Friday, March 16, 2018

Worth remembering. . .

“We need to remember that tolerance is not a Christian virtue. Charity, justice, mercy, prudence, honesty – these are Christian virtues. And obviously, in a diverse community, tolerance is an important working principle. But it’s never an end itself. In fact, tolerating grave evil within a society is itself a form of serious evil. Likewise, democratic pluralism does not mean that Catholics should be quiet in public about serious moral issues because of some misguided sense of good manners. A healthy democracy requires vigorous moral debate to survive. Real pluralism demands that people of strong beliefs will advance their convictions in the public square — peacefully, legally and respectfully, but energetically and without embarrassment. Anything less is bad citizenship and a form of theft from the public conversation.”   -Archbishop Charles Chaput

Tolerance is no virtue if we sit idly by as death is reigned down upon those unborn or the aged or those whose lives are judged unworthy of the cost of sustaining them. . .

Tolerance is no virtue if we sit idly by as injustice claims its victims when we know better and can speak. . .

Tolerance is no virtue if we sit idly by as error masquerades as truth and truth is no longer claimed possible or preferential. . .

Tolerance is no virtue if every religion is claimed as basically the same and Christ is buried under a sea of sentiment, good works, and sincerity. . .

Tolerance is no virtue if we sacrifice our identity to be successful or betray that identity to find an easier path of existence. . .

Tolerance is no virtue if the tolerant do so out of fear and accept the silence of that which is right for the domination of the wrong. . .

We should not be rude, we need not be arrogant, but we ought not be indifferent to the plight of the Word that endures forever in the face of a world which has lost its taste for right, for truth, and for life. . .

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sharing the faith is. . . messy. . .

Evangelism or evangelization, you choose the term, has fallen on hard times.  On the one hand, we have a competing marketplace of religion or none to fight against when we are set to proclaim the Gospel.  On the other hand, we have a world of people who once believed but now have fallen away and this presents a very different target than a culture of people who have not yet heard the Gospel at all.  In the midst of it all is the so-called Christian virtue of toleration (I say so-called because I do not believe toleration of error or acceptance of those who are perishing is at all Christian!).  Gone are the days of Kennedy's Evangelism Explosion and the many wannabes that followed his lead.  Gone are the days of an organized group of people knocking on doors (in some places you cannot even get into the apartment or condo building to get to the door).  So what has replaced it all?  Sadly, not much at all.  While many still feel that the faith is worth sharing, they are not at all sure what to share or how to share it.

Roman Catholics are less likely to share their faith than evangelicals or Christians of other stripes.  Lutherans, never quite at home with Dialog Evangelism or another baptized Kennedy program, are caught in the midst of desire, fear, and uncertainty.  We would like to believe that works replace words (so we don't have to actually say what we believe -- just in case people might argue or, worse, ask us what that means).  We wax eloquent on the pseudo statement of St. Francis:  “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” So why don't we evangelize?

Cultural Christianity: Too many of us assume that religion is like ethnicity -- you are born into it.  So we figure if you are German or Swedish or some other Northern European, you could be Lutheran.  If not, well, then why would you want to be?

Worship Anxiety: This is the fear that people will not get who we are on Sunday morning and so we fear asking them to come with us to Church.  In other words, this is the justification for abandoning the liturgy and trying to find a non-threatening (read that non-Christian) form of worship which won't make people ill at ease.  Plus, what do you do with closed communion?  How unwelcoming can you be to invite people to the meal and not feed them?  At least that is the fear. . .

Instruction Illusions: What do we do to instruct people not "born" Lutheran (well, nobody really is "born" Lutheran!).  We are not sure that we are not insulting people, especially people who may already be Christian but not Lutheran, that they need "instruction."  Meanwhile Pastor Bob at the Dream World Emergent "church" says, “Y'all come; just show up and you are in.” Besides, does anybody really know what the word "catechesis" means and do you really believe it is necessary?  (After all you have not learned anything since confirmation and you are just fine!).

Are Inviting Them To Church or Jesus? Church is fine for those who want it. . . or need it. . . but we all know that you can be a fine, upstanding, and godly Christian without it.  Right?  So what is the real reason we invite people to church?  Ahhhhh, you know, cause we want their money more than we want them.  At least this is the fear that people have (even those who do go to church every Sunday).  We see a big distance between getting to know Jesus and coming to church and so we are not really sure what we want them to do.

Social Gospel: Better to love them to the Lord than preach them, right?  Too many of us feel like the church is not doing all that much to love people into the kingdom and we think that the effort put on such things as feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, healing the sick, bringing justice to the oppressed is better than and substitutes for actually saying the name of Jesus.  The problem is that without the name of Jesus, no one knows why we are doing all that good stuff or whom to show their gratitude.  Soup kitchens are good.  Food pantries are good. But actually speaking the Gospel is also good and necessary.

Dare I Say It?  Ignorance: Too many of us (who have not learned anything since catechism days of yore) simply do not know what we believe much less how to share it.  This is a big problem.  We have to know our faith well enough to share it.

Better Let the Professionals Do It: Isn't that why we hire a pastor?  Isn't that why we have deacons or councils or boards or committees?  For too long we have suggested that sharing the faith is soooo difficult that either you need tons of training or, better, leave it to the professionals.  It is as if living the faith is easy and sharing it is hard.  Sharing it is not as difficult as living it.  Training is good but everyone of us ought to be ready to give answer for the hope that is in us.  That even sounds Biblical!  And just to make it clear, shepherds do not give birth to sheep.  Sheep do.  Sheep well provided by their shepherds, guided by those shepherds, and guarded by those shepherds.

How Many Resources Sit Unused?  It is not for lack of resources that do not evangelize.  Goodness knows that we have prepared and published and put out videos up the kazoo but they are not going to do anything unless we use them.  In the same way, we go to Bible studies so that we can use what we learn to share the faith (with spouses, children, neighbors, strangers...).  You can produce all the professionally produced, orthodox, relevant, attractive, interesting, and dynamic resources you want but unless they get used, it is a waste. There are plenty of good resources; what we need are good people who will use them.
 I Am Not Sure I Care: The sad truth is that too many of us are indifferent to the need or the reason for sharing the Gospel.  Perhaps we presume that everyone believes the same thing anyway (or will get to heaven no matter).  Perhaps we believe that if people wanted to go to church they would.  Perhaps we feel that as long as they are sincere it does not matter what they believe or if they go to church.  In any case, we would be wrong.  Churches do not believe or teach the same thing.  In too many of them, Christ crucified is not proclaimed.  Salvation rests in sentiment or sincerity or something else.  Wake up!  The cause is urgent and the time is now.  God works through His Word and His Word is spoken through our voices.

I Am Not Sure What I Do Matters: If you are not indifferent, perhaps you are not sure anything ultimately matters.  It could be that you believe in universalism — the teaching that God loves everybody and will relent in the end so that no one will ever go to hell. Perhaps you believe that nobody can really know for sure if their "way" is right or not — so in the end nobody has enough truth to evangelize anyone.  Perhaps you believe that hell should not or does not exist — that if God were merciful, He would open the doors to anyone and everyone without bothering to check belief or works.  May it does not matter to you that Scripture clearly says salvation is in Christ alone.  Or maybe you are not sure Christ is the only name of salvation.  In any case, you have decided you can't do much so you need not do anything.

These are the lies and half-truths we tell ourselves to give cover to the fact that we really don't want to speak the Gospel in words (or in deeds).  And then we wonder why nobody is doing anything and somebody is not doing something. . .

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Repent. . .

Repent is a word heard less frequently today than ever before.  In fact, the whole idea of repentance is offensive.  It presumes that you are doing something wrong, something for which you need to repent, and something with consequences dangerous enough not to be ignored.  Who of us wants to hear a call to repentance?

Some insist that repent is a word used before we come to faith and not so much after we are born again in baptism and believe the promise of the Father in His Son.  I wish it were so.  I wish that it were so that we could put that word behind us and move on.  I wish that our hearts were not troubled by sinful thoughts, words, and deeds that continue even after we are born again in the waters of baptism.  I wish that we no longer folded before the glitter of temptation or doubted what we did not find agreeable or resisted the impulse of the Spirit working in us to make us holy.  But I know my heart.  I hope you know yours.

Repent. . .  take a gander at the commandments and think through Luther's simple explanations.  It may seem at first glance we are not doing so bad but that is only if we see through a looking glass more what we want than what is real.  We make words mean what we want them to mean and we have done a rather fine job of redefining our favorite foibles and making them not to be sin.  We excuse our sins with context and we justify those same sins with context -- all in a vain attempt to make us, our words, and our deeds invisible in the mirror of God's law.

  • Repent. . . You are a child of God by baptism and faith and yet you find it hard to live like one.   
  • Repent. . . You know what is good and what is evil and yet you seem to forget the difference.
  • Repent. . . You still wander in the shadows instead of living in the Light that is Christ.
  • Repent. . . You may not despise God's Word but you find reasons not to hear it.
  • Repent. . . You have God's Word but it gathers dust on the shelf while you pursue other things.
  • Repent. . . You love hearing of forgiveness but the call to be holy makes you cringe.
  • Repent. . . You have so much and yet you begrudge giving God even a little.
  • Repent. . . You do not pray as you could and you pray to get what you want instead of to trust the good and gracious will of the Father.
  • Repent. . . You live in the moment and try to forget that you are dust and to dust you shall return, preferring to believe that you can find your best life now, instead.
  • Repent. . . Your voice cannot be silenced when speaking of your passions, your team, your party, or your opinions but you barely whisper in witness to Christ and Him crucified.
Repent. . . return to the Lord for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Repent. . . for the Lord does not seek your death but your life.  Repent. . . for the grace of God is greater than the trespass and the blood of Christ cleanses us from all our sins.   Repent. . . for the waiting Father has sent forth His only Son to bring His sinful sons and daughters home to Him again.  Repent. . . for the call is borne in love to a people who, even in their sin, are esteemed worthy of His most precious gift -- His only Son.  Repent. . . for though you are dust and destined to return to dust, God has determined to manifest His life even in dust.  Repent. . . for the Lord has redeemed you, a lost and condemned sinner, purchased and won you to be His own, destined you to live under Him in His kingdom now and forever in the world to come.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Zombies. . . The walking dead and the power of Christ to make alive

Sermon for Lent VIB, preached on Sunday, March 11, 2018, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich

      Zombies have become very popular in our culture in the recent years. TV shows and movies, videogames, even zombie toys for young children are top sellers. For some reason we’re fascinated with the idea of the ½ dead walking around trying to eat our brains. Sadly though, what we think of only as gory fantasy is actually reality. The walking dead are real. We’re the walking dead. We’re dead in our sin and trespasses, and not just ½ dead, we’re completely dead.
            St. Paul is very clear about the state of our non-life.  “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2:1-3). 
When we look into the mirror, we appear to be alive.  We breathe and think.  We walk and eat and go to work.  We feel our hearts beating in our chest.  All of this suggests that we’re alive, but we’re not.  God’s Word tells us what we are...we’re sinners, walking dead.   
We’re dead in our sin for the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).  All of the things we do that make us appear to be alive, they’re infected with sin.  Our original sin, that sin we were born with, that sin we inherited from our first parents, it’s like a virus that’s made its way into our DNA.  It kills our bodies and souls.  It drives us to follow after Satan and his lies; listening to him instead of listening to God.  It drives us to follow the ways of this world; to follow its definition right and wrong.  It drives us to satisfy the evil desires of our flesh, the evil that comes from within our hearts.  This is all we can do. 
            I think one of the reasons why we as a people are fascinated with zombies is because it gives us a false sense of being able to overcome death.  All of the zombie movies and TV shows revolve around a group of people who defeat the undead.  These stories appeal to our desire to defeat death.  We want to be able to kill that which kills, and we often convince ourselves that we can. 
            There are many ways we try to get rid of the sin that kills us.  We try to clean up our lives, to resist the temptations of the world.  We try to keep our words and actions clean of sin, to live a perfect life.  We try to make up for our sin by doing good.  But none of this works.  Sin isn’t just what we say and do, it’s also what we think.  Sin is a condition in which were turned inward on ourselves.  It puts us first.  Even the desire to stop our sin so that we might live is turned inward.  Our sin ultimately makes us our own god.  We put ourselves in God’s place.
We can’t stop our sin, because we’re sinners...that’s what we do.  There’s nothing we can do of our own power to save ourselves.  You can’t kill what’s already dead.  Dead in our trespasses we can’t overcome death.  Dead men can do nothing.  We’re like the Israelites who were bitten by the fiery serpents. 
The people of Israel once again grew impatient with God.  They complained saying they had no food and water, and yet the bread of heaven, the manna the Lord provided for them they loathed.  In answer to this sin, God sent serpents that bit the people.  There was no cure, no anti-venom to save them.  Every bite was fatal.  Once a person was bit, they were the walking dead.
Soon, the people realized the condition of death that plagued them.  They recognized their sin and repented.  The said to Moses, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord….Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us” (Nu 21:7).  The people realized they couldn’t save themselves, only God could do this; and in His great mercy He did.  He didn’t take the snakes away, but He provided the people with salvation.  He gave them a bronze serpent on a pole, so that whenever a person was bit, they could look at it and live. 
We’re just like these Israelites.  We’re helpless in the fight against our sin that turns us into the walking dead.  Nothing we do can save us from death.  Only God can give us salvation.  Only God can defeat death, and He does this not by taking it away, but by bringing us to life through the One who was lifted up on the cross. 
               “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-16).  The only way to overcome death is to bring the dead to life in Christ. 
            “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5).  God sent His only Son to die the death of sin, to die your death, so that He might raise you to life.  You’re God’s creation, and with Fatherly love, He couldn’t leave you dead in your sin.  He won’t let you be the walking dead.  This isn’t what He planned for you.  God’s plan is life, everlasting life, and the only way to this life is Christ on the cross. 
            Christ died for your sin, so that you might live.  His blood shed on the cross heals the infection of sin. It’s the medicine of immortality that cures death.  Looking to Him who died on the cross, looking to Him who rose from the dead, trusting in God’s gift of life, you’re brought to life.  In the waters of Baptism, you were joined to Christ’s death and resurrection.  God took you from being the walking dead and He made you a living saint.  At His altar, He feeds you the bread of heaven, the very flesh of your Savior.  Through this feast you receive forgiveness of sins and the nourishment of everlasting life.
            We can’t kill what’s already dead.  The only way to cure the walking dead is for God to bring us to life in Christ.  Jesus, lifted high on the cross does that  He died so that you might be raised to life.  Trusting in God’s promises, we look to our Savior on the cross so that we might be made alive with everlasting life.  In Jesus’ name...Amen.

Singing the Reformation. . .

Perhaps it has been a while since Lutherans sang hymns like this. . . Take a gander at the wonderful work of Matthew Carver at Hymnoglypt and find out more about hymns no longer part of our hymnals. . . 

Monday, March 12, 2018

O Gracious Light. . . views from my alma mater. . .

Rev. Aaron Koch produced this Gottesdienst production of the Concordia Theological Seminary grounds and chapel, with a soundtrack of Henry Gerike's "O  Gracious Light" sung by the Seminary Kantorei under the direction of Richard C. Resch.