Thursday, November 27, 2014

Blessed Thanksgiving

My father-in-law died Wednesday evening after a long illness.  Join me in prayers of thanksgiving that he fell asleep peacefully in the arms of his Savior and for the comfort and consolation of his family.  Thank you for your kindness in remembering my family in your prayers as we pause to give thanks to God, in what should be, a life of thanksgiving and praise.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Our Tone Deaf Administration ?!

Peter Berger, a Lutheran sociologist with a solid reputation, has raised some serious questions about the current issues that demonstrate the conflict between religion (faith) and the law.  He has blamed the tone deafness of President Obama and his administration for much of this -- at least for providing the atmosphere for such conflict to thrive.  He may be overstating his case some but, in general, I think he is spot on.

Read his article in The American Interest here.  If you cannot wait, read the snippet I have provided:

...every presidency creates an institutional culture, which trickles down all the way to city halls in the provinces. This administration has shown itself remarkably tone-deaf regarding religion. This was sharply illuminated at the launching of Obamacare, when the administration was actually surprised to discover that Catholics (strange to say!) actually care about contraception and abortion. Eric Holder’s Department of Justice has repeatedly demonstrated that it cares less about religious freedom as against its version of civil rights. Perhaps one reason for the widespread failure to perceive this attitude toward the First Amendment is that Barack Obama is seen through the lens of race–“the first black president”. I think a better vision comes through the lens of class–“the first New Class president”–put differently, the first president, at least since Woodrow Wilson, whose view of the world has been shaped by the culture of elite academia. This is evident across the spectrum of policy issues, but notably so on issues involving gender and religion.

One commentator has suggested he thinks Berger may have overstated yet he does see the tie here between the deafness of the Obama administration to the impact of faith upon the culture of America.  He also suggested that perhaps the population has responded opposite of the administration in its growing desire to have faith communities speak on political issues facing Americans.  You can read him here.

According to a recent Pew survey, almost 50 percent of Americans think churches and houses of worship should express their views on political and social issues, an increase of 6 percent since 2010. Three-quarters of the public think religion’s influence in our national life is declining—and most of those people think it’s a bad thing. If anything, the Obama Administration seems to be contributing to a pro-religion backlash.

What I think is that we have never had a political institution so overtly insensitive to or opposed to churches than the Obama administration. Some may blame the President and others may see this simply as a consequence of his failure to lead with an appreciation for the faith that is interwoven into nearly every aspect of American public and private life.  Whatever the dispute here, the administration should certainly be held responsible for its failure to accurately estimate and appreciate that faith is here to stay.  No President in my own memory has shown such blindness to this fact although I am not sure that privately some might have equaled Obama in their disdain for the religious point of view.  What remains to be seen is the legacy of his tone deafness on matters of faith.  Maybe he does not realize this tone deafness because the one thing that this President (like many others before him) is constantly in tuned to is himself.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The end is the beginning. . .

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, Sunday, November 23, 2014.

     The last few weeks have been strong on the subject of the end times.  Today is the end or culmination of that focus that comes at the end of the church year, the last Sunday after Pentecost.  These are unpleasant subjects for most folks.  Talk of judgment day and the end times seems a downer.  It is like God is raining on our parade and stealing away our lives from us – along with all the good things we want to keep and the future things waiting to be done.  But it is not what it seems.
    It is indeed the beginning of the end – not only the end of the church year but the literal end.  We are one year further from Bethlehem and Christ’s coming to the manger and one year closer to His coming in glory, showing forth all His majesty and sitting in judgment over all people.  We will not lose this focus as we start another church year November 30 but will continue to talk about the beginning of the end.
    The beginning of the end did not just start.  It began when the day of the prophets gave way to the day of the fulfillment of the prophetic word.  When Christ took flesh and blood as the Son of God in our form, that was the beginning of the end.  When sin’s back was broken by Christ’s death to pay all our debt for sin, that was the beginning of the end.
    When death was killed by the life that the grave could not hold, that was the beginning of the end.  The end times are not some future date to predict but clearly defined as the moment when the promise became reality, when Christ became incarnate as our Savior, when His suffering bore all our pain, when His death paid all sin’s debt, and when His resurrection overcome death with the power of His life.
    That was the beginning of the end so don’t go looking to unwrap the mystery of the day as if it were some puzzle God has given us to solve.  But there is more.  The end IS the beginning.   We seem inclined to focus on what will end on that day when the heaven’s open, when Christ rides down in glory to complete His new creation, and when all humanity will stand before Him and be held accountable.  But do we consider what begins then?
    For though this life and this worn out flesh and decaying world will pass away, the new will come that death cannot touch, that sin cannot soil, and that despair cannot steal joy away again.  On that day our lives of fear give way to the future of hope begun anew when we rise with Christ to our own joyful resurrection and enter into the place He has prepared for us.
    On that day our lives of selfishness shaped by fear gives way to what the generous love of God has prepared for those who love Him.  On that day hope is fulfilled for now and forever.
    On that day our feeble and small good works that none of us can recall shall be remembered for all eternity and receive the reward none deserve.  On that day the evils that everyone has forgotten will be remembered by the God who must deal with sin – either through the mercy of Christ or the eternal judgment of punishment.  That day is when the end becomes the beginning – the day of our own future as the children of God and hell‘s day for those who refused His mercy.
    The parable of the sheep and the goats seems all about the law but it is really about grace.  The end is not the end.  Our faith endures.  Our lives endure.  Death cannot steal anything from us.  Our sins do not get the last word.  Our good works live on.  Our judgment was the cross.  This is what Christ reveals about the future prepared for us and all who love Him.
    Now we wait.  Not as the aimless wait for the unknown but as the confident to anticipate the future.  Now we wait.  Not as the fearful who dread the end but as the hopeful who await the new and everlasting beginning God has prepared.  Now we wait. Not as the sad who worry about the outcome but as the joyful who long to hear the blessed voice of the Master: “Come, ye blessed of My Father; inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  God grant it.  Amen!

Generational turnover. . .

A recent article in the ELCA's The Lutheran has sparked a discussion of the impending change in the face of Lutheranism when the largest group of Lutheran pastors (those 55 and over) begin to retire.  One statistic that has held relatively constant for the LCMS is 325 pastors retiring each year so that means that 3200 pastors may retire in the next 10 years -- a very significant slice of those pastors currently serving LCMS congregations.  The statistics in the ELCA are not remarkably different.  You can read the article in The Lutheran here.

For years some have been taking pot shots are our seminaries for pushing recruitment as a self-serving means of preserving faculty and institutional identity.  Perhaps there is a grain of truth in this but the overwhelming reality is that large numbers of LCMS pastors will face the prospect of retirement in the next 10 years (me included).  In addition to needing new pastors (not a myth but a very real need), we will also see what this will do to change the face of Lutheranism.

In the ELCA this retirement boom will mean:
  1. Fewer and fewer ELCA clergy will have any memory of the predecessor bodies and the majority of the clergy will know only life within the ELCA...
  2. Fewer and fewer ELCA clergy will remember a day when there was not such a great divide in Lutheranism and when Lutherans were much closer than today in their understandings of Scripture, church, ministry, etc...
  3. Fewer and fewer ELCA clergy will recall the battles that have left this church body scarred with conflict and losses (the battle over the issue of gays and lesbians within the church and ministry, in particular)...
  4. More of the ELCA clergy will presume the stances of their church body on a whole host of social issues has always been what it is now...
In the LCMS this retirement boom will mean:
  1. Fewer and fewer LCMS clergy will have any memory of the split and controversy over Biblical authority that marked Missouri's history so deeply...
  2. Fewer and fewer LCMS clergy will recall the institutional structures that once provided nearly all LCMS pastors (junior college, senior college, and seminary pathway) and most will assume that all pastors came from outside the church colleges or from second careers...
  3. Fewer and fewer LCMS clergy will recall when other Lutherans had more in common with Missouri than conflicts with us over doctrine, faith, and practice...
  4. More of the LCMS clergy will identify with the more conservative perspective on doctrine and practice that resulted from the split in the 1970s...
I am no crystal ball sleuth to predict what the future will look like, but I feel somewhat safe in suggesting the future will reflect those changes. . . 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The borrorers. . .

Scripture has infiltrated the vocabulary and expressions of the English language like none other.  We use figures of speech and turns of a phrase that we assume have a history but, unfortunately, have forgotten that this history leads to the Bible.  This reflects a day when our speech and the prose and poetry of God's Word were thoroughly intertwined.  I wonder when the day will come when we will be asked to exile from our manner of speaking those phrases and expressions that come to us from the Bible.  While some bemoan the cause of doctrine and complain about churches that, in their view, resemble purity cults, we live in an age in which secular life and speech are undergoing their own cleansing by the purity cult intent on separating all things religious (but mostly Christian) from who we are, the lives we live, and our culture.

Read it all here... or below is a preview for those impatient. . . 

13 examples of everyday expressions that came from the King James Version of the Bible, or at least were popularized by it:

1) “At their wits’ end”

Psalms 107.27, KJV: “They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end.”

2) “A two-edged sword”

Proverbs 5.4, KJV: “But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.

3) “A drop in the bucket”

Isaiah 40.15, KJV: “Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.”

4) “A house divided against itself cannot stand”

Matthew 12.25, KJV: “And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.

5) “A labor of love”

Hebrews 6.10, KJV: “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.”

6) “A man after my own heart”

Samuel 13.14, KJV: “But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee.”

7) “Nothing new under the sun”

Ecclesiastes 1.9, KJV: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

8) “Fire and brimstone”

Genesis 19.24-26, KJV: “Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven.”

9) “Fight the good fight”

Timothy 6.12, KJV: “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.”

10) “Beat swords into ploughshares”

Isaiah 2.4, KJV: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

11) “It’s better to give than to receive”

Acts 20.35, KJV: “I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

12) “In the twinkling of an eye”

1 Corinthians 15:52, KJV: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

13) “The ends of the earth”

Zechariah 9.10, KJV: “And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.”

Sunday, November 23, 2014

They do not build them this way anymore. . . to our shame

I have long lamented the way the churches put up cheap, warehouse buildings that are supposed to represent the God who made and sustains all things.  Apparently the best we can do or afford are buildings that are temporary and reflect more the nature of fallen humanity that the eternal and almighty God.  Then, as if adding insult to injury, we equip them with temporary things.

In contrast to this, another age and another generation worked to build that which was worthy of God and their buildings have proven rather cost effective -- enduring even the neglect of their people.  Here is one such instance -- a German Roman Catholic parish slated for closing that sat empty for 6 years and yet still testifies to the craftsmanship of its builders, especially in a pipe organ that had not received any attention for those 6 years and still regaled the ear with the splendor of music.

Read about it here. . . snippets below.

HIS SCENE HAS BEEN PLAYING OUT all over the United States and many parts of the world. One such tragically sad closure is that of the Holy Trinity (German) R. C. Church in Boston’s South End. It was exceptionally unique and beautiful. Established in 1844, the current building was dedicated in 1877. The parish was closed in 2008 and the church building recently put up for sale. Serving the German community, it was also home for many years to the Traditional Latin Mass. (This is especially notable prior to Pope Benedict’s 2007 Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum on the celebration of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of 1962).

Holy Trinity was one of several churches in downtown Boston built in the nineteenth century to serve an enormous immigrant population. These edifices, many within a few short blocks of each other, are larger than most cathedrals throughout the United States. Many issues, some complex and some tragic, leave the nineteenth and twentieth century configurations of the Archdiocese hopelessly out of date and unsustainable.

UT NEW LIFE BEGINS TO BREATHE ELSEWHERE: I received a phone call from Fr. Jonathan Gaspar, Director of the Office of Divine Worship and Priest Secretary to His Eminence Se├ín Cardinal O’Malley. The historic organ at Holy Trinity Church, an E. & G. G. Hook, Opus 858, ca. 1877 was being removed in five days in order for it to be preserved. Before it was to be dismantled, he asked me to come in for a look and to record the instrument one last time.

The hope is that this instrument will continue to lead the people in singing God’s praises in a brand new Neo-Gothic style chapel being built by the Archdiocese near Boston’s newly developing waterfront. Although not designated as a parish, Our Lady of Good Voyage Chapel will serve a great need in that location. Pending the outcome of fundraising, this organ will have an opportunity lead the Church in sacred song again.

As I began to play the forty-five rank instrument, I thought of the generations who came here to worship God. For one hundred sixty-four years, this parish nourished the faithful. Playing these last notes in this church was a sacred privilege I did not deserve.

HAT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A SHORT ten-minute visit tuned into nearly two hours. The organ was in shockingly good condition for having not been serviced in six years. (This is a testament to a highly robust music program that featured several ongoing choirs.) After six years, the tuning was remarkable except for some reeds, which one expects. The chests were in astoundingly good shape. One hundred thirty-seven years after it was first built, this instrument wants to sing on! It must.
Typical of the extraordinary craftsmanship of the Hook organs are its deep and rich colors. I savored the distinctively warm flutes and strings supported by beautiful 8’ foundations. The reeds were colorful, and the instrument, well balanced. Rebuilt and revoiced by Conrad Olson in the 1950’s, the instrument is highly versatile, capable of leading hymns as well as accompanying chant and choral music.

Exploring various colors, I wandered into improvisations of hymns and chants I thought fitting for a last farewell. Among them were Praise to the Lord, and For All the Saints to honor all those who came before to worship here. In Paradisum and Lux aeterna were fitting for what felt like a funeral for the organ and for this magnificent church. Finally, I share with you the very last notes I played that day, an improvisation on Ave Maris Stella. Its somewhat mournful tone is fitting. The final phrases linger on a bit too long, as I did not want to leave.

The bells in the tower, (which originate from New Orleans during the Civil War—another intriguing story) as you can hear, still work beautifully: