Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I would not, could not, not in a church...

I posted about these before, the so-called Seusscharist, here is a video, footage of an actual service at St. George's Anglican Church in Guelph, Ontario on Sunday, June 13, 2010.  Is it no wonder that people do not take the sacraments seriously when the people leading them promote such empty silliness and parade it as "fun" for the kids?  Really...

HT to Creedal Christian

Sin boldly, my friends...

Not the Most Lutheran Man in the World but a Reasonable Facsimile

HT to Anthony Sacramone....  LOL... no ROTFLOL....

The Most Lutheran Man in the World 

He felt the spirit move him once.
His confessions make Satan cry.
His baptismal certificate reads “Dinkelaker is not adiaphora.”
He once punched a guppy for being a pietist.
The Old Adam sued him for entrapment.
He sued Original Sin for copyright infringement.
Twitter allows him 1517 characters.
Google Maps include where he stands.
He’s…the Most Lutheran Man in the World.
“Sin boldly, my friends…”

Not the most Lutheran man in the world
but a reasonable facsimile....

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lord, teach us to pray. . .

Prayer for Pentecost 10, Proper 12C, preached on Sunday, July 28, 2014.

    Nearly everyone I know admits carrying around a load of guilt when it comes to prayer.  We do not pray as much as we think we should.  We do not pray as transparently as we should.  We do not pray as confidently as we should.  Perhaps the problem is less to do with the time we have to pray or the courage to pray what is in our hearts or the confidence to say "Amen" as much as it is we are not sure what prayer is supposed to do.
    How do you pray if you are not sure why you pray?  If we think prayer is to tell God what He does not already know, we have a God problem.  If we pray because we need to tell God what we want Him to do, we have a me problem.  If we pray to tell God what He already knows, what is the point?  So why do we pray?  The easy answer is because the Lord commands us and invites us to pray, as the Catechism answers.
     Like the disciples of old, we come today to Jesus.  "Lord, teach us to pray..."  And Jesus teaches us a specific prayer.  When you pray, "Say, Our Father...."  It is good to pray in your own words but don't think that if you make them up those words are better than the words our Lord has taught us.  For it is in the Our Father that God teaches us not only what to say but what prayer is... and, I might add, what it is not.
    We pray not to inform God what He does not know.  We have a deficient understanding of God if we think Him in the dark about what is in our hearts and on our minds.  What kind of God must be told anything in order for Him to know?  God knows us and we do not open ourselves to Him.  Before we form the words, He hears and knows.  Even our sighs and groans ascend to Him as prayer in faith by the Holy Spirit (as St. Paul reminds us).
    We pray not to inform God but because we know God already knows and so in prayer we own up to what is in our hearts and on our minds – the bad as well as the good.  We pray not to control God for what kind of God can be cajoled and manipulated by our words of pleading or our words of argument?  No, we pray because God already knows and our prayers say we know that God knows best and we trust what is His best answer to the needs of our lives and the desires of our hearts. 
    Now maybe you are wondering how I can say that we do not negotiate or cajole or bargain with God after hearing the words of Abraham on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah.  But did you actually hear the first paragraph.  This whole conversation is set because God knows what He is going to do but Abraham does not.  Abraham is here to learn the mercy of God for the Lord has great plans for Abraham that will require Abraham to trust the mercy of God.
    We pray not to heap words upon words for effect, as the Pharisees of old, nor to drone on about what we want.  We pray because we know God hears and we know He answers.  Prayer does not lead us to faith.  It cannot.  Prayer is faith at work, the exercise of our trust.  We pray because God hears and because God hears we know He will answer.  Yet this is not where prayer ends.  Not by a long shot.
    We pray in every prayer "Thy will be done..."  I had a person tell me once that he did not want me to pray for him because when I prayed "as the Lord wills" he felt I was giving up on my cause and undermining the case my words were making to get what I asked for.  God is not some dictator who only reluctantly dishes out good things to His people.  How can you look at the cross and see the suffering of Christ for you then doubt God’s answer to your prayers?  How can you stand before the Lord clothed in Christ’s righteousness and then be suspicious of God’s answer to your prayers.  No, if evil parents know to give good things to their children, how much more will our Heavenly Father give the Spirit to those who ask Him?  And what language does the Spirit pray?  Thy will be done!  The words of faith!
    So in prayer faith says back to God what He has said to us.  It is the premise of prayer, of faith, and of all worship.  The surest word we speak and pray are the words our Lord has taught us to pray.  In prayer we own the concerns of our hearts and what sits in our minds and bring them to the Lord to be addressed by His grace.  The cross is what bids us pray in confidence to the Lord and the cross is what seals our prayers.  If the Lord of heaven can send His Son into flesh to suffer and die for unworthy and undeserving sinners like me, can I not trust Him to hear and to give me what is right and good and best? 
    We pray not so much for a specific answer but for the Lord to address us with the grace He has promised us in Christ.  Faith has confidence that His grace is enough, is sufficient, and is the right answer to all our wants and needs.  To pray "Thy will be done" is to ask the Lord to give us His gracious and loving answer.  Prayer is not a means of grace nor is it a magic formula to get what we want from God.  Some Christians who lack confidence in the Word planted in water or the bread and cup set apart to be the body and blood of Christ have sought to make prayer into a sacrament, a promise that if you pray rightly, using the right words, with the right attitude in your hearts will compel God to give you what you desire.  That prayer does not proceed from right faith.  Prayer is an exercise of faith and trust, trusting in the gracious and good will of the Father revealed through His Son.  By praying we learn and grow in faith, confident anew that His gracious is sufficient for us and His will is trust worthy and the delight of our hearts.
    We do not pray to inform or even direct the Lord.  We do not pray to tell Him what He already knows.  We pray because that is what faith does, this is how trust operates.  Having seen the heart of the Lord revealed in the mercy of His Son, who died for us and rose to deliver to us everlasting life, we pray to trust His grace is enough, His will is good, His answer is best.  Thy will be done.  Amen.
    By praying, we express the faith we confess in the creed, the gracious Triune God.  We express the faith that cleansed us and made us new in baptism.  We express the faith that meets the Lord in this bread and wine, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  God's good and providential will is what the cross shows us.  We pray as an act of trust in the Gospel of the cross for us, for now, and forever.  Amen

Modest Is Hottest

“Modest is hottest.” That’s a great motto. Modesty means way more than just not dressing provocatively.  The word modesty has to do with walking in humility, being meek and unassuming. Someone who is modest places a moderate estimate on her abilities, is not bold or in-your-face, is not vain or conceited.

In contrast to those who seem to be full of themselves, modesty really is hottest—it’s attractive to others because people know that a modest person is more concerned about others than about herself. A modest person usually prefers that others be in the spotlight. She’d rather take a behind-the-scenes role. In my profession this can be a struggle as performers are constantly thrust into the spotlight. Because of that, modesty is an attitude I am always working on. But just because we seek to be modest does not mean we are weak. In fact, a modest person may be very self confident because she is comfortable with who she is and doesn’t have to spend all her time proving herself to others.

You can read the whole thing here.   You can read a response here.

I am hesitant to enter the fray but I will say that modesty cannot be sold on the basis of it is hotter to keep something for the imagination than to expose it all for what it is.  I will also say that modesty does not proceed from the idea that the body is bad or that it should be hidden behind clothing designed to mask the human form because it can only be a cause for evil. 

Modesty, it would seem to me, is the fruit of faith, born of repentance, in acknowledgement that the center of it all is not "me" but the Lord.  Modesty is the outward form of the humility of the heart.  I am not saying we need to be Amish nor am I saying that clothing does not count.  It does.  Otherwise we would not be spending the money on the brand name clothing that we do here and throughout the world.  What we wear, however, proceeds from our identity as the baptized children of God.  What we wear first and foremost is Christ, into whose death we were baptized and in whom we are raised to new life.  Paul's rules about modesty and beauty proceed not from a disdain for the body God has created nor from any license or freedom to be "me" but rather from the perspective of Christ, in whom we live, move, and have our being.  Christ is whom we wear by baptism and faith.  His righteousness is our clothing.  His glory is our glory.  This is not negative (what is forbidden) but positive (what glorifies God and honors Him as Creator and Redeemer).

We lose every time we say clothing counts for everything or clothing counts for nothing.  Clothing counts because it outwardly reflects how we see ourselves.  Modesty is not a cover up but the humility of faith that shows itself on the outside as well as the inside.  Of course clothing counts (just as the lack of it).  But not in and of itself.  Modesty is a positive virtue and not a negative one.  We do not think of ourselves more highly than we ought simply as noble but misplaced virtue.  We do not think of ourselves highly because we think of Christ.  He is our all and all, not first before us nor highest of many priorities but our all in all.  When our clothing choices are born of this humility of faith, the choice is good (no matter if it is more formal or less formal).  Humility calls us to honor the Lord outwardly as we do inwardly, from the vantage point of the forgiven and grateful heart, joyfully acknowledging the unmerited mercy of God visited upon us in Christ.

When we wear our best for the Lord and not as an element of style or personal glory, we honor the Lord outwardly as well as inwardly.  It is not a dress code we must conform to but the call of faith we heed, in the external expression of our clothing as well as the internal posture of the heart.

The education mess...

 From Education News...

As the dissatisfaction with the U.S. education system among parents grows, so does the appeal of homeschooling. Since 1999, the number of children who are being homeschooled has increased by 75% in all states including Arizona, Texas, and California. Although currently only 4% of all school children nationwide are educated at home, the number of primary school kids whose parents choose to forgo traditional education is growing seven times faster than the number of kids enrolling in K-12 every year.

Any concerns expressed about the quality of education offered to the kids by their parents can surely be put to rest by the consistently high placement of homeschooled kids on standardized assessment exams. Data shows that those who are independently educated typically score between 65th and 89th percentile on such exams, while those attending traditional schools average on the 50th percentile. Furthermore, the achievement gaps, long plaguing school systems around the country, aren’t present in homeschooling environment. There’s no difference in achievement between sexes, income levels or race/ethnicity.

    Recent studies laud homeschoolers’ academic success, noting their significantly higher ACT-Composite scores as high schoolers and higher grade point averages as college students. Yet surprisingly, the average expenditure for the education of a homeschooled child, per year, is $500 to $600, compared to an average expenditure of $10,000 per child, per year, for public school students.

College recruiters from the best schools in the United States aren’t slow to recognize homeschoolers’ achievements. Those from non-traditional education environments matriculate in colleges and attain a four-year degree at much higher rates than their counterparts from public and even private schools. Homeschoolers are actively recruited by schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Stanford University and Duke.

Nor do homeschoolers miss out on the so-called socialization opportunities, something considered a vital part of a traditional school environment and lacking in those who don’t attend regular schools. On the contrary, those educated at home by their parents tend to be more socially engaged than their peers, and according to the National Home Education Research Institute survey, demonstrate “healthy social, psychological, and emotional development, and success into adulthood.”

Based on recent data, researchers such as Dr. Brian Ray ( “expect to observe a notable surge in the number of children being homeschooled in the next 5 to 10 years. The rise would be in terms of both absolute numbers and percentage of the K to 12 student population. This increase would be in part because . . . [1] a large number of those individuals who were being home educated in the 1990s may begin to homeschool their own school-age children and [2] the continued successes of home-educated students.”

My comments...

I did not homeschool anyone nor was I homeschooled.  But it appears as if people are not choosing to homeschool because it is such a great option.  They are running from our schools and the education mess all around us and choosing to homeschool out of desperation.  It does not matter how much money we throw at schools and how many tests we make our kids take.  There are other factors more significant that the per child expenditure or the testing requirements of state and federal educational programs.  It would seem to be a ripe opportunity for Lutheran schools to shine but it seems that Lutheran schools are declining more than thriving and more closing than opening.  I have no super wisdom here.  Only the lament of one who wishes we could figure out how to do better for our children.  Truth to be told part of the reason homeschooled children do so well is that they have the benefit of families who are willing to do whatever is required to provide for the best education for their children.  I have to say that again the decline of the family is the hidden problem in our education mess... not the only one but perhaps the most significant!!

As the dissatisfaction with the U.S. education system among parents grows, so does the appeal of homeschooling. Since 1999, the number of children who are being homeschooled has increased by 75% in all states including Arizona, Texas, and California. Although currently only 4% of all school children nationwide are educated at home, the number of primary school kids whose parents choose to forgo traditional education is growing seven times faster than the number of kids enrolling in K-12 every year. - See more at:

As the dissatisfaction with the U.S. education system among parents grows, so does the appeal of homeschooling. Since 1999, the number of children who are being homeschooled has increased by 75% in all states including Arizona, Texas, and California. Although currently only 4% of all school children nationwide are educated at home, the number of primary school kids whose parents choose to forgo traditional education is growing seven times faster than the number of kids enrolling in K-12 every year.
Any concerns expressed about the quality of education offered to the kids by their parents can surely be put to rest by the consistently high placement of homeschooled kids on standardized assessment exams. Data shows that those who are independently educated typically score between 65th and 89th percentile on such exams, while those attending traditional schools average on the 50th percentile. Furthermore, the achievement gaps, long plaguing school systems around the country, aren’t present in homeschooling environment. There’s no difference in achievement between sexes, income levels or race/ethnicity.
Recent studies laud homeschoolers’ academic success, noting their significantly higher ACT-Composite scores as high schoolers and higher grade point averages as college students. Yet surprisingly, the average expenditure for the education of a homeschooled child, per year, is $500 to $600, compared to an average expenditure of $10,000 per child, per year, for public school students.
College recruiters from the best schools in the United States aren’t slow to recognize homeschoolers’ achievements. Those from non-traditional education environments matriculate in colleges and attain a four-year degree at much higher rates than their counterparts from public and even private schools. Homeschoolers are actively recruited by schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Stanford University and Duke.
Nor do homeschoolers miss out on the so-called socialization opportunities, something considered a vital part of a traditional school environment and lacking in those who don’t attend regular schools. On the contrary, those educated at home by their parents tend to be more socially engaged than their peers, and according to the National Home Education Research Institute survey, demonstrate “healthy social, psychological, and emotional development, and success into adulthood.”
Based on recent data, researchers such as Dr. Brian Ray ( “expect to observe a notable surge in the number of children being homeschooled in the next 5 to 10 years. The rise would be in terms of both absolute numbers and percentage of the K to 12 student population. This increase would be in part because . . . [1] a large number of those individuals who were being home educated in the 1990s may begin to homeschool their own school-age children and [2] the continued successes of home-educated students.”
- See more at:

Monday, July 29, 2013

The first of many, I hope?!

It has been since Queen Victoria that the royal family has sat with four generations.  I hope that this occasion will renew our appreciation for children and for the vocation of parenting.

Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge, 3rd in succession to the British throne. Surely everyone in the empire is delighted: his great-grandmother, the Queen; his grandfather, the Prince of Wales; his parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; and even the British public (though surely a few naysayers and anti-monarchs are complaining).

I hope for many more children from the Duke and Duchess.  Wouldn't it be grand if they filled the palace with children!  Perhaps it will take a highly visible couple like these royals to remind us commoners that children a good, a gift from God and a blessing.  Our own birth rate among Lutherans is abysmal.  It is as if have all become environmental extremists who believe that death is preferable to life when it comes to humans.  We are not the enemies of creation (unless we exercise poorly our role over the good earth God has given us to have dominion over).  Children are not a blight upon creation or enemies of conserving the good earth.  People are God's joy and delight and He calls us the crown of His creative work.  It is for people Christ was incarnate, suffered, died, and rose again.  It is for people God has called us to pray "Our Father".  Let us honor the Lord, be fruitful and multiply, bringing these babies to know Him in baptism and to love Him in faith.  It seems that we have forgotten this fundamental fact.

Prince George.... he may become king but I hope that first of all he is one among many siblings -- if only for the symbolic value his birth signifies to a world of people who have forgotten that children as gift and blessing from God.

Choice or Calling. . .

A discussion held with various people over several years prompted by several subjects has seemed always to confuse choice with calling.  Though I am sure I articulated this distinction poorly in each case, I have begun to see how we equate choice with calling and calling with choice.  It undermines the whole notion of vocation (a big thing for us Lutherans) and it reduces calling to a mere decision.  Perhaps it is the prevalence of decision theology churches where I serve or it could simply be our desire to reduce all of life down to a matter of choices but vocation is not the same as a decision.  If there is any real tie between vocation or calling and decision it is in the realm of consent.  We consent to the vocation that has come to us from God; we do not choose it as one among several or many options.

The calling of the prophets were certainly not exercises of choice for those called.  They found excuses to justify why they believed they were the wrong people.  They gave reasons why they lacked the necessary qualifications to serve.  At least one ran away in the hopes of escaping the call.  In the end, for good or for ill (in earthly terms of success and happiness, at least), they consented to the call of God.  Not all were as dramatic as a Jonah but these prophets did not choose their vocation.  They gave their consent to the call of God.

When Blessed Mary heard the angel's word, she heard a call that she feared as well as did not seek.  She did not choose this call from God.  She consented to the will and purpose of God.  It became more than her duty; it was her delight.  As time unfolded before the wondrous birth, the Lord revealed His purpose and secured her in the grasp of His grace.  When this call left her wounded and grieving before the cross on which her son died, we see that this call and her consent were not merely to a birth but to a way of life.  In the Temple at her purification and the Presentation of our Lord, hint of the cross she would bear because of Jesus was given her.  She did not run but pondered it all in her heart -- perhaps the best euphemism of faith wrestling with the hand and will of God we can give.

Though these are the great examples, the Scriptures are rich with other stories of God's call, of the faithful consent of the people, and the unfolding of His will and design.  Sarah and Abraham also come to mind.  Yet today we tend to think of these more in the realm of choices and decisions than call and consent.  We have choices before us.  We may pray for God to help us make the right choice but we tend not to see these in the context of God's call.

God calls some to marriage and some to celibacy.  These are not rational or reasonable choices we make for ourselves.  Rather we give our consent to God's calling.  Maybe in a world within sin and death the calling would be different.  Of course it would.  Sin has both made us suspicious of God's call and changed the parameters of that call.  But even sin does not silence God's call or remove vocation from the vocabulary of our Christian faith and life.  Chastity has often been seen merely as a choice.  I wonder if it is not better framed as a calling.  This calling does not come to us because we seek it.  It seeks us.  Just as in the marriage rite consent to be wedded is the center of the promise, so in celibacy or a chaste life consent is at the core and center of this calling.  Both vocations have the blessing of God attached to them but in different ways.  Both vocations are noble and virtuous.  Neither of them can (or should) be defined as a choice based on the circumstances of the moment, subject to change, and conditioned upon new choices and options coming down the line.

It is only vocation that makes sense of why some who long to marry find no spouse and why some who burn with desire for children remain childless.  In the midst of our imperfect world, distorted by sin, God intervenes with the call of vocation.  There are many who have gifts and abilities given by God that are not the gifts or abilities they would have chosen for themselves.  It is the great dilemma of our sinful world that we are jealous and covet the gifts and abilities of others over our own.  To disdain our gifts and abilities is also to disdain the calling of God for He works at least in part through these.

In the past the barren were marked as failures.  Today parenthood is more likely to be seen as an irrational sacrifice of self.  We remain confused because we insist upon calling these choices and we refuse to see, even as Christians, the hand of God at work.  So, for example, the homosexual seem to hear nothing but "no" from God and from the Church.  Justice insists that they have the same right to choose as anyone else.  In the midst of all of this we have forgotten.  It is not about a choice, much less a choice between love and intimacy or loneliness and misery.  The chaste life is also a calling and vocation from God.  It is not about what is lost to the chaste but what is gained, not about a choice forced by desire or biology or even choice but consent to a calling.

St. Paul heard the call of God on the Damascus Road.  It came not as a gentle nudge or aha moment but as the end of one life and the beginning of a new life.  He could not choose his life but he did consent to the call of God.  We hear the story of that call several times through the church year.  What we hear is not some unique situation but the how faith come to all -- through the call of God working through the means of grace by the power of the Spirit.  What is equally true is how God calls us to live our lives of faith out in the world.

God does not call the equipped, He equips the called.  Vocation is not a path to avoid dependence upon the mercy of God.  It is the path on which the mercy of God is most essential.

I fear that we have placed an impossible burden upon our children by framing nearly everything in life as merely a matter of choice.  In the end we have also distanced them from the contentment and peace that goes to the hearing of God's call and our consent to His will and purpose.  Without this, life is truly random and subject to chance with God merely an aid for emergencies instead of the vocational director of His people working in all things that which is pleasing to Him and good for us all...

Just a few thoughts. . .

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Not Sufficiently Religious Or Lutheran....

It seems some employees of Pacific Lutheran University wanted to be represented by a union (I believe the adjunct faculty members).  They desired representation by the Service Employees International.  Now the Supremes (Court that is) deemed all religious institutions to be beyond the scope of the National Labor Relations Board.  So the story ends there, right?  Not quite.  It seems the person who adjudicates claims has decided that Pacific Lutheran University is not religious enough to claim religious exception and not Lutheran enough to possess real Lutheran identity.  Hmmmm.  What do you think of that?

Read it all here...   I have copied a couple of paragraphs to whet your appetite. 
In his Pacific Lutheran decision, Seattle-based Ronald K. Hooks, regional director for the labor board, said NLRB jurisdiction does not risk church-state entanglement because the university is “inspired by Lutheranism”  but emphasizes academic excellence and “acceptance of all faiths (and none) and  explicitly de-emphasizes any specific Lutheran dogma, criteria or symbolism in its public communications.”
Hooks continued: “It may be that providing a rigorous liberal arts education  fosters searching inquiry and comports well with Lutheran tradition, but doing so does not make the university a religious institution.” He based his ruling on several observations about the university’s funding, governance structure and values. First, even though Pacific Lutheran is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and own[ed] by its regional congregation, it receives only about $200,000 annually, or a “tiny percentage,” of its funding from the church. And even though just over half of Pacific Lutheran’s regents must be Lutheran, some of whom must be ministers, he said, “neither the church nor the congregations are involved in the day-to-day administration of the school.”
No members of the administration or faculty are required to be Lutheran, he noted, and although various university events and publications reflect its Lutheran history, its mission to educate “makes no mention of God, religion or Lutheranism.”
Like so many "Lutheran" institutions of higher education, they claim a Lutheran heritage but manifest little evidence of Lutheran identity.  They do not give any preference for Lutherans in students or faculty.  They do not require any particular classes because of their Lutheran identity.  They do not focus their life around Lutheran worship or chapel in any significant way.  They are, for all intents and purposes, entirely secular universities with small Lutheran quirks and a few vestiges of a once vibrant Lutheran past in order to keep the cash flow coming from aged Lutherans who went there when it was distinctively Lutheran.  It seems that the government is on to them... but... sadly, the Lutheran people and Lutheran churches are too sentimental to see the obvious.

While Missouri's schools are decidedly more Lutheran than ELCA schools, it is distinction by degree and not necessarily by fundamental difference.  Some are much more overtly Lutheran (in part due to the higher percentage of Lutheran church work students); others less so.  The whole state of Lutheran higher education is one we probably need to address among the various Lutheran jurisdictions but we will probably not -- except where crisis forces us (Ann Arbor).  It does not have to be this way.  But as long as we leave them on their own to follow the financial trail to a balanced budget we in the churches have less and less room to complain.  I think that the Missouri schools and their administrations are trying mightily to reconcile the divergent courses of Lutheran identity and mission and financial success.  I think that some ELCA schools have largely succeeded in positioning themselves as a privileged class of ivy league religious institutions (Gustavus, St. Olaf, etc...) and are in good position to remain while others have died or are dying (Wartburg, Dana, etc...).

So what are we to do?  Refocus our attention upon the larger goal and purpose of our Lutheran institutions of higher learning and step up to the plate both in terms of financial support and student recruitment might be a good place to start...

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Making the Church Attractive. . .

In an exchange between Pope Benedict XVI and a journalist, the Pope was asked what Catholics could do “to make the Church more ‘attractive’ to the modern world.”

“The Holy Father responded: ‘I would say that a Church that seeks to be particularly attractive is already on the wrong path. Because the Church does not work for her own ends, she does not work to increase numbers and thus power,’”

The Pope spoke of the unchanging truth that is the Church's proclamation and the reason for her existence.  She is charged with speaking this unchanging truth in season and out of season, when popular and accepted and when unpopular and rejected, when fashionable and when out of fashion.  She is judged not by the transient standards of relevance but by unchanging standard of faithfulness.

As a parent I fully understand both the temptation and the answer given by B16.  As a parent I want my children to think like I do, to come to the same conclusions I have, to make the same decisions I make.  Every parent does.  But even more than this, as a parent I want to be loved and liked.  The great temptation of the parent is not that you want what is good and best and right for your children (or that you want the good, best, and right to be what you define it).  No, the great temptation is to sacrifice what is good, best, and right only to be loved, appreciated, and liked.  To put it bluntly, we are tempted not to behave as parents because we want to be our children's friend.  We believe that if we just explain ourselves enough, our kids will agree with us, do things our way, and we will not have to be "hard".  We forget that our kids resent the explanations about as much as they do our "no" to their "yes."

B16 is suggesting to the Church what every parent knows on some level.  It is more important to be the parent than to be friend to your kids.  It is more important to be respected by them than to be liked.  The Church's great temptation is to want to be liked.  We want people outside the Church to find us attractive, fun, and exciting.  We want the world around us to think of us as really great, fun loving people.  Our Achilles' heel is that desire for people's affection when our purpose, our identity, and our calling is to be faithful.  That faithfulness often, more often than we want, requires us to say "no" to the yes of the heart, to speak honestly when people would settle for a pleasant lie, and to address wrong when we all would prefer to live in the fairy world of "you're okay, I'm okay."

Let me say upfront something B16 did not say but could have.  There are people in the Church who are permanently discontent, who make everything an argument, and who frown before the world instead of showing the holy joy of our Lord.  No one is saying we need to be disagreeable just for the sake of being disagreeable.  What B16 and every wise Christian knows is that if given a choice between the unpleansantness of being faithful and rejected or being silent and loved, we must always choose being faithful.

Honestly, there are some in Lutheranism, some very smart people and Pastors, who are disagreeable, hard to get along with, and unrelenting about everything.  They make every hill a hill to die on and cannot accept or trust any answer but theirs.  Some people think I am like that.  Speaking just as honestly, there are Lutherans who treat their faith as a flavor of the day for those who happen to like it.  They never die because everything is always negotiable and they never say a discouraging word.  Neither of them due justice to the Great Reformers who risked all when being quiet might have been a whole lot easier.  Lutheranism is not disagreeable.  It is positive and positively joyful.  But it is also faithful and chooses faithfulness over silence, truth over lies, every time.

The funny thing is this.  If we were more faithful, we might also be more attractive to the world.  The world is not attracted by lies, even the ones we like.  The world respects conviction and needs (even if it does not always desire) truth.  The whole goal of Lutheran confession is to speak the truth in love, not self-righteously but as servants of the Servant Lord.  We have had a couple of generations of tilting more to the "I'd rather be liked" end of the spectrum and it has gotten us little.  We have bled off ministries and people and done less with less.  Maybe B16 is exactly right.  Maybe we need to try being faithful.

Behind all the missional, church growth stuff is the conclusion that the world does not like us as we are, does not think we are attractive, and does not find us "fun".  Therefore we need to change to be more what the folks outside the Church would class as winsome, attractive, and fun.  It is a methodology that proceeds from an inherent insecurity about who we are.  It is always doomed to failure.  Every success story comes from those who play from their strength.  Our strength is the Gospel -- full, true, and undiluted.  Maybe we ought to try leading with the full counsel of God's Word -- the sad truth and the joyful truth.  They are not two truths but the one saving truth that is Jesus Christ.  We get nowhere by skipping the Gospel and speaking the Law and we get nowhere by speaking the Gospel and skipping the Law.  The only winning solution for us is to be faithful, joyful but faithful. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

We can wait. . .

Sitting in the convention hall for the 65th Convention of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is, if anything, a lesson in patience.  Since I am by nature an impatient person, appreciating waiting is something I have learned and must continually re-learn.

The hall was filled with people who wanted to speak.  Some of them even had something to say.  Many of them were filled with a sense of urgency and passion as they made their way to the microphone.  I have a few things to say, too, but I am not sure much of what is said at a mic at a church convention moves many of the folks sitting there.  Most of my speaking was in huddled corner conversations.  If you watched, you did not see me at the mic.  I did not expect you would.

Urgency and passion are good and in short supply in our church body.  They are often the virtues of the young and the old have grown more reticent and even complacent.  Every church group should have a mix of both.  Yet I know the Kingdom of God will neither come nor be prevented by the actions taken by our church body assembled in convention.  It is not that the business there is not important.  It is.  It all has its place.  But I have learned to appreciate the longer view.

Was it Thielicke who said the one who has the final victory can endure the next few minutes?  I think it was, anyway.  There is great wisdom there.  The Church does not move quickly enough for youth and moves way too fast for the aged.  That will never change.  I think that some of the votes were significant and I appreciate the importance of some of the resolutions.  I think we elected a good crew and I have more confidence in my LCMS national leadership than I have had for a while.  But... at the same time, the LCMS will neither make the Kingdom come or keep it from coming.  The Lord of the Church works through the means of grace and He accomplishes His purpose where that Gospel is purely preached and the Gospel rightly administered.  The normal place where this happens is not in convention halls (though I would have had us receive the Lord's body and blood there every morning if I had my way!).  The usual place is where two or three or hundreds are gathered in the Lord's name, on the Lord's day, around the Word and Table of the Lord.

We can and should act.  As Luther said, "something must be dared in the name of Christ!"  But we must never lose sight of how the Kingdom comes.  And we ought not disdain the patient perspective of faith that waits upon the Lord even while doing what the Lord has bidden us do in His name.  We have the final victory.  We can endure the next few minutes, the next few hours, the next few days...

As the Christians we come praying "Thy will be done" even as we pray "Thy kingdom come."  We know the outcome of the faith, we have the final victory, we can make it through the ups and downs of this moment.  God willing.  God help us.  Amen.

Come as you are. . .

Recently I got a bulletin from a member who had visited another Lutheran parish will away.  Tucked among the announcements was an encouragement to "come as you are."  The point was made that it is summer, that we all have plans, that dressing for what you plan to do following worship should not preclude you from worshiping (even if it is a trip to the beach).

Another member said that they attended another Lutheran parish in which an announcement was made "we are not one of those stuffy churches" that worries about what you wear, about carrying in drink or food into the nave (make that sanctuary, no, make that worship space), or constant posture changes (standing, sitting, kneeling, etc...).  We want you to be comfortable.

Funny though... We may come as we are but God does not leave us that way very long.  Jesus speaks of the Church as the wedding celebration in which the Lord provides us clothing.  Remember what happens to the one who is not wearing what the Lord has provided?  Yeah... not a good out come.  Furthermore, baptism is all about clothing that covers up how we came.  How we come is unworthy of the Lord and offensive to Him.  He takes us and clothes us with Christ's righteousness because even our best efforts are not good enough.  On judgment day the Lord will tell us when the naked were clothed and rejoice in this small act of mercy.  Come as you are does not appear to fit in with the Scriptures.

Finally, the idea that God wants us to be comfortable seems equally at odds with His Word.  He speaks to us the Law to make us squirm.  It is exactly our comfort and ease with who we are that is must be addressed.  The mirror of the Law accuses and makes us uncomfortable -- so uncomfortable that we want to cover up.  Thankfully, the Lord covers us not with a robe of our own choosing but with the forgiveness that overcomes sin's stain and the righteousness of Christ that accords us well before the Lord.  Our comfort level seems hardly God's concern.  Instead, our redemption is His concern.  In order for us to be redeemed, He must address us with the Law and afflict the comfortable that we may be comforted with the Gospel of the cross.  Christ has not come for the comfortable, the righteous and secure in themselves but for the sinner who cannot bear the weight of his or her guilt, for the sick with sin even to death who yearns for life, and for the lost who cries in the darkness for His light.

Contrary to those who insist God does not care what you wear, the Church has a dress code.  We come in the clothing of Christ's righteousness.  When we dress appropriately we are not trying to impress God or compete with this gift of king's clothing.  No, instead we dress appropriately precisely because we recognize what God has done.  We dress up not to cover up our sin with our own tattered rags of righteousness but because we acknowledge the clothing of Christ's righteousness as gift and blessing.

I do not tell people what to wear but there have been many times I wish I had the nerve to tell them what not to wear.  I challenge the nothing that we have no dress code and I applaud the idea that tasteful and modest clothing befits those who enter the holy ground of God's house to meet the Lord where He may be found...

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Props and visual aids. . .

I was asked once if I used visual aids in my sermons.  I replied that I did not.  I left it at that.  The person asking got my drift but did not appreciate the answer.  It seemed the question was less a query than it was an encouragement suggesting I ought to use them.

I was reminded of a story, factual though the names have not been used to protect the innocent, from a preacher preaching a sermon in a highly liturgical church.   Homiletic props were one of his specialties. This priest who once placed a box of dog excrement at the top of the nave and, after wandering around it, asked parishioners to guess the contents. When no one understandably could, he let them in on his secret and said, “Sometimes you have to walk through a lot of this to get to Jesus.”

Uhhhh...  Well...  I would say visual aid not needed.  But that might just be me...

It seems that over and over again when we fear the Word will not do what God has purposed it to do, we come up with gimmicks that we think will bolster the Word, assist the Word, give added weight or relevance to the Word... but when we do this, we nearly always detract from the Word so that the preacher, the preaching, and the Word preached is diminished as a consequence.

If I might be allowed, the poor folks in the pews have to walk through a lot of the above named visual aid and too much of it comes from the people charged with preaching the Word.  Drama is no substitute for faithfulness.  Gimmicks are no substitute for faith.  Being infamous is not the same as being memorable.  The first job of the preacher is to get out of the way of the text (Word).  Have I said enough?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How could I have missed it. . .

May 29, 2013, marked the 560th anniversary, according to the new calendar, of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks and thus ushering in centuries of persecution and martyrdom for thousands of Orthodox Christians under the Turkish Yoke. 

Greeks and Latins alike, crowded into the great church to pray together for their deliverance. Common fear and common danger worked more of a wonder than all the councils of the church. Orthodox bishops, priests and monks who had loudly protested that they would never again set foot in their cathedral until it had been purged of the Roman pollution, now came to the altar to join their Catholic brethren in the holy liturgy.
Among the celebrants was Cardinal Isidore, whom many of the faithful had branded a traitor and a heretic. The Emperor Constantine came to pray and to ask forgiveness and remission of his sins from every bishop present before receiving communion at the altar. The priest who gave him the sacrament cannot have known that he was administering the last rites to the last Christian Emperor of the Romans.
The last Roman Emperor, the Blessed Great Martyr Constantine XI (Paleologos) died defending the imperial city and the Great Church.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A fine tradition disappearing all over the land. . .

As someone who traveled through LaCrosse many times, it was a welcome landmark to see the hospital structure called Gundersen Lutheran standing just off the interstate.  It was also a reminder to someone whose address is Tennessee that there is still a Lutheran heartland in which the name recognition of Lutherans is high.  Perhaps it was all a myth?  If people in LaCrosse and the surrounding area don't know what a Lutheran is, I am afraid we are in deep trouble in Tennessee!

From the LaCrosse Tribune:

So long, Lutheran. Gundersen Lutheran Health System will drop the word officially Wednesday.
The change is part of the health system’s evolution, with affiliates and subsidiaries beyond its traditional 19-county service area in the tri-states, said Pamela Maas, Gundersen Lutheran’s chief business development and marketing officer.

The name change was announced in December.

The rebranding aims to make Gundersen’s properties and services more clear, with titles simplified to Gundersen Galesville Clinic, Gundersen Health Plan, Gundersen Medical Foundation, Gundersen Tri-State Ambulance and others throughout its affiliates.

Research showed that “Lutheran” in the title confused some people who thought it referred to a religious organization and didn’t realize it was a health care organization, she said.

The Gundersen Lutheran name traces to 1995, when Gundersen Clinic and Lutheran Hospital joined.
“Lutheran” won’t disappear from all of the system’s buildings, Maas said.

“The Lutheran name has long been part of the organization’s history, and Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center will continue to be the name of Gundersen’s hospital in La Crosse,” she said. “People will see the Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center name associated with inpatient and outpatient hospital services provided on our La Crosse and Onalaska campuses.”

Gundersen is phasing in the new name, starting on its website and in education materials and advertising this month. Signs at its various facilities will be installed starting in May and continue through the year.

Note the following:  Research showed that “Lutheran” in the title confused some people who thought it referred to a religious organization and didn’t realize it was a health care organization, she said.

There was a time when the names of Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc... adorned hospitals all over our land.  They did not serve only people of that church body but were widely recognized as exemplar institutions of caring and compassion as well as the  finest medicine.  I think back on Fort Wayne and the three big hospitals there:  Lutheran, St. Joe Catholic, and Parkview Methodist...  Lutheran was a huge and imposing complex of structures, a massive 800+ bed hospital whose name was synonymous with the best in pastoral and medical care -- two aspects of the healing arts long considered intimately related.  In a Lutheran city like Fort Wayne, the name Lutheran rang out familiarity and trust.  The same could be said of the affiliations of Parkview and St. Joe.  But no more.  St. Joe is owned by Lutheran and Lutheran is no longer Lutheran (they did keep the name for precisely the opposite reason Gundersen is dropping it).  They are owned now by a corporate conglomerate of hospitals based down the road from me in Nashville.  I have nothing in particular against corporations.  I am, however, distinctly sad every time a hospital with long standing church connections ditches its ties to become Primera or Avera or anyone of a hundred other made up names to replace the old churchly identity.  Why is Gundersen more identifiable than Lutheran for a hospital and its 19 affiliated health care agencies?

That is the point.  Little by little we are witnessing the demise of the once mostly community based and church affiliation hospitals and clinics that brought quality medical care to a nation of people.  What is more shocking than not in the Gundersen memo is that the name Lutheran was seen to be problematic for a health care organization.  It is one thing for it to be irrelevant but quite another to be an impediment to an institution's reputation as a health care provider.

Perhaps I am ancient, long in the tooth as they once said about old horses.  I regret the loss of these not only for the institutions themselves (many of which no longer offer any real pastoral care to patients -- like the hospital in my city) but even more so for the church bodies, congregational associations, and independent religious organizations which once gave them birth, sustained their life, directed their purpose, and succeeded in their mission of patient care -- body and spirit.  I find the churches today struggling against government regulation and the complex nature of the health care and social service structures in America.  We were once partners in some sense.  Now it seems we are enemies.  The loss is not only for the people served but for the churches and congregations who once saw their mission fulfilled in part by these hospitals and institutions of caring.  It is a sad day all the way around.  Another one has bit the dust but Gundersen was not the first and it will not be the last...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fascinating. . .

Barcelona holds an unmistakable figure of a church, a building seen by some as supremely transcendent and by others as hideous.  I have never been to Spain and have only seen it in video and photos.  What I do see is a fascinating story of vision and faith. Antoni Gaudí’s famous Church of the Holy Family (‘Sagrada Família’ in Catalan) was as much an obsession as an act of faith.  The story of the construction is itself both interesting and fascinating.  You may love it and you may hate it but you cannot deny how compelling the story was and is!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

What has become of common sense?

There is nothing so uncommon as common sense.  It seems we have thrown all caution to the wind and given up common sense.  No where is this more true than when it comes to schools.

Read here about the loss of commons sense and perspective among schools, administrators, and school boards...  Let me rehearse a few of the more egregious lapses of common sense.

I lament the fact that many things that once were the domain of the school principals have become police matters.  Instead of dealing with youthful indiscretions as they should, administrators have acted in fear to defer things to police, the law, and the court.  It is an abdication of responsibility due to fear of lawsuit and because of the unrealistic expectation all education, learning, and play must be adult supervised and directed.

It has happened because we no longer have any perspective on matters of the safety of our children.  We presume that every danger or threat is equal and our response must be equal.  The so-called zero tolerance policy used in ours and many school districts effectively casts a blind eye to any difference between legitimate threat and youthful ignorance or indiscretion.  A kid with a past full of trouble and a good kid who makes one bad choice are treated exactly the same.

We see boogie men where there are none.  At the same time, we fail to see how the loss of childhood innocence, the refusal to allow free play, and the criminalization of all school misbehavior will affect the school and the atmosphere of learning down the road.  In doing so, we fail to acknowledge those threats that are real, having spent our whole time turning the school into a grand scheme to neutralize every extreme and create artificial society of political correctness.

The consistent over reaction of so many have cost the schools so much energy, money, and teaching resources that the basic tasks of education have suffered.  Our schools and teachers are saddled with the impossible tasks of reforming not only the aberrations and extremes of society but also predicting and preventing every possible thing that could go wrong in a child's life.  The breakdown of the family is partially at fault here but so are the unattainable expectations of a people who want to believe that nothing can ever go wrong and if it does it could have been prevented.

Finally, we have chosen to react to these things in this way because it represents a refusal to take responsibility -- not for ourselves or our faults or for the trust placed in us by others.  If we have a rule for everything, then none of us are personally responsible or accountable when a broken rule means something happens that someone might not like.  Our lack of personal responsibili ty has passed on to our children that no one is really responsible so neither should they learn to accept responsibility for themselves or their choices.
  I guess there is only one thing we fear most of all -- a lawsuit.  A litigious society has at its root that none of us are responsible for ourselves but that lack of personal responsibility in no means diminishes our ability to find a lawyer and someone to blame and sue for all that can and does go wrong.  What a great lesson for our children to learn at a young age!

Of course, this is the convenient deception of original sin... that we are contaminated by things outside and our hearts remain pure, that if all are guilty, none are, that if we can turn it into a disorder we will not have to repent, and it we can make it into someone else's fault or responsibility, we can live in the little cocoon of our raggedy righteousness and feel safe and secure....

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Shock and awe. . .

From the inimitable Mollie Z....

On Friday, Angus Dwyer wrote on Twitter:
You’ll never guess what uncontroversial Christian doctrine this Republican candidate and/or office-holder believes!
Yes, friends, it’s that time of month again, when political reporters discover Christian doctrine and write BuzzFeed-style pieces about how outrageous said doctrine is! This weekend’s example comes, conveniently enough, from BuzzFeed’s own Andrew Kaczynski:
Virginia Republican Lt. Governor candidate E.W. Jackson candidate said birth defects are caused by sin.
The headline and subhed:
Va. Republican Lt. Governor Candidate Said Birth Defects Were Caused By Sin 
“It is the principle of sin, rebellion against God and His truth which has brought about birth defects and other destructive natural occurrences.”
Is St. Augustine running for the Republican nomination to be Lt. Governor of Virginia? Because he wrote about this idea a long time ago! As reporter Joel Gehrke gently replied to Mr. Kaczynski:
Don’t most Christians think that the world would be perfect if not for sin?
Kaczynski then appealed to his 12 years of Catholic education to say he had never heard of such a notion. Gehrke provided links to Augustine.  It turns out all sorts of Christians teach and confess that evil is not the result of a loving God but, rather, sin. Just randomly from the Google, for instance, I found this passage on an Antiochian Orthodox Church web site explaining Holy Unction:
Sickness is the weakness of the body as a result of the sin of the world. Sickness is not the punishment from God of personal sinful behavior, per se. We all share in the consequences of sin in this world.
I hope no Orthodox Christians think about running for political office! BuzzFeed is on it!

Such confusion is poor journalism.  Instead of investigating, somebody went off with a half baked comment laughable were it not the ignorance so lamentable...

What is journalism and what is not?  There are a plethora of tweeters and twits using electronic media to presume to be journalists when, in fact, they are plain old lay commenters like me and this blog.  Let me state it clearly here:  I am not a journalist.  Neither are nearly all of the folks pretending to be.  Reader beware.

Such confusion is poor education and catechesis.  Something is wrong when standard Christian teaching becomes unknown or unfamiliar to Christians or those who ought to know what Christians believe, confess and teach.  This is not obscure doctrine but the standard teaching of Scripture, most Christian denominations, and marked over history as faithful and true.

Such confusion reflects a culture in which orthodox Christianity is increasingly suspect.  We live in an age in which the preference is for a generic and vague Christianity which holds few specifics and even fewer tenets; one which is easy to confine to feelings and personal opinion.

Such confusion is the fruit of a relentless effort to accept every aspect of self as natural or intentional, something to be embraced and accepted more than controlled or reformed.  We have made sins into disorders and treat them medically instead of with repentance.  We have turned every flaw into virtue, physical and moral, so that our quest for a pseudo diversity in which everything is tolerated and nothing condemned can be satisfied.

I hope Mollie can intervene to expose what is going on and educate the ignorant but I am betting that more of this is down the road. . . What about YOU?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Thoughts on raising dead politicians. . .

A particularly astute blogger, Jake Meador, has posted a thoughtful piece on the rehabilitation of disgraced politicians.  These once mighty people saw their political futures go up in smoke when moral failure forced them from office and from the public eye.  But not for long.  Many of them are back in the news claiming to be reborn, reformed, and ready to be recycled as public servants.  

The title of the blog is On substitutionary atonement and disgraced politicians and the piece is posted on Mere Orthothoxy.  Let me quote:

In one of the great skewerings of both the Washington political establishment and modern language, George Carlin destroyed politicians–here you should think of Mark Sanford and Anthony Weiner–who are caught in a major scandal, but don’t see why that should disqualify them from future “public service.”
“And we know [he must be guilty] because the next thing we hear from him is, ‘I just want to put this thing behind me and get on with my life.’ That’s an expression we hear a lot these days from people in all walks of life. Usually the person in question has committed some unspeakable act: ‘Yes, it’s true that I strangled my wife, shot the triplets, set fire to the house, and sold my young son to an old man on the train… but now I just want to put this thing behind me and get on with my life.’ That’s the problem in this country… too many people getting on with their lives. I think what we really need more of is ritual suicide. Never mind the big press conferences, get the big knife out of the drawer.”
David Petraeus, Mark Sanford, and the unfortunately named Anthony Weiner,are all seeking restoration.  Some of them have wrapped themselves in the righteous clothing of faith -- as if it were your Christian duty not only to forgive but to elect Mark Sanford.  Some have apologized and sought to put the failure in their past as they ascend to the corporate heights of the finance world (Petraeus).  Some simply tell us to remember them not for their screw ups but for what they did right (Weiner).  Some insist that their failure was not immorality but the refusal to accept the person they were (remember former straight man and New Jersey Governor James McGreevey).  The real question is whether forgiveness requires us to restore them to positions of leadership, power, and influence.  My answer is no.

Ross Douthat, always a thoughtful commentator, thinks similarly.  “I’m a John Profumo man in a Mark Sanford world,” alluding to a former British politician caught in scandal who, rather than pursuing further power after the scandal had faded from public view, spent the next four decades of his life working for a local charity, washing dishes, collecting rent, and eventually became the president of the charitable organization, transforming it into a national institution that served the common good...

Forgiveness does not erase the consequences of our sins.  You can be sorry all day long and that will not make the consequences of your sin disappear.  This is not due to the failing of those forgiving.  It goes to the nature of sin.  But that is entirely the problem.  Most of those caught in public disgrace see their actions less as sins than mistakes.  They acted out of a lack of information, lack of  prudence, lack of will, lack of virtue, but never acted deliberately or intended to hurt anyone.  They simply made a mistake.  They screwed up.  So they apologized.  They worked to make up for it.  They sought to put it behind them.  They leaned from it.  They are better people for having gone through this flaw in character and working through it all.  So they need less to repent than to be given a second chance at virtue.  My point is this.  Since they are not confessing sin and manifesting repentance, it would be presumptuous of us to forgive them (forgiveness is the divine remedy for sin confessed and not for mistakes excused or justified away).  When you make a mistake and try to fix it, the burden is shifted from the guilty to the offended.  It becomes their problem.  I am not ready to accept the burden for the moral mistakes of failed politicians.  However, if they confessed their sin and sought through repentance to be forgiven, I am inclined to forgive them.  Where humility replaces arrogance and pride, I am also ready to give them a second chance.  They dare not offend even more, however, by seeking to pick up where they left off.  It would be better to begin at the bottom again and let their light shine in real service.  Maybe I am a hypocrite but that is where I come down...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Warning: This may make you bleed from your eyes and ears. . .

Please be careful and do not show small children or they will certainly fear the liturgy....   Thankfully the music chosen is not sacred but as secular as the show itself...

BTW I can assure you this will not be included in the worship services of the Convention of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.... though it might possibly be found in the occasional errant congregation. . .

Misreading of Luther. . .

A Roman Catholic blogger, complaining about the state of things in post-Vatican II Rome while he went to seminary, repeated the oft repeated error in saying:  Martin Luther and Protestantism did exactly this: they destroyed the Catholic priesthood by saying that everyone was a “priest”, underlining specifically the universal priesthood of the laity.

I will grant you that a number of Lutherans speak as if Luther replaced the specific priesthood of the Word and Sacraments for the universal priesthood of the laity but they are wrong.  I will grant you that Protestantism in general may be rightfully blamed for dismantling any nothing of the pastoral ministry as it had been known and for replacing it with a functionalism absent sacramental grace but this is wrong and not Lutheran.  I will grant you that Luther has written things that out of context appear to say that there is no real office of the ministry but merely functions that may be assigned to whomever or, in absence of the Church, assumed by any but this is wrong when the whole context of Luther is read.

The basic statement of Lutherans on the sacramental priesthood (vs the universal priesthood which is certainly taught in Scripture but in conjunction with baptismal vocation and not to exclude or diminish the Office of the Ministry) is found in Augustana V and XIV.  Interestingly enough, Rome seems not to have found much problem with either of these statements at the time of their presentation. The Confutation accords these in a positive light.  For the Lutherans inclined to a minimalistic approach, it would do them well to remember that the Lutheran Confessions were not written in a vacuum but in the context of evangelical and catholic confession and practice that the Reformers claimed was both their intent and the appeal of their protest.

It is tiresome when some less informed lump Lutheranism together all of Protestantism.  However, it is sadly understandable when Lutherans themselves are confused about who they are, what they believe, and therefore confess and practice a faith within a church decidedly less Lutheran than their Confessions and, therefore, less evangelical and catholic, and, by consequence, more sectarian.

I can understand (though not excuse) when an otherwise informed Roman Catholic misspeaks about what it is Lutherans believe.  I cannot understand and most certainly do not excuse when Lutherans, ignorant or defiant of their Confessions, choose to speak and act in ways contrary to their identity.  It would seem to me that the only polite thing for them to do would be to leave rather than gut Lutheranism of its confessional identity.  Finally, there are some things about which Lutherans have not spoken dogmatically, certain open questions, if you will, about which disagreement does not hinder unity.  These are few and far between and nothing betrays bias more than when Lutherans who disagree with their own Confessions attempt to turn settled doctrine into these open questions.

So, even though the Roman Catholic blogger should have known better and even thought some Lutherans delight in speaking and acting if this error were truthful, Lutherans did not abolish either the Mass or the sacramental priesthood through which the Mass is brought to the people to nurture, nourish, and sustain their faith.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wrong question. . .

Sermon preached for Pentecost 8, Proper 10C, on Sunday, July 14, 2013.

    There is a certain Japanese American professor at one of our seminaries who is known to answer a student’s errant query with the words "Is wrong question."  In the Gospel for today, a man came to Jesus and asked what about eternal life.  Jesus answered him and the man answered well.  But the next question was different.  "Who is my neighbor?" the man asked Jesus, desiring to justify himself.  To this, Jesus answered "Is wrong question."      `
    Who is my neighbor? It is the right question to us, the one we want to ask when we are not sure we want to love our neighbors.  Instinctively we throw up all sorts of barriers to loving the people we do not want to love.  They are the wrong color or the wrong gender or the wrong religion or the wrong kind of people or have the wrong address... This is the wrong question.  Every time we ask the question "who is my neighbor" we try to divide the world around us into the deserving and the undeserving, those who merit our love and those who do not.  That is always the wrong question.
    Jesus responds with a story which is perhaps one of the most familiar stories in the whole Bible, the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Now only Luke talks that much about the Samaritans. They were an unintended creation of an exile when the Jews who were left and pagans mixed it up, intermarrying and interweaving their faiths.  They were not Jews and they were not completely pagans.  They accepted part of the Bible (the books of Moses) but not all of it.  They worshiped on a different mountain (remember the Samaritan woman to whom Jesus spoke) and they had a different history and identity from the Jews.
    The Samaritans were typical modern day style religious folks.  They kept their faith private and went with the flow.  Because of this, the religious zealots hated them even more.  Not really believers and not really pagans, the Samaritans had a religion even the Romans could like.
    Into this Jesus spoke a parable that made the pariah of a Samaritan into a heroic figure.  The point of Jesus was not to elevate the social status of the Samaritan but to draw attention to the surprise of God’s grace visited upon the world in Christ, the true Good Samaritan.
    God has no enemies except those who make themselves His enemies.  Such is the radical nature of God's love.  For the Lord everyone is a neighbor.  The unworthy, the undeserving, the hateful, the sinful, the hard to love – all these the Lord has loved enough to become the Good Samaritan and walk across the road to us in Christ.  The Lord does not love as a distant admirer but has come near to us and to a world made His enemies by sin and marked for death.  He comes near not to judge but to save, not to condemn but to redeem.
    Where Christ the Good Samaritan is, there is life – even in the midst of death.  Such love is as foreign to our eyes, ears, and hearts as the idea of a Samaritan being a hero to the Jew.  Our Lord has come to us while we were yet sinners and His enemies, waiting not for us to repent but enabling our repentance by His Spirit, loving us before we were lovable.  Sin has so corrupted our hearts that none of us can think apart from the lens of "me first."  Though we may learn to hide our curved into self sinful natures, we cannot eliminate them.  Jesus is the opposite.  His nature is love, love willing to serve, to suffer, and even to die for sinners.  We may be tempted to see ourselves as women sometimes see husbands – raw material that could be made into good.  God loves us not for what we might become but as we are – sinners worthy of death – yet He cannot leave us as He found us.
    Our Lord has not come to demand love of us or to insist that we be loving but rather to gift us with that which we do not deserve.  It is in this love given that the Spirit works.  God does not demand a new law of love from us but to bestow this free love upon us that it may teach us what the commandments could not – the love that puts God first and others before self.  This parable is not about marching orders but about sinful hearts laid open and bare that we they may be made new in Christ.  As soon as we turn the words of this parable to us, the Gospel melts away and this becomes one more impossible demand placed upon us.  But because it is about Jesus, the true Good Samaritan, the Gospel predominates through this story.
    Now if we get it right, our eyes will not be upon us or upon the needy but upon Jesus.  When we see Jesus, we see everything else clearly.  That is the perspective of faith.  We do not look for our good works – not because they are not there but because we see only Jesus and what He has done for us.  Faith focused upon this love also manifests this love and love manifests mercy and this mercy is freely given, not earned; willingly expended and not hoarded.
    The priest and the Levite may be the convenient villains here but we dare not take it too far.  It is more about God's charity than about our lack of it.  The Church is the arena of God's charity – where we receive His love in the means of grace, the Word and Sacraments.  This is the house of the Good Samaritan.  Here we die our death to sin in baptism and are reborn as new people in Christ.  Here we are transformed from enemies of the Lord to His own sons and daughters by baptism and faith.  Here we are fed the privileged food at the privileged place of His table.  And here we are set apart for mercies work to every neighbor.  We come here week after week so that our own unworthiness may be left in the shadow of Christ’s redeeming love.  We come here week after week so that we may learn to focus our hearts on this unrelenting love and when we get that right, this love has its way with us and bears its fruit in our daily lives.
    From the charity of the Lord we experience here in this place, we show forth God's charity to the world.  From the love that has no enemies, we learn to call everyone neighbor.  From the fellowship of the Gospel, we show forth God's fellowship to the world.  Who is my neighbor?  Is wrong question!  All of us are unworthy and undeserving of God’s mercy and yet it is our confidence in that mercy that bids us come today and go forth in the world to be Christ to our neighbors.  Amen

The loss of friendships. . .

My parents are both in their 80s, having just celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary.  Growing up in a small town in Nebraska, I came to expect that life revolved around church, family, work, friendships, and self -- pretty much in that order though often work and family competed for the same place.  In particular, my parents had many friends, close friends, whose own lives intersected their own for their whole lives.  As the children within these friendships, our own lives as individual children were enriched by the deep, abiding, and life-long friendships our parents enjoyed.  I do not mean to say that every one of the children of my parent's friends became the best friends of myself or my brother.  Instead I am observing how the picture of their own friendships shaped our lives growing up and our expectations for life.

I recall how deeply my parent's lives were changed when one of their friends died at age 39.  I knew my physician not merely as a doctor but as a trusted family friend who was as familiar to me and my brother as those whom we called family members.  I well recall the privilege of being part of the whole shebang (campaign to inauguration) when one of their friends became Governor of Nebraska.  I watched as in the freedom of leisure time and in the demands of illness or need, these friendships endured.  Sadly, my folks have buried many, perhaps most of these friends.  New friendships have filled in some of these gaps and some family relationships have replaced the loss of friendships so important to their lives.  They laughed and loved, wept and grieved, counseled and encouraged, played and worked together with these people the whole of their lives.

As happy as I am for those deep and abiding friendships my parents have so long enjoyed, I am sad to say that I have not benefited from the same in my own life.  I understand that moving away from Nebraska to live in New York and then Tennessee has distanced me from the friends of my youth. Most of them also packed up and moved away for job, spouse, or interest so I am not alone in this.  The nature of my vocation as Lutheran Pastor has meant that my closest friendships have suffered geographic distance, intensive devotion to the calling, family needs and responsibilities, and the natural drift of lives headed in different directions.  It is not that I am unfriendly with the friends of my youth, college, seminary, etc...  It is just that the nature of these friendships is very, very different that the kind my parents knew and have known their whole lives.

When I accepted the call to Tennessee, it meant breaking with the deep and loving friendships my wife and I enjoyed in the parish there for some 13 years.  It has to be.  They would call a new Pastor and it would not do for them to have a former Pastor competing, second guessing, or interfering.  I understand it even if I do regret the loss of those once close and dear ties.  Our relationship changed when we moved and another Pastor came.  It was not and could not ever be the same again.  Even as I know that, I grieve the loss still.

As with many parents, new friendships came often through our children.  Little League friendships formed by watching our kids compete on the field and school friendships engendered by school, parent-teacher associations, band boosters, etc... were short term friendships that came and went as our children outgrew both the sports and schools. 

Now I find myself at a certain point in life, thinking about and regretting the lack of life long friendships the kind my parents knew and still know.  I wonder of this is not more common than not.  I wonder how this has impacted the nature of marriage, family -- even church.  Perhaps as a sign of the times or a personal lacking on my part, no matter, but the friendships known by my parents have escaped me and, I think, some of my children.  No matter how understandable or inevitable this is, it is still something I regret and grieve. 

There is a loneliness that has befallen folks like me.  It is not that we are without friendships.  It is rather that the nature of our friendships has changed.  I call and email many folks yet it is not the same as regular time spent together that once characterized friendships known by my parents.  I suspect I am not alone in this.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Why don't Baptists sing. . .

I picked this comment up from another blog in which the subject of Roman Catholics lack of singing was the topic...

I talked with my brother about this. He never sings in church. He’s a Baptist, or at least worships in a Baptist church now, and says that the songs are so evanescent that he doesn’t bother to learn the song du jour because it will never be sung again, just cast aside for another unmemorable song next week. However when a hymn, that he remembers from his childhood, is sung he loves it and chimes in at the top of his voice.

Evanescent... soon passing out of sight, memory, or existence; quickly fading or disappearing.  Good word to describe a practice that agitates against the very purpose of congregational song.  We sing to proclaim, to renew, and to connect our faith (to the saints who have gone before, for example).  When the church's song du jour is trivial, forgettable, and discardable, it diminishes not only the song itself but its content and the very reason for singing. 

When the hymnal disappeared from the home and became the book at the church, we lost something.  When the hymnals disappeared from the church in favor of a screen with a dancing ball, we lost something.  When the praise band took over the chancel and the reigning praise band diva took center stage, we lost something.  Now we have, in many places, raised a generation out of touch with the hymns of their forbearers.  That might not be so tragic except the with it has gone the whole idea of congregational song.  We watch others sing, we listen to their songs, we are entertained by the music instead of drawn into that song until it engages our voice and the witness of text and tune becomes our own even as it belonged to others before us and will be passed on to those yet to come.

It has happened in every denomination.  It has happened because of personal taste, because of theological determination, and it has happened because we lack trained parish musicians.  The music that was once valued for the way it sings the faith is now valued for its style or appeal.  The music that once took heavy theological concepts and framed them in words we could sing and understand (like election) is now valued for its momentary expression of light weight truth sung repeatedly.  The music that once taught our voices as well as our hearts to sing with our forefathers and mothers now sounds like the pop hits of the weekend and nothing like those who went before us ever heard before.

It is not only the men who have stopped singing, we all have... Some may be relieved because they do not like singing (so they say) but the reality is that the consequence of this loss will be felt for generations and will be difficult to recover.