Thursday, February 28, 2013

VOTE NO!!! Don't change the Thrivent Common Bond



When Thrivent has served more than the small percentage of Lutherans it now serves, and when it has served them as fully as they can be served, then, perhaps, we can consider this...

Keep Thrivent Financial FOR LUTHERANS!

Which world should a church building reflect?

Recent church structures often seem “of this world” rather than “otherworldly,” “down to earth” rather than “heavenly,” more secular than sacred. In this increasingly secular age our houses of worship, by blending in with contemporary architecture, are in danger of becoming mere theaters and assembly halls rather than sacred and prophetic places.. . . written by Duncan G. Stroik, a professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame

Churches that once sought to stand out, now seem intent to blend in with the bland, commercial identity of shopping mall and nondescript office building.  With plenty of creature features (from a broad expanse of easy access parking to well equipped restrooms to the familiar textures of styrofoam stucco), churches no longer reflect the ambiance of other worldly life.  They are firmly and intentionally planted in this life.  The most conspicuous adornments of modern church structures are technological (screens, speaker arrays, and stage lights) and not the usual art of crucifix, icon, or statue.

I will admit to being taken in by this movement.  I was all about gathering space and scale that focused on the occupants more than the purpose (or, should I say, where the occupants became the central purpose of the structure).  Not all modern architecture is this way.  When Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) designed the campus of Concordia Senior College (now Concordia Theological Seminary) in the mid-1950s, it was a starkly modern design (especially when contrasted with the architectural gem of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, pictured above).  Yet it did not defer to the central focus upon the occupant that was the prevailing movement in architecture.  Instead, the Chapel rises out of the campus as the central focus of grounds and buildings.  It stands to this day as a focal point of what goes on at the campus and how worship is the heavenward thrust of a earthly people made possible in Christ.  While the Chapel is remarkably devoid of the ornamentation found elsewhere, the buildings are large scaled and they point the eye toward the heavens.

Stroik is absolutely correct in his critique of much of what passes as modern church architecture.  It is no wonder that the Church is increasingly seen as merely another community organization.  Without space to point beyond itself, the Church is left with buildings that simply point to people and to their social needs and wants.  Such buildings are not empty of theological statements but make the wrong statement and state the wrong theology.

Beauty may not be a sacrament, art may not be essential, and space may, at times, be utilitarian.  No one disputes this.  But beauty has a sacramental character as it points and communicates the Word of the Lord to us and art is one of the building blocks of learning and identity whose power cannot be ignored.  Finally, if utilitarianism were the rule for the Church, our Lord would not have welcomed the expensive oil lavished upon Him by a woman of uncertain character.  Devotion and worship are always defined by the dollars we are willing to expend and their value is clearly tied to the value and esteem of the One whom we worship.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pope for a day. . .

Big news... Benedict resigned to become Lutheran and he was traded to Missouri for a certain blogging Pastor from Tennessee who will be come the next pope... NOT

We need a pope?

We need help figuring out how to choose one?

How Jesus has wanted...

Sermon preached for the Second Sunday of Lent C, on Sunday, February 24, 2013.

    The Pharisees warned Jesus of Herod but it was not Herod who was the danger.  They were the ones who sought to kill Jesus, to silence His voice and discredit His Word.  Herod was hoping to see a miracle worker, a sideshow freak.  Like the crowds who followed Jesus, Herod had looked past Jesus and His Word to His works.  It was supposed to be the other way around – the works point to Jesus.  How quickly Jesus went from the miracle man who could do no wrong to the Messiah rejected by His own people!  In the middle of this, like the waiting Father of the Prodigal Son parable, Jesus opens His arms seeking to love those who refuse Him.
    If you were there when Jesus walked through Galilee, you would have heard all the buzz about Him.  We heard about it, too, as we made our way through Epiphany.  Casting out demons...  Healing the sick... Speaking the message of the Kingdom with authority...  Yes, Jesus cut quite the figure across the sleepy expectations of a people not used to prophets.  John was surprise enough but even John was not Jesus!
    As much as the whispered reports of Jesus' accomplishments aroused curiosity, they also created enemies.  The religious leaders of the day were not used to competition.  The ordinary folks down the block preferred the mundane even if it was boring.  The folks with high expectations were not looking for a Messiah so much as a political leader who would take up the liberation of Israel, a cause close to their hearts.  There was and there always will be rejection that accompanies Jesus or our preaching of Jesus' Gospel.  That should go without saying but it still needs to be said.     The scandal of the cross and the two edged sword of the Word means the Gospel arouses real enemies – then and now.  In the midst of all of this we have a Jesus who does not allow the adulation of the crowds to go to His head and neither is He preoccupied by those who were plotting His death.  He has a larger purpose.  He is here to manifest the love of the Father in the unlikely place of Jerusalem and the cross.  In the end it is the one and only place where redemption can be won.
    So Jesus goes to Jerusalem no matter who is against Him or what the dangers wait for Him there.  He goes with the purpose of suffering and dying for those suffering from sin and walking around with the mark of death in their bodies.  As He goes, He reaches out.  But Jesus will not be rushed.  His enemies are not in charge of the timing.  Jesus is in control of His destiny – no matter what His enemies think.  He will come to Jerusalem but on His own terms.
    Jerusalem is filled with sweet and bitter.  It is the city of God, the city of peace where the temple stands, where the seat of religious authority emanates.  It is also the city filled with rejection and plotters who will make sure that no prophet perishes except on the holy ground of God's city.  Now you might think that Jesus would be bitter or angry.  He is not.  He is wounded by those who reject Him.  He openly laments those lost to Him by unbelief.  He grieves for those who refuse His love.  He dies for those who crucify Him but those without faith benefit nothing from that death.  What a paradox!  The Savior dies for sheep who love to wander, says the hymn.  When we do not want to meet, we make the other party the one who refuses.  But God has not refused us.  His love has not rejected us.  His love has born with us sinners, enduring for us the consequence of that sin, dying our death to give us life.  His love seeks us even if we try paint Him the enemy.
    Even the lament of God cannot change the stubborn hearts of unbelief.  Not the blood poured out on the cross nor the love forgiving those who crucified Him nor the shock of the empty tomb will change the hearts of those who refuse Him.   So Jesus walks with the great sadness of love offered and refused, of redemption won but rejected.
    You hope for a story that builds step by step toward a triumphant victory, a happy ending.  Instead Jesus finds more and more rejection as He makes His way to Jerusalem.  But our Lord does not force us kicking and screaming into the Kingdom.  He offers the Spirit to plant faith in us but this tender invitation can be refused.  He is not come for judgment or condemnation but to be a refuge and forgiveness, life and hope, for all who believe in Him.
    We watch and listen but not as spectators to some divine drama.  This is also our story.  We are the unlovable who reject His love.  We must be wooed again and again by the Gospel working through the means of grace.  Is that not why we are here each week?  We confess that we have left the security of His wing and the sturdy foundation of grace to stand on our own and fall again and again and again.  Jesus loves us to salvation but that love begins with repentance and confession.  Our Lord laments each of us when we wander from the refuge of His grace, from the shelter of His healing wounds, and stand alone, apart, on our own.  So His Word beckons us again, His love woos us again, and His grace forgives us again.
    Here are the means of grace... Here is Christ.  Every Sunday Jesus stands among us with arms outstretched to shelter, hide, cover, warm, and love those for whom He has died.  He will not compel us.  He invites us.  He bids us come.  He sends forth His Spirit to break down the hard walls of our hearts.  We come not as spectators to see what He might do but as those who know what He has done... for us and for our salvation.
    Jerusalem would not see Jesus until they sang on Palm Sunday, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.”  In just a few moments we welcome Him.  We sing with faith the words of welcome from today’s Gospel, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna."  We wandered but we are home again, safe and secure in the shelter of His wing, in the arms of His mercy, in the grasp of grace.  Amen.

Wish I had sad that. . .

Another great post from Msgr Charles Pope with a few edits from me:

For too often many parishes are reduced from being lighthouses to clubhouses; from being thermostats which set the temperature of culture, to thermometers that merely record the temperature; from being places where Christ is central, and it is his wedding, to being places where Christ is merely an invited guest at our wedding feast.

Too often we maximize the minimum and minimize the maximum. We spend all sorts of energy and resources arranging spaghetti dinners and Superbowl fellowships, and too little time feeding our souls and taking heed of the true spiritual contest between life and death.We argue with each other over minutia such as what color to paint the Ladies restroom or who didn’t clean the kitchen, and and have no real answers to the world’s arguments against us. We contend against each other instead of instead of the principalities and powers in the high places.

Well you get the point. So easily we get lost in the weeds. And even as numbers continue to erode in most parishes, we just do “business as usual.” It’s time for some renewal and to act differently. Thus [what we need are] parishes are coming together to begin to pray and reflect on our central mission and how to act both locally and regionally to better live our of our mission and get back more whole-heartedly to the the basics pillars of Church life.

And what is the central mission of the Church? [To preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins by proclaiming the Gospel of the cross.  The mission of the Church has everything to do with making Jesus Christ known through the means of grace (Word and Sacraments) and showing forth, within the flawed confines of our fallen humanity, Christ's holiness, righteousness, and love to the world. This is our fundamental task. It is not merely to have meetings in the hall, dinners in the cafeteria, sponsor fundraisers etc. As the Pope recently warned, it is not enough to give turkeys to the poor at Christmas, we have to give Christ to them, and feed the poor not just materially but spiritually.

. . . . and there is more:

These four pillars, a kind of four-point plan, are found in Acts 2. Peter has just preached a sermon where he warns his listeners to repent and believe the Good News. In effect he has led them to encounter Jesus Christ. They, having encountered him in his Word, are now cut tot he quick and ask what they must do to be saved. He said to them: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:40-41).

Now they are baptized and in the Church of the Living of God. And unlike some of our Protestant brethren who hold a kind of “once saved, always saved” mentality, the text does not stop there. These new disciples now have a life to lead that will help them be ready to meet God, that will help them to set their house in order. And so in the very next verse we read:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
So here is our “four-point plan” for setting our house in order once we have come to faith. There are four components listed below, four pillars if you will:
  1. The Apostles Teaching
  2. Fellowship
  3. The Breaking of the Bread
  4. Prayer
Read his post here...

My Comments:  We work like dogs to come up with renewal programs for declining congregations, stalled parishes, and inwardly focused assemblies.  We think that this is rocket science -- the invention of something new because the world is new.  The world is not new.  There are always new incarnations of the old sins and old problems but it is not a new world and the answers we seek are not born of creative thought.  They come from Scripture, from the life of the Church manifest throughout history where reform and renewal have gone out to reclaim the Church to her identity and mission.  They are the basics.  In my own church body we face congregations weary and tired of programs and worn out and disillusioned by the energies invested and fruits that never came.  Before we heap upon them some new paradigm, we need to call them to these basic truths and challenge them by the word and example of Scripture.  This is who we are and what we are to do. 

My continual commentary on renewal programs and my answer to those who lament the state of things is this:  we have lost confidence in the means of grace.  We no longer believe that God works through the Word and the Sacraments.  Our hearts are no longer born from and nurtured in the Eucharist, the source and summit of our earthly lives toward the heavenly banquet.  Until we relearn confidence in the means of grace, we will empty ourselves in details that miss who we are, what our power is, and what our purpose is.  For Lutherans, it is not that Lutheranism has been tried and found wanting.  It is that it has not been tried.  The weak and tepid Lutheranism of church body, synod, district, and parishes today contrasts greatly with the strong, confident, and courageous Lutheranism of our Confessions.

As Lent reminds us, back to basics is a plan.  A real plan.  Maybe we ought to try it... before we give up on the Church and God.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Genius sometimes comes with a price tag. . .

I will admit that it is hard to erase from my memory the impression of Mozart from the incredibly good movie but poor biography, Amadeus.  Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart (that was his name on the baptismal certificate) was a musical genius and a child prodigy -- of that there is no doubt.  He was also vain, insecure, jealous, argumentative, brash, and difficult.  There is no denying that his financial and critical success suffered because of an insufferable personality.  But who could forgo the Jupiter or the string quintets or the piano concertos or the operas (at least The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, and Don Giovanni).  No, the man deserves every credit for his musical genius.  The problem with Mozart lies elsewhere.

Genius often comes with a price tag. Those most gifted seem consigned to also be those absent some of the most common sensibilities and manners that would have certainly aided their genius had they been present.  On the other hand, some of those whom history remembers well are those who lacked the genius but who had the people skills to get things done.

I oft remember Pres. George W. Bush's suggestion that even a C student can get there.  Yes, he or she can.  While it might seem that we want the smartest people to govern us, they are seldom effective leaders.  I remember a friend saying once that he was undoubtedly the smartest man in the room.  Indeed he probably was.  But he ended up with little success in his chosen vocation -- that calling did not require genius but it did require a personality.  He was a Pastor.

I have known no shortage of people smarter than I am.  Indeed, it often seems to me that everyone I know is smarter than I am.  I think I am telling the people who know me nothing new when I say that my bravado often covers some serious intellectual weakness and not a small lack of personal discipline.  That said, I do like people, even difficult ones.  And for all my other weaknesses, I truly do try to be gracious as I deal with people.  Sometimes that contributes to my ineffectualness but mostly it aids it.

Pastors are seldom required to be geniuses but the pastoral calling does expect some manners, some graciousness, and love for people -- even those hard to love.  As important as this is to the pastoral vocation, it is also one of the things hardest to discern of the candidates who feel called to the office.  Seminaries can easily tell you a candidate's grades in a given class but they do not always know how to speak of his personality, his demeanor, and his aptitude in dealing with people.

Once our church body required candidates for the ministry to begin as high schoolers in boarding schools throughout the Midwest, mainly, though a few were sprinkled elsewhere as well.  Through this high school experience and then church college, the powers that be got to know the person as well as the intellect.  In addition to shaping the man, er, well, boy, by the curriculum, they shaped his personality as well.  By the time the candidate got to seminary, he was a well known quantity.  Those in the position to judge, could discern not only scholastic aptitude but also personal qualities essential to the pastoral vocation.

By the time I got to college, the boarding high schools (except for St. Paul, Missouri) had gone the way of all flesh.  Still, junior college, the Senior College, and Seminary did give more than a mere glimpse into the person who would be a Pastor.  Now, some 41 years after I entered St. John's College, Winfield, KS, we have even less time to get to know and discern the qualities which contribute toward pastoral ability and make it possible to judge vocation from among the candidates seeking the Office of Pastor.

The decline of the church college franchise as the exclusive domain of pre-formation and the desire of many to find quicker and cheaper routes to ordination have all left us with but one solid marker to use in judging pastoral vocation -- intellect and grades.  Sadly, genius often comes with a price tag and intellectual superiority may be desirable but it is not as essential as a personable individual who loves and loves working with people.  Preachers do not preach in a vacuum.  Most of the work of Pastors is not done in the lecture setting.  So we are left with less experience to judge the individual's qualifications and less time to make the call.  With SMP and other short-cuts to ordination, we are also left with a wider pool of people who are contributing to the judgment but who, themselves, may not have the full or accurate picture of the person on which to base their judgment.

My point is this.  For the Church to discern the calling of the candidate, we need more than a report card or an IQ score.  Aptitude for the ministry is multi-faceted and it is easier to judge who is not than it is to say to the church this man is apt for the Office of Pastor.  And that is one call I, happily, do not have to make... even as I pray for those who must make it...

Monday, February 25, 2013

Cars need gas. . .

I wish it were not so but cars need gas (well, except for a few electric experiments).  The gas is essential but where you get it is less so.  For all that the commercials try to tell us that gas is different from one brand to another, we don't believe it.  We pull in largely where it is convenient and cheap.  We fill up and we head our way out.  We don't have a great deal of brand loyalty and we don't think anything of visiting a competitor even when we do prefer one brand over another.  Gas is gas.  It is the gas that is important -- not the outlet where it is distributed.

So it is that many people and a very good number of Lutherans (Missourians included) view the Lord's Supper.  The Supper is the Supper wherever you get it.  The various brands (confessions or denominations) may try to tell you that the Supper is different from one brand to another but many, if not most, are not so sure they believe it.  The churches are merely distribution points.  The transaction is rather personal and private and the role of the church is merely to distribute and to leave the opinions up to the consumer.  But for most, there is not much invested in brand loyalty (except for the worship style which is akin to the amenities available not at the pump but in the convenience store -- you know the taste of the coffee, the donuts available, the restrooms, etc.).

Gas is gas the the Lord's Supper is the Lord's Supper.  Most folks do not want people to come out to the pump and try and tell them another gas is better or their car requires a different gas.  Neither do they appreciate those churches who try to tell them that gas is not gas (that is, the Lord's Supper is not the same food wherever you go).  This is considered rude and arrogant.  So when you feel the need for a fill up, you pull in where the church is convenient, the amenities up to your liking, and the cost to your time/schedule/desires fair enough.  And you take what is there.  After all the church is just a distribution point, right?  And if the next time you need to fill, you visit a different brand, well, what difference does it make, really?

Even under better circumstances it is hard not to see this picture at work in our congregations.  Some Pastors even like the idea.  The Sacrament of the Altar is available to all comers -- everyone eats his or her own version and everyone gets what he or she thinks is present there, anyway.  At least that is how it has become.

Close(d) communion, whichever version you prefer, stands in stark contrast to this gas station analogy.  We believe, confess, and teach that not all gas is the same.  This is not our own opinion, it is the teaching of God's Word.  We are not alone.  Roman Catholics and the Orthodox believe this as well.  But our Lutheran identity leans Protestant and so we find it hard to say of our neighbors that they do not have the Sacrament (our issue for not communing at a Roman or Orthodox altar is VERY different).  But the funny thing is that our distant Protestant cousins don't believe as we believe or as the Scriptures confess.  They never intend to.  They believe it is a symbolic meal in which you receive a sign that may have some spiritual content and power but it does not reside in the bread or the cup.  It lies within the communicant, in their remembrance of Jesus and appreciation of what Jesus has done for them.  Jesus is not real food or real drink (John 6) but symbolic food and drink that signs what is most definitely NOT present -- body (flesh) and blood.

Furthermore, communion is not some private time with Jesus that is unaffected by where you receive it.  We do not make Jesus present -- His Word does and His Word acts where His people expect it to deliver what it promises.  The Word attached to the element is not some magical incantation that spoken (poof) suddenly summons Jesus from heaven to a prison in bread and wine against His will.  Certainly not.  The Word is not magic.  The Word is efficacious.  It is Christ doing what He has promised.  The two or three gathered in His name is not some minimal quorum requirement but the expectation that those gathered believe His Word and expect to receive what it promises:  His flesh and blood for the life of the world.

It is always agonizing when I speak to new folks who desire to commune but who are not from Lutheran origins.  I know that this is hard to understand given the muddy waters of Protestantism on the presence of Christ in the Sacrament.  I know that it seems inhospitable to say "no."  I try to get them to see why they should not present themselves for the Sacrament.  Most often they realize that this gas is different gas but sometimes not.  More than this, I try to get across the idea that the Church is not a gas station dispensing equal grace in different ways where all Christians can come and receive the same thing.  Sometimes they get that there is an inconsistency that scandalizes greater than division when we go about from altar to altar as if the Church were merely a distribution point for gas which is gas no matter the brand.  But it is not an easy part of pastoral care.

What makes it most difficult is the idea that communion does not imply but downright expects unanimity of faith, captive to the Word and confessed before the world.  I have had people who said of course they believe that Christ is present AND bodily in the bread.  But they do not believe it about baptism and they do not believe infants can be baptized or immersion is merely one of the methods of applying water.  I have had people who confess the creed with us but who stop short of saying that I carry Christ in my hand from the altar and put Him into their hand or mouth.  I have had people with whom I am confident of a closeness that is not always felt with members of my own denomination but yet the barriers of communion remain.

Honestly, I often feel like wimping out.  In those moments, I simply hide behind the cover of Rome and say that we, like Rome, believe that oneness at the altar is a reflection of complete oneness in faith and confession.  In the South they know what that means.  They may think gas is gas but they are not ready to commit to this gas station.  So they sit and watch and head out expecting to find other brands which do not have such a heightened sense of the whole transaction. I mean really, it is just gas, right?  And that is the point.  It is not.

I knew of a person who mistakenly put gas in his new turbo diesel.  An expensive trip to the dealer made it clear to him that not everything from the pump is equal.  Some works and some does not.  And that is what we try to say to those visitors who come wondering if the station is open and the pump primed on Sunday morning...  It is spoken in love even if it is not received that way.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Finding a church home. . .

Martin Luther once said, "Anyone who is to find Christ must first find the church. How could anyone know where Christ is and what faith is in him unless he knew where his believers are?"  While some accuse Lutherans of believing in the church only in the abstract, Luther pointed to the marks of the church (the means of grace).  The church is where the Word of God is preached and the sacraments administered -- in truth, purity, and faithfulness.  While it may seem fairly easy then to figure out where that is, some are not so sure.  I speak of the church hoppers and church shoppers who skip from assembly to assembly in search of the "right" place.

In classic form C.S. Lewis wrote how Screwtape coached his young protégé on the art of sabotage in the life of a believer: "If a man can't be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that 'suits' him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches."  Pastors of all stripes find these folks the bane of ministry.  How do you care for those always on the move?  Some call them parasites who distract the church from its needful work in the pursuit of a people who will never belong but sap the resources of the church.

I admit not special animus against them but neither am I fond of folks who show up now and then in their search for the perfect church (or, more accurately, a less imperfect one).  That said, the numbers of them seem to be growing as church attendance declines while people seem to affirm about the same level of belief and the same desire to find a good church home as they have expressed before.

Some authors have begun pleading the cause of the church hopper and shopper.  Burned out by former leadership positions, carrying the baggage of church conflict and coldness, and fearful of commitment through years of disappointment, these church hoppers and shoppers deserve credit for showing up instead of simply abandoning the search for a place to belong.  Okay, maybe they are not all the sniveling minions of darkness and doubt.  I will cut them some slack.  Honestly, I will.  But I refuse to give credence to the idea that if you search long and hard enough you will find a good fit (if a perfect one cannot be found).

The church is not the end but herself the means --- the means of the means of grace, so to speak.  We too often get fixed on the earthly element when we ought to be focused on the grace it conveys.  Just as the bread and wine are not for how they taste or look, neither should the earthly characteristics of the church be allowed to dominate.  The church is where the Word is proclaimed in its truth and fullness,the law and Gospel rightly distinguished, AND where the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution.  The people who hear that Word and receive those sacraments, as well as the priest who administers them, will always be sinful and unclean.  Their flaws are neither flaunted nor hidden.  They are there.  Like all of us.  At some point, we must all simply get over it.  The Word and the Sacraments are worth the inconsistencies, flaws, and failings of the people who deliver them to us and who receive them with us.

Yes, I know, there are exceptions.  But rules made out of exceptions are exceptionally flawed rules.  The rule is to go to church.  If there are choices, visit and inquire and choose.  Then attend... regularly and faithfully.  The more you focus upon the means of grace, the less you will notice the unsatisfactory parts of the means of that means, or, the church.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

About as far as ecumenism can go here. . .

This month, in Austin, Texas, representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ signed a document titled “These Living Waters: Common Agreement on the Mutual Recognition of Baptism.”

The Catholic Church has long recognized the validity of Protestant baptisms in which the person was baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The validity of non-Catholic baptisms was worked out in a dispute between Pope St. Stephen I and St. Cyprian in the third century. In the last ten or fifteen years, however, there were concerns among Catholic bishops regarding Protestant baptisms in which different names were substituted for the Holy Trinity, or in which a method of sprinkling was used that did not achieve any flow of water on the skin. 

My Comments:

This is not exactly new ground but it does represent about as far as ecumenism is going to go with mainline Protestants.  When the high water mark becomes mutual recognition of baptism (from a precedent set some 1700 years before) it points out the limit of the ecumenical reach.  That both sides acknowledge this is amply attested by the fact that such an agreement was made "news." 

Honestly, I really do not know why Rome bothers...  It is not like much more fruit will be born of these discussions.  But... there it is.  Agreement for all to see and note.  And now everyone can go back to ignoring one another...

A disappointing movie. . .

One of the things I hate about the newer Luther movie is that you get the distinct impression that Luther was somewhat batty and disoriented.  The way his conversations against the devil were portrayed, he comes off as a likeable lunatic thrust into a heroic position.

I had a chance to see Iron Lady the other week and found it was exactly the same kind of film.  Margaret Thatcher comes off as somewhat batty, rigid, and yet disoriented.  The constant flashbacks and the way they were utilized gives you the distinct impression that she also is a sometimes likeable lunatic thrust into a heroic position.  It is a disconcerting and somewhat shallow picture of a woman who will stand large in history no matter whether you appreciated her or opposed her.

There is one speech in the movie that is prophetic.  It follows a theme in which Thatcher challenges the way we have become captive to feelings.  In one section she laments that people have stopped wanting to do something and have chosen instead to be someone.  Perhaps that truth is so blunt and so accurate as to make us blush.  We have certainly chosen fame and notoriety over accomplishment, preferring a legacy less in what is done than in who we are.  This is in no small way the problems we face in marshaling the full resources of our nation and its leaders on the great problems before us.

The actual speech to which I was referring is the one where Mrs. Thatcher reluctantly visits her physician who wonders how she feels:

Doctor: ‘It must be a bit disorienting. You’re bound to be feeling – ‘
Thatcher: ‘What? What am I bound to be feeling? . . . People don’t think any more; they feel. . . . Do you know, one of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas. Now, thoughts and ideas – that interests me. Ask me what I’m thinking.’

While spoken more in the vein of the political realm, this truth should not be lost to us in the realm of faith and church.  She has it spot on.  We are captive to our feelings and feel both the need and demand the right not only to have them but to express them freely.  From the social media to the ever present cell phone, we connect less on the level of concrete ideas and more and more on the level of feeling. 

The Church has long suffered from an aversion to the concrete and an infatuation with what we feel.  Worship appeals less and less to truth and fact and more and more to feeling.  We entertain ourselves into the presence of God and assume that God's main interest in us lies in what we feel.  Preaching and teaching has marginalized objective truth so that our opinions reign over all and those opinions are shaped more by feeling than by truth or fact.  Our old enemies of sin and death are no longer confronted with forgiveness and life in Christ.  We are far more concerned with how we feel about our sins and how we feel about death than we are confronted by their concrete reality and consequence.  Marriage and sexuality have also become captive to feelings -- almost always self-centered and hardly ever enduring past the whim.  We pursue them on the level of feelings, we judge their success on the level of feelings, and we cast them aside when feelings change.

Truth has become whatever we feel right now and faith has become a truth captive to those momentary feelings and church the place where people who feel similarly hang out -- for the moment.  No one in their right might would suggest that feelings be completely abandoned or ignored for a unfeeling idea or a thought that bears no consequence for the heart.  However, just as God is not cold hearted reality devoid of emotion, neither can faith simply be feelings detached from fact and truth.  The love of God is not an idea or a feeling.  It always takes concrete form.  In creation and in redemption -- finally and fully in the incarnation.  We meet God not in the emotional roller coaster of the heart but in the concrete of water, Word, bread and wine.  Yet these concrete realities confront, answer, and shape our feelings so that the whole person is redeemed by God.  I find little danger today that we might slip into some intellectual religion of ideas but I know that we are daily confronted by the temptation to believe that feelings and spirituality are one in the same.  And that, my friends, is a big problem.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A footnote in God's history. . .

Sermon preached for the mid-week Eucharist and for the Circuit Pastor's on Thursday, February 21.
If you allow me.  None of us will observe St. Matthias Day on Sunday since it is Lent.  So let us anticipate the day a bit and think on this unlikely apostle.

First there were 12, then there were 11, and the Church was faced with a problem.  The perfect number 12 (the number of the tribes of Israel, for example) was lost by the son of perdition who refused to stand in the mercy of Christ.  Was the Church to enter Pentecost and the great mission of proclaiming Jesus and His resurrection now one man short?  Something must be done.

They come together and, as usual, for good or for ill, Peter is in charge.  He stands up among the company of the 120 brothers and explains the problem (without sparing any of the gory details).  Then he reaches back to the Psalms to justify forgetting Judas and leaving behind the memory of his unfaithfulness so that another might take his office.

Now comes the problem.  Who wants to be the successor to Judas?  No one would ever live down the memory of such a predecessor.  I cannot imagine that they had many volunteers and those who would volunteer I would have thrown their resumes away.  What about you.

Peter outlines the qualifications: a man who has been with us, from the beginning, through it all, from the baptism of John until the day of Jesus’ ascension and someone who saw the risen Jesus (that drops the number of candidates).  It seems that from the short list, they came down to a shorter list.  Two, to be exact.  Neither of whom we know anything about except that we know three times as much about the one who was not chosen as the one who was.  He had three names and the one who was chosen had one.

And then they prayed.  Joseph, called Barsabbas or Justus, and Matthias were praying that they would choose the other one... at least if they were smart. 

Then comes the election.  “You Lord know the hearts of all – you show us which one YOU have chosen to fill the open spot of minister and apostle from Judas who went his own way...”

And nothing happened.

So they cast lots – give God some raw material to work with, I guess.  It is the only time a successor is chosen and the only time he is chosen with lots.  Short straw wins, I guess.  And Matthias won, well that is not exactly what Scripture says: the lot fell on Matthias.  Call that winning or losing?  I do not know which.

And that is the last thing we ever hear about Matthias.  Period.

Now it might seem that the disciples made a mistake. 
God appointed another apostle and it was not Matthias but Saul become Paul.  The early church did not number Matthias among the list of apostles until much, much later.  He was simply called a witness.  But eventually the Church accepted both the man the apostles chose and the one God chose and left the odd number of 13 for someone else to decipher.

All we have is a name-Matthias how do we remember him?  The unremarkable Matthias is remarkable only to God... In history a footnote... in the memory of the Church a mystery ... in the mission of the kingdom anonymous... in the list of the saints, a name... only to God remarkable at all.

I dare say I am the same.  Sure there are people who know my name while I am alive... and someday my kids will remember me... and maybe a grandchild or two... but then I will be done... the unremarkable Larry is remarkable only to God...  I am but a footnote in the Kingdom of God. . . And you are the same.
We are all these names with stories largely anonymous, known well to the Lord and known hardly at all in history or the martyrology of the saints... we are the ordinary who are extraordinary only because of the riches of God’s grace in Christ, the mercy of His love to forgive us, the desire of His heart to redeem us, the wisdom of His Spirit to call us, the miracle of His work to teach us faith, and the mission that is ours for one brief shining moment while we live and then it passes to others... as it did to Matthias...

Is it enough for you?  It appears it was enough for Matthias.  I am learning to appreciate that it is enough for me, but I am not there yet... each day I struggle to come to terms with my anonymity... and whether being known to God is enough... in my youth it was not... as I age and mature a bit in the faith, I am coming closer and closer to saying that it is enough... I need to be known only to the Lord to be a success... And it is okay if all that makes me remarkable is that the Lord has esteemed me His child by baptism, forgiven me all my sins, created in me a new heart, and sent me forth with a vocation of service.  And by the grace of God that is what He has made me... with Matthias... and with you. 

The old Adam in me fights this anonymity and seeks to lay claim to a name, a legacy, and a story.  The Christ in me responds with humility accepting my status as a forgotten footnote in history.  Perhaps it is the same for you.  But the grace of God is given to footnotes, to the anonymous about whom all that my be known is a name, to the ordinary saints who lives extraordinary lives known only to God.  We are justified by grace through faith and that is our boast.  If we are faithful to this God given new identity we will hear from the only voice that counts, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

Where we lived in New York was a Lutheran congregation that dated from the 1700s.  They had dug up the body of the first Pastor and interred him under the narthex -- you could walk on him on your way into the church.  Perhaps this is the hidden dream of all those in the pews.  There were pictures of their previous Pastors on the walls.  Who were they?  Nobody knows anymore.  Like Matthias they are only names... except to God... except in the communion of saints.

Matthias is a nobody and with him, in the company of our gracious God and a host of other nobodies, I am proud to number as one more nobody.  Amen

Just practicing. . .

As any Lutheran Pastor knows only too well, those who come to private confession are few and far between.  I attempt to aid this by requiring private confession before a first communion and confirmation.  Someone will dump on me here because it is law, and it is, but sometimes the law is good when it leads us to grace.  That is the purpose of this rule.

Anyway, back to my story...

I had scheduled the youth for this private confession so that they would be alone and not be intimidated by the prospect of another hearing them or someone watching them.  But once this schedule was breached and another youth ended up in the pew in the back as I came from the prayer altar in the sacristy having heard another youth's first confession.  I went through the schedule in my head thinking I had screwed it up.  Finally, I went to talk to him...

"Can I help you?"
"No," he said.
"You sure?"
"No, Pastor.  I'm not ready yet.  Just practicing." he said.

Just practicing.  Now there is a thought.  A rather noble one at that.  This kid wanted to get it right and thought a dry run would not hurt.  He had come to the right room and was surrounded by signs and symbols to put him in the right frame of mind.  He was practicing.

While I wish that more Lutherans got to the actual private confession, just practicing is not bad.  In fact, it is a great beginning.  Confession is not routine.  The words we speak do not have to be spontaneous.  The truth is that the form in the hymnal orchestrates the whole conversation rather carefully,  That is, until you get to the part where "what troubles me most is..."

Another week and he was back.  The practicing was behind him.  He was ready.  He spoke well the formal words prompted by the hymnal.  When it came time to fill in the blank ("what troubles me most is...") he found the words to say what he wanted to say... what he needed to say.  Some counsel from Scripture, the absolution, and some prayers... and he was on his way.

"How was it?"
"It was okay," he said.  "Well, it was really pretty good.  I might even do it again."

Ahhhh.... the sound of victory in the tents of the righteous.  The practicing helped.  The confession was good -- perhaps even therapeutic.  The absolution was pointed and personal -- that is the whole point, after all.  Just as we take ownership of sin by naming it out loud, so are we made owners of grace by being named out loud in the voice of the Father Confessor.  It is the unmistakable grasp of grace that sometimes seems too distant without the personal confession and the personal absolution.

Yes, indeed.  That is exactly how it should  be.  I wish more of our folks practiced.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Day Without Beauty. . .

Someone passed on the words of one Lutheran Pastor explaining why he does NOT do ashes (Thanks, Pastor Cwirla for that 2007 sermon).  It is not that I mind much when a Pastor decides for good reason why not to exercise a "may" rubric.  It just gets to me when people who just plain don't like something look for a reason to stick it to you.  That was the case here.  The person does not "like" ashes (who does, if you are paying attention) and so they were looking for support to say why we should not have them.  Of course the point is that even if we do offer them, no one compels anyone to come forward and receive them.  In this way, the rubric is still "may" even when ashes are, indeed, offered.

I know the excuses.  It was not the earliest liturgical rubric (so it is only a thousand years old or so, that is hardly young).  It can be misunderstood (if that were a serious reason, we would not have baptism or the Lord's Supper and here the repercussions are far more serious than for mere symbols).  It is often only a skin deep symbol of something that should go deeper (duh, but that is the whole problem with repentance -- it is always skin deep easy and much harder to rend our hearts and not our garments).  It forgets that we are forgiven and redeemed, created clean and new in baptism (isn't that why the ashes are in the shape of a cross).  But we are simul justus et peccator and for this reason alone ashes are beneficial. 

The line that gets me from this defense of not using ashes was this:  Symbolic gestures just won’t cut it when it comes to repentance.  Symbols are whatever we say they are; they run under our control, which is the way our sinful self likes it.  We have all sorts of symbolic gestures when it comes to love and marriage and we do not condemn them.  We have all sorts of symbolic gestures when it comes to worship and we do not condemn them.  We have all sorts of symbolic gestures when it comes to prayer and we do not condemn them.  My point is that we are people of gestures -- symbolic gestures or ritual or ceremony, call it what you like.  That is how we signify what is important to us -- through our symbolic gestures.  These are not little nods bowing to the god of externals but the way the internal is exposed or communicated outwardly.  If anything, we should be encouraging these -- especially when it comes to repentance.

It occurs to me that things can be too nice in Church.  We dance around sin and skirt the reality of death so that we can talk about a loving God and a gentle Jesus.  Ashes are a jarring counterpoint to the small talk of faith that too often dominates even Lutheran services and sermons.  Ashes are not cute or pretty.  Believe you me it is gut wrenching when, as a Pastor, you mark the head of a sleeping baby in her mother's arms or a sweet faced little toddler holding onto daddy's hand and say "Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return."  I can say it more easily when the face is weathered and wrinkled and we all know that death may not be too far off but it hurts to say that and mark with ashes the forehead of one whom we presume to have a whole lifetime ahead of him or her.  But that is exactly the genius of Ash Wednesday's ashes.  Death is no respecter of persons and has passed to all people as the fruit of sin's poisoned fruit.  Death cannot be denied or postponed and sin it its cause, its viral destroyer, and its fatal illness.

I have had people say to me that the Ash Wednesday service is beautiful.  I don't want it to be.  There is no beauty in sin and mourning and ashes.  I am NOT denying that we are forgiven, restored, and redeemed from sin and its death.  My point is not that the liturgy is ugly but the theme of Ash Wednesday is not beauty but sin's wretchedness. What I am saying that on Ash Wednesday the purpose of the liturgy is not to focus primarily upon this good news but to issue the call to repentance, to lead the people into a renewed awareness of why the news is good by looking carefully at the bad news, and to confront death's mark on us.  We have this treasure in earthen jars and on Ash Wednesday we admit that under the paint and decorations the jars are just that -- earthen and mortal.

So we wear black.  We sing the miserere of Psalm 51.  We hear the call to return to the Lord for He is gracious and merciful (but not us -- we are sinful and dead).  We meet the Lord in the midst of our death -- the God who comes to us and not ever the other way around.  We wear the ancient and external mark of mourning over sin, we make confession of culpability, we acknowledge that there is no health or life in us but that which Christ places in us, and we repent under the aid and prompting of the Spirit.  External gestures that reflect the inward heart bowed in repentant joy (not an oxymoron, either) to the Lord who kills to make alive again.

I do not like ashes.  I wear them because I need to wear them.  There is nothing cute or neat or cool about them.  They are as jarring as the sound of earth against a casket at the cemetery (ashes to ashes, dust to dust).  But what we don't want to hear or wear is exactly what we need to.  Nobody talks much about repentance anymore -- not even the fundamentalists.  We have moved on to a happy faith where unpleasant subjects are off limits.  So the ashes stand out even more starkly now than a half a century ago or five hundred years ago.  What is needful for me to wear is also needful for the world to see on me.

Corruption of doctrine begins with Scripture. . .

I read this and put it aside for a while to think it over.  It is a profound statement of the consequence of getting Scripture wrong, of making the Scriptures captive to reason or the influence of culture, and of reading into the Word what we think we want out of it...

Listen to the voice of Tertullian, Against the Heretics:

Heretics have tampered with the scriptures, and mutilated, and altered them. Catholics never change the scriptures, which always testify for them. Where diversity of doctrine is found, there, then, must the corruption both of the Scriptures and the expositions thereof be regarded as existing. On those whose purpose it was to teach differently, lay the necessity of differently arranging the instruments of doctrine. They could not possibly have effected their diversity of teaching in any other way than by having a difference in the means whereby they taught. As in their case, corruption in doctrine could not possibly have succeeded without a corruption also of its instruments, so to ourselves also integrity of doctrine could not have accrued, without integrity in those means by which doctrine is managed. 

The blessed fruits of centuries of higher criticism which begins with human reason, certain presuppositions about what is true and what is not, and with a suspicion and even skepticism about the received text... well, what do you think is the result?  Clarity?  Confidence?  Unanimity?  Of course not!  Our battle with Scripture has born the poisoned fruits of distorted doctrine over which is cast the veil of fear that wonders if any can know for sure what the Word of God really says or means.

Sadly, it did not have to be this way.  Over the course of decades and even centuries, the text and meaning of Scripture has shifted from the confines of the Church where faith is confessed to the halls of academia where faith is in short quantity.  The so-called giants of Biblical interpretation and textual criticism have pulled the Scriptures from the grasp of the faithful, from their creedal moorings, and from the pulpit.  They have taken the Word and we gladly surrendered to them also the authority to discern and decide what Scripture is and what it says.  In exchange they have returned to us the tattered rags of doubt, uncertainty, and suspicion that has left us with the distinct impression that God is mostly unknowable and the Scriptures are more pious posturing than revelation or fact.

So on Sunday morning the pulpit has become captive to the whims, doubts, and personal anecdotes of the preacher.  It has been far too long since Christianity has been able to say "The Word of the Lord" about anything.  And the people leaving are signs that the folks listening have heard and determined that if nothing is true or no true is objective or no objective truth is eternal, why bother?  I am ashamed to say that my own generation (the Boomers) has done a fine job of extending the culture of doubt and the objectification of feeling into the place where once was heard "The Word of the Lord."

If we are to rescue doctrine from its diversity of doubt, if we are to renew our confidence in what we believe, confess, and teach, and if truth is to mean something to our children and grandchildren, it will begin by taking back the Scriptures from the scholarly halls of skepticism and reclaiming the Scriptures as the Church's book.  I recall a teacher once saying to me that the Bible was the Church's book and the people's books were the catechism and the hymnal.  He was certainly not implying that people should not be reading the Scriptures at home.  What he was saying is that the Scriptures belong to no one individual but to the Church.  Their meaning is not subject to the intellectual whims or biases of a person or even many people.  The meaning of the Scriptures is given to the Church to confess in creed and preach from the pulpit.  He is absolutely right.  Even among conservative Christians, private Biblical interpretation rules the day.  There is no gain in substituting one person's dominion over the Word of God for another's.  The faith is catholic -- not the possession of one place or one time or one person or one movement.  Until we get this right we will merely be jockeying for superior position in a see saw back and forth between doubt and confidence in what we think instead of what the Word of the Lord says. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Delusions of grandeur. . .

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, preached on Sunday, February 17, 2013.

    No time for rest, not even for a breath.  As quickly as can be Jesus is shuffled off from baptismal water right into the wilderness where Satan comes to call.  For us, this jarring transformation is shown by the contrast between the mount of Transfiguration's glory and the desert where suffering  and temptation visit.  Down the mountain the Lord goes for there is no glory that will not come through pain and suffering.  The fading glory of Transfiguration is already in our rear view mirror, replaced by the blunt mirror of Ash Wednesday's view of sin and death.
    So we go with Jesus, the echo of that voice still in the ear, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."  It does not matter how pleased God is with Jesus, Jesus still must undergo temptation and suffering to accomplish our salvation.  There we find Him today, fighting our battle for us, exposed by the only weakness in Him – the weakness of flesh.
    The Devil taunts Him with delusions of grandeur.  "If" – the word used to introduce a sidestep of righteousness, a short cut, all the glory with half the suffering.  "If you are the Son of God eat and be full..."  Surely Jesus was hungry and weak, fasting some forty days.  Not the easy fast that gives up chocolate or wine or peas but the total fast that imposes upon desire the reins of self-control.  Yes, He was hungry.  But Jesus had just heard "You are My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."  With this hunger comes the reminder of who He is and His holy purpose.  Yet His flesh nagged with the question of Eden?  "Doesn't God want you to eat?"  This time the only bread that will be eaten is the Word of God.
    He passed on to one more test, one more delusion of grandeur He must face.  "If You are the Son of God... believe..."  How many heretics begin with faith stretched, distorted, and twisted by a literalism that hides unbelief?  "God will catch You.  Throw Yourself down!  Don't you believe God will be there for You?"  Now, boy does that sound familiar.  The word diabolos means slanderer and the Devil slanders what it means to believe and trust in God by pushing us, as He pushed Jesus, to test the limits of God's patience, endurance, power, and love.  But not Jesus.
    The final test is perhaps the most difficult.  "If you are the Son of God then seek the easy path to power..."  Like Jesus, we have heard the horrible whispers of the great deceiver telling us, when you have money give, when you have time go, when you are in the right mood be holy...  The great satanic lie is the one that says make it big first and then you can make it right.  For Jesus this means obtaining the people of God but with out the suffering and death of the cross.  We love those short cuts but Jesus refuses.  Thy will be done.
    All that the devil has are the delusions of grandeur we offer him – the short cuts, the lies, the power of feelings, the dominance of desire.  Like Jesus in the wilderness, the devil always begins by an appeal to self. "God wants me to get what I want... to be first... to get things done... to be happy..."  How many Citizen Kane's sit here today having begun with noble motive only to be undone by expedience and taken down by short cuts to glory, to success, to happiness?  How many of us have sold our birthright as the children of God for today's soup du jour?
    We fall on every one of them.  But Jesus has the Word straight.  "By one man's obedience shall the many be made righteous."  Jesus has nothing to prove and He proves everything.  He shows us that the only thing that counts, that endures, that succeeds is faithfulness.  We fear what God wants from us or expects from us and in our fears we are weak before temptation.  Jesus has no fear of God or of righteousness.
    Jesus has nothing to prove except His faithfulness. . . neither do we. If you are faithful, you have it all.  If you are faithful, you are righteous.  If you are faithful, you are holy.  That is what it means when Scripture says the just shall live by faith.
    His obedience is our righteousness.  We have no need to wonder about what Jesus would do if He were in our shoes.  He has been.  We know what He did.  He chose faithfulness over self, over desire, over happiness.  The path of faith always leads us into the wilderness and the devil is always there.  We answer his taunts and lies and the delusions of grandeur he offers by speak Christ's Word to him.  Then we stand in Christ's strength and in that faithfulness God's generous grace calls us faithful.
    Temptation is not a test to see how vulnerable you are.  It is the constant state of life as God's own in a world that has turned on Him.  We succeed not by wit or reason but by faithfulness, by standing with Jesus upon the Word of God, and by sacrificing will and desire to the will of God the desire born of baptism and known by faith.  And you what?  As we see in Jesus, when we stand on God's Word, we lose nothing and gain that which can never be taken from us.  Delusions of grandeur meet the truth of Christ.  Amen.

Fanaticism for which we need to repent. . .

The ever thought provoking and engaging Prof. John Pless has written well of the dangers of fanaticism even in the guise of the noble cause.  His words are timely as we wrestle with the Newtown service and to what degree the LCMS allows participation in the somewhat religious civic events such as the prayer vigil that followed the tragedy there.  Without commenting anymore on the event, Pless has accurately pointed out the issue of a fanaticism which demands action, which refuses to wait, and, more importantly, refuses to trust the Word to do its bidding in God's own time...

But the problem does not reside with Missouri’s liberals only. Those of us who rightly recognize how lethal syncretism is to authentic Christian witness can also be lured into fanaticism. There are voices from the right, criticizing President Harrison for not acting decisively or even for having the audacity to repent and apologize. They want a church free of the leaven of syncretism and they want it now. No waiting on the Word to do its work, no imploring the Lord of the church to look down in mercy on this poor, wretched, and miserable band of sinners known as the Missouri Synod. Instead there should be an apocalyptic show down. The church cannot wait. This is a fanaticism to be repented of.

Read the whole thing here. . . 

Do you know a terrorist?

Do you know a terrorist?  You might.  In fact, look in the mirror.  If you are pro-life and anti-abortion, you are, according to one study, a likely terrorist.  Read it and weep. . .

Dr. Arlie Perliger, the author of the new West Point report.A study published by West Point's anti-terrorism center claims the “pro-life paradigm” is a motivating factor in domestic terrorism.  Dr. Arie Perliger, director of terrorism studies at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), makes the allegation in his report, “Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right.” The document – which references abortion 76 times in 146 pages – was issued in November but only reported last month.

Dr. Arlie Perliger, the author of the new West Point report.
In an analysis of “far-right terrorism,” Perliger likens the pro-life movement to the Ku Klux Klan, skinheads, and Christian Identity (a racist Christian heresy).

 Think this is an isolated instance of a kook with government money to do a study?
 How about these:

An April 2009 DHS report entitled “Rightwing [sic.] Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” identified “groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration” and opposition to same-sex “marriage,” as “the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.” The DHS later pulled the report.

Yet DHS and FBI agents subsequently attended a terrorism training seminar on alleged pro-life terrorism hosted by Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Federation, and the Feminist Majority Foundation. After equating free speech with violence, organizers distributed a resource guide listing three pages of purportedly extremist websites to monitor, including mainstream organizations such as Priests for Life and the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Yet another DHS-funded report, Hot Spots of Terrorism and Other Crimes in the United States, 1970 to 2008,” written by Gary LaFree and Bianca Bersani, concluded that single issue groups, including abortion opponents, had perpetrated more atrocities over a longer period of time than “extreme left-wing,” “extreme right-wing,” “religious,” or “ethno-nationalist” terrorists.

Constitutional expert John Whitehead of The Rutherford Institute has voiced concerns that the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) “would allow the military to show up at your door if you’re [deemed] a ‘potential terrorist,’ and put you in military detention” indefinitely, without charges.

Women in combat. . .

Joe Carter introduced it this way. . .

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Father Christmas issues weapons to the Pevensie children. Peter receives a sword and a shield, Susan receives a bow and arrow and a magical horn that will summon help whenever it’s blown, and Lucy receives a dagger and a magic vial that restores the health of anyone injured. Later, before the White Witch’s army, Father Christmas tells the sisters that he has given them these weapons only so that the girls can defend themselves “in great need . . . for I do not mean you to fight in the battle.” Lucy is offended, believing her bravery is being questioned, but he tells her, “That is not the point . . . battles are ugly when women fight.” 

This has little to do with ability.  Women certainly can fight and as down and dirty as men.  This has little to do with equality.  If combat is the greater test of equality, then we are in a lot worse shape than we thought.  This has nothing to do with choice.  Battle is no one's choice but the desperate end when there is no other choice but to fight.  It has everything to do with the way we have twisted and distorted the values in our culture until this outcome is inevitable.  Having treated the unborn as dead until we decide they are alive, none of us will be satisfied until there is blood on all our hands.  Having defined marriage as the convenient relationship of self-interest -- absent gender or children -- the cause for which we fight is less for others or virtue than it is to make sure we can get what we want.  Having made sex into a hobby designed exclusively for personal pleasure, who is left with clean hands to speak for more than feeling or desire?

We have taken the shredded remnants of nobility God accorded us when He banished us from Eden and set them on end.  In this we have all become the weaker sex and there is none left to raise up cause or country as greater than self-interest.  Indeed, all that is left to us to fight and protect is just that -- the choice of self-interest.  We traded in the holy purpose of our creation for the stained garments of want and desire.  If the cause cannot be rescued in the public square, it cannot be surrendered in the church and in the home.  So when law denies to us the safety of the protection of virtue, we must not now allow the cause to be lost in the context of parent and child, church and home.

Teach your children well.  Teach your boys to protect and defend women and children because they are protecting who is most valuable and precious to them.  Teach your girls to accept the love so offered in sacrificial service and to honor it by extending into their care the protection and defense of children.  Teach those whose tears go out for those who do not return from the battlefield the story of love larger than self-interest, of cause greater than pleasure, and of virtue revealed in service more than demand.  Do this and we will honor the dead and fulfill their dream of a society made larger and a people ennobled by their service.

In the end we all bear the scars of combat.  No one can deny these to anyone -- not to women or children who never venture near the battlefield.  Yet how can we call this progress when we pass on the direct burden of the fray indiscriminately to all?  

As Lewis said, battles are ugly when women fight. But societies that send their women off to war are even uglier.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Seeking a conversation. . .

In 1976, Joseph Ratzinger—then still a professor—suggested “it might be possible to interpret [the Augsburg Confession (CA)—i.e., the primary Lutheran confession] under the laws of the empire as a catholic confession.” He continued: “Efforts are underway to achieve a Catholic recognition of the CA or, more correctly, a recognition of the CA as catholic, and thereby to establish the catholicity of the churches of the CA, which makes possible a corporate union while the differences remain.”

While Ratzinger—now Benedict XVI— would not continue a campaign for such acceptance, it is nevertheless a striking comment from the man who would be pope. At the very least, it demonstrates a particular interest in Roman Catholic-Lutheran dialogue which has continued into the present.

This past September, for example, Pope Benedict XVI met with former students in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, to discuss the subject of Roman Catholic dialogue with Lutherans and Anglicans. This get-together between the pope and his former students is an annual tradition that dates back to the 1970s, and the topics of discussion are chosen by the pope himself. Benedict even invited an emeritus Lutheran Bishop, Ulrich Wilckens, to lead the discussion.

While this is the most recent nod by the pope to Lutherans, it is hardly the first. Only a few months earlier, Pope Benedict XVI announced the new prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The man chosen? German Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, a veteran of Lutheran-Roman Catholic ecumenical dialogue. Among other things, he served as the Catholic head of the International Lutheran/Roman Catholic Commission on Unity.

These events reflect increasingly congenial relations between Roman Catholics and Lutherans. But what is more, there are signs Roman Catholics are interested in exploring deeper ties with a specific group of Lutherans—namely, confessional Lutherans.

These words introduce a First Things On the Square piece by Canadian Lutheran Editor Matthew Block.  You can read it all here.   My point is that it appears that Rome has realized that there are Lutherans and then there are Lutherans.  Rome has also awakened to the fact that confessional Lutherans represent an identity in which there is great commonality and a very serious conviction to the evangelical and catholic nature of the Lutheran Confessions.  Now all we are waiting for, it seems, would be the confessional Lutherans to decide to pursue this conversation more seriously and with a higher priority.  Such, I believe, would be a good thing for Rome to find out what catholic Lutherans look and sound like and for those confessional Lutherans to connect with an ally as they find themselves increasingly squeezed out of the stage by liberal Protestantism.  Hopefully, this interest in Confessional Lutheranism will not be abated when Benedict gives was to the new pope to elected less than a month from today.

In humble disguise. . .

Disguise. To give a different appearance in order to conceal one's identity. Except in the case of Jesus Christ. He comes in humble disguise not to conceal but to reveal. He comes in flesh as the Most High God -- as He has promised. The flesh is not some form taken to deceive. It the form of hope and promise. It is disguised not because God has attempted to hide but because eyes cannot see all that is there. In the same way, the bread and wine are not some disguise donned to prevent people from seeing Him. No, far from it. They are the very means by which He reveals Himself. The Eucharist is then the epiphany where God comes as He has promised but hidden in humble form seen not by the eye but by faith.

In fact, the Mass, like the manger, is the one place where one cannot trust the eye. The eye is untrustworthy because its vision stops at the appearance. And that is the point. In the appearance of one thing is something additional -- not something other to deceive but something surprising and unexpected yet beheld only with the clear vision of faith.

Christ comes in humble disguise. Mary saw because of faith. She ponders not the unresolved question of what might be but the indicative statement of what is -- God in flesh. Joseph knew though, perhaps, not to the same level of confident faith that Mary did. So the shepherds who heard and hearing believed and believing went to see. And the Magi whose vision was marked by faith long before pulling into Jerusalem to inquire where and long before embarking at Bethlehem to kneel, to worship, to offer, and to adore.

The Mass invites us as once the Manger bid the shepherds come and the star drew the Magi. Come and see. Just don't use your eyes. You cannot trust them here. Oh, to be sure, you can see the seeing. You can see the hands folded in prayer, the bodies kneeling in worship, the lips moving in unbroken praise, and their eyes looking and seeing more than what is there on the surface. You can see the seeing as they see. But in order to see you must not trust your eyes. To view the Lord in humble disguise requires faith. Period.

As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. Though the Mass is seen only by the faithful, those not yet of the faithful see the faithful worship and adore, kneel and stand, pray and praise. They look where the eyes of the faithful look and they seek to see what only faith reveals. In this way the Mass is catechetical for those not yet of the Kingdom of God. And that is how it should be. If we wonder what benefits those not yet washed in water and raised up in faith when they come to the Mass, it is this. They look where we see and there is Christ. Whether disguised so that only faith sees or obvious for all who look, Christ is still there. So when we look to the altar and our eyes focus upon the bread which is His body and the cup of His blood, they look at Christ also. Though not yet seeing for lack of faith, they learn nonetheless. Do not for a moment believe that external piety is of no value. How many are drawn toward the kingdom of God by the Lord in the Spirit, working through the means of grace, wherein the faithful see Christ?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Heroic Figures. . .

In my lifetime, the Roman Catholic Church has had heroic figures whose stature was greater than even their person.  From John XXIII to John Paul II to Benedict XVI (yes, I intentionally left out Paul VI), the Roman Pontiff has cast a long shadow over the shape of the church he served.  I am not sure what to say about them.  I did not know them except through biography, the media, and their own words.  Perhaps that is enough.

There is one thing that all of these seems to have shared and that is how comfortable they were in their own skin.  They were heroic figures not because they were the smartest or the best but because they led graciously, humbly, yet confidently from this personal characteristic which flowed from their faith.  They did not try to be someone other than themselves nor did thy presume to try and be heroic.

The announcement of Benedict's resignation was characteristically Benedict.  It was a surprise but not.  He had inherited the mantle of a globetrotting  pontiff from John Paul II, who, though less in his declining years, had pushed the mantle of physical presence so that every succeeding Pope will be measured against his own example.  He has shown a keen intellect and a good writer's style that meant the output and quality of the publications that have born his name (as priest, bishop, cardinal, and pope) is both impressive and accessible.  Although the Chair of St. Peter is arguably one of the most powerful offices in the world, none of these men sought it out and each of them bore it as much as a burden as anything else.  So, confronted by physical limitations which might preclude his ability to travel, issues of physical stamina, and, keenly aware of the great necessity laid upon the leader of the largest block of Christendom, it should have surprised none of us that he knew when he could not lead up to the standards he had set and those before him had laid down.  It seems not many US Presidents want to leave the White House when their term ends but this Pope seems to relish the prospect of a contemplative life of prayer and study.

In my own lifetime, I have seen us struggle with leaders more notorious than notable.  The insecurities and foibles of many of them not only diminished them in office but out of office and their place in history has, for many, been tarnished more than polished by their lack of comfort within themselves.  It is an odd but, I believe, a true esteem, then, to say of these heroic pontiffs that part of their success was the fact that they were so comfortable with themselves.  Rome would do well to find another who shares this quality.

On a personal level, I will miss him on the chair of St. Peter because he was keenly aware of and interested in things Lutheran.  Perhaps because of his Germanic origin or experience in the Roman church, he knew Luther and the Lutherans better than any pontiff since Luther.  In addition, he was quite willing to call out the modern historical critical movement for failing to serve the Church or the Scriptures well and, in addition, his keen interest in the liturgy has only encouraged my own.

There is nothing quite as interesting as the choosing of a pope (not even the election of a Synod President for the LCMS) so the world, and I, will be watching closely. And expectations will be high.  We will see if the electors will choose again as wisely as they have in three previous elections (skipping Paul VI and John Paul I).