Saturday, August 31, 2013

News on the disintegration of the Episcopal Church

Bishop Iker and Church of the Good Shepherd Win in Texas

Today the Texas Supreme Court handed down decisions in the two ECUSA cases pending before it: No. 11-0265, Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, et al. v. The Episcopal Church, et al.; and No. 11-0332, Masterson v. Diocese of Northwest Texas. In the first case, the Court sided with Bishop Iker's Diocese by a closely split vote of 5-4, reversed the summary judgment of Circuit Judge John Chupp which had awarded all of the property and assets of Bishop Iker's Diocese to the Episcopal Church and its rump diocese, and sent the case back to the trial court. The majority held that the trial court had improperly failed to apply a "neutral principles of law" analysis to the issues. The four dissenters did not disagree with that result, but instead believed that the Court lacked jurisdiction to hear a direct appeal from the trial court's judgment in the case.

Passed on from the Anglican Curmudgeon....

The Changing Face of World Mission

In the old days, mission work was almost as colonial as the politics of the developed nations toward the “third” world.  The folks sharing the Gospel were also those who ran the mission church and they came as strangers to the culture and community in which they served.  I say this not to impugn their motives or their great results but to frame the perspective on mission that once dominated the Church.

Today it is much more likely that the missionaries train the indigenous leaders who will themselves personally bring the Gospel to their communities around the world.  In fact, the last few years have been particularly fruitful for the Missouri Synod in this regard.  Our newest and most fruitful relationships with other church bodies have come not from dialogs toward altar and pulpit fellowship but from invitations from churches to come and help them train their Pastors and church leaders that they may do the work of the kingdom in their midst.

In Missouri we call this the Global Seminary Initiative.  This has born many fruits not in the least of which is the new friendship between the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus.   It may or may not result in altar and pulpit fellowship but it will intertwine our futures in a significant way.  In other cases, this has resulted in altar and pulpit fellowship (the Siberian Lutheran Church).

Few would deny our LCMS expertise in the areas of seminary education and training.  Our history of education (on all levels – elementary, secondary, and collegiate) leaves us uniquely situation to provide these services to those seeking them.  In this way we have the opportunity to broadly expand our reach and influence for the cause of confessional Lutheranism.  Now is the time for us to fund this endeavor more fully so that its fruits may be born here and there.  Right now the whole global initiative has a $1.2 million dollar budget – smaller than many of our medium and large congregations and schools at home.

At the July Synod convention, the LCMS approved this direction but it will not flourish until we in the congregations and as Lutheran individuals get behind it.  This is not checkbook evangelism but providing the resources for a fruitful and influential process by which the cause of truth and orthodoxy within Lutheranism may be fostered.

At my own Mid-South District Convention we cemented our partnership with the Lutheran Church in Tanzania (Southeast of Lake Victoria Diocese) by providing funds so that their Pastors could make their way to one of our seminaries and receive further training.  Though individual congregations (like mine) will continue to partner in brick and mortar work, the long term future will be sealed less by money than by sharing a common faith and confessing together what it is we believe, confess, and teach.  The more we can bring Pastors to our seminaries and strengthen not only the educational background but foster the personal relationship, the better the ecumenical future for both sides of this equation.

I would merely observe that where the LCMS was once the lonely and solitary path have found us suddenly on the cutting edge of the ecumenical endeavor – not because we abandoned our confessional integrity but precisely because of it!  Now this is a place Missouri has seldom found itself and it is a good place to be.  I hope and pray we do not fail to resource this opportunity so that the Lord may bring to harvest the seeds that are sown by this mission effort!

Friday, August 30, 2013

No, but I played one on TV...

The oft repeated joke is no joke when it comes to the Pastoral Office. We have many who are not Pastors – they have minimal training, no formal call, and no ordination – yet act as Pastors on Sunday morning. In the district in which I serve, we have a dozen or so of our three dozen or so licensed lay deacons who play the part of a Pastor, regularly preaching and presiding at the Lord’s Table. Now this is a small district. I  am told that about half the districts of the Synod use such licensed lay deacons.  If they averages say 5 lay serving in place of a Pastor the full ministry of Word and Sacraments, by no means an outlandish number, that would mean in the neighborhood of 100 lay deacons or other laymen who regularly act as the Pastor on Sunday morning. To put that number into perspective, that would mean numbers significantly larger than many of the districts in the LCMS.

I do not say this to impugn the motives of either those who have "authorized" these laymen functioning as Pastors nor those who serve as lay Pastors. My point here is neither to make this about the people or about the individual congregations that feel compelled to choose this path in order to have regula Word and Sacrament ministry. My concern is rather to illustrate how something may appear to be small irregularity when looking at it through a local lens can become a very large abnormal norm when viewed over the scope of the whole Synod.

This is no strange oddity or theoretical issue. As so often happens, what happens on the fringes or in the shadows has serious and significant impact upon the center and what is seen in the light as normative for the Church. We have a history and a regular practice with respect the training, examination, call, and ordination. This accords with the Augustana XIV article of our confession though, as is consistently Lutheran, individual jurisdictions have taken slightly different tacks in their appropriation and description of how these actually work. Some Lutherans have bishops, some have a synodical system, some function with a more presbyteral structure. All, however, have agreed that no one may publicly exercise the Office of Pastor without rite vocatus (regular call). Now, before some commenter takes these words in some minimalistic sense, rite vocatus has always been understood in light of the practice of the day – including not simply a call but a regular call, according to the historic pattern and rite of the Church, preparation, examination,, call, and ordination. The lack of serious conflict on this article noted in the Roman Confutation supports the fuller understanding of what was meant by rite vocatus.

Missouri has never as a Synod defined, established, or regularized the use of non rite vocatus men in the forms now regularly known in districts as licensed lay deacons. What happened in Wichita in 1989 was an aberration whose consequences continue to be felt throughout the Synod and create a circumstance in which was was conceived as an emergency measure has, indeed, become normal in many, I would say, too many places. The many districts who have established and set up regular parameters for such lay service of Word and Sacrament have, in effect, given rite vocatus status, authority, and responsibility to those our Confessions say cannot have it.

If there are as many as 100 or as little as 50 of these lay people serving as unordained Pastors, this is no longer an emergency situation in which extraordinary measures are used for extraordinary situations with extenuating circumstances. It has become a new norm but one that violates what we say in our Confessions cannot be violated.

Again, I do not doubt that these are good men seeking to do good work among good people who truly believe that there are no other alternatives. But as a church body, we have left them in a terrible predicament. We have given them cover, even legitimacy, to that which by our Confession is always irregular and illegitimate. It is always what happens when we let emergencies define regular practice. As a church body, we have done these people and these parishes a grave disservice. Both these men and these congregations deserve something better, a solution which does not give offense to what we say we believe, confess, and teach. These irregular situations have to be answered with a solution that does not require the surrender of our confessional integrity. If we expect God to bless the work of these men and these congregations, we must do better.

Although I am not confident to say that either these sacraments are invalid (not even Lutheran terminology) or valid, what I can say is that they leave room for doubt in the minds of those who are to receive the Word and Sacrament ministry of the Lord from them.  There are certainly those who receive this ministry from them who would insist that they are sure it is valid because they need it, because they believe it to be valid, or because it has been meaningful to them.  I do not doubt their feelings on this but our confidence is not based on feelings -- not even on the competence of those functioning in the place of a Pastor.  Our confidence lies in the Lord, in His Word, and in the order or practice which derives from that Word.  Here is the problem. We say no one can regularly preach or administer the sacraments without a regular call -- this is no invented order of Lutherans but the order reflected throughout Christian history since St. Paul spoke of the laying on of hands to Timothy as a young man upon whom the Church conferred the authority of the Pastoral Office.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Can you help?

The Siberian Lutheran Mission Society which supports the partner church of the LCMS, the Siberian Lutheran Church, is in dire need.  Can you help?

Click here for the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society.

Click here for the Prof. Alan Ludwig - Siberian Lutheran Missionary.

Click here for info on Prof. Alan Ludwig.

Preaching the Paradox to Paradoxical People

Simil justus et peccator is one of those Reformation cliches that we trot out all the time but often leave misunderstood by the hearers.  This does not mean that we are a people at war with an uncertain outcome but rather we are a people who are saints from above through our baptism living out this new life in bodies and in a world still dead in trespasses and sin.  Our new self created in Christ Jesus lives in, with, and under a flesh and blood that must die and be replaced with a glorious flesh like the one Christ Jesus has won and wears for us.  The outer man resists and contends against this new life and it is through daily repentance and this outer man is daily put down that the new man may rise.

One person put it this way.  New software running on old hardware that is dying, waiting for physical death or Christ’s glorious return until the hardware matches the new software and allows it to run unhindered by mortal limits.  So it is the this hardware that must daily be re-booted to prevent the whole operation from coming to a close.

We preach the Law to bring the outer man to repentance and we remind the people of what Christ has done in Baptism so that the new man may be recognized and despair be transformed with the joy and promise of Christ in us.  We also preach the third use of the Law (ala the Table of Duties in the Catechism) so that the outer man may be addressed as the recalcitrant ass (unthinking donkey, folks) that it is, beaten down, and the new creation raised up, yoked with Christ and with all who share this baptismal identity, to do the good works of Him who has called us out of the darkness and into His marvelous light.

Lutherans love paradoxes.  Law & Gospel...  Sin & Forgiveness... Death & Life...   But we have forgotten that we ARE paradoxes.  We are not who we were but not yet who we shall be.  We are sinners condemned and saints born from above.  Repentance is nothing more and nothing less than the acknowledgment of this paradox.  When we abandon this paradox and choose one or the other, we always follow the path of error.  If we are only sinners hearing only the Law and feeling the full weight of our guilt because of sin, we are dead – not the dying but the already dead.  If we are only the saints free and living as antinomians bounded by nothing except possibility (like the liberal Christianity we so often find), we end up so full of ourselves that we are equally dead (not dying but already dead).

Sunday morning means preaching the paradox to a paradoxical people and in this way simil justus et peccator is lived out not as a theory or image but the practical and daily living out of our new lives in Christ lived within the framework of a mortal flesh and world at odds with this new identity.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Romance of Objectivity. . .

One of the great myths of history and the great pursuits of people is objectivity.  We are in love with objectivity.  We list ourselves as independents (as opposed to Republicans or Democrats) and think of our selves as the grand masters of objectivity, a people who have transcended the realm of ordinary in which labels and identities matter.  Nevermind the fact that nearly all independents actually fit quite well with one of the two major parties.

As Christians we have adopted the world's great illusion of an objective mind as the purest form of human thought and reason.  So we place ourselves over Scripture and decide what is truth and what is not, what is grain and what is chaff, what is once for all and what is passing for the moment.  Roman Catholics have labeled the church and its hierarchy as some ominous and impure force and the cafeteria Catholic is much more sophisticated and pure than the one who pays much attention to the church's teaching magisterium.  Lutherans have the same kind of buffet mentality (for ethnic reasons we are less cafeteria Lutherans than smorgasbord ones).  We think of those who take things seriously as less educated, less sophisticated, and less noble as people.  It is good, right, and salutary for us to be skeptical, without a herd mentality.  I suppose it could be said for most denominations.

But the myth of objectivity is truly a myth, even a lie and deception.  While we like the image of the non-conformist, we all conform.  It is only a matter of to what or to whom we conform.  We cannot be what we cannot be.  We are all captive to a certain lens.  Which lens it is -- that is the real question.

Before Scripture we find ourselves either of those who confess the Word of God is true forever or those who find it not true or not eternal.  Before the church, we either believe, confess, and teach as those who are convinced of the truth or as those who remain unconvinced about some or all of that truth.  To what and to whom we conform, that is the real issue.

Youth is perhaps more attuned to the illusion of nonconformity than old age but that is perhaps due to the way we have schooled them to walk to the beat of their own drummer, listen first and only to the voice of their own hearts, and to be true to self above everything else.  Listen to just about every graduation address and you hear the same drivel.  Fortunately, most folks at graduations are not listening (could it be that they have already heard it all before and incorporated the myth into their world view?).

Non-conformity is an illusion, a rarity if it exists at all.  The greater question is always to what or to whom do we conform.  Here is the genius of Christian freedom.  We are set free in Christ not to be non-conformists but so that we may conform, by the Spirit's grace, loving the Lord and our neighbor, seeking to do His will out of joy and not fear of punishment, and doing good works from a cheerful heart and not a sense of undesirable burden.  We are free not to be free but to live in subjection to the only One who is the way, the truth, and the life, the One who alone bestows forgiveness, life, and salvation, and the One who elevates this service to its full and noble character in the baptismal vocation lived out in Christ.

I think it is high time we stopped trying to teach our children the illusion of objectivity and the lie of non-conformity and taught them the one freedom worth having -- that which makes us free to become what we were created and redeemed to be. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What does acceptable worship look like?

Sermon preached for Pentecost 14, Proper 16C, on Sunday, August 25, 2013.

    Ever since Jesus spoke about worshiping Him in Spirit and truth, we have wondered what that kind of worship looks like.  Today the writer of Hebrews appeals to us to offer God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, remembering that our God is a consuming fire – in other words, reminding us that there is also unacceptable worship.
    Generally the fall lines in historic worship wars have been drawn between ceremony and sincerity, as if we must make a choice.  The pietistic movement deeply affected Lutherans in the last couple of centuries until suddenly, coming to America, we were ashamed and embarrassed by outward ceremonies and rituals.  We refurbished our church buildings to look like Protestant America and soon we bought into the false idea that it is the worship of the heart that pleases God and it does not matter what you do outwardly.
    It is not Lutheran to pit faith and act against each other.  It is not Lutheran because Jesus insists it is wrong to make worship outward like the Pharisees (without faith in the heart) but just as wrong for only inward worship (as if what we do matters not).  As James says, faith that does not show itself in deeds is dead.  So we wade into this today.  What does acceptable worship look like?  How do we do it?
    Hebrews introduces acceptable worship with a “therefore”  – in other words, something has to happen first.  Worship does not begin with us.  It is because we have received a kingdom which cannot be shaken, the fruits of Christ's own redeeming acts, worship is possible at all.  Were it not for God's mercy in Christ, no one could offer the Lord acceptable worship.  So we come in Christ, only in Christ the Word made flesh, as a people once dead and now alive in Christ, and free in Him to fulfill God’s bidding.
    We did not seek this grace out but God showed His grace to us while we were yet sinners and His enemies.  God came to us in His Son.  Christ invited us into the Kingdom of God where no one comes by right.  We heard this invitation through the voice of the Word and we received it in the water of baptism.  Christ and His work upon the cross was sealed to us and we do Him.  This is His doing always and only.  We come then to worship because God bids us come, with the promise of His mercy.  Church on Sunday morning is not a voluntary activity.  Those who come are here because they were bidden by God.  It is not an accident but the fruit of His Word.
    So we come because Christ is here.  We come because His voice speaks through His Word to impart the blessings of His death and resurrection.  We come because we are the baptized, whom He has joined to Christ’s death and raised up with Christ in His resurrection to new life.  We come because that Word is given to us as food at His Table.  There in bread and wine we meet Christ, giving His flesh to us and His blood to drink, because this is the food that imparts His life to us.  His flesh is real food and His blood real drink.  We come because in Word and Sacrament Christ is here.  Because Christ is here, we come and our worship is acceptable.
    We apprehend Christ by faith prompted by the Spirit.  The Spirit enkindles in our hearts the desire for His Word and Sacrament and here faith and act are married together and met by the promise of God.  His voice once shook the earth and now it speaks in mercy to the sinner for forgiveness and in grace to the dead for life and life eternal.
    This is the therefore that must be there before anything we do enters in.  Acceptable worship does not begin with you and me but with Christ and what He has done and continues to do for us and our salvation.  Only those who have heard His Word and believed can render to God acceptable worship.  Spirit and truth is not some cryptic code but faith.
    Faith meets God where He is.  Not in the shifting sands of emotion nor in the murky darkness of the human heart but on the firm ground of God's Word that speaks and what it says is done, and God's sacraments that impart His promise in earthly element of water, bread, and wine.  We do not believe in an idea of God but in the incarnate Jesus Christ.  We worship not the Lord of our imagination but God who takes flesh to make Himself known to us and save us.
    Faith shows itself in faithfulness.  What God has faithfully served to us in the means of grace, become our witness to the world.  The God who has welcomed us strangers moves us to welcome strangers in His name.  The God who has loved and served us and all our needs moves us to love and serve our neighbor in His name.  Worship begins here in the house of the Lord but it does not end here.  It continues as we take the gifts of God which He has well supplied to you and me and distribute them to others in His name – forgiving sins as we have been forgiven, loving as we have been loved, caring for the poor as we poor have been cared for in Christ. . .
    Acceptable worship is NOT what appeals to us, what we want to do for God.  Acceptable worship is NOT about personal preference.  Acceptable worship pleases God because God has given us what to do in worship.  Repeating back to Him in faith what He has said to us we worship Him and God is pleased.  Receiving with faith His gifts in the Eucharist, we worship Him and God is pleased.  It pleases God to serve us with His gifts in Word and Sacrament and acceptable worship means meeting Him here with faith and then bringing new of what we have received to others in His name.
    Now there are always those who think simple worship is best – without all the fuss of ritual and ceremony.  But if God cares little of outward ceremony and ritual, why was He so explicit about these things in the Old Testament?  Why is the heavenly picture of worship from Revelation so explicit in its ceremony and ritual of the saints worshiping the Lamb on His throne?  Has God who changes not changed?  Of course not.  It was never a choice between words and works, faith and act, sincerity and ceremony.  It was always about both.  The Lord has always come to His people in concrete ways and never left His revelation to a mere matter of imagination or feeling.  So likewise, what we do in worship to Him is not merely the inward nod of the heart but song and service, prayer and praise, heart and hands, eating and drinking... These are the works of worship and with the works of service that begin with God, we return to Him with faith what is His and this is worship, acceptable and true, good and salutary. have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.  See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.  Amen

Not a he nor a she but an it...

From Der Spiegel:

M, F or Blank: ‘Third Gender’ Official in Germany from November
By Friederike Heine

Germany is set to become the first country in Europe to introduce a third, “indeterminate” gender designation on birth certificates. The European Union, which is attempting to coordinate anti-discrimination efforts across member states, is lagging behind on the issue.

The option of selecting “blank”, in addition to the standard choices of “male” or female” on birth certificates will become available in Germany from November 1. The legislative change allows parents to opt out of determining their baby’s gender, thereby allowing those born with characteristics of both sexes to choose whether to become male or female in later life. Under the new law, individuals can also opt to remain outside the gender binary altogether.

Germany is the first country in Europe to introduce this option — Munich-based newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung is referring to the change as a “legal revolution”. It remains unclear, however, how the change will affect gender assignment in other personal documents, such as passports, which still require people to choose between two categories — “F” for female and “M” for male. German family law publication FamRZ has called for the introduction of a third category, designated by the letter “X”.

Just when you think things could not get stranger...  California is set to approve allowing children in school to use the restroom that relates to their "gender identity" rather than their genetic code and physical appearance.  As if not to be outdone in presuming that gender identity is the biggest question of preadolescent childhood, Germany seems to want parents to express doubts about the gender identity of their children from birth.  Hmmm... what does this mean?  How gender indeterminate does a baby need to be in order to become an it?  What if a parent has a boy but decides to raise "it" as a girl?   What could this mean?  How often do you suppose such a classification might be necessary?

Kinda creepy. . .

Lutheranism -- anachronism or necessity

One of my first experiences reading deeper into Lutheranism was Pelikan's Obedient Rebels (prior to his exasperation with Lutheranism and his departure for Constantinople).  I think he got the title just right.  Contrary to other reformers and reform movements who delighted in the opportunity to jettison many of the things they did not like, Luther and the Lutherans were conservative reformers who kept almost everything and ditched only those things that outwardly conflicted with the Gospel and could not be salvaged.  Even in this regard, they were loathe to merely establish new rules and regulations to become the canon laws that would anchor a reformation community to law the way Rome was hopelessly bound to its rules.

What is clear is that Lutheranism (the confession) is always what is essential and the Lutheran Church may or may not be faithful to that catholic confession and may or may not survive, even though the confessions themselves endure because they confess the catholic and apostolic faith.  I am under no illusions about the enduring character of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  I do not want or expect the LCMS to die but if it does, Lutheranism will not die with it.  Those who are fond of saying that Missouri is the only and last hope of Lutheranism should consider again the words of Obi Wan Kenobe.  "There is another..."  And there will always be even when the name Lutheran is not kept but the faith remains confessed!

The pivotal issue for the Reformation is always whether it was a tragic necessity (obedient rebels) or an unnecessary tragedy.  Rome insists that the errors pointed out by the Reformers have been corrected and the patient has healed itself of its infection.  From Trent to Vatican II, from Leo X to Francis I, the assurance is that what was wrong has been righted and what was in error has been corrected and what was contaminated has been cleansed.  Then Francis brings up the issue of indulgences again and Lutherans, even those who had hoped that Lutheranism had outlived its necessity, sigh in pain.

None of us likes being Lutheran (except those who have no more idea of what it means to be Lutheran than they do what the Reformation was really about).  We do not protest what should not be.  We protest what cannot be, what the Gospel cannot allow.  We are Lutheran because Rome has not been reformed.  Oh, maybe not exactly the same errors but Rome is still much the communion that Luther knew a half a century ago.  So we continue to confess -- not so much against Rome or anyone else as much as for that which cannot and dare not be left silent or cast aside like so much historical garbage.  We confess... not that we repeat what was once confessed as if it were merely the fact of our history but to speak ever anew what is catholic, what is evangelical, what is Scriptural, and what is truth.  These are not at odds but of the same cloth.

Whether the Lutheran Church ever gets it right is a different issue over whether or not Lutheranism was and continues to be necessary.  That question goes to the core issue of whether or not Lutherans have confessed faithfully the catholic faith (as the creeds put it).  I will be honest in admitting that I know the Lutheran Church has got it wrong and gotten it wrong over and over again.  But, as Sasse said of Rome, our assurance lies not in finding the perfect church but in finding the Word and the Sacraments, purely preached and rightly administered.  Luther never said the church ceased to exist but that it became corrupt until the structures of the church became almost an enemy of the Gospel.  Yet Rome always had the liturgy, the Word, the Sacraments.  So the Lord continued to work within the muck of error.  What Sasse said of Rome can no less be said of Lutheran churches that have become themselves enemies of the very Gospel they claim to proclaim.

When this error infects the confession, there is little left that makes it possible to restore what was lost and reclaim what was once confessed.  This is Missouri's hope and promise -- our confession remains even where our practice is corrupt and individuals confess in opposition to what we confess.  Where the confessions remains true and pure, the mechanism to restore and repair the church and her structures is there.  Without the confession, what is there left to use to call to account the errors of the church in doctrine and practice?

Lutherans can no more claim the legacy of the past as their redeeming grace than Rome can run from what Trent and others said in conflict with the Gospel and the catholic faith.  Both Lutheran churches and Rome must continually confess, continually reform, and continually repair what error has crept in, boldly walked in the front door, or been allowed to exist unchallenged for so long it is deemed to be truth.

It is not like we have a shopping list which Rome must meet before we can lay down our Lutheran Confessions and swim the Tiber.  It is enough (satis est) is no minimalism of the least amount of orthodoxy that can be found to call the church orthodox.  We are not Abraham arguing for Sodom and Gomorrah.  We struggle not for less but for more always -- within the Lutheran churches and within Rome.  For if the Reformation will ever cease to be needed, it will come when the fullness of the catholic faith is boldly believed, confessed, and taught.  The process is ever and always ongoing.

Lutheranism, if it is worth anything, confesses the true faith and nothing less.  So Lutheranism will endure.  If there are to be Lutheran churches, their only cause to remain must be more than simply "no" to error but the "yes" to what is good, right, and true.  Once they cease trying to be what their Confessions claim, the churches will be anachronisms.  But the faith will endure.

What you do not see. . .

From Terry Mattingly:

Visitors who enter Southern Baptist churches these days will usually see posters and pamphlets for everything from marriage enrichment retreats to tornado-relief fundraisers, from weight-loss classes to drives to find volunteers for African hospitals.

But one thing is missing in the typical church lobby or fellowship hall, according to the leader of the denomination’s LifeWay Christian Resources branch. It’s rare to see appeals for members to join evangelism programs that strive to win local unbelievers to the Christian faith.

“Why is this? It’s hard to say what happened to our commitment to evangelism. … I’m not hearing any answers to this question that go deeper than anecdotes,” said the Rev. Thom Rainer, who, before reaching what Nashville locals call the “Baptist Vatican,” was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

“It’s like our people lost confidence in the old evangelistic programs that our churches had been using for years and years,” said Rainer, reached by telephone this week during the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, held this year in Houston. “That’s understandable, but the problem is that they never bought into anything new and moved on.”

What Terry writes of Baptist congregations is also true of others.  We are told all the time that we need to fill the entry areas with our mission statements, our core values descriptions, our facility maps, signs to point out the quickest path to the rest room or nursery, but for Lutherans as well as Baptists our art is increasingly at odds with our historic faith.  Where are the images that point us to baptism, confession, the Eucharist, and the Word?  I know it is true in my own parish.  We have signs for travel groups, recycling opportunities, out to lunch groups, and a ton of other things but... the signs that point us to the six chief parts of Luther's Catechism or the efficacy of the Word or our heritage as Lutherans are mostly missing or hidden.

Much of the literature in our tract racks has to do with needs (Alzheimers, divorce, anger, porn addiction, grief, and a hundred other subjects).  How much of our literature explains what it is that we as Lutheran believe, confess, and teach?

If the Baptists have forgotten evangelism, they are in trouble, as Terry rightly shows.  But he could just as easily point out the lack in our own buildings and this would point to the way these things have subtly but effectively been dropped from our vocabulary, our confessional identity, and our witness.  We seem more impressed with generic happy talk or other things that point to our success as people than to the means of grace.  And it shows.  It shows even in the halls of vaunted Baptist Vatican congregations down the road and Lutheran parishes near and far.  What we no longer talk about, visualize, or think about is but a wisp of a memory away from obliteration.  Catechesis is ongoing and it happens through words, ceremony, and art, in classrooms and worship and narthex.  We have far to go. . .

Monday, August 26, 2013

St. Callistus. . .

There was a reason why this name was not spoken aloud!
On the plaza of the future Christ Cathedral, 3,000 chairs and 7,000 water bottles awaited the faithful. On Saturday, before Mass welcomed families from St. Callistus Church to their new home, an organizer said into the microphone: "Those sitting in the sun will get more blessings from God."

With those words, the LA TIMES announced that work is coming to completion in the transformation of the old Crystal Cathedral into a real one, the church home of the 1.2 million Orange County Roman Catholics.  Interestingly, the remnants of the Crystal Cathedral folk are moving to the old St. Callistus parish property to rent space there.

One author has listed photos with the silly names people choose for churches.  You can read it here.  Personally, I am not amused by the ridiculous names chosen for churches today.  Fluffy Lamb of Jesus Living Fellowship of Happy People.  Bleeck.  Okay I made that one up.  But I did not make up "The Tribe" or "New Tribe" or "Rhythm" -- these are names chosen for new mission congregations.  Or do you prefer "The Alley" -- also an actual congregational name in Lutheran use.  I tolerate "Victory in Jesus" but it is pushing the limit.  Ditto for "Amazing Grace Lutheran Church".  Worse is "Love Lutheran Church" (usually a name describing what is severely lacking in a parish and therefore always suspect in my book).  My own parish was hardly original (how many million "Grace" this or that denominational name congregations exist???).

I applaud the names of saints as names for congregations.  I believe that this is one way in which we are regularly reminded that the Church was there before us.  We did not invent it and dare not treat it as if it were our personal possession.  The best we can do is to pass it on faithfully to those yet to come.  St. Athanasius Lutheran Church or St. Ignatius Lutheran Church...  Good choices!  It gives you an opportunity to witness the faith when you explain the name.

I also applaud the specialized terms of Christian theology when used appropriately as the names of congregations.  The Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, or Incarnation or Atonement. . .  All good names.  Even Epiphany! 

Names that are chosen because this is what we want to be are always poor choices.  Names that are trendy will be out of step a few years down the road (will somebody raise a question 20 years from now about why they named their Lutheran Church "The Tribe"?).  The same disaffection I have for the name mess for our children I have toward many of the names that people choose for congregations.  It seems nothing brings out the goofiness in a mom or dad more than when they decide to name their daughter "L'tria" or their little boy "DayVonn" (actual names from my acquaintance).  Maybe it is the drugs or the euphoria of having a child.  If that is your inclination, sober up, wait a day, and then pick a name.  The same for congregations.  Don't let the emotional weakness of the moment let you choose a name that will wear poorly and make people wonder what sacramental weed you were smokin when you had that meeting.

St. Callistus.  A good name.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Gender Inclusive Creeds

According to the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide (Australia; July 2013 website):

The new Roman Missal states that the Apostles’ Creed may be recited instead of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan (Nicene) Creed, and especially during Lent and Easter time. We use the Apostles’ Creed as a general practice in our archdiocese because the latest translation of the Nicene Creed still uses exclusive language (“for us men”) to refer to the whole community, even though in the Gloria the same Latin word is used inclusively (“..and peace to people of good will”).  For the sake of inclusivity, our archdiocese has therefore been directed to use the Apostles’ Creed instead of the Nicene Creed as a regular practice.

I pass this on only because of the recent interest in the language of the creed -- some of which was occasioned by this blog and comments thereafter.  Let me express a few comments on the announcement of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese.

The use of the Apostles' Creed is ancient, ecumenical, and good.  It should not grow out of the memory of the people and the surest way to keep this memory a living one is to confess it regularly.  Luther, it should be said, recommended praying (the devotional use of the creed) the Apostles' Creed no less than 8 times a day!  I don't think we are in any danger of over use so I applaud the occasional use of the Apostles' Creed.  We use it here mostly during Advent and Lent (penitential seasons) and for a month or so during the summer.

That said, the use of the Apostles' Creed should not be determined by our embarrassment or discomfort with the lack of "inclusive" language in the creed.  Frankly, I find this just as trite and silly as when Lutherans complain that they cannot swallow the word "catholic" without getting the taste of Roman bile in the back of their throats.  Inclusivity is hardly injured nor is it fostered by the use of man or the lack of it.  Grow up.

Furthermore, the exclusive use of the Apostles' Creed represents its own monumental hurdle for the faith.  The Nicene is the ordinary creed of the Mass.  It has been that way for generation upon generation.  There is grave danger to the erosion of the corporate memory so that the words of the Nicene Creed become unfamiliar to the people of God.  As much as I am concerned about the living memory of the Apostles' Creed through its regular recitation (inside and outside of a setting of corporate worship), I am greatly concerned that the Nicene Creed will suffer the same fate, destined to obscurity within a generation of such a practice and its only offense being that some folks find it hard to say man or men for all mankind.  Such silliness diminishes the faith and trivializes the whole nature of words and conversation -- something in enough trouble even without this decision.

Personally, I hate it when the words to hymns are changed for the same silliness.  If a translation errs with respect to the original or uses an obscure word that has passed from usage, update.  All in all I favor using hymns as they were, with all their foibles and idiosyncrasies.  We live in an age of education in which such simplistic sins should be easily handled by reading good literature and improved vocabulary.  That could not hurt anyone.  

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Whatever happened to the C of E?

I prefer the wedding scenes from Four Weddings and A Funeral to this.... what about you?

I am much in sympathy with the two older ladies who got up and walked out... tis what I would have done!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Bad company....

There are nine nations that permit abortion after twenty weeks: Canada, China, Great Britain, North Korea, the Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, Vietnam, and the United States.

But the U.S., China, North Korea, and Canada are the only four nations in the world that allow the killing of a child after viability (usually calculated at twenty-four weeks) for any reason, or for no reason at all.

In politics you are known by the company you keep.  The USA is in some bad company.  Canada, too.  Why on earth would we want to be grouped with the likes of North Korea or China when it comes to matters of life and death?

Scandalous, indeed.  Okay, all you smug pro-choicers out there... Do you think this makes us progressive or just plain stupid?

Dying of its own success. . .

...we may be living at a time when we are watching Protestantism – at least the kind of Protestantism we have in America – come to an end. It is dying of its own success...  So write Stanley Hauerwas.  You can read the rest of his words here. . .

Hauerwas has an opinion about nearly everything (I guess I am not unlike him there) so not all his opinions are of equal worth (my own self-indictment).  Yet, here I believe he is on to something (at least the sentence I quoted since the rest of his piece is less clear).  Protestantism (not the classic definition here but the popular definition we use to refer to the odd conglomeration of mainline liberal churches, non-denominational evangelical churches, and fundamental churches) seems to be dying.  It is not for its lack of accomplishments.  It has single handedly shaped religion in America, moving away from a doctrinal identity to one defined by behavior, feelings, and self-interest.  Oh, not in a deliberate sense, perhaps, but the fruits of this style of American Protestantism have been particularly poisonous to dogma, authority, and institution.

What I find so funny is that at one time both Roman Catholics and Lutherans worked like dogs to fit into the schema of American Protestantism.  Both groups lived somewhat contentedly within the ethnic and religious ghettos of their immigrant roots until sometime between the world wars and most profoundly following the second or great war.  It was then that both found the opening to enter onto the American stage and become Main Street American religious folk.  For Roman Catholics that came when one ran and a short time later one was elected to be President.  For Lutherans, normally not in the political spotlight, this came when the fruits of our economic success sent us from our neighborhoods and rural cultures into the cities and suburbs.  We wanted most of all to fit in.  Some of us did.

The great movement to become thoroughly American bore its ultimate fruit for Lutherans when the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was born.  Its roots were in a political compromise as much as theological unanimity and it was in love with all things Protestant and American -- social progressivism, size, political activism, and modernity.  The ELCA got what it wanted -- a place at the mainline head table -- only to find out that there were fewer folks there at that table and fewer who actually cared about the table.  In the end, what killed the ELCA was its success in fitting in.

Missouri has always been an outsider but we yearned just as much for a place at some table.  We could not embrace the social progressives or theologically liberal and we were always a day late and a dollar short when it comes to politics, social change, and conspicuous success.  But that did not stop us from eying a place at another table -- this one the loosely fundamentalist and evangelical coalition of the moderately conservative in social values and trending conservative with respect to Scripture.  Though not formally as a church body acting in convention, we have as (at least some and mostly larger) congregations exchanged the stuffy formality of liturgy and hymnody for the pop gospel sound and entertainment ambiance of American populist Protestantism.  Indeed, we were and are at war with the idea of fitting in.  The heart says yes but the theological mind says no.  We fight not others but our own selves in this regard.

Rome (at least in America) thought it had a winner in Vatican II theology, worship, and social teaching.  Whether they corrupted the Council or it was already there waiting for them to run with it, Vatican II provided a platform for Roman Catholics to be almost Protestant Americans.  Sure, it emptied the churches, corrupted the soul, and turned out a corrupt sense of priesthood and doctrine.  Like Missouri, part of this Church got what it wanted with a place at the American table while the rest of the Church worked to remain on the outside looking in.  Rome in America remains a church at war with itself.

My point in this is that we as Missouri Lutherans and Roman Catholics share a common dilemma.  Do we give up our quest to fit in, find a seat at the table, and become thoroughly American?  Or, do we remain on the outside looking in?  It is my fervent hope that we will give up on the dream of becoming authentically American (at least in terms of the grand Protestant ideal (peity?) of size, progressive thought, civic identity, common culture, and worldly influence).  We do not fit in.  The Church never does.  She remains in but not of the world and that is especially true in an America in which a civil religion seeks to co-opt doctrine, liturgy, piety, and morality from the Church and become its own real religion.  Even if we are not fully convinced of the wrong headed goal of this, perhaps the sober reality of the success of American Protestantism that has brought with it the seeds of its own demise should give us pause.

Do NOT believe I am anti-American.  I am truly patriotic.  I pray for our nation, our leaders, and those who make, administer, and judge our laws.  I pray for those genuinely heroic men and women who defend me and the liberty that I so comfortably enjoy.  It is that I believe the success of American Protestantism is as bad for us as a nation and people as it is for American Protestantism.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh was the home of the ELCA Church Wide Assembly last week.  While things were happening in the official program of the CWA, other things were also happening.  Just in case you missed the name of Bishop Guy Erwin, newly elected gay partnered bishop, among those vying for Presiding Bishop, he was there.  He was also there pushing the boundaries of taste, decorum, and orthodoxy.  This from someone the new Presiding Bishop Eaton describes as “one of our most faithful and also scholarly confessional theologians.”

So, pushing the limits, he presided at a "revisionist" liturgy in which everything was gender neutral (including God) and every aspect of maleness was excised -- including the Old Testament reading from Isaiah 56:3-8 in which “eunuchs who keep my Sabbath” are said to be better than sons or daughters.  Not sure how that one fits.  Not even the prayer our Savior taught us to pray was exempt from the funny business.  Father and Mother of us all....  What makes it worse is that the display was an amateur liturgical endeavor with truncated and ill sounding attempts to make neutral every reference to maleness, especially in the references to God. 

Just goes to show you... you get slightly hopeful because a candidate for Presiding Bishop says she wants the ELCA to be more distinctively Lutheran and then you hear of this kind of thing going on by someone who also carries the title Bishop...  When it comes to the ELCA it is hard to say hope springs eternal... at least not when somebody jumps up to smash it down every time it chances to raise up a shoot from the rather dead stump of what still has the distinction to be called the largest Lutheran (?) body in the USA...  Too much pink smoke over Pittsburgh...

You can read an account of it all here. . .

Prone to despair. . .

At one time I was much more in tune to the news than I am now.  I read a couple of weekly news magazines (can you recall when Newsweek or Time were actually NEWS magazines instead of liberal political commentaries - which killed off Newsweek?).  I watched the news at the news hours (5-7 pm with national and local news sharing the two hour slot).  I must confess that the more news outlets there are available, the less I pay attention to them.  Quite frankly, I am sick and tired of all of them.

The George Zimmerman marathon trial coverage was over the top.  The incessant need to make news and then to make this news urgent has taken its toll.  The Zimmerman trial is case in point.  It was tailor made for the media (liberal and conservative) and created a story where, at least locally, there was none.  The paid talking heads and those who feed on exposure (Al Sharpton among them) decided this was a story and the media created one.  When that story ended, the response and reaction to the verdict became the next created story.

Chesterton lived long before this era of routinely manufactured news but he saw it coming.  Common sense, always in short supply but now seemingly absent from the media and news, has turned us all into victims, self-inflicted because we watch it all and hang on every word.  The end result is often despair.  Chesterton says that journalism consists of saying “Lord Jones is Dead” to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.  Even though we did not know Lord Jones lived, we have become sad at his death.  Our grief is perhaps real enough to us but the end result is that we lack empathy for the dead whom we do know.  The Trayvon Martins of this world have sapped all our emotional energy and we are left cold and empty for the lives, sufferings, and deaths of those near to us.  Celebrities (Randy Travis) or wanna be celebrities (Cory Montieth) become the focus of our feelings while we are callous to the suffering and death that happen routinely (as city's reaction to the drug killings so rampant in Chicago).

...the news industry is that it “must be a picture made up entirely of exceptions”. The newspapers, says Chesterton, cannot announce the happiness of mankind at all. They cannot describe all the forks that are not stolen, or all the marriages that are not dissolved, all the murders that are not committed. And so they do not give a normal picture of life at all. “They can only represent what is unusual.”

Recently a person to whom I was conversing asked me if I were troubled by the news.  This person was having trouble sleeping at night for all the terrible news headlines dancing in the mind, fed by the words and images of the media.  I generally do not have trouble sleeping.  Maybe I am a terrible person but I am not tormented by the news.  Despair is one of the fruits of a diet too rich in the news and media; indifference is the other.  Both are bad.

Perhaps the most dangerous thing about our preoccupation with news, bad news, horrifying news, is that we have lost all sense of God's providence, of His presence amid disaster and death, and therefore of the hope that is ours in Christ.  Christians need to take care lest their addiction to the 24 hour news cycle saps their faith of the joy that is inherent in Christ and steals their confidence in the providential care of God and power of His sufficient grace to enable us to stand, to endure, and to persevere.

So I recommend that you be careful what you listen to... be careful what you watch... not because of the agenda of the largely liberal and progressive folks who control most of the news outlets but because our addiction to news, nearly all bad news, is like a cancer upon the soul of the Christian.  The effects of its progress are nearly always a loss of joy, confidence, courage, and peace.  These are already in short supply in this mortal life.  Let us be careful for whom and for what we surrender them.

For me, even my satellite radio on the car is not exclusively tuned to Fox News.  Often, more often than not, after a few moments I end up switching to classical music or to the treasure of sacred music on my I-Pod.  I find that when the poisonous tongue of the news threatens, nothing like Bach or Beethoven or Mendelssohn can restore a little calm and salutary effect to balance it all off.  I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The word is gone but not the reality. . .

When was the last time you read or heard the word illegitimate applied to a child conceived out of wedlock?  Of course it was a long time ago.  We don't talk like that now.  The numbers of illegitimate children are vastly approaching the numbers of legitimate ones so it seems impolite to make a distinction which affects that many. 

There is another word, much less kind, which we still use but we mean something different.  Bastard was once a perfectly respectable though unkind word for the illegitimate.  Now is a perfectly respectable word to us as an insult against someone who has done us wrong.  That word is far more frequent than illegitimate even though we mean something different by it than it once meant.

Marriage has become so unrelated to children and child-bearing that children out of wedlock do not even merit a shrug of the shoulders.  I cannot tell you how many people I know who have had children with several people none of them a spouse nor were any of them ever intended to be a spouse.  Ask any Pastor about the weddings planned so that the illegitimate children of one or both parties occupy one of the official roles in such affairs.  Or ask any Pastor about conducting a funeral (should I have said celebration of life?) for an individual who had many children but perhaps only one or maybe no spouse.  Obituaries have become strange literary endeavors to legitimize the illegitimate even though no one seems really to care.  Even artwork on our grocery items acknowledges this painful reality.  When I dip my hand into Kroger chips to satisfy my salty cravings, the picture on the front shows a family with children of different races -- and I do not think Kroger is encouraging adoption.

Sadly, we are so accustomed to illegitimacy that we now speak of fatherhood and motherhood almost exclusively in terms of the relationship to the child and not even incidentally in terms of husband and wife.  Perhaps a third of the children in most cities in America grow up in a fatherless household.  That translates to something like 10% of our total population.  The percentage is dramatically higher in black and Latino homes.  Some have been troubled enough by this circumstance to try remedies that might increase a fatherly presence.  I can think of one simple one.  Marry the children's mother!  Ah, but that is far too radical!

The lies we love to tell are the ones that mask an unpleasant reality.  If we stop talking about illegitimacy, there will be no more illegitimate children.  Every child missing a parent knows what he or she is missing.  Every child missing a parent would choose, if they could, a home in which mom and dad were both present.  There is a way to achieve this desired result.  It is called marriage.

Funny how we spend great effort and energy trying to remake society on behalf gays and lesbians, a very small percentage of the total population, but we expend hardly any capital on the prospect of dads and moms married and living together.  But, of course, that presents with a problem -- which dad and which mom should be married when the dad has had many children with women not his wife and mom has had many children with men not her husband.  Ahhhh, it seems that the problem Jesus encountered with the Samaritan woman has grown in complexity and we have decided that the only real solution left is to refrain from any labels that might speak truthfully of the situation.  Whatever happened to "go and sin no more?"

Now let me make this perfectly clear.  Illegitimate children proceed from illegitimate parents.  I do not mean this to punish the children but to awaken the adults to their lack of adult and responsible behavior.  One of the best things a dad can do for his kids is to marry, to remain married to, and to be faithful to their mom.  Moms likewise to their children's dads.  It is sad that this has become a novel idea.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My Word is Like Fire...

Sermon preached for Pentecost 13, Proper 15C, on Sunday, August 18, 2013.

    The lessons for today are shocking.  God’s Word is like fire.  And then Jesus describes this fire as inflicting division.  Shocking because the Word of the Lord has become little more than a Hallmark moment – a sweet, sugary, sentimental distraction designed to make us feel better without really doing anything at all.  We have take a strong and powerful Word and treated it as if it were merely a good thought to produce a good feeling in good people.  If we don’t leave church with a tear in our eye or a laugh on our lips, God’s Word has disappointed us.
    From the prophets of old who spoke with fear and trembling "Thus saith the Lord" to the incarnate Word Jesus Christ, God insists that His Word is nothing unless it is power, power like fire, that works both to consume and to purify.  The Word of the Lord accomplishes what it says, both to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable – all for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the salvation of a whole sinful world.  It called creation into being and delivered into the womb of the Virgin the very Son of God in human flesh and blood.
    We are more likely to judge the Word of the Lord on how it makes us feel than what it does.  We are captive to our feelings.  We judge everything by how we feel.  Yet I challenge you to find where God asks us even once, “how does this make you feel?”  God must engage us on a more firm foundation than our feelings.  God engages us upon the solid ground of His Word, yesterday, today, and forever the same, the Word that does what it promises.
    No one remains unchanged by the Word of the Lord.  It does not matter if you see any signs of a change in the life of the hearer or they feel a change, no one remains unchanged when the Word of the Lord addresses them.  Do not be deceived with your eyes.  God's Word is powerful, cutting like a two edged sword, to kill and to make alive.  And all of this for the holy purpose of saving sinners captive to death.  We know God’s Word works because He promises that it works – it does what He commands it and accomplishes the purpose for which He sends it.
    What happens when the Word of the Lord addresses us?  The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the leper is cleansed, the poor rejoice, and the dead are raised to life.  This does not happen because we see it; it happens because the Word of the Lord promises it.  Even when we do not see or feel any evidence, our trust lies in the efficacious Word of the Lord.
    The other side of the spectrum of responses is also there.  Some are left angry, bitter, hardened in their unbelief, and enemies of the Kingdom.  God's Word affects everyone and not merely those who are awakened by the Spirit to faith.  God's Word condemns those who refuse the Spirit's grace for faith.  Scripture is clear.  Do not be deceived.  God is not mocked.  His long memory remembers us in His favor and His long memory recalls those who refuse Him.
    There is no middle ground.  Jesus says repeatedly either you are with Me or against Me.  Revelation tells us that the lukewarm will be spit out of God's mouth on judgment day for their ambivalence.   There is no middle ground.  His Word acts to create friend or foe.  Either He is truth or He is a lie.  Either He is Lord or He is lunatic – there is no middle ground of holy man or moral teacher.  Christ refuses to be anything but Savior and those who refuse Him as Savior end up apart from His mercy.
    The Word of the Lord always brings forth a response.  The oral and written Word of Scripture spoken and read, as well as the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper.  They always act to deliver what they promise, either for the comfort and salvation of those who believe or the condemnation and death of those who refuse Him. 
    We stand before the Word of the Lord with the fear and trembling of a people who know its power to save and to condemn.  The Word of the Lord is like fire.  Fire either consumes or it purifies.  One or the other.  For those whom the Spirit calls to faith and their hearts respond with joy, the fire of the Lord's Word purifies our hearts from sin, leads us to become what He has declared us to be in baptism, and makes us holy and pure in Christ.  We know this not because we see it but because this is His promise.  Even when we cannot see any evidence of it, we trust in the Word of the Lord to do for us what Christ has promised.
    It is the Spirit's fire to burn through the crust of our fearful hearts.  As Luther said in the catechism, "I believe that I cannot by my reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith."  It is God's work by the Spirit working through the Word that I am a Christian at all.
    Hesitant, uncertain, and tentative, our faith is given form in the waters of our baptism, where Christ was sealed to us and we to Him.  Weak, youthful, and vulnerable, our faith is fed by the very body and blood of Christ in this Holy Sacrament.  And the fruit of the Spirit's fire working through the Word and the Visible Word of the Sacraments is that we trust in the Lord, for this life and for eternal life.  But that same fire will consume those who refuse the Spirit's cleansing like the chaff of a field where the harvest has already reaped its fruit.
    The sad truth is that we tend to take Tylenol more seriously that God's Word.  We take the pill and expect something to happen to our aches and pains.  But we listen to God's Word, we recall our baptism, and we come to Holy Communion as if all these have to offer us are feelings, sentimental encouragement, and a happy feeling of something not true or powerless to do what it says.
    Don’t get me wrong.  Feelings are not bad.  But we cannot trust them.  God engages us on the plain of His Word, His Word like fire, that consumes or purifies.  Let me also say that I do not believe that joy is strictly speaking our emotion or feeling.  I believe it is the fruit, the result, of the Spirit opening our heart to His Word.  Joy is the response to that Word, created by the Spirit, accompanying faith.  So that no matter how we feel or what is happening, faith says “amen” to what the Word says and does and the Spirit leads us to the joy that says “alleluia” in every circumstance – because of what God has done for us by His Word.
    Here is where we meet Christ.  In His Word and Sacraments.  Here is where His Word like fire works in us.  Here is where His Word like fire sets us apart for His purpose.  No one is left unchanged by Christ.  It does not matter what you see or think about what may or may not happen.  Baptism works not because we see its effect in the life of the baptized but because Christ says it works.  The Lord's Supper works not because we feel it but because Christ says so.  The voice of the Word works not because we have evidence but because Christ says so.  His Word is fire. No one is left unchanged.  It consumes or purifies.  For His purpose and for our sake.  God grant it.  Amen.

Dying to self feels like dying. . .

We live in a world in which the greatest evil of all is pain.  Whether our relentless pursuit of pleasure, our preoccupation with how we feel, or our conspicuous consumption of pain relieving drugs, we have defined pain as the greater evil, worse than injustice or deceit or even wrong (sin).  It has profoundly affected the way we define medicine and our expectations of the medical profession.  It has shaped our expectations of life and, hence, our disappointment with it.  It has given us reason and cause to allow those in sufficient pain the wherewithal and, therefore, the approval to end their lives, and it has give us pause to consider whether society might act preemptively for those lacking either the physical or mental capacity to end their lives and their pain themselves (euthanasia).

Suffering is never easy nor is it ever welcome.  Instinctively we seek to relieve suffering and are often led to irrational means of doing so.  Who has not slapped their head in a failed attempt to deal with a headache pain that refuses relief?  Of course, we would not expect the pain and suffering to be either welcomed or endured without complaint but there are reasons why we choose to endure pain.  Those reasons have to do with our values and the outcome or consequences.  I know many folks who deal with chronic pain but do so because the choice is activity with its price tag of suffering or inactivity and the loss of mobility and independence.

One of the great failures of modern Christianity is that we no longer speak much about dying to self.  We preach a crossless Gospel about possibility thinking to a people seeking enhanced pleasure and happiness (without pain).  In doing so we are simply lying to them.  Dying to self, bearing the cross, self-denial, sacrificial giving, service to neighbor, and self-control are the way of faith and expect, dare I say promise, pain.  Dying to self feels like dying.  There is no way to mask or deny it.  But instead of choosing to be faithful in proclamation, modern Christianity has chosen to tell a lie.  Christ has not come so that the old Adam in us may by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die.  No, he has come to set us free from all constraints so that we might have our best lives now.

As I have said before, we expect the world to play to T-ball rules -- no errors, strikes, or outs count and everyone gets and equal chance at bat.  We do not keep score but do it all for the fun of it and to make the kids on the field and the parents in the stands happy.  Taking the same metaphor, we have embraced the same mentality in the Church.  Worship is to be fun and exciting.  Music is to be uplifting and happy (with a good beat).  Sermons are to inspire us or equip us to reach for the stars.  Prayers have an agenda as well as speaking to God.  With a cheery word of benediction, we are sent away happy and satisfied so that we continue to live our self-absorbed lives.  What a lie and a terrible disservice we have rendered -- not only to the Lord but to the people.  We have told them what they want to hear but it is the ultimate deception.

Dying to self feels like dying.  Christian faith and life are not painless.  We embrace the pain, in part because we understand the pain Christ bore for us and our salvation and also because our suffering is fruitful.  I am amazed at how we cherry pick the Scriptures to avoid dealing with the reality of Christ's cross or our own life of cross bearing in His name.  Let us at least be honest.  Dying to self feels like dying.  The words of Jesus are both blunt and hard.  The way the world treated Me, it will treat you.  I send you out like lambs among wolves.  Blessed are you who are persecuted for My sake, for righteousness sake.  I could go on and on.

Christian life is messy.  It is filled with pain and suffering -- some of that inflicted upon because we are in Christ and some of it because to be in Christ means saying "no" to self and reining in the passions that would run out of control and kill us unless Christ lived in us by baptism and faith.  It is high time we ended the charade of Christian life and spoke truthfully and bluntly what it means to live in Christ.  Dying to self still feels like dying.  But the fruits of this death are greater than its cost to us and the means of this death is Christ living in us.  Christian faith is not some momentary infatuation such as our pursuit of the latest ten minute diet plan that will shave off pounds without any effort.  Nope.  It will be hard -- so hard, in fact, that we cannot do it for ourselves or on our own.  Only Christ can work this miracle of death and rebirth in us.  But having been killed and made alive, we do in a real sense cooperate in the work of sanctification by bearing the full weight of its pain in self-denial.  We are not bystanders in our own Christian lives.  And we know this most profoundly by the pain and suffering of bearing the cross and denying self.  When this pain disappears it might be a good time to consider whether we have not, in fact, abandoned Christ and the faith.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Some restorations. . .

As you know of my continuing interest in church architecture, I share with you this promo video showing Cathedral & Basilica Restorations by Conrad Schmitt Studios, though not all are as successful as some... it is worth a look...

Beauty is NOT in the eye of the beholder. . .

Beauty is not entirely subjective.  I was staring at a blank cast concrete wall of a modern building.  What it noticed is how hard the architect and builder tried to make is crude, rustic, and rough.  It was the kind of surface that would ruin your clothing if you brushed up against it.  As I looked at the wall, a woman came up beside me and said, "Beautiful, isn't it?"  (Hmmmm was my only reply).  Beauty is not simply in the eye of the beholder.  Beauty is not quite as subjective as we think.  This saying first appeared in the 3rd century BC in Greek but didn't appear in its current form in print until the 19th century.  Perhaps we can blame Shakespeare (as we often do for expressions of popular sentiment) who wrote:  Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye.

When it comes to church structures, beauty is often rather broadly defined yet ugly is fairly specific.  I have often lamented on the pages of this blog that church architecture and art is often at odds with the very specific purpose of a church building and the space set apart for worship.  Ugliness has to not only with the aesthetic but with the space that conflicts with its purpose and speaks in conflict with its usage.

Here are 35 of the more uglier versions of church buildings in which the architecture and the art are at odds with their purpose.  Some may call them more or less beautiful but I am not inclined to debate it.  They are, well, ugly.  There may be a hint of beauty in them here and there but put the whole puzzle together and you end up with less than the sum of its parts or even the value of but one aspect of its structure or adornment.  But don't take my word for it...

You can read it all here...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Once again violence seems to make Christians the victims...

While Cairo is in chaos, while supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Army clash, the violence seems to affect Christians there most of all...

For all that has stirred the Middle East in the last dozen years or so, the Christians have been harmed more than any religious group.

Posted from another source is this list of churches and religious institutions burned, damaged, or attacked in the violence in Egypt:

  1. Father Maximus Church
  1. St George Church | Burned | Source
  1. Good Shepherds Monastery |  Nuns attacked
  2. Angel Michael Church | Surrounded
  3. St George Coptic Orthodox Church | PhotoPhotoPhotoYouTube
  4. Al-Eslah Church| Burned | Source
  5. Adventist Church | Pastor and his wife kidnapped | Photo
  6. St Therese Church | Photo
  7. Apostles Church | Burning | Source
  8. Holy Revival Church | Burning | Source
  9. Qusiya Diocese | MCN
Beni Suef
  1. The Nuns School | Photo
  2. St George Church | al-Wasta
  1. St Fatima Basilica | Heliopolis | Attempted Attack
  2. Virgin Mary’s Church | Hakim Village | Burned | Photo
Fayoum (Five churches)
  1. St Mary Church | El Nazlah | Gallery
  2. St Damiana Church | Robbed and burned
  3. Amir Tawadros (St Theodore) Church | EgyNews (Arabic), Twitter
  4. Evangelical Church | al-Zorby Village | Looting and destruction
  5. Church of Joseph | Burned | Source
  6. Franciscan School | Burned | Source
  1. Diocese of St Paul | Burned | Source
  1. Father Antonios
  2. Atfeeh Bishopric
  1. Church of the Virgin Mary and Father Abram | Delga, Deir Mawas | Source
  2. St Mina Church | Abu Hilal Kebly, Beni Hilal | Sourcephoto
  3. Baptist Church | Beni Mazar | Source
  4. Monastery | Deir Mawas  | Ahram (Arabic)
  5. Delga Church | Attacked (Previously attacked with fire)
  6. The Jesuit Fathers Church | Abu Hilal district
  7. St Mark Church | Abu Hilal district
  8. St Joseph Nunnery | Photophoto
  9. Amir Tadros Church | Photophotophotoalbumphotophoto
  10. Evangelical Church | Photo
  11. Anba Moussa al-Aswad Church | Photo
  12. Apostles Church | Source
  1. St Mary’s Church | Attempted Burning
  1. St George Church |Photo albumphotophotovideosourcesourcevideo
  2. St Damiana | Attacked and burned | Source
  3. Virgin Mary | Attacked and burned | Source
  4. St Mark Church & Community Center
  5. Anba Abram Church | Destroyed and burned | Source
  1. St Saviours Anglican Church | Source
  2. Franciscan Church and School | Street 23 | Burned |Photophotosource/photosphotos
  3. Holy Shepherd Monastery and Hospital | Photo
  4. Good Shepherd Church (molotov cocktail thrown)- Relationship with Holy Shepherd Monastery unknown.
  5. Greek Orthodox Church | PhotoPhoto
Christian Institutions
  • House of Father Angelos (Pastor of Church of the Virgin Mary and Father Abram) | Delga, Minya | Burned | CBN NewsAhram (Arabic)
  • Properties and Markets of Copts | al-Gomhorreya Street, Assiut
  • Seventeen Coptic homes | Delga, Minya | Burned | SourceSource
  • YMCA | Minya| Burned | Photo
  • Coptic Homes | Qulta Street, Assiut | Attacked
  • Offices of the Evangelical Foundation & Oum al-Nour | Minya
  • Coptic-owned shops, pharmacy, and hotels | Karnak and Cleopatra Streets, Luxor | Attacked and Looted
  • Dahabeya Nile Boat | Minya| Church-owned | Source,PhotoPhoto
  • Bible Society bookshop | Cairo | Burned | Photo
  • Bible Society | Fayoum | Photo
  • Bible Society | al-Gomohoreya Street, Assiut | PhotoPhoto
  • Ezbet el Nekhl | Sourcesourcesource (Arabic)