Thursday, October 31, 2013

Honey, what did we do with our kids old Legos?


The Reformation in LEGO....

For a hint.... Martin Luther's Seal:

The Mess We Call Lutheranism. . .

The shot heard around the world issued forth from a sleepy little village and a new university.  Until then, the man behind the pen was unknown to everyone.  Afterward, he would become an iconic figure -- sometimes vilified and sometimes worshiped as a hero.  He began with a call to reform which was forged in the kiln of  corruption and produced a vision of idealism.  Luther was not much of a realist when it came to church politics.  He actually thought that there would be a time and a place for the issues he raised to be honestly confronted.  He was not much of a realist when it came to the consequences of a call to reform.  He was actually shocked that people wanted to venture beyond his relatively modest proposals for renewal and reject nearly everything in the process (from the sacraments to the adornment of the church building).  He had hopes for a better church.  Don't we all.

The truth is that Lutheranism is a mess.  It is filled with problems.  Some have become like the radical reformers Luther opposed and cast off all shackles of moral truth and doctrinal integrity to mirror what is going on in the culture.  Some of them have rejected the conservative approach of Luther and turned Sunday morning into a guessing game, a variety show, and a unholy means of holy entertainment.  Lutheranism is a mess in both theory and practice.  Only a fool would deny it.

Some have left Lutheranism in pursuit of a better option.  They have exchanged the theory of Lutheranism for Rome or Constantinople.  I have to admit that in theory it seems like a better deal -- clearer lines of authority, a more uniform tradition of doctrine and practice, and unifying figures to draw the fringes back to the center.  But in practice neither Rome nor Constantinople is in much better shape.  There are strange things happening in the Mass on Sunday morning and there are more folks who were Roman Catholic than who are.  On the other hand, Constantinople often exchanges the particularity of its individual ethnic components for real catholicity.  The Greeks do not get along with the Russians and they respond in kind.  Jurisdiction is a big issue for the Orthodox and in America, anyway, it is a structural mess.

We all have cafeteria folks who pick and choose at the plates of tradition and identity put before them, building a church of their own creation, more about what they oppose than what they advocate.  Yes, Lutheranism is a mess.  Rome is also a mess and Constantinople is not far behind.

Some despair of everything and have given up "church" for an individualistic faith barely one person wide and deep.  Some have become private Christians whose faith is private and solitary.  Some have become the perennial complainers (perhaps you think me one of them) who enjoy picking at the Church as vultures pick away at a rotting carcass.  Some have given everything to remaking the Church, new for every age and generation without much to connect her to her past and bequeathing little but generality to the future.

If for the Church we believe, or perhaps more faithfully, in the Church we believe, it is hard not to give up.  But the Church will always be an imperfect creation moving too slowly toward the promise of her future.  The Church will always be filled with sinners, some better and some worse at resisting temptation.  The Church will always be better in theory than in practice.  Jesus knew this and so He prayed for her in His high priestly prayer.  But we have more than Jesus' prayers, as good as they are, we have the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments.  Christ is not theory to us but enfleshed in the ordinary of water, word, bread, and wine.  Therefore we have hope.  Therefore we do not despair.  Therefore we do not give up.

Fight or flight.  That is the choice -- on the grand scale of choosing the tradition, on the large scale of choosing the denomination, and on the small scale of the local parish or congregation.  Some have chosen flight.  They are no longer Lutheran or pick another set of letters that define what kind of Lutheran they are or they move from one parish to another.  I will not condemn them though I wish they would choose to fight -- fight for Lutheranism in practice that matches the theory in our Confessions.  This is my option.  I will go down fighting for virtue, for the cause of the Gospel, and for Lutheran practice consistent with Lutheran Confessional identity.

Yes Lutheranism is a mess.  Shoot, Christianity is a mess.  But I do not believe in or hang my hopes on an ism.  The Lord of the Church comes to set His table in the presence of our enemies for those who are sinful and unclean and therefore unworthy of a place at the table.  Christ, the suffering Savior who is obedient unto death on the cross, is our confidence and our hope.  As long as the Word and Sacraments are there, I refuse to flee, to give up, or to give in. 

I am not interested in a purity cult that sees doctrine as a litmus test.  I am not interested in the rule of reason or majority vote to determine what we will believe.  I am not interested in success defined by numbers or moral improvement.  I am a sinner -- and a big one at that.  As much as I loathe who I am and lament my flawed and failed life, my heart hopes in the God who has come for sinners.  My repentance does not prove me worthy or prepare me for the Kingdom but it does enable me to confess my sin, to desire what only the blood of Christ can purchase, and to pray that what God has declared me to be, I may also become.

I understand those who cannot fight anymore and who have flown the coop, so to speak.  But I am here to fight.  I will never be fully happy or at ease with this thing called Lutheranism or the particular variety of Lutheran I am but that is not because I have found something better.  It is because I am an idealist formed by the reality of grace for sinners, Christ present in the means of grace, and the promise that what He began, He will not abandon.  No, I am not happy with the mess that is Lutheranism but neither will I exchange one set of rags for another.  Until we obtain heaven and its glory, the bride of Christ will look pretty raggedy.  Recently Pope Francis said in a homily that the Church appears like widow (though she is not one) -- weak and lonely.  I get what he was saying.  I also get what Luther said about simil justus et peccator.  Much as I wish it were not so, that is where we are and where we shall be until we individually close our eyes in death or see Christ come to bring all things to their consummation in Him.  At some point in time I learned that this was enough even though the Church seems like a mess.  I hope you come to the same conclusion.

From Conflict to Communion

Read the news and the whole report:

News Report:  National Catholic Register
Document:  From Conflict to Communion

Apparently the International Lutheran-Roman Catholic Communion on Unity has put together a report on the Lutherans and Roman Catholics might "jointly" observe the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, Luther's posting of the 95 Theses.  It is no small report -- 100 pages long!  Anyway, the document carries a foreword that suggests that the doctrine of justification be the guiding rule of such observances and acknowledges the guilt of both parties before Christ for damaging the unity of the church.  The challenges are both purification and healing of the memories and restoration of Christian unity.  Now that is a tall order.

The documents encourage a new approach (as opposed to the old observances which heralded Luther's role as liberator from the Roman yoke or German national hero.  Our ecumenical era begs that such oppositional perspectives give way to the acknowledgement that more unites us than divides us.  The document surveys the changes in perspectives initiated by new research and interpretations of Luther.  There is a chapter reviewing the pertinent history of reformation and response.  A chapter on the basic themes of Luther's theology also touches on the dialogue themes between Wittenberg and Rome so far.  This chapter acknowledges that differences have not fully been bridged and that disputes are substantive (but with a positive spin on the whole).  The document ends with the basis for a common observance and five ecumenical imperatives:

  • That Roman Catholics and Lutherans always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division....
  • That Lutherans and Roman Catholics must let themselves be continuously transformed by their encounters with each other...
  • That they should again commit themselves to seek visible unity in concrete steps...
  • That they jointly rediscover the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ...
  • That they witness together the mercy of God in proclamation and service... 
 All nice enough, mind you, but couched in the language of dialogue more than in the language of confession.  The problem here being that the document presumes that the Lutherans know what it means to be Lutheran and the Roman Catholics know what it means to be Roman Catholic.  Now there might be a hitch.  For the Lutherans the Roman Catholics talk to are not necessarily the Lutherans who express the highest fidelity to the Lutheran Confessions which norms Lutheranism. 

We have representatives from Finland, Brazil, Latvia, Norway, Tanzania, Germany, Japan and the USA.  As far as I can see, all of those representatives are from Lutheran Churches that ordain women.  How, for example, does this breach with catholic faith and practice impinge upon the joint observances of the Reformation's 500th Anniversary?  I might be wrong but I see no one representing those Lutherans not in the Lutheran World Federation, specifically the LCMS.

The report was printed on FSC certified paper so I am sure it is good.  There is nothing earth shatteringly wrong about it.  It is well and good to be responsible and not triumphalistic in this observance since we Lutherans have our problems, to be sure.  But there is nothing terribly great about glossing over the things that still and truly divide us.  In the end, though, I fear the greatest impediment to any possibility of meeting Rome on more common ground will be the result of which Lutherans they are talking with as opposed to simply what these Lutherans and Roman Catholics say jointly.  Talk to the wrong Lutherans and you meet people you have little in common with if you are Roman Catholic.  Talk to the right Lutherans and you might find them hard to deal with but serious about the things that divided and still divide us. 

My greatest fear in the 500th anniversary observances is that the Lutherans will get it wrong and end up painting Luther into someone less than an authentic voice of reform raised up by God to bring the voice of the Gospel back to His Church.  Instead we may have hero worship of Luther or Luther the cultural icon or Luther the progenitor of the social justice movement or Luther the voice for reconciled diversity or Luther the child of his age... but none of that will explain the Reformation nor deal with the credible issues of authority, justification, and grace alone.  Rome is not the problem in these anniversary (dare I say it) celebrations.  We are.  Rome may provide convenient cover for us to avoid dealing with who we are (at least confessionally) but it will be our failure, our mistake, and our lost opportunity.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The ChildFREE Life

There was a time when the term was childless -- an acknowledgement that whether chosen or imposed, the lack of a child meant something was missing.  It implied that children were not only implied but essential to the definition of marriage, family, and, dare I say it, life itself.  But not anymore.  We have changed a suffix, merely four letters, but that change has brought with it a sea change in the way we think of life, marriage, family, etc...

TIME Magazine's August 12 cover story was called The Childfree Life - When having it all means not having children.  The story has generated a good no shortage of conversation, controversy, and commentary. The cover photo says it all.  You see a good looking, young, couple laying comfortably upon a beach, gazing up at the world with a satisfied look that says "we have it all."  But what is conspicuously missing  are a wedding ring and children. 

The point of the cover and the article is not only that this is an option but that is more and more the preferred option among young people and that it is a completely morally acceptable choice.  There was a time when having it all meant having it all, literally, with a spouse, children, career, and personal life.  This was the initial focus of the feminist movement with its judgement that women had been deprived of having it all and therefore a revolution in society was necessary to make it possible for women to have what men presumably already had.  Now the mature movement has gone well beyond the limitations of the past and marriage has been replaced by friends with benefits or hook up relationships designed to satisfy the need for affection and sex without real intimacy and children have become more an impediment to personal pleasure and achievement than an ingredient in the mix.

There is no denial that marriage is increasingly optional or, at best, a delayed choice in America.  Statistics tell us the birth rate in America is the lowest it has ever been (not as low as in many European countries but certainly following the European trend).  In addition the reasons for NOT having children have expanded.  The traditional reasons of career, economics (high cost of child rearing), and fear of the responsibility have been supplemented with more subjective reasons of dislike of children, belief that it is not smart to bring children into the world in which we live, and the idea that they would not make good parents.  Interestingly, the more highly educated you are, the less likely you are to have a child!

In the past children were not merely integral to marriage and family, they were integral to society, culture, and community.  We lived around good schools, in homes designed for family needs, in a neighborhood with other children, and our lives connected through our children's activities (from school to sports to music to scouts to hobbies, etc...).  Now, schools are often viewed as expensive burdens resented by those without children.  Our experiences at restaurants, movie theaters, and shopping are better off when children are not present.  We live more in more densely populated areas in which access to adult recreational choices are more significant than anything else in the choice of where to live.  Now, the choice to have or not to have a child has less to do with a choice to marry or not to marry and everything to do with the freedom desired by the individual to pursue individual desire unimpeded and unencumbered by the excess baggage of a child.

In the past marriage and children were the marks of adulthood but today we live in a world in which adulthood, marriage, and children are not the highest of goals for a generation that worships youth, freedom, and a lack of strings attached to life.  In short, who wants to grow up if growing up means accepting responsibility for more than yourself, carrying the burden for others, and sacrificing personal desires for the sake of another?  This is, perhaps, only one more evolution of the "me" generation -- a generation far removed from what many have called the "greatest generation".

So what should the Church do?  There are many who believe that it is too late to do anything.  There are many who have taken a sort of refuge mentality in which the Church is sanctuary for those who have retreated from what is happening in our culture.  There are many who insist that we cannot change the push for gay marriage nor can we undo what has been done to the ideas of marriage, family, and children.  I think that there is something we can do.  But in order for us to do it, we will have to abandon the constraint of culture and act and speak as distinctly as we are in Christ.

A personal example.  Not long ago a family in our parish with two little ones announced that they were expecting a third and some, many in fact, sighed the knowing sign of disapproval.  You already have your hands full and children are costly and your resources are already spread thin and you have no family locally to help you out... and so on...  In other words, in the very church where this choice should be celebrated, a young couple often finds folks whose views have been so shaped by the world around them that they also think enough is enough.  A child.  Maybe two.  But why anymore?  We have for too long allowed the world to shape not only our values about life and success but about marriage and family.  What we can do is to begin talking again about children as gifts and blessings, about the nature of love which delights in sacrifice, and of the noble vocation of being a father and mother.  What we can do is change the minds of those within the congregation and then, just maybe, we can begin to challenge the false images of a full and happy life outside the church.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

We shall not be moved!

Preached for Reformation Sunday, also observed as Confirmation Sunday, on Sunday, October 27, 2013.

    How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?  It does not take any, we don't change anything.  It’s an old joke but it hits home with folks who believe in an attitude of change or die.  The Church, however, dies if she changes.  As the Psalmist says in Psalm 46 – the seas can rage, nations roar, and mountains fall into the sea but we shall not be moved.  This is no stubborn pledge of those in love with the past.  This is the Word the Lord speaks to those He plants on the rock of Christ. We shall not be moved from where He has planted us on Christ our solid rock.
    We shall not be moved from the rock that is Christ but in Christ we are always moving on that path toward heaven and our eternal salvation.  We shall not be moved by the forces of sin, satan, the old rebellious self, and the world shall but in Christ God is moving us – from sin to righteousness, from guilt to forgiveness, from death to life.  If the Church or we as Christians move from Christ the rock, we are lost.  Only the Word of the Lord, the truth forever, can save us.  Doctrine is eternal truth and does not fit popular opinion; morality and virtue do not adjust to the temperature of the moment.  These are the constants to guide the faithful to God’s goal.
    The Word of the Lord endures forever.  This is not about pages not wearing out or bindings that won't give way.  The Word endures forever  because this Word is Christ.  Christ endures forever and therefore the Word of Christ endures forever.  We do not stand on opinion, majority vote, guess, or even Luther but upon changeless Word of the Lord – the Law speaking with the full force of its convicting power and the Gospel answering our need with the merits and mediation of Christ on the cross.
    We do not believe as an act of our voluntary will but as people called by the Spirit.   We are not the Church by our choice to form it but because God has called us, gathered us, and set us apart by the means of grace.  We do not endure because we are stubborn but because the Spirit is at work in us, holding us fast to Christ, the solid rock.  Our future lies not with the works of our hands but the promise of God prepared for those whom He has called, gathered and set apart as His own in baptism.  Today in the rite of confirmation, we do not honor their achievement but instead recognize the work of the Spirit in them, from their baptism to this moment of public confession before the world and we pray with them that the promises they make, they will keep by God’s grace.  And their promise is this:  We shall not be moved.  God has planted us on Christ, given us new life in Christ, and in this hope and faith we shall endure.
    Because we are steadfast in Christ, however, we are always moving – not as a people making our own way but led by the Spirit working through the means of grace.  In baptism God's work was begun in us and He is bringing that work to its fruit and completion even now, in this moment.  Because we shall not be moved from Christ, the Spirit is moving us from doubt to conviction, from fear to trust, from hearts ruled by sin to hearts that hear and follow Christ.  Only because we are unmoved from Christ can Christ moves us to the goal and outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls.
    We shall not be moved, but God is moving us.  We are brought from childish lives to mature lives of faith.  Once I thought, spoke, acted like a child but now I am mature, says Paul.  We recognize this movement toward maturity in the youth confirmed today.  Looking back on our lives we see the hand of God at work in us through the means of grace.  In Holy Communion we are fed and nourished, nurtured and sustained, to remain steadfast in Christ and to be brought to maturity in Christ.  We are not yet who we shall be, but we are not who we were, either.  Hebrews also calls us to move from milk to solid food, from being infants to mature faith, discerning good from evil.  We cannot be vulnerable infants swept away by every wind and wave of change, doubt, and falsehood.  We need to grow upon Christ the rock and in Christ as the people of God by baptism and faith.
    We shall not be moved but God is moving us.  He guides us through the changes and chances of this mortal life, through the minefield of trials and temptations ever before us, through the competing voices that call to our ears and hearts.  The voice of the Gospel is at work by the Spirit moving us to repentance each day, reminding us who we are by baptism, and pointing us to the promise Christ has made for our future.
    The world likes to think of things as progress.  The Reformation was no progressive moment but the restoration of the Gospel to God's Church.  We had been moved from the Word of the Lord and God worked through Luther and the Reformation to restore His Church to that foundation that never changes.  What we believe does not change or evolve or move.  Doctrine does not progress.  But God is ever at work restoring us when we wander, guiding us home from our exiles, and building us back upon the only rock that endures: Christ.  Lutherans love paradoxes.  Law and Gospel.  Saint and Sinner.  Those who shall not be moved from Christ moving in Christ toward maturity of faith now and our eternal salvation to come.
    The Church does not move.  God moves us into the Church, and through the means of grace moves us from being infants in Christ to maturity in Christ.  We give thanks for Luther not because he brought progress to a lethargic church.  No, we give thanks for Luther and those voices in every age who recall the wandering to Christ the rock, who restore the Church when she has moved from Christ, back to Christ, and who hold us individual Christians accountable.
    Confirmands today and Christians are always making God promises.  Some we keep but most fail.  There is one promise which endures.  The promise of God sealed in the flesh and blood of Christ, who died that we might live and lives that we might not die.  From this we shall not be moved.  We remain rooted and planted in Christ, built upon the unchanging foundation of His Word and grace, kept by the yesterday, today, and forever truth and doctrine.  Because we shall not be moved from this truth, we are ever and always moving toward the goal of our lives, the salvation of our souls.  Because we shall not be moved from Christ and His Word, we are moving from childishness to maturity, from fear to confidence, from rebellion to repentance, from sin to righteousness, from guilt to forgiveness, and from death to life.  All this is the Spirit's work and promise to those who stand unmoving upon Christ and the foundation of His Word. 
    How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?  If we are planted on Christ, the light does not dim or wear out.  It shines as the beacon of hope that has moved us to the unchanging foundation of grace and hope.  Through us it shines to those around us.  For us it shines to lead us through trouble, temptation, and trial, toward the everlasting goal of our salvation, the place prepared for us in heaven, which we own now by faith.  There is no arrogance or stubbornness in saying “we shall not be moved from Christ our rock” – this is the Spirit speaking through us with the voice of faith.  May it be true of us always.  Amen.

What is it that bends. . .

For a long time I have struggled to hold my tongue for those who complain about their busy lives and how something must give, something must bend.  Because I can only sleep in on Sunday morning, worship must bend.  Because my kids sports/dance/etc. is more important than their faith, catechism must give.  Because I have limited financial resources, stewardship must give.  Because I work full time and have too many demands, time for church activities or service must give.

I will admit to getting pretty dang tired of the Church always being the one that bends.  Some years ago The Lutheran featured an article from a sports mother defending her choice to support her kids childhood sports interests over worship, catechism, Sunday school, and anything to do with church.  It appalled me that a national Lutheran (or any denominational magazine) publication would give such a platform to such a ridiculous assertion.  But I was unprepared for the mass number of letters from those who wrote in to support her and who insisted they felt no guilt in their choice, none whatsoever.

It is always the church, the faith, worship, catechesis, and service that must give way to me.  Jesus wondered if He might find faith(ful) on earth when He returned in glory and Luther also wondered (among others) if the number of Christians are few.  On my mostly curmudgeonly days I am sure of it.

But it is not only participation in the life of the church that must bend, truth must also bend.  Scripture is sometimes regarded with more skepticism inside the doors of the sanctuary than it is outside and Christians seem to relish the idea that their truth is one person wide and one person deep.  We delight in every historical challenge to Christianity as if it were a house of cards wavering and waiting for the right tidbit of archeology to bring it all down (Spong's assertion that eventually the bones of Jesus will be found somewhere in Palestine).

So also, even though evolution is an unobserved and unproven theory, Scripture must bend to the latest derivation of an idea barely a few hundred years old.  How is it that people can claim to believe that God can come in flesh and blood to the womb of the Virgin and die upon a cross and rise on the third day but find it impossible to believe that Scripture speaks anything but symbolic language when it comes to the creation of all things?  Ah, yes, wisdom tilts toward reason and away from faith so Scripture is a bendable truth which must conform to and fit what we have already thought about this or this -- especially when it comes to science (factual or theoretical).

Years ago we gave out kids these bendable figures made from plastic but with a wire "spine" that allowed them to be bent and shaped as people desired.  Gumby and Pokey came in forms like this.  Eventually the wire inside gave way and the plastic that surrounded it was not enough to hold it all together.  So it is with truth that must constantly bend to other truths or faith which is compelled to flex when schedules and priorities compete, they eventually break and give way and there is nothing left but trash to be discarded.  Piety is the plastic and the Scripture is the metal spine of the faith for all the faithful.  When the spine is broken from too much bending, the plastic is not enough to hold faith together and they become the faithless.

Maybe it is high time that we as Pastors, parents, and parish leaders took the bold but unpopular stance of refusing to bend.  I am certain it would thin out the ranks of membership to say to those preoccupied with their own concerns or their children's activities if we said we will not bend to you anymore.  I am confident that the church would suffer a reputation of anti-intellect, anti-scholarship, and anti-science if we insisted that the Word of the Lord prevail against human observance, theory, and estimation.  But what would we really lose and what might we gain?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Different perspectives yield different perceptions. . .

From the outside Christianity appears rather homogenous, monolithic, and consistent.  From within it seems a bundle of contradictions.  From the outside the Church appears rigid and unbending.  From within she seems to have a backbone made of silly putty.  From the outside a congregation may appear to be a loving and caring community.  From within it is like a pond of alligators,  From the outside the Church appears as if she will never change or yield to modernity.  From within she seems like nothing is steadfast and unmovable except change. It all depends on your perspective.

If you are an idealist, the church seems incredibly messy, disappointing, and ineffective.  If you are a realist, the church seems incredibly naive and fanciful.  If you are in the majority, think of all the things you could get done without such a noisy and belligerent minority.. If you are in the minority, you think of all the terrible things done and how to undo them and steal the momentum away from the majority.  If you are a congregationalist, you long for a real bishop.  If you have bishops, you often hope they will find something else to do besides bother your congregation.  If you have money, you think that is all the church wants from you.  If you don't, you wonder where you are going to get the money you need.  It all depends upon your perspective.

I find that age does not automatically bestow wisdom but it does give you a bit of a larger perspective on things.  On the one hand it can teach patience.  One of the things you learn with age is that Rome was not built in a day.  I have learned that the Church was there before me and will remain after me -- and not because of me but perhaps in spite of me.  On the other hand, it can also lead to impatience.  One of the things you learn with age is that time marches on.  I have also learned that I want to see progress in part because I know I may not be here to see the ending.

To those who think that Lutheranism is a hopeless mess, I tell you it is.  To those who think that Lutheranism is a bright shining light in darkness, I tell you it is.  It is both or it is neither.  So do not despair because we reflect our fallen humanity as the children of God and do not lose sight of the means of grace that are our treasure and hope.  We are sinners redeemed by Christ, by baptism carrying around in us the death of Christ and His life.  So be patient.  The future is not lost even though we are flawed and failed sinners whom the Lord has redeemed.  It is His Church.  His promise is our future and the guarantee of that future is also His.

When we look from different perspectives, we see different things and we come up with differing perceptions of it all.  We need to be careful lest we judge lost what Christ has redeemed or inconsequential what is His greatest gift.  We live not by sight but by faith and that requires some patience.

Learn to love the Church as she is and not as you want her to be.  I do not mean at all to suggest that you have no aspirations or dreams for her, but do not love contingent upon those dreams or aspirations.  I have encountered some who have loved the dream of the Church but their love was soured on her reality.  They are embittered folks whose misery and disappointment predominates everything they see and hear.  Some of those have left Missouri, shaken off the dust from their boots, and walked away.  Some insist upon justifying their leaving by trashing the church they once knew and loved.  Some who remain are more than happy to have folks leave and judge such departures as their winning a competition or an argument.  I lament everyone who leaves for I daily wrestle with the same kind of tension between the church of my dreams and the congregation, district, and synod of reality.

If you love her, you will love her as she is and not as you want her to be.  Do not forsake your dreams for her but love the church for who she is -- as broken, wounded, stained, stubborn, and sore as the people who come to her.  And, if you are wise, you will see that you are no different.

Just a few words that I say to myself a couple of hundred times a day... and now to you.

The Islamic Dollar

I am not sure where I read it but the gist of the quote was that Muslims give to their faith more money than all the other religions of England put together.  The point of comparison here was not the size of the Muslim community but the giving of Muslims to the causes they esteem holy.  In contrast, giving from Christians has not kept up and, in many places, declined.  I do not mean to say that Christians are not generous but they are certainly not as generous as Muslims in their support of their faith.

Christians have for a long time cultivated an image of generosity.  In many ways it is a legitimate claim.  Christians are very generous for the causes of goodness and love.  They can be very generous in the support of their churches as well, though not always so.  Often Christians substitute the causes of mercy for the cause of truth, giving to church agencies in support of the noble work of the poor, the sick, and the oppressed while less generous with the work of their church. 

I write today because the cause of the Gospel and the church deserve more than what we have given.  We act as if we are doing the Lord a big favor when we give but the truth is we expect a great deal in return for those contributions.  The sad reality is that the majority of dollars spent by churches go for the creature comforts of their members -- from buildings to comfortable heat and air conditioning to easy parking to amenities from rest rooms to coffee bars to educational endeavors to community rooms.  Take away the money spent on our facilities and the comfort and needs of our members and how much of the many dollars that we give are left?

Sadly, few dollars are spent in worship, the fount from which all that we do as church and as Christians flow.  We look for musicians on the cheap and act as if a once in a generation cost of hymnals is all that should be spent for the chief activity of the church -- gathering the people of God around the Word and Table of the Lord.  Even more sadly, few dollars are spent in mission.  We can find every cause to do things at home but sit glassy eyed when confronted with the opportunities to do the work of the Kingdom beyond our local area.

I am not suggesting that we should abandon our buildings or make them less comfortable.  What is needed is the renewed fervor of a people who know the Lord's generosity and who take up the cause of His kingdom with excitement, enthusiasm, and exuberance.  What does it say of the way we have received grace as gift and blessing in Christ when a religion of law like Islam moves people to greater generosity and selfless service for the sake of their faith?

It is not a competition... but it could be a wake up call.  In many and various ways the Word and saving work of Christ are made known to us and can be made known through us to others.  But we cannot afford to become complacent with the gifts of God nor cavalier to the impact of generosity.  With what generosity has the Lord shown us His favor in Christ... how can we keep from being generous in return?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

How do we deal with the claims of Scripture's errors?

“All of Scripture everywhere deals only with Christ,” so says Dr. Martin Luther (WA 46:414).  While Luther was certainly long before the debates over inerrancy and the advent of higher criticism, he does connect the Scriptures to Christ in such a way that the debate over their truthfulness and fallibility is not theoretical at all but at the heart and core of our confession of Christ.

On another forum a poster to the never ending debate insists that Scripture is full of errors, though he calls them rather pious errors of God's condescension and not the pernicious errors of lies.  According to Mk 4:30ff. Jesus says that "the mustard seed... is the smallest of all the seeds on earth." Is that statement factually without error? Are there not smaller plant seeds on earth? Yes, there are. Jesus spoke as a man of his time and place. If Mk 4:30 does contain an error in plant biology, does the presence of such an error undermine the point of the parable? Does the presence of similar errors in the Scriptures undermine the Spirit's use of those same Scriptures to bring people to faith in Christ and to salvation in him?

According to this idea, errors in Scripture are just that errors.  They are distant from and do not attach to the truthfulness of Scripture's claim of truth or its promise of salvation.  These errors, no matter how they entered the text, are disconnected from the claims of Christ and the claims for Christ. Any attempt to understand what is said, except to acknowledge its error, is to waste your time and effort in preserving a false idea of infallibility and imposing upon Scripture what it does not claim for itself.  So, never mind the rabbinical context or significance for this discussion of the mustard seed or the hyperbole in which Jesus often indulges.  No, Scripture is wrong.  But for Luther it is as simple as if Scripture is wrong, Christ is wrong.

Luther's claim, indeed the claim of Christ and of the Scriptures themselves, is that Jesus is not merely the fulfillment of the Scriptures of Israel -- the keeper of its promise.  No, Christ is their fullness. They testify of Him and He is Him of whom they speak.  He is their source, He gives them their life, and He is the object of their words, events, and witness.  They testify of Me, insists Jesus.  I am the Word which has come down from heaven, insists Jesus. Scripture, Moses, Elijah, and all the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings together form the witness to the truth of Luther's word that Christ is not only the subject of Scripture but its object and its life. “All the stories of Holy Writ, if viewed aright, point to Christ.”  The Lord Jesus  “shows us the proper method of interpreting Moses and all the prophets. . . He shows that all the stories and illustrations of Moses point to [Himself],” (Luther, AE 22:339).

Therefore, a problem with Scripture is inherently a Christological problem. It is not possible to separate, even though one may make distinct, Christ and His Word.

Surely not all of those who insist that there are errors in Scripture are as outwardly skeptical and suspicious as the higher critics who have no boundaries to their disdain for the written word of Scripture.  They presume the words of Scripture are lies or myths to be proven true and not the opposite.  In this way they treat the words of Scripture very differently than they treat nearly every other book and its claims.  That said, we cannot allow such convictions of error to stand without address. The Church protects the Scriptures not out of fear but as one protects a treasure of surpassing worth.  Scripture speaks of Christ, speaks Christ, to us and apart from Scripture there is no sure voice to reveal Him that we might believe.  The Scriptures are not a book of lies which will unravel if one begins to pull at the strings of the text but a book of truth that speaks truthfully the Word made flesh for us and our salvation.  The Church affirms the infallibility of this Word as an act of witness, not of fear, born of the confidence that the truth of Scripture and the truth of Christ are neither separate nor competing but one and the same.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

You knew it would come sooner or later...

Leave it to the Anglicans... though I am sure the ELCA is not far behind!

Just plain wrong...

Friday, October 25, 2013

Remarkable good words about baptism. . .

Passed on by an Anglican reader intent upon showing that occasionally even Canterbury can rise to the moment and speak in evangelical and catholic witness... in this case to baptism...

 “Most of all we are celebrating baptism, and baptism at its heart is about the gift of God, about God’s gift of life, just ordinary physical life, but also the offer of spiritual life to all of us, so life forever,” explained Welby in a video released by Lambeth Palace on Tuesday. “All through Christian history, for 2000 years, being baptized meant you joined the family of the church, and that’s what it means today. What a family.”
Infants in the Church of England are baptized in a symbolic assertion that God’s grace precedes even a person’s ability to choose faith. Like all priests who perform a baptismal service, Welby will mark Prince George with the sign of the cross on his forehead. He will also splash water Prince George’s head three times, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “It is an extraordinary moment, because that is the sign by which we understand that this person belongs to God,” Welby explained.

Baptism services in the Church of England typically follow traditional liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer and Common Worship. Usually that means the parents of the child being baptized offer confessions of their Christian faith—they verbally reject the devil, deceit, and sin, they submit to Jesus Christ, and they commit to lead their child to do so as well. There are a small handful of varying liturgies available for a baptism service, and the royal family has not made the details of the one they have chosen public, so it is unclear whether or not Welby will give a short sermon. But Welby does say he has a message for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, George’s parents. “My message to them would be, What a treat, what an amazing gift, what wonderful times that you will have. There will be great times and tough times, there always are with children,” he said. “Through christening, you are bringing God into the middle of it all, and I know when he is in the middle of it all, somehow it is held in his hands, and that is extraordinary.”

Welby’s message for young George is a blessing and a reminder, Welby says, that originated in the Church of Scotland and carries weight even though George is too young to understand its full meaning: ”For you Jesus Christ came into the world. For you he lived and showed God’s love. For you he suffered the darkness of Calvary and cried at the last, ‘It is accomplished.’ For you he triumphed over death and rose to new life. For you he reigns at God’s right hand. All this he did for you, though you do not know it yet.”
 You can read more here.   Or you can listen to Welby himself below.


Of course Welby is not Lutheran and I would prefer more words on what Christ does and less on what the signs and symbols mean but all in all he got it right that the baptism of Prince George is a witness as well as a "royal occasion" or even simply a rite within one churchly communion.

A treasure for the eye. . .

Here is a great interview with an iconographer by the name of Evgeny Baranov.  You can read it in the Orthodox Arts Journal.  There is also a display of his art in the same journal but another issue.

He specializes in miniatures.  They are unbelievable and breathtaking.  His story is also compelling:

Then a very remarkable change happened in my life: I was baptized. I became the only Orthodox Christian among all of my relatives, including even my grandmother, who was religious, but Lutheran, not Orthodox. I started attending church, fasting and collecting rare books related to Orthodox art. Then one day I came upon an album of excellent quality reproductions, and it was the collection of works of Archimandrite Zeno. The art of Orthodox icon was revealed to me in all its beauty and grandeur, once and for all I lost interest in any of other arts.  Icons have given me both spiritual fulfillment, and an enormous aesthetic pleasure. I knew what I wanted to do next. I wanted to draw icons, but smaller… and on enamel.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Prayer before going on the internet. . .

I had never thought of it before.  Given the preponderance of virus, malware, tracking cookies, and other things that you can catch while perusing the internet, I can understand why you might pray before hitting the Firefox, IE, Chrome, or other icon that opens the door to the broad expanse of the virtual world at your fingertips.  But that is not the subject of the prayer I found.

Almighty and eternal God, who created us in Thine image and bade us to seek after all that is good, true and beautiful, especially in the divine person of Thine Only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, that, through the intercession of Saint Isidore, Bishop and Doctor, during our journeys through the internet we will direct our hands and eyes only to that which is pleasing to Thee and treat with charity and patience all those souls whom we encounter. Through Christ our Lord.   Amen.

It seems we are more conditioned to think of what works, what is safe for our computer, what will give us what we seek, etc... instead of what is pleasing to Christ.  I know for a fact we are barely concerned about treating others we encounter with charity and patience (check the comment line of any blog and you find a whole slew of angry, intolerant, and uncharitable rants and raves -- not to mention the blogs (my own mea culpa here). Not a bad thing to pray before heading out on the internet. 

As to St. Isidore, well, I am not sure it refers to Saint Isidore of Seville (c. 560 – 4 April 636) who served as Archbishop of Seville and who was said to be "The last scholar of the ancient world" OR Isidore the Laborer, also known as Isidore the Farmer (c. 1070 – 15 May 1130), a Spanish day laborer known for his piety toward the poor and animals.  While I am intellectually inclined to say the Isidore of the prayer refers to one who might have been called the "last scholar of the ancient world," my heart thinks that perhaps we ought be praying with one who worked with animals and the poor (also given the popularity of Farmville and its spin off sites).

So whether or not you plead for the intercession of Saint Isidore or not, praying before entering the unknown and uncertain dimension we call the internet is not a bad idea at all...

Fascinating Graphic History

Shamelessly stolen from Paul McCain at Cyberbrethren who borrowed it from Finvy. . .

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The law is for the protection of the people. . .

I must admit that I am an unabashed anglophile and consider that Cate Blanchett is the face I see when I think of Elizabeth, the so-called Virgin Queen.  Her portrayals of Elizabeth in both movies rank among the best acting I have ever seen.  Usually sequels are not up to the caliber of the movie they follow but it has been said of The Golden Age that This sequel's a crown not of inferior metal to its original...

There are, of course, may quotes worth quoting from the scripts but one that comes to mind is from the dialogue between Elizabeth and the ever present Walsingham (played brilliantly by Geoffrey Rush).  Walsingham is counseling Elizabeth to sentence Mary Stuart to death for her treason.  Elizabeth is reluctant to do so but even more antagonistic against the idea that she must do anything. 

Elizabeth:  Must? Mary Stuart must die?
Where is it written? Who says so? Have I ordered it?
Walsingham:  Majesty, this is no time for mercy.
Elizabeth: Don't preach at me, old man!
Look at you. You can hardly stand.
Go home to your wife and your bed.
Walsingham: The law must have its way.
Elizabeth: By whose authority do you condemn me?
Walsingham: God is my only judge.
Elizabeth: The law is for common men. Not for princes.
Walsingham: The law, Your Majesty, is for the protection of your people.

Therein is the line so precious.  The law is for the protection of your people...  It is a truth monarchs have often forgotten and to their peril.  It is the one buffer between the whim of a despot and the victimization of the people.  The same can be said of canon law.

Though Lutherans seem to have no canon law, in essence we do.  We have constitutions and by-laws, of course, and structures to offer the opportunity for redress against the arbitrary use of power.  More than this, we have rubrics.  The red letter law of the hymnal, agenda, and altar book.   And finally, we have the Confessions which both prescribe and proscribe what is the boundaries of orthodox confession and orthodox practice.

Sadly we have gone so far afield from our Confessions that they no longer have much direct impact on what is believed, confessed, taught, and practiced locally.  Our people have become ignorant of their confessions, except, perhaps, for the Small Catechism, but even this is less known among us than the pronouncements of the popular evangelical authors.  Every now and then there is an unpopular figure like a Walsingham who pleads against the arbitrary rule of either pew or pulpit and begs the church to restore to its proper place rubric and confession.  But just as Elizabeth had few voices like Walsingham, so Lutherans suffer from too few who will agitate for the unpopular of what is both our confession and our practice.

Our people have come to bristle at these rubrics and confessions as if they were monarchical and alien to  both our freedom and our popular identity.  Pastors have come to resist them when they limit pastoral discretion and when they conflict with the personal presumptions of the Pastor.  So the practical outcome of our ignorance of these types of canon law is that Sunday morning has become the domain of pastoral prerogative, the personal preference of the local people, or the tool of a larger purpose and goal (winning souls for Jesus).  The criteria of success is no longer faithfulness but success -- success in its most raw and earthy dimension of numbers.

We have forgotten.  The law is for the protection of your people...  Rubrics are for the protection of the people against innovation and practice in conflict with what we believe.  Confessions prescribe and proscribe to protect the people against the loss of the very Gospel itself.  Instead of running to them and demanding that the Mass be observed with every diligence and piety, instead of insisting that the church usages, ceremonies, and rituals of the church catholic be retained, instead of paying attention to the why and what of our practice, we have gotten the screwy idea that these are burdens upon us.  It is to our great shame that we find rubric and confession to be an ill fitting straight jacket instead of the comfortable clothing of our Lutheran identity.  We are not liturgical Methodists or sacramental Presbyterians or formal evangelicals or Roman style Catholics without a Pope.  We are Lutherans by intention and design.  We believe that our Lutheran confessional identity is Scriptural, catholic, and evangelical in the very best senses of those terms.

It is a sign of how far we have strayed that these rubrics and Confessions are now seen as excess baggage summarily dismissed with terms like high church or low church.  It was not so when Lutherans fought for the cause of the Gospel in the beginning and it is no less a fight today, though the battle lines are not nearly the same as in the sixteenth century.  When we are no longer comfortable with the Divine Service and its incumbent ceremonial as was Luther of old or Chemnitz after him or which Bach led from the organ bench, we are no longer comfortable with what it means to be Lutheran.  Period.

Though some are quick to point fingers at those who have added ceremony or practice not required by rubric or explicitly expressed in the Confessions, it is not the same to add as it is to subtract.  It is one thing to add something and quite another to take away that which is the pattern of the church's praise and thanksgiving.  It is one thing to add to the minimum but quite another to subtract from that which is the face of what we believe, confess, and teach.  I find it disingenuous when people complain about something added (the consecration bell, a passage of Scripture after the absolution, a Eucharistic Prayer from one of the previous worship books of our church body) and treat these as the same pastoral sin as abandoning the church's liturgy and hymnoday in toto.

We must come again to the point in which rubric and confession become the protection of the people against the loss of our Lutheran identity on Sunday morning, against the arbitrary rule of Pastor or culture over practices and ceremonies no longer comfortable with our culture, and against the loss of what is confessed from what is practiced (lex orandi lex credendi).

Walsingham was right.  Would that we might rekindle the wisdom of his words and stand.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

We spell success e n d u r e. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 22, Proper 24C, preached on Sunday, October 20, 2013.

    Of all the temptations prone to us as Christians, losing heart of the struggle, losing sight of the goal, losing focus on the purpose of your life in Christ, this is our greatest struggle.  Sure there are always those who get mad at the Pastor or the Church or the people or God and pack up their toys and go home, refusing to play anymore.  Underneath many of those folks, however, is a person who has simply lost his or her way in faith and uses the excuse to avoid facing up to it.
    We might think that losing heart, losing sight, losing focus are all more common to the aged after a whole host of disappointments and defeats but it is also the weakness of youth.  We are often battle worn Christians, not unlike those who come home from deployment unsure why they fought and uncertain if they made any difference.  New soldiers are just as prone as old ones to such weariness and questioning.
    The devil and the world are always asking us:  What difference does faith make?  What do you have to show for all you have lost and borne? And we are hard pressed to answer them because hidden within us are our own doubts, fears, anxieties, and just plain worn out spirits.
    The readings this morning all remind us that success in Christian faith and life is spelled perseverance.  We keep praying and keep living our faith not because we have so much to show for it all but precisely because we do not.  No one wonders where God is in life's victories.  It is in our defeats, when we lose our way, when we grow weary of the struggle, that we wonder where God is.  As tempted as we are to show a string of victories to substantiate the faith, faith is perseverance when all we have left is the promise of God.
    Our lives are not victories from which we look down the mountain, gloating upon our enemies still below in the valley.  No, our victory is that Christ is with us in the valley, in the shadow, in the struggle.  We endure because Christ is with us.  Faith trusts in the unseen promise because of what we have seen in Christ's visible suffering on the cross.  Faith is the assurance of what is not seen – not as people groping in the dark but because of what we have seen: Jesus Christ crucified for our salvation.  When Peter says though you have not seen Him, yet you love Him, Peter means though you do not see Him now, you love Him because you have seen how He has loved you, even to death on the cross.
    The object of our confidence in faith lies not in victories seen or triumphs we have witnessed or improvements in our lives, but solely in the promise of the cross, of sins forgiven, of life stronger than death, and of Christ’s strength with us now.  We focus not on the momentary sufferings of loss of our Christians lives not because are immune to its pain but because of the future promise to us in Christ.  We are forward focused in faith.
    Where I once lived along the Hudson River, we would watch ocean going ships make their way up the river to the Port of Albany.  The Hudson is deed but meandering and its channel narrow.  How could they find their way?  A river captain in the parish explained the system of lights.  When you see one light, you are centered in the channel.  When you see two you are drifting out of the channel and need to correct.  When you see three, you are in immanent danger of grounding.  Such is our forward focus upon Christ – it guides us through the thorny twists and turns of life but we need to be careful less we become distract by other lights and drift away from the promise of God.
    In the same way, it is our great temptation to judge everything by what we are going through or feeling in one moment.  But our lives cannot be seen or judged by a snapshot of greatness or of loss.  Who we are in Christ is not defined by one moment of righteousness anymore than it is defined by one terrible moment of sin. Who we are is defined by a life begun in baptism, nurtured by the grace of Word and Sacrament, and kept even to everlasting life.  One moment is not the total of our lives but the sufferings of Christ are what defines us.  Our past forgiven, He is present guiding us today, and we have a future of heaven and glory assured.  St. John says we are God's children now – an obvious enough statement but one so easily forgotten when our focus shifts from Christ to the troubles, trials, or temptations of the moment.
    Our lives cannot be judged on the basis of our sins without also seeing Christ's saving death.  Our lives cannot be judged on the basis of one good deed without acknowledging Christ working in us, the hope of glory.  So we do not give up our hold on grace, not for the moments of our glory nor the moments of our shame.  Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  Christ has sealed us as His in baptism.
    A heavenward focus is not simply for the aged but for all.  Heaven is not some consolation prize for all we have lost today.  Heaven is the sure and certain future that makes it possible for us to live today, to endure, to persevere, to keep on without losing hope or focus. 
    We will suffer much in this life.  Everyone does.  It is the terrible legacy of sin.  But we endure.  Not on the strength of our character, nor upon the achievements of our lives, but on the strength of Christ's love forgiving and His life redeeming us.  We find disappointment and dead ends all around us.  But Christ is the way for the lost, our light in the darkness and hope for the despairing.
    When Jesus asked in the Gospel for today, "When the Son of Man returns will He find faith on earth?"  This question was not because He feared the devil might win.  Calvary killed the devil.  It is not because Jesus fears Satan's power over us.  One little word can fell him, as we sing in A Mighty Fortress.  No, what Jesus fears most is the cost of weakness, weariness, and  worn out hearts, wherein the focus shifts from Christ to us, from heaven to the world, from grace to works.  Success is not achieving some benchmark but enduring, persevering, and trusting in the grace will not let you go.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, do not lose confidence and let go of that grace which is ours in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Who am I?

Perhaps the worst that has been done to self-identity is how it is answered by desire.  So you are gay, straight, consumer, fashionista, careerist, seeker of happiness or pleasure, Republican, Democrat, Independent, etc... In other words, we have succumbed to the temptation to define ourselves by what we want.  Children learn to answer the parental request with the ultimate in self-identity:  "I don't want to...."  Of course they learned it from their parents and the media.  Marriage, family, work, society, citizenship, and the marketplace are all about what I want.  Nothing more and nothing less.

There is hardly anything less noble than to define yourself  by your desires.  In part this is because desire changes.  Sometimes we feel like it and sometimes we don't (whatever the "it" is).  We do not marry because we value work higher.  We do not commit because we value personal freedom more highly.  We do not stay at one job because we value personal fulfillment more than the paycheck.  We do not have children because we value career and self more than children and the sacrifice required of those who have them. What a terrible bondage it is to hitch your identity to what you do, what you want, or what desires move you! 

You can see the depth of this in the way we deal with death and the kind of funerals we have.  We do not acknowledge death but only focus on the life.  We celebrate a life well lived and we have the photos to prove it.  Instead of the old days in which a family stared into the casket and received a line of those offering condolences and sympathies, we huddle around the big flat screen TV to watch the funny, the cute, the touching pictures of what was, a distraction from the death that is.  We bring in things from home to soften the blow.  We dress the dead in their favorite football jersey or surround the casket with the trinkets of their affections.  We play music they would have listened to instead of the music of the faith because we cannot bear to deal with the reality of death.  Their lives are reduced to what they did, what they liked, and what they accomplished.  None of this either points to nor offers the promise of a future beyond the memories of the loved ones that remain.

Facebook (and all kinds of social media for that matter) has become the sacrament of our desires.  We post the major and the minor events of our lives as if talking about where we are going or what we are doing will lend nobility or eternity to who we are.  We have forsaken the friendships that might cost us something for the presumed friendships of a click of a mouse.  We talk constantly about ourselves as if the world waited with baited breath to know what we were thinking or doing this second or that.  We tweet and txt what it is that we think or feel or desire at that moment.  The more who follow us, the more significant our lives.

We have forgotten that which gives our lives meaning and defines us most of all -- we are the children of God by baptism and faith.  The freedom that Christ gives is first of all freedom from the bondage to self that sin created when we rebelled and chose our own way instead of the Lord's.  Over and over again St. Paul reminds us that we belong to Christ, we have died with Christ and rose with Him as the new people of His creation, whether we live or die we belong to Him, and we are not our own for we have been bought with a price... and I could go on...

It is not that the other things do not matter but that everything is shaped by and seen through the lens of our primal identity as the baptized children of God.  Desire is shaped by Christ.  Happiness is defined by Christ.  Pleasure is what pleases Christ.  Love is learned from Christ.  Who I am as a man or woman or husband or wife or parent or child -- all of these are shaped by Christ.  What I do is not mere personal choice but vocation and in this vocation service is the highest good (as Christ served us even to death on the cross).

Idealized self-identity is a fancy word for sin, for curved into self sinful lives.  Christ has come to set us free -- not merely from the devil, his works, and his ways but also our selves, our desires, our wants, our wishes, and our dreams. We continue to think the evils that befall us are outside of us but it is Christ who warns us of the power of unleashed desire, of want and pleasure that have no bounds in their pursuit of happiness.  We say to our children "you are special" as if saying it makes it so.  We forget to tell them of the Christ who has purchased and won them with the priceless currency of His body broken and His blood shed.  The only special worth knowing and being is the one Christ makes possible. 

We have turned worship into what we want to do and church music into what we want to hear or sing and preaching into the spiritual gobbly gook of self-actualization.  And yet we find ourselves more disappointed by life than any previous generation, more unhappy than content, and bored despite the myriad avenues of toys, technology, and distraction.  The radical truth is that you are not the center of the universe.  The radical Gospel is that Christ has made you new.  The radical result of this is that we are not disappointed.

By idealizing our sexual desires, by idealizing our wants, by making gods of happiness and pleasure, by entertaining ourselves and making everything we do be entertaining, we have become less than who we are, less than Christ has made us.  It is no wonder the world has turned away from the Church.  Who wants a pale imitation or the real thing.  The world offers us the "real" thing of lives the revolve upon the axis of desire, want, happiness, pleasure, and me.  The Church can never compete here.  But why would we?  We have truth and mercy, grace and freedom, salvation and eternity... The already dead go down into the baptismal water and rise up alive like they have never been before.  Everything changes -- desire, want, happiness, pleasure...  The one abiding identity worth having is the one none of us can seek for ourselves and only Christ can give working through His Spirit.

He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  2 Corinthians 5:15-21

Monday, October 21, 2013

No Liberalism in Lutheranism. . .

We often greet one another with question "What's new?"  It is often the question that relates to the Church.  "What's new at Church?"  On one level, it is the request for news.  We are newsy people (or is that nosy people) and we don't want to be left out or the last one to find out something.  On another level, it is the inclination toward what is new or novel.  It attracts us.  We are drawn to the new even when it is curious or specious.  It is because it is new we give it place, even priority.  "What's new" has already defined what is interesting but it offers us a question that can seldom be definitively answers.  Instead it launches us on the pursuit of an endless parade of trend, fad, novelty, trivia and fashion -- none of which has yet shown any staying power.

In the Church "what's new" ought to be countered by "what's best."  What befits the Lord is not what is new but what is best, what is true, what is good, what is eternal.  Yet it is newness that has been the constant affliction for Christianity, a church too often enamored with a moment while dismissing the treasure of yesterday. 

Lutheranism disdains that which is novel.  We refuse newness.  At least the Lutheranism of our Confessions.  I am not so sure about us as Lutherans.  But in our Confessions we claim the Mass, we claim the Fathers, we claim the Word yesterday, today, and forever the same, etc...  We claim to REnew the catholic faith, not to re-invent it.  We do not lament that God has been absent from His Church (as some of the radical reformers seem to have done).  We call the Church back to Christ who changes not.

Some have used Lutheranism and the Great Reformation as a spring board for many things that the Confession refuse.  One of them is the idea of personal Biblical interpretation.  The idea is that the Bible says what I say it says and no one can tell me it doesn't.  That is certainly the right guaranteed to Americans but it is not the right nor the domain of Christianity nor Lutheranism.

 Check out this wonderful preface to the "Corpus Doctrinae" or "Body of Doctrine" of the Church order of Julius, Duke of Braunschweig-Woelfenbuettel, written by Chemnitz (1569)... (translation by
Smith/Corzine/Harrison)  You may read the longer quote on the Mercy Journey's site.

Neither may the holy Scriptures be bent, twisted, or perverted to pre-conceived notions according to one’s own pleasure, for Scripture does not stand on anyone’s own interpretation (2 Peter 1), but rather it should be accepted in its simple understanding, as the same is given by the clear, lucid letter, and as one saying of Scripture explains another iuxta analogiam fidei (according to the analogy of the faith), as such regulae de interpretatione scripturae (rules for the interpretation of scripture) are set forth by Irenaeus (lib. 2, cap. 46 and 47), Jerome <91>(19 caput Isaiae), and Augustine (libri de doctrina christiana).
We are quite pleased to accept the right, ancient, catholic consensus on the right, true understanding of the holy Scripture, as the same is composed in the most ancient creed, which is called the Apostle’s Creed, which Tertullian calls regula fidei, a rule of faith. Later the dear fathers drew together out of the holy Scriptures the chief parts of pure Christian doctrine against the heretics in certain short creeds, that is the Nicene and Athanasian creeds, when great controversies and horrific fanatacisms appeared. For these same creeds are not external to or against the Scriptures, but rather are the right actual understanding, indeed the blood and marrow[2] of the holy divine Scriptures.
 [2] krafft unnd safft.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How do I tell my Pastor what I do not like about him?

A million years ago I was brand new out of seminary, on vicarage, sitting at a circuit meeting (what we Missourians affectionately call a winkel) and a Pastor of some experience was lamenting who had been elected chairman of the council in the parish where he served.  "I cannot work with that man!" he said.  And around the table other Pastors commiserated with him.  One solitary voice answered his statement.  "But you will have to or you must leave."  It was a stunning silence that followed this comment.  Yet everyone there, even this youthful, willful vicar, knew the truth of what was said.  You will have to work with him... or you will have to leave.

Fast forward a few hundred thousand years and a man was elected President of the Council in the parish I served.  I had been ordained only 4-5 years.  The man had actually spoken against giving me a raise at the annual meeting and even questioned the money paid to me for car expenses.  He insisted that it was not because he felt I did not deserve it but that the parish could not afford it.  Then he was elected President.  And I was left with a President who did not think the parish could afford to support me and whose tone seemed to imply, at least to me, that I was not worth it, either.  What to do....

A retired Pastor who was a member of my parish was a man of great experience and uncommon common sense wisdom.  I told him of the difficulty I saw coming and of my problems working with such a fellow.  He advised me to pray for him.  NOT to pray that the man would change or come to be my friend or support me but simply to pray for him by name every day.  As I left him, I laughed inside.  What good would that do?

But I had few options and in the end who will argue against prayer.  So I prayed his name morning, afternoon, and evening and a few other times thrown in for good measure.  Just the name lifted before the Lord.  In the process of things, the years did not go that badly.  When, many years later, I accepted a call to another parish, this man, whom I thought to be my enemy, embraced with with tears in his eyes and lamented my leaving with a genuine and honest heart.

As a circuit counselor (sort of a dean of a small number of geographically close congregations), I often encountered complaints about Pastors.  ""How should I tell my Pastor what I do not like about him?"  Now there is an interesting question.  I expect that people in the pew have wondered the same thing about me.  "How do I tell Pastor Peters the things I don't like about him?"  My first inclination would be to respond in kind.  "How do I tell the parishioners what I don't like about them?!"  But first inclinations are so often born of the sinful heart and so I do not recommend listening to the inner voice here.  What I do recommend is the same advice given to me when I worried about a difficult lay leader.  Pray for him.

I am sure that every Pastor does things that people do not like.  But I cannot think of anything more fruitful than to engage your Pastor in that conversation.  I doubt that it would encourage any changes that you might welcome.  No, the wise course and the path of faith is to pray for Him.  NOT to pray that he would wake up and do things your way or that he would change to become the person you want him to be or that he would take a call and leave but simply pray for him.  Pray for him by name.  Leave the rest to the Lord working through His Spirit.

Second, compliment him on what he does well.  Tell him what you appreciate.  Make it less about his personality and more about the way he carries out his pastoral vocation in this congregation.  Be specific.  Be genuine.  Look for things to compliment.  Do so with a generous spirit and a willing heart.

Third, thank him.  Pastors hear lots of complaints and not a lot of gratitude.  I can well remember the indignant woman who walked into my Sunday morning Bible class to inform me that the ladies restroom was out of toilet paper.  That was a high point.  But those memories are overwhelmed by the people who come to me and say "thank you" for the visit, for taking worship so seriously, for all the hidden things a Pastor does that no one sees, and for a kindness offered without me being aware anyone was watching.  Those words of gratitude go a long way.  Most of all, thank him for hearing and answering God's call and being a Pastor.

Finally, confess to God the burdens of a heart so fixed upon disappointments.  I am convinced that many of the conflicts and disputes in church have little to do with the Pastor or the congregation and are born of a discontented heart.  We pray well our disappointments to God but we do not pray enough God's promises.  I am convinced that we would have less disappointments to pray the Lord if we prayed more often and more fervently His promises to us.  I have learned it is not always about me.  Sometimes you have to help people unpack the sources of their discontent.  God can do this.  Give Him the chance to do it for you.

No one can feel hatred towards those for whom he prays.—St. John Chrysostom, Homily 6 on 1 Timothy

BTW I have often advised people with the same advice given me when I lamented my situation to that retired Pastor of blessed memory... and in every case, they have prayed and the Lord has granted them a merry heart... and often the resolution or at least the release of some of the tension that occasioned the prayer.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Drunk and dazed. . .

While listening to some Anglicans discussing the Archbishop of Canterbury describing the Anglican Church as a drunk wavering on the edge of a precipice, it occurred to me that there is much in this analogy and not for Anglicans only.

The Anglicans discussing this were saying that unlike the college kid on spring break who awakens from his drunken stupor with a tattoo and a social disease, Anglicans are hard core drunks -- the kind you find sleeping it off in alleys and under an overpass.  They awaken not to sober reality but to pursue more of the stuff that numbs the pain and clouds the mind.  So Anglicans, as these Anglicans said, are the hard core drunks who have abandoned doctrine and faith and have only a stuffy liturgical formality and a desire for social justice left. Anglicans seem not to know who they are anymore.  They have been drunk too long.  They will probably not fall over the edge because they have done it already.  Instead the worst that can happen is that they remain drunk, oblivious to their past and without regard to their future.

I am not sure about this judgment -- merely repeating the conversation.  What I did find appealing is this image of the college kid who wakes up from his spring break bender.  It occurs to me that many within the ELCA, as well as some of those in the NALC and LCMC, think of the CWA 2009 embrace of gays and lesbians in the same way the college kid wakes up to find the evidence of his drunken all nighter.  Yes they have the tattoo and yes they have the social disease but... the folks hope that they can get over it and go back to normal.  The NALC and LCMC folks yearn more for an ELCA like it was than for something very different.  Those remaining in the ELCA hope that they can put their spring break (or in this case, August Indulgence) behind them and things can get back to some sense of normal -- without the conflict or the preoccupation with what was done in 2009.

The ELCA is, however, a long term, hard core drunk when it comes to its rejection of Biblical authority, its skepticism about Biblical fact, and its love affair with mainline Protestantism.  This is not some flirtation or week end bender.  It is an addiction that has stripped away the Lutheran identity and left them with but a memory of their Lutheran past and a difficulty with an unchanging truth. The ELCA needs real help and must begin by confessing they are drunks when it comes to reconciled diversity, progressive Protestant liberalism, and doubts about Biblical truth and authority.  Sobriety requires you to face the full measure of your pain and, while I hope it could happen, I am not holding my breath to await the result. 

For that matter, Missouri's spring break orgy was more like Wichita in 1989 with its recension of Augustana XIV.  We have the hangover.  We have the tattoo.  We have the social disease.  But we have taken a pain killer, covered up the tattoo with resolutions to institutionalize our error, and live in denial about the social disease.  I hope we wake up to the consequences of our spring break and reclaim our identity but as long as we live in denial we will suffer the symptoms and hide from the treatment.

On the other hand, we in Missouri are hard core drunks when it comes to the church growth movement, to contemporary worship, and to mission strategies that require us to hide our Lutheran identity and appear to some body we are not.  This is no passing flirtation.  This is no spring break dalliance.  This is a hard core addiction to non-sacramental worship, seeker style services, praise music, and the illusion of success defined by numbers. Like the Anglicans and ELCA, such a hard core addiction will require more than a visit to the doctor.  We need to enter rehab in order to remember who we are so that we can be who we are on Sunday morning.  We will never outgrow our temptation by these things but we can learn again the painful but necessary track of sobriety.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Good wisdom. . .

From Dr. Ray Hartwig, LCMS Secretary:

October is “Clergy Appreciation Month.” This is the month for congregations and their members to show appreciation to their pastors. And they do so, in various ways: special prayers, card showers, pot lucks, etc. Not many give the pastor the parsonage.

In one of the rural parishes I served, my predecessor retired from the ministry and remained in the parish to serve as organist. Although withdrawn and not very personable, he was also not always a quiet man, known to make outrageous comments. And he was not a very good preacher or teacher by most standards. Unique to say the least, what he sometimes did and said would today prompt a call to the district president. And yet the congregation loved and respected him during his 28 years as their pastor and then gave him the parsonage when he retired.
That was another day, another time–a time when calls to obtain pastors were more prayerful than careful, when pastors were more likely to be accepted with their flaws than expected to be well above average, when congregations saw their pastors as men of God holding a very high office. Our congregations and our Synod would do well to be a little less careful and expecting and a little more prayerful and accepting of the men God provides. They are giving their lives to teach His Word, administer His Sacraments, and shepherd the souls He calls, gathers, and enlightens by the very Gospel they preach.

 Do we respect those we like or with whom we agree?  Or, do we respect the office and those who bear the office within the boundaries of their own human frailty?  Our Synod Secretary points out that many of the problems and conflicts which plague congregations and their Pastors are created by unrealistic expectations.

My wife is fond of reminding me that half of all doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class.  Or another saying:  what do you call a someone who passed the bar with the minimum score?  Lawyer, of course.  Not every Pastor graduates at the top of his class, is a world class preacher, is a savvy administrator, can carry on great conversation, possesses the special skill and insight of a counselor, or is a gifted teacher.  Most of us are just average.  I know that at best I am average and on a bad day, well, not even that.  Yet God has deigned to work through us flawed and frail examples of piety, faith, and righteousness.  It is the scandal and miracle of grace.  Thanks be to God when people realize that in their Pastors and honor them anyway.

Once I spoke to the son of a Pastor who was then a Pastor of a very large congregation.  In contrast, his father (who baptized me) had served very small and marginal congregations -- even into his 90s.  The son was big on high expectations of clergy and suggested to me that too many Pastors were serving because it was easy money and not a very demanding lifestyle and how it would be better for the Church if all Pastors were paid based on their results.  I brought up his dad and the guy said he was not sure his father should have been a Pastor!?!  By the world's standards the dad never measured up to the son.  But a disproportionate share of the babies baptized and the youth confirmed by his dad ended up like me -- a Pastor or perhaps a teacher or another full-time church worker.  Fruit indeed!

I pray that we can get back to being more prayerful than careful when it comes to calls and pastoral relationships.  The Lord has not promised to work through the gifted, talented, skilled, and accomplished.  He has promised to work through His Word, even when the voice that speaks it is flawed, the hands that administered His sacraments feeble, and the personality of the man difficult.

My home parish had a Pastor who was a rather hard fellow.  He was a solid Pastor but too blunt spoken to be considered nice and too unbending to be beloved.  Folks outside the parish sometimes wondered why the people put up with this guy, why they did not put his name on a call list, or complain to the District President.  In the end, he served there until he died and is now buried in the cemetery down from the church building.  The people knew the Pastor was not the Church.  They were patient, filling in the gaps of his own ability.  They loved him for who he was instead of complaining for who he was not.  Bless those folks.  I wish there were more of them today.  It would sure make it easier for us less than average Pastors and a whole lot more satisfying for the people of God in the pews, too.