why? Because we want for all to make better choices, to choose so that there will not be regret. This is how we feel about divorce as well. It should be legal but we hope it will be seldom if ever used, that every marriage would be rescued from the ravages of divorce upon spouses and children and families as a whole.
That is why forgiveness is sometimes disappointing to us. We want forgiveness to make the whole thing go away. The guilt does but the consequences of the act remain. So the murderer is forgiven but still must account for the crime and suffer the just punishment of the law. So the rapist and the liar and thief and so on. When, in the name of Christ, the Church speaks forgiveness to the guilty soul, what the Church cannot do is prevent the ordinary consequences of the act from being suffered by the one who committed it -- even though he or she be forgiven. We have come to make forgiveness into a do-over. But that is not what it is. We suffer the consequences in part to learn from them. Some have come to think of abortion as forgiveness and a do-over, born of honest and understandable regret. They wish that everyone could abort words they have said and things they have done. This is a false and misleading dream and a trivializing of what forgiveness really is. The pro-choice argument is that life should have do-overs, no consequences from bad choices. What we can offer is not this but real and genuine forgiveness and honest help to those who find themselves with a child they were not prepared to have. This may not seem to be the ideal solution but it is the best solution of all. The grace of forgiveness to answer regret and guilt and the grace of hope and future for the child. It is for this that the Church addresses the world in Christ's name -- not simply to insist that wrong is wrong but wrong is answered by forgiveness for mom and gracious support for her and her child. And, perhaps, one more thing. Learn where the choice is and where it is not. It is not a perfect solution but, it is the only real option. And, I think, when push comes to shove, even those who are not religious would rather have this than do-over that comes at the cost of a life.
Friday, October 19, 2018
My point is this. We do too much announcing and too much gesturing. It is as if the folks in the pew are either brain dead or cannot read or have never been in the Divine Service before. I think it is insulting to constantly make housekeeping announcements about what page we are on or if you should stand or sit or kneel or do cartwheels. I may from time to time succumb to the great temptation to say too much but I wish I had the patience to say too little. Our people are well educated and well informed. They can read and most of them have been around our liturgical block a time or two before this Sunday. We do not need to lead them along on a leash of directive words or gestures. It is insulting to them and downright rude on the part of the presider. Yes, from time to time a brief word needs to be said but there is far too much direction going on in a typical parish.
I was once in a service when the people sat for the Old Testament and the presider motioned them to rise saying he had not told them to sit. Then he motioned them to sit. Then he motioned them to rise again as if he were some puppeteer and we were all brainless pieces of wood for him to manipulate. They layman sitting next to me whispered that it was time to leave when a pastor played childish games in the Divine Service. I did not listen to him and we stayed for more foolishness that was an affront to Christ and His gifts of Word and Table.
A number of pastors have wisely counseled those leading worship to stop with the shenanigans and constant direction. People are not stupid and those who lead worship should not treat them as such. We do not need to speak their parts (and if we do we should not bellow them louder than all the combined voices of those present can speak them). We do not need to direct them when the directions are routine and well mapped out in bulletin and/or hymnal or rehearsed with experience. Shut up. Face forward. Trust that the people are pious (probably far more than those of us who preside), and let them do their thing. Liturgy is a complement of pastor and people, not a competition. It is a walk together and not the peons under command of the leaders. Piety means we all have our parts and we do them faithfully even as we are there to anticipate and because we expect the Lord will also do HIS part in delivering to us His promised grace through the means He has promised to use.
And if the folks do need more gestures or verbal direction, don't treat them badly by making light of it all. This may not be somber business, the liturgy, but it is solemn. Let us proceed with reverence and awe (as Hebrews encourages us). I blame the pastors mostly. We have trouble shutting our mouths, sometimes. But whoever you are. Say the block and do the red. That is the best advice of rubric and liturgy.
Thursday, October 18, 2018
"Members of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) are now forbidden to pray and receive communion in the monasteries and churches on Mount Athos, said Igor Yakimchuk (spokesman for Patriarch Kirill) and Alexander Volkov (secretary of the Moscow Department for External Church Relations). For prayer in any churches of the Constantinople Patriarchate, Russian Orthodox Christians will have to repent of this sin at confession."
There was a time when the state functioned as a witting and willing ally in the preservation of marriage, when it was deemed in the best interest of society and the nation that people be married, that divorce be made difficult to obtain, and that children were given birth and nurtured for the good of the whole community. The marriage laws of most countries were once shaped by the Christian culture within those countries and this formed the legal framework of the institution. Such marriage was able to survive the challenges of the Enlightenment, the rise of the Reformation and even more secular purposes. While the general framework of marriage did not remain untouched, it was not destroyed. The Church was there to act with the state, especially in those of English legal tradition, uphold together the Christian ideal of marriage never really about romance or love.
Never did the vows ask if the husband loved the wife or the wife loved the husband. Instead of love bringing them together, it was the promise to love that bound them as husband to wife and wife to husband. Love was not the premise of the marriage but its fruit. Love was not the precondition of the marriage but the promise of those married, given to each other with their pledge of fidelity.
Stanley Hauerwas noted this in a practical way when a pastor prepares a couple for the marriage rite: When couples come to ministers to talk about their marriage ceremonies, ministers think it’s interesting to ask if they love one another. What a stupid question! How would they know? A Christian marriage isn’t about whether you’re in love. Christian marriage is giving you the practice of fidelity over a lifetime in which you can look back upon the marriage and call it love. It is a hard discipline over many years.
Hauerwas is not an enemy of romance here but a realist. What passes for love in the attraction between two people and the romance of the courtship must be tried and tested before it earns the name. This love is a struggle and not a given, a lifelong endeavor and not a moment of infatuation, a promise that must weather the storms of for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health. And the Church is there to help the couple sustain the promise when the struggle becomes difficult, even painful.
So marriage does not so much need defenders as much as it needs to be taught, lived as example, and encouraged by those around the husband and wife. This is the cause of the Church -- not simply to sanction the marriage or decide who will or will not be married but to equip those whose promises have been made before God and altar so that this marriage may endure the tests and grow into the fruit of the promise made. The Church has the resources to provide this grace to couples, not in the least by teaching them to forgive one another as God has forgiven them, to forbear one another in patience, and to be slow to judge. While the Church most certainly has the gifts from God to provide these tools for the task, she has struggled to find people who are willing to take up the struggle.
Whatever moral consensus and common identity that once defined marriage , it was tested and broken in the wake of World War II, The wartime free distribution of condoms and the expectation that boys will be boys soon led to sex being seen outside of marriage. Soldiers came home looking for love and women were looking for men to love. Add to this the migration from stable communities to swell the cities and couples were often farm from the extended family and churchly cultures in which marriage had been nurtured. The family began to be seen almost exclusively in terms of nuclear family. The wedding took place apart from this extended family or with strangers staring across the aisle from one another. In the end, husband and wife found themselves alone in this endeavor and the push for an easier end to an ill-advised marriage was soon to prevail.
The first major legal blow to this traditional arrangement came in 1969 when then Gov. Ronald Reagan signed into the law the first “no-fault” divorce in California. Now no one needed to be the scapegoat and, indeed, no reasons needed to be provided to obtain a divorce. Where did this idea come from? Another interesting twist is that the first no-fault divorces were enacted in Russia in 1918 when the Bolshevik Revolution swept away the old structures in pursuit of a revolutionary new way on all levels of society, especially marriage and family. The cold warrior with pen and paper replicated the ease by which his communist rivals had decided marriage could be ended.
Modern culture has made unhappiness and suffering the greatest of all ills and so marriage is hardly strong enough as an institution to be preserved if it costs the married some of their happiness, contentment, and comfort. So what of marriage is there left to defend? An idea of life-long union? The marriage of only man and woman? Why these are but remnants of the life envisioned by God and spoken of in His Word. All the great virtues -- patience, endurance, sacrifice, selflessness, generosity, kindness, steadfastness, loyalty, etc., can be seen only in the presence of suffering and sacrifice. Remember that suffering for the Christian is not an impediment to faith but the real domain in which faith is lived out. Our sufferings are not without gain and our life of faith is not without cost. To take up the cross and follow is, in and of itself, a cost of discipleship. We certainly do not earn the Father's love nor do we merit His gracious favor but both of these are evident most profoundly in the context of suffering, pain, and sacrifice -- the things of which we count as joy, says St. Paul. It is not the relief of suffering that is the Christian mandate but the endurance of that suffering for the sake of noble cause, no less than Christ, and a life of virtue that swims upstream of a world in love with expediency. Every heroic action is born of suffering and sacrifice. This is no less true of marriage and the home than it is of the battlefield.
Absent the witness of stable, life-long, self-sacrificing marriages, marriage itself becomes an abstract goal and not a reality, an ideal in a world of make do, and a theory in a practical and pragmatic culture. Marriage does not need defending as much as it begs Christians to live it out within the struggle inherent in the sinful, self-centered will, and made possible and fruitful by Christ whose grace is both the support and comfort of husband and wife and from each to the other. Does it sound a bit like the Benedict Option? Perhaps. We have surely spent enough digital and real ink on the subject, trying to defend marriage against its detractors, but what we have not tried nearly so much is to be witnesses for love that is not premise but promise to those who, until parted by death, live together according to God’s holy ordinance, and pledge each other most of all their faithfulness.
Wednesday, October 17, 2018
However dangerous or antiquated it may seem to presume that the sex of a child is determined by anatomy and to raise that child within some traditional but actually rather loose ideas of what it means to be a boy or a girl, the opposite is even more dangerous. Children are not ours to experiment upon nor does our care of those children entrusted to us allow us to treat them as ingredients in some trendy social experiment. The separation of gender and anatomy is new, so new, in fact, that we are making it all up as we go along. The so-called experts who raise questions for parents and suggest that they are actually abusing their children by raising them as boys and girls are presuming facts that are not established and are, indeed, in question. These same experts would advocate administering hormones to prevent puberty from its natural conclusion reveal that they have less the interests of the children at heart than they do advancing their own controversial agenda. Adults are free by statute to pursue their weird and perverse ideas as long as they don't hurt others. I may not like that but that is, after all, the law. But when those same adults pursue such things for children, they hurt some of the most vulnerable among us and cause earnest parents needless angst about basic and natural and common sense things.
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
St. Mark tells us that Jesus was setting out on His journey. What journey might that be? Read a few verses further and you find Jesus saying, “See, we are going to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be delivered over the to the chief priests and the scribes to be condemned to death, mocked and flogged and crucified by the Gentiles, and after three days rise again. . .” Oh, that journey.
For that journey, Jesus packed no suitcase full of extra clothes and shoes and toiletries. He did not put in an extra cloak or steal away some cash just in case. This is the Lord who has no place to call home though birds have nests and foxes have holes. This is Jesus who brings to Jerusalem the only thing needful – His blood to cleanse us from all sin.
Perhaps the man did not know Jesus was heading out on a trip. It is likely he had no idea that Jesus was headed to the cross where He would suffer and die to redeem a world lost in sin, death, and error. But the man ran up and knelt before Jesus. “Good Teacher,” he said. It is an awkward form in Hebrew. Rabbi is good teacher so he is saying “Very good teacher.” We might call it sucking up or another even more obvious but less nice term.
Jesus immediately calls him on it. You cannot suck up to God. Nobody but God is good. Jesus is fishing in the man’s soul. Are you calling me good because you are calling me God? It is but a hint left hanging out there so the man might redeem himself. Just in case.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” There for all to see is the I in IDOLATRY. What must I do? The man was less interested in Jesus than in himself. Aren’t we all? It is, after all, the mark of the sinful heart. It is the I that is like a log in our eyes and a shibboleth by which we reveal our hearts, no matter how hard we have worked to cover them up with the thin veneer of righteousness. What must I do indeed!
You know the commandments. Of course, he does. They were written into his heart just like they have been inscribed into yours and mind. In addition, he has sat in the Temple and in the synagogue. He may be a fool but he is not ignorant. Jesus gives him the chance to redeem himself again. The commandments are great and only a perfect man could keep them. What does the man think of himself?
Note the word good is dropped. Geez, teacher. I know thaaat. I have kept these since I was a kid. Let me put it in Lutheran terms. Geez, Pastor, I went through catechism when I was 12. I think I know what it means to be Lutheran. All those I’s. Idolatry is all about the I’s. So Jesus looked at him again. Notice what St. Mark has written. Jesus loved him. Our Lord did not hate the man nor was He bothered by him. Jesus loved him. He loved him enough to strip away thin veneer of righteousness and show him his sin.
“Go, and sell all you have and give to the poor for you have treasure enough in heaven. And then come and follow Me. . .” Ouch. Why does money always have to get into the way? Just like sex, money is the thing that exposes our weakness and sin. So it does here. And the man walked away disheartened because he really wanted to inherit eternal life; he just did not want to give up everything else for this greatest treasure.
Is that not the problem? We want to be good, we just don’t want to give up sinning to be good. We want to be holy, we just don’t want to give up our fun little pleasures to be holy. We want the heavenly treasure, we just don’t want to give up every other treasure to possess it. We want it all. We want to be bad and get away with it and to be good but never have to work at it. We are this man. Each of us. We have been busy for God, we have tried hard, we have given up a lot, we have risked a lot. What more could God want from us?
Jesus loves us even as He asks for all of us. He will not settle for 10% of our money or all of our Sundays. He has laid claim to everything we are and everything we have. He paid for us with His holy and precious blood shed in suffering on the cross. He kept the Law so that the commandments could no longer accuse us. He has covered our sin with His righteousness. He has given us new birth in Holy Baptism and He feeds and nourishes this new life in us with His flesh and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. He has done everything to save us and He refuses to be a God only of our hearts or our heads; He is Savior of all of us.
Such love can be positively scarey. We are not used to this kind of love. We are used to jobs that take part of our time and leave the rest to us, of families that demand a great deal but allow us time for ourselves, of commitments that can be rescheduled when we feel too busy or overwhelmed. It can be frightening to meet the kind of love that completely empties itself for you in order that you might belong to it wholly and completely. It is not the cost of redemption that we must pay that is so scarey but the cost He has paid. For if Jesus has paid for us by giving Himself up completely, how can we possibly withhold anything from Him?
Jesus was calling the man to repentance. He gave him several opportunities to speak with the voice of contrition and sorrow. Teacher, you are good, the only good, because you are God in flesh. I have not kept the commandments with my whole heart, mind, body and strength. Lord, I have nothing to offer you. Can you still love me though I can give you nothing in return for all Your love has accomplished for me?
Jesus is calling you to repentance. He gives us the opportunity to confess Him as Lord and Savior. He gives you the chance to reflect upon your life in the mirror of the holy Law that detects every failing and evil. He loves you enough to ask you to surrender your most sacred treasures in order that His treasure may fill you completely. He calls you to follow Him, where He had led the way, receiving from Him grace upon grace, mercy beyond measure, love without end, redemption that requires nothing for you to finish, and hope big enough to carry you through the darkest days. Come, follow Me. . . he says.
Our hearts are filled with the Idolatry of all that I have done, all that I think I know, and all that I am willing to do to get what I want. But there is no room for I in the redemption of Jesus. There is only room for Him. He has looked upon you in love, seen the weakness of all that are your sacred things, paid for all your sins – both the secret ones and the obvious ones, and He has given you the full fruits of His atoning work on the cross. He asks you simply to trust Him and He promises that this mercy will remake you anew.
The only room for the I word in Christ, is “Lord, I believe. . .” “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof but only say the word and I shall be healed. . .” “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” In every other context, the I is short for idolatry and our hearts unable and unwilling to give up control, to give up our treasures, and to give up our desires in order to be saved.
There is a choice. This account can either be about money, about the Law and its requirements, and about salvation by works; or, we can listen to Jesus who gently but bluntly schooled a young ruler of the synagogue in love and who gently but bluntly schools us in the same love that offers heaven to us through His own obedient life, His life-giving suffering and death on the cross, and His resurrection which prefigures our own resurrection to eternal life.
Just remember the I in IDOLATRY. It is what gets us into trouble every time. It is what steals our joy, empties our hope, and leaves us with uncertainty where Christ wants us to be confident. There is only one who is good, good enough to keep the Law for a world of sinners. There is only one who loves, loves us enough to stand in our place in suffering and to die the death we earned by our sins. There is only one cross, one cross that speaks hope to the sinner and life to the world. Let us not be disheartened by the words of the Lord. We have our treasure in heaven, we do not need to hold onto the treasures of this world in fear, and set free in Christ, let us follow Him.
On this day when we recall the good work of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, we survey the quilts laid out before us, and we see the waste of it all. All this time and effort for a people who do not even know or appreciate the sacrifice. But that is the point. Our Lord stretched out His arms upon the cross for a world that did not understand or appreciate the gift He was giving, solely out of His great love for us. Even quilts can give a small witness to this abundant and profound love in Christ.
As we consider the commitment banquet for our Blessed, Chosen Generation campaign only now weeks away, we will point to the Lord and His goodness, to faith and its hope, to grace and its sufficiency, and to the work of the Lord and its great reward. A time when we remember Him who labored for us before we knew or understood the treasure of His great love for us. We will pray then for courage and strength, to let go of the treasures of this life that seem so precious and to hold onto and hold up the priceless treasure of His salvation given to us freely. To receive the gift that He has given, to let go of those things not eternal, and to let go for His purpose and glory those things that He has entrusted to us. To rejoice in the gift that will never be taken from us and to willingly surrender the things that were never ours in the first place. Amen.
|Bizarro has it about perfect, don't you think?|
I have heard it over and over again that the, well, shall we say, conservatives do not want to talk. Actually, I think most conservatives are rather chatty. They seem to welcome any and every opportunity to make their case for the faith once delivered to the saints and now preserved in creed, catechism, and confession. They tend to talk all the time about what Scripture says, what the Confessions say, what the creed confesses, and what the Confessions confess. But it seems that this is generally not what the more progressive wing wants to talk about. Perhaps that is the core and center of the problem.
It shows up here, for example. If I post something about ceremonies in the Church, someone always reminds me that the Confessions do indeed allow for some diversity in ceremony. And that is true. But it never gets to the meat of the issue which is diversity in what -- ceremony, liturgy (or not), music, creed, etc... Just throwing out the point about not requiring uniformity in ceremony does little to address those Lutherans who do not follow any real liturgy, whose worship is virtually synonymous with generic evangelicals, and whose music represents the playlist of popular contemporary Christian music. As soon as you want to unpack what the Confessions say beyond the old saw about uniformity of ceremony not being necessary, the conversation seems to come to an end. Let me contrast that with the conservatives (bad terms, I know) who seem to talk all the time about what this means and does not mean and even disagree about it without the dialog evolving into silence.
Perhaps that is the problem. Most of us want to talk but we are not sure we want to listen. For what it is worth, the side of things where I usually fall does not want to talk so much about opinions or feelings or even what works but they want to talk about what the Scriptures say, what our Confessions proclaim, what our creed confesses, what our tradition has bequeathed to us, and what is best to add to it. I will admit that I don't want to listen to conversations that have no basis in Scripture, no connection to Confession, creed, or catechism, and no cause consistent with the catholic faith. I fear that conversation is really a code word for convincing me to ignore what Scripture says, what our Confessions proclaim, what we learned from the catechism, what we confess in the creed, how we sing and speak in the liturgy, and what we sing in the great hymns of the faith. Maybe I am a little touchy on this subject but I tend to think I am more right than wrong in this. Of course, that does not mean all that much. I have been more right than wrong about a lot of things and still way off base. In the end, however, when we speak it ought to flow from and back to Scripture as the source and norm, Confession as faithful exposition of that Scripture, creed as summary of what Scripture says, catechism as instructional book of doctrine and Scripture, and liturgy as prayed Scripture. If it doesn't, the talking, however nice, will be rather fruitless.