Saturday, November 30, 2013

As Advent approaches. . .

Here is a little piece I wrote for an ezine of our Synod.  It is a brief piece on Advent, the push to drive through it from the world around us and the call to slow down within the Church.  I would suggest you check back for other offerings...

It is called Unwrapping the Gifts. . . You can reach it HERE...  Don't forget to subscribe! to the RSS feed!

Liturgy wars. . .

A friend directed me to an interesting paper by Dom Alcuin Reid on The New Liturgical Movement After the Pontificate of Benedict XVI.  It was interesting although the worship wars of the Roman Catholic Church are distinctly different than the worship wars of Lutheranism.

The paper begins with a note to the difference in dress between BXVI and Francis upon their election and first appearance from the central loggia of St. Peter's Basilica.  At that point the whole world knew that Francis was not Benedict.  His attire said as much.  He made a personal decision to reject how popes had traditionally vested for the Urbi et Orbi moment.  Dom Alcuin Reid cautions about making each pope's style or personal preference the victory or defeat of the liturgy.  In fact he goes on to cite the difficulty in a media age from distinguishing the words of the pope when speaking ex cathedra and when he is speaking according to his own manifest mind and will.  He urges respect for the later but the acknowledgement that idolizing everything the pope says is nothing more and nothing less than ultramonantism (the belieef that any opinion, act or judgement of the pople is above criticism or infallible and to be followed as the teaching of Christ Himself.

Long before he became pope, Cardinal Ratzinger made exactly the same point.  The Pope is not an absolute monarch and demand obedience to himself but is supposed to be the premier guardian of the authentic Tradition and obedience is to that Tradition whom the pope preserves.  He cannot simply do as he likes.  In fact, Ratzinger wrote of this as the difference between a technician who builds new and discards old machines on a junkpile and a gardener who nurtures the living tradition by handing it on faithfully.

Dom Alcuin Reid continues by suggesting that part of the problem is this confusion of personal choice with the preservation of the authentic tradition, even saying out loud what many have whispered:  that Paul VI imposed his own personal will on the liturgical tradition when he implemented the Vatican II reform and went well beyond what the explicit words of the Council had said.  In March of 1969 one of the Cardinals write "If the Holy Father has decided to reform the Liturgy, we must accept."

But maybe they should not have just accepted.  For clearly the spirit of Vatican II became a spirit in conflict with the express pronouncements of the Council and indeed a distinct influence upon the liturgical reforms of communions well beyond Rome.  Reid insists that the personal style or preferences of a given pope are not law and it is possible that a pope can make errors of judgement or give confusing and even misleading witness to the church and world.

With respect to the worship wars of Lutherans, personal preference is indeed the name of the game.  The witness of the Confessions, the example of the Reformers and their earliest successors, the church orders of Lutheranism from the sixteenth century, and the practice of the Church of the Augsburg Confession have all become less important than what either the people in the pews or the people not in the pews or those leading worship desire.  We have an anarchy of personal preference in which the particular desires, preferences, or style of one becomes papal in authority over the many.

Some would say that is exactly what I do as a Pastor working to restore the liturgy, manifest the full resources of our Lutheran liturgical tradition, respect the Confessional words and practice of our Church, and maintain an identity on Sunday morning which is consistent with what we believe, confess, and teach.  I am accused even in this blog of playing pope to the detriment of the wishes of the people whom I serve.  But I would maintain that I am not advancing personal preference or style but preserving the faithful tradition as a gardener tends the garden.  What has happened, however, is that our practice has come so far from our Confession that when we restore that evangelical and catholic tradition, we are accused of Romanizing or of imposing personal preference over the preferences of the congregation.

Lets cover a few of the hot button items. 
  • Chanting is not personal preference.  It was and is the accepted practice of the Church before Luther and it was the customary tradition of Lutherans after Luther.  That we forgot it for a time is our failing and not a virtue.  
  • Weekly Communion is not personal preference.  It was and is the accepted practice of the Church before Luther and it was the customary tradition of Lutherans after Luther.  
  • Full eucharistic vestments is not personal preference.  It was and is the accepted practice of the Church before Luther and it was the customary tradition of Lutherans after Luther. 
  • Liturgical integrity is not personal preference.  It was and is the accepted practice of the Church before Luther and it was the customary tradition of Lutherans after Luther. 
  • Kneeling is not personal preference.  It was and is the accepted practice of the Church before Luther and it was the customary tradition of Lutherans after Luther. 
  • Crossing oneself is not personal preference.  It was and is the accepted practice of the Church before Luther and it was the customary tradition of Lutherans after Luther. 
I could expand the list but I am sure this is enough to cause a few comments from those reading....  No Lutheran Pastor who works to restore these items is acting papal or imposing personal preference.  These are who we are as Lutherans.  Just because we have allowed personal preference to dispose of these practices does not mean that to restore them is to invoke personal preference.  As someone once said of Lutherans, our problem is not that we do not have a pope but that we have too many.  At the core and center of the liturgy wars in Rome (EF or NO) or worship wars in Lutheranism is the confusion of personal preference with tradition (the good kind, that kind that Pelikan called the living faith of the dead as opposed to traditionalism, the dead faith of the living).  Rome may be listening too much to the personal style and preference of its current pope but Lutherans have made personal preference the pope and listen to much to what people want and too little to what is faithful and authentic practice of what the faith of our Confessions.

I know I will have stirred up a hornets nest here but I think these words need to be said.  We are not Calvinists imposing something foreign to our tradition on Sunday morning.  We are Lutherans acting like the Lutherans we say we are in our Confessions.  If you like or dislike these things, well, you like or dislike them;  to make conflicting and competing likes and dislikes papal pronouncements is to miss the forest for the trees.  We do not do these things because we like them but because we are Lutheran.  I write this only because I find it confusing and frustrating that our failure to be who we are on Sunday morning has become normal and trying to restore the integrity of our practice to the integrity of our Confessions has become the odd man out. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

You attach the punch line... A little post Thanksgiving humor for Black Friday

Hey, did you see that picture of Francis I posted on facebook?

Ooooh, sorry about that, it was the spicy chili for lunch.

Really? I like you, too.  We need to have lunch sometime.

Wow, have you ever ridden in the Pope's old Fiat?  Thought I was gonna die.

Gee, I just love these pointy hats we wear -- especially in gold!  Don't you?

There was this priest, this Lutheran Pastor, and this Methodist minister, see....

Ugh, I had the runs so I did like Moses, took the two tablets and headed for the hills.

I had no idea I was going to be pope for a day, and today, too!

Did you hear that alto in the choir -- ouch, wrong note!

You too?  My favorite hymn is also "A Mighty Fortress."

Eh, that Luther.  Crazy theology but the kind of guy you want to have a beer with, ya know!

So, did we make a mistake with Francis?  I knew it should have been Mahoney!

I don't know about Latin but I love Klingon.  Why can't we do mass in Klingon?

For Christmas I want one of those laser points from Sharper Image -- drives the altar boys crazy during mass.

I forgot my password to Amazon and had to order it on your account.  Okay?

What's in the church mailbox. . .

Do you want to know what kind of stuff stuffs the Pastor's mailbox?  What kind of propaganda is being sent to the church address?  Maybe you don't.  There are many times I wish I did not know.  But part of my daily duty is to peruse the items that come in the mail...

I recently had a moment while on hold at the phone and the first piece I picked up offered some wisdom for church organizations facing radical change.  The author began with a matter of fact presumption that we were living only the fourth era of major change in history and one in which we are compelled to change everything.  There is no normal is this changing world.  If we as a church are to survive, the author insisted we will need to be able to quickly adapt to the changing environment.  He offered some pointers to help people like me.

Stability is deadly for organic things.

Learn to embrace disequilibrium (whatever that means).  He said stability and the status quo will be disaster for all organizations until we know what kind of world this evolving epoch of change will bring.  The time is now, according to this author, to throw everything out and start over instead of trying to hold on to faltering ways of organizing and leading that no longer work.

Smaller organizational structures adapt more easily.

Ditch the committees and board structures in nearly all congregations and create a small board to set policy and hold the pastor accountable while getting out of the way for its implementation.

Learn to live on the edge of chaos.

Apparently he has never been to my congregation.  Living on the edge of chaos is already what we are doing.  Hmmm.  Heresy becomes the norm (when the operating truth has been 'we have always done it this way...').  If your church is not experimenting with everything, it is dying.

Organic morphying takes on new shapes.  Living systems have a mind of their own.

Self organizing is the key.  In chaos no one knows how it will look when the dust settles so stop trying to predict and plan and simply go with the flow.  Morphing (what I would call mutating) is an uncontrolled process so you need to step out of the way.

Action is the only way forward.

You cannot predict the future or plan for it -- just do it.  Intuition is the most important skill for the future.  Are you ready to take a flying leap?


This is the stuff that is supposed to help me.  Remember that old book "Who Moved the Cheese?"  It has contributed to the birth of an organizational philosophy in which old is bad, structure inhibits, change is good, chaos is creative, and stability is death.  Yeah, I know.  Throw that mail away.  But think about it.  There are a good many church leaders and clergy who are reading this, believing in it, and leading their churches by its wisdom.  There are many evangelicals and even Lutherans who have drunk the kool-aid of modernity and are sure they are the saviors of the church and the keys to the survival of what God began.  The holy word of change experts has become the new Word of the Lord that guides, shapes, and directs the churches committed to statistical success.  What unnerves me is not that this kind of stuff comes in my mail, but that there are too many who secretly or overtly believe this stuff and who are right now messing with the faith, worship, and ministry of their congregation to make sure that the world of change has not left them behind... as apparently it has left behind Jesus...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor-- and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be-- That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks--for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation--for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war--for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed--for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted--for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions-- to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually--to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed--to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord--To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us--and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Go: Washington

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Something worth your reading and consideration. . .

I have copied this blog post for your review and thoughtful consideration.  While you may not agree with everything Fr. Stephen writes, his point is compelling and addresses one of the tensions we must face in the ongoing discussion of close(d) communion vs opening communion.  I urge you to read it and let me know what you think.  Pastor Peters


The Politics of the Cup    --   from the Glory to God for All Things Blog and Fr. Stephen who is an Orthodox Priest under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America. He serves as the Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

COMMUNION_OF_THE_APOSTLESFlyer small“I don’t know about the Church thing.”
This is a quote from a recent conversation – wonderfully post-modern and summing up the tragedy of modern Christianity. The great failure of Protestant theology (in all forms), despite its wide-ranging thought on the nature of God and human salvation, has been “the Church thing.” The careful parsing of every verse of Scripture pertaining to justification is met with generalities and vagaries when the Scripture speaks of the Church – and particularly when the Scripture speaks of the “One Church.” Modern extremes have sought to push a version of churchless Christianity into the earliest century (cf. Bart Ehrman), only the latest attempt to re-write Christian history in a manner that justifies modern Christian dissonance.

Orthodox Christianity (and Roman Catholicism to a large extent) has resisted this jettisoning or reconfiguring of Church. The result is an abiding scandal within the Christian world – the Orthodox act and speak as though there were no other Church.

I have written on this topic from time to time – and the discussion that follows is always fraught with the tension it creates. Perhaps no topic within Christianity generates more difficulty than the Church. I take this difficulty to be a hallmark of the accuracy of Orthodox thought in the matter. It is salt in a theological wound. The following thoughts will doubtless offer more salt – but the wound is real and cannot be imagined (re-imagined) away.

The early Church struggled for several centuries to rightly confess the God/Manhood of Christ. Expressing the reality of the Incarnation pushed the boundaries of language and gave to the world such words and concepts as “Person.” The failures of the same period also gave the world the most long-lasting schism in Christian history: the division between Oriental and Eastern Orthodoxy. In the modern period, the doctrine of the Church, or rather its absence and distortion, has given rise to a landscape populated with “churches” whose very multiplicity is an icon of human brokenness.

In the Nicene Creed we confess “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” It is an article of faith no less important than any other phrase within the Creed. That the modern, visible expression of the Church so utterly contradicts this article of the Creed should be a matter of collective shame for Christians. However, the modern solution has been to hide from the shame by changing the meaning of the Creed or simply ignoring it.

A profound example of modern shamelessness is the assault on Eucharistic integrity. St. Irenaeus said, “Our teaching agrees with the Eucharist and the Eucharist confirms our teaching.” From the earliest days, the Church and the Eucharist have been seen as one and the same. We do not think the Church – we eat and drink the Church. This is often described as a eucharistic ecclesiology. In Orthodoxy, this is a redundant phrase, for the Eucharist is the Church and the Church is the Eucharist.

But just as modern Christians “do not get the Church,” so they “do not get the Eucharist.” An individualized, democratic culture sees the Eucharist as an entitlement and the refusal of eucharistic “hospitality” to be an insult to Christian unity. The refusal of eucharistic “hospitality” is not an insult to unity – it is rather the careful and accurate expression the boundary of the Church. The scandal lies within the modern refusal to embrace the unity of the faith. The heedless “eucharistic hospitality” practiced by the denominations is simply an extension of their refusal to take the Church as a serious matter of the faith. Eucharistic hospitality is easy (and cheap) when unity itself has been emptied of meaning. The critique of Orthodox integrity with regard to the Eucharist is nothing less than an assault on the Eucharist itself.

Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University is often described as a “political theologian.” This does not mean that his thought serves the civil definition of politics. Rather, his thought insists that what we do and how we visibly express our lives, the “politics” of our existence, is the most essential expression of theology. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “You are my epistle, written on the fleshy tables of the heart.” The Church is what theology looks like. I studied with Hauerwas in the late 80’s and early 90’s. When I left the doctoral program to return to parish ministry, I told him that I was leaving the program “in order to do theology.” He understood and had no argument.

Many Christians fail to see the “politics” of their faith. They think one thing and do another (it is another aspect of the “two-story universe”). Almost nothing is as eloquent an expression of the Church’s life than the “politics of the Cup.” What we do with the Eucharist and how that action displays the inner reality of our life is a deeply “political” expression (in the sense that Hauerwas uses the word).

The one common thread throughout the Protestant Reformation was its opposition to the Church of Rome. Lutheran, Calvinist and Anglican Reforms were all embraced by various rising nation states, not so much for the appeal of the particularities of their teaching, but for their willingness to provide cover for the subjugation of the Church to the political demands of secular rulers.

Those demands are far less transparent in the modern period. The legitimacy of the state is today rooted in democratic theories. Those same theories are legitimized by the individualism of popular theology. Eucharistic hospitality is the sacramental expression of individualism. The Open Cup represents the individual’s relationship with Christ without regard for the Church. It is the unwitting sacrament of the anti-Church.
In the last few decades, the same individualism has taken on great immediacy within a consumerist economy. At the same time, we have seen the rise of arguments for a radically individualized reception of communion, one that no longer insists on Baptism. Only the secret intention of the recipient is required. The Eucharist becomes inert – reduced to the status of an object to be chosen or rejected according to the desire of the individual. It is a consumer’s communion with himself.

Those who separate the Eucharist from the Church also separate themselves from the Church – they seek to eat while “not discerning the body.” The treatment of the Eucharist clearly reflects the treatment of the Church.

The scandal of Orthodox Communion in the modern world is its identification with the Church itself. The Church as Eucharist cannot be consumed as just one more option in an individual’s privileged life. The refusal of eucharistic “hospitality” is, in fact, an act of true hospitality. It is an act that says:
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.
Having come to such a place we “remove our shoes.” Every consumerist demand must fall silent. The individual must yield to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the “assembly of the firstborn who are registered in heaven.” It rightly shatters the imaginings of modern man and his constant attempt to reinvent what he himself could never make. For the Eucharist is the Church.

Praying up. . .

It was an inauspicious occasion.  I had happened upon a member who was being visited by a neighbor who just happened to be a clergyman of the Baptist persuasion (though Baptists are by no means alone in this).  Anyway the prayer was not like the prayers of my prayerbook or the collects of the hymnal that I am accustomed to.  There was a lot of talk but I am not sure to whom it was addressed.  It was not bad.  But I am not sure it was prayer.  The one praying spoke genuinely about how much he loved these people and how his family had loved them over the years and what good friends and neighbors they had been.  It was a prayer seemingly more addressed to the people prsent than to God.

This is not much different than what happens sometimes on Sunday morning.  Some Pastors view the prayers as extensions of the homily and use the time of prayer to reinforce the main points of the sermon -- in case they did not make it clear during the sermon itself.  Others have used prayers as announcements, perhaps something that did not make it in the bulletin or the verbal announcements. We say to God what we want the people to hear.  It is not terrible but I am not sure it is prayer.

The current Chaplain of the Senate, Barry C. Black, a retired admiral and a 7th Day Adventist, has recently been in the news for his prayers, words which have a reputation for being addressed to the others in the room as much as to God.  I am not sure this is a good thing and if I had the opportunity I would discourage such sermonizing under the guise of praying.  Besides, I am not sure it matters much given the state of things in Washington. God is the one and other who actually can change the way things are there.

It is as if we think too little of prayer that we use prayer for the mundane and routine business of saying what should be said to people directly.  It could be that we do not believe that prayer really makes any difference and so it no big deal to co-opt the words meant for God and turn them into words meant for men.  It could also be that we think the business of today more of a priority than the business of eternity so that we have more than enough time to actually pray to God but we might not have much time to speak to people.  I am not sure why we do this but it is an awful witness to the people in the pew and a terrible witness to the world.

Prayer is the noblest of speech not because we wax so eloquent when we pray but because "saying back to God what He has said to us" we repeat that which is most certain and true.  That is prayer.  Praying the Words of the Lord back to the Lord in faith and with those words we bundle all our desires and the concerns of our hearts -- all summarized and expressed faithfully in the "amen" of faith that trusts the good and gracious will in all things.

Prayer should not be taken lightly nor words prayed lightly.  If we find we cannot trust ourselves to refrain from turning prayer earthwards, then we should pray the prayers of others enough so that we figure out what prayer is.  But Lord deliver us from addressing you with words we really mean for the people who happening to be listening in.

It all reminds me of the well known story about a time when President Lyndon Johnson asked Bill Moyers, his press secretary who was also an ordained Baptist minister, to offer a prayer at a White House dinner. Johnson and Moyers were seated at opposite ends of a long table, and a few sentences into the prayer, the president interrupted: “I can’t hear you, Bill!” Moyers’ response: “I’m not talking to you, Mr. President!”

Perhaps as people we are more interested in words addressed to us than words addressed to God.  We have a thing for listening to conversations meant for others, for clandestine stalking the lives of others via Facebook, and for snooping in the business of others.  Could it be that we like it when prayers are prayed for our benefit at least as much as God's?  If that is the case, then it is even more important that those praying in church pray to God -- so that we who listen in might learn what prayer is from example if not from catechesis.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What kind of King makes peace with His own blood?

Sermon for Pentecost Last, Proper 29C, preached on Sunday, November 24, 2013.

    An oft repeated hope raised from the dust of the battlefield is a war in which there are no acres strewn with fallen dead and wounded warriors.  In this hope only two champions meet in battle to resolve the conflict.  The lives of all hang in the balance of one battle and one who remains standing after it is done.  It is an oft repeated theme in movies, such as the recent installment of The Hunger Games series.  In fiction, each side picks its own best warrior to fight.  Today we see the fantasy as real.  God has sent His own Son to wear our flesh so that He may fight all our enemies, one Savior against sin, death, and Satan.  Christ is the King who fights for the life of the world to make peace through His blood.
    Kings are usually insulated from suffering and death.  But not Jesus. He is born like us so that He might suffer for us, in our place, and die the death that we should have died.  Earlier in the Gospels, when Jesus says before Pilate who questions if Jesus were indeed a king, our Lord says, "It is for this I was born."  He is born not to inspire us or teach us how to be better people or have better lives.  He is come to do battle, to suffer, and to die.  He lives the life we should have lived and then we are credited with His righteousness.  He dies the death we should have died and we receive forgiveness and life by His sacrifice.  He rises not for Himself but to bring His people through death to the life none of us deserve nor dare claim as our own.  That is what it means to call Christ King.
    Fifty years ago this week JFK was assassinated.  His time as President was often called Camelot – a fantasy and romance of high ideals and nobility.  But Jesus’ kingdom is no romantic or fantasy place like Camelot.  His is no inspirational story meant to bring out the best in us.  He is King to suffer and die and make our peace with His own blood.  His Kingdom calls us not to fight with Him but to receive the fruits of His one, all sufficient victory. That is what it means to call Christ King.
    Kingdoms are often fearful places in which subjects come in terror before their powerful monarchs.  But Jesus’ kingdom is no fearful place to us.  We cower not in fear of the unknown but are bidden and welcomed by what He has revealed to us by His suffering and death.  We may  enter Christ's kingdom as enemies but we are made His family by our baptismal bath in His blood.  There we encounter the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin.  It becomes for us the washing that gives us new birth.  There we shed our old lives in captivity to sin and in fear of God to live the new lives of His grace, seeking the holy and loving God as Savior.  That is what it means to call Christ King.
    Here we live out this life.  Called by the voice of His Word, washed in His blood, we are bidden to assemble in His name here – here where through the means of grace He bestows the fruits of His suffering and death to us, undeserving though we be. Here we live out our lives in the Kingdom, receiving from the Word and the Sacraments of Christ the peace His blood has secured.  Here we come as sinners who have fallen and we are restored through forgiveness.  Here we come as the wandering whom He has sought and found.  That is what it means to call Christ King.
    Our Lord does not trust our lives in His Kingdom to us or to others.  He makes it His own solemn duty to sustain what He has begun. His kingly reign is manifest not in some distant glory but the glory of the means of grace, where we encounter Christ and the power of His blood in the places where our King has appointed, where He comes to us to finish the new creation born in us in baptism.  That is what it means to call Christ King.
    Here, as we acknowledge what He did, we find in His work the surprise of a future beyond our imagination. His Kingly reign is no earthly peace keeping force but the promise of eternity given us by grace.  Just as the past pointed to Christ whose kingly reign would come from the cross to a world in need of redemption, so everything about our lives in Christ points us to the life that is yet hidden within Him for all eternity.  He has made us His own prized possession.  He has formed us for Himself.  He has made our peace by His blood.  He has gone ahead to prepare a place for us.  What this means is that nothing in our Christian lives today is an end in and of itself.  Everything points to what is to come, the foretaste of the promised future, and pledge and down payment of His finished work.  That is what it means to call Christ King.
    Too often we talk as if Jesus were some fantasy King who inspires what is best in us.  We talk of His kingdom as if it were some virtual reality instead of a real place.  We talk as if faith were merely a choice or decision to follow Him and love Him.  What audacity and hubris!  We treat Christ as some glorified earthly ruler instead of the redeemer of the world whose suffering and death have brought us forgiveness and life and whose blood has washed us clean.
    Our King and His kingdom are no fantasy or spiritualized reality designed merely to inspire us.  No, our King has come for the reality of our lost lives, to bear the burden of all our sin and guilt, to pay its awful price, and to make peace through His shed blood. He has come to accomplish all of this and then to give away what He has won as the free gifts of grace.  As this end of the Church Year, we see all of Christ’s saving work through the lens of Calvary and His saving work there that gives us life.  One man, one life, for all men and all lives, one death to end death, one peace thru His one blood.  Do not call Jesus King without seeing that kingly reign from the cross and the kingdom of the crucified Christ established by His death that gives us life and the blood that makes our peace with God, with each other, and even with death.  Amen.

Not because the faith is old but because it is new. . .

I was listening to a new person to the Christian faith speak with embarrassing exuberance (embarrassing to those of us "old" Christians for whom excitement has waned) about their new found faith.  It was exciting to me to see the faith bloom and flower in this person.  What I was not prepared for, however, was the nuance of the faith that this catechumen fount most attractive.  It was not the antiquity of Christian faith but its newness that was most profound to this person.

We spend a great deal of time arguing from antiquity.  This person was not uninterested but neither was this individual swayed by claims of antiquity.  If oldness were the primary quality this person looked for in a faith, Christianity is (from the outside, anyway) younger than Judaism and even Buddhism   Now, before you argue with me, I am merely repeating what this person said.  To this person the big deal about Christianity was its newness.  It was timelessly new.  It was not the carefully preserved relic of a past but the Christian faith was the ever new and ever fresh Gospel that was, is, and is to come.  It is the Word that endures forever and so this Word is not merely ancient but it is new!

We believe in a Gospel not simply because it is old, older than others, or even oldest -- but because it still is new, ever new, always new. It is the Gospel that is ageless, the truth that does not change, adapt, or update because it is always new.  The worship that drew this person in was worship that reflected that timelessness.  It was not the worship that glorified the present nor took a snapshot in time and attempted to recreate it all but the worship that is in a sense counter-cultural, the interjection of a radical culture in but not of the world.

One of the things missing in the worship wars is this exact sense of timelessness, of the old that is forever new.  Some of those who are most intent on updating what happens on Sunday morning are in love with the moment more than they are the Gospel, with results measured in statistics instead of faithfulness, and in the culture that was their incubator (music, technology, values, etc...).  Some of those who are most intent upon the past being the arbiter of what is right and wrong in worship are in love with the past more than anything else.  Whether those who wish to repristinate some early church ideal (like some of the Vatican II crowd) or those who wish for a later snapshot of perfection (the Missourians who long for the Walther era), they have picked one moment or era and decided that the future lies there.

Perhaps this is why I am most impressed with Norman Nagel's wonderful introduction to worship in Lutheran Worship 1982  and how it preserves the connection between yesterday and today while looking to the future -- the timeless, ageless Gospel worshiped in the timeless and ageless context of the Divine Service/liturgy/Mass.

Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God.

Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most ture and sure is his name, which he put on us with the water of our Baptism. We are his. This we acknowledge at the beginning of the Divine Service. Where his name is, there is he. Before him we acknowledge that we are sinners, and we plead for forgiveness. His forgiveness is given us, and we, freed and forgiven, acclaim him as our great and gracious God as we apply to ourselves the words he has used to make himself known to us.

The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessing moves us out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition. How best to do this we may learn from his Word and from the way his Word has prompted his worship through the centuries. We are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition. Each generation receives from those who went before and, in making that tradition of the Divine Service its own, adds what best may serve in its own day – the living heritage and something new. 

Those who are attracted to liturgical worship are not searching for an interesting antique any more than they are content with worship which entertains.  They are searching for the transcendent, for the truth that is old but ever new.  Only Christ can satisfy this quest and only the Gospel of the death that gives life and the suffering that pays for sin and the life that is larger than death.  This is what we need to proclaim -- not the choice of one worship over another or the Gospel of antiquity but the timeless truth that endures. 

Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God.
Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most ture and sure is his name, which he put on us with the water of our Baptism. We are his. This we acknowledge at the beginning of the Divine Service. Where his name is, there is he. Before him we acknowledge that we are sinners, and we plead for forgiveness. His forgiveness is given us, and we, freed and forgiven, acclaim him as our great and gracious God as we apply to ourselves the words he has used to make himself known to us.
The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessing moves us out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition. How best to do this we may learn from his Word and from the way his Word has prompted his worship through the centuries. We are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition. Each generation receives from those who went before and, in making that tradition of the Divine Service its own, adds what best may serve in its own day – the living heritage and something new. - See more at:

Monday, November 25, 2013

Chipping away at a familiar clergy housing allowance exemption

A federal district court judge has declared a portion of U.S. law that allows "a minister of the gospel" to not pay income tax on a specific portion of their compensation is "unconstitutional."  The judge was Barbara B. Crabb.  The court has determined, in agreement with the plaintiffs, that "§107(2) does not have a secular purpose or effect.” Judge Barbara B.Crabb concluded that a reasonable observer would view it “as an endorsement of religion” and therefore an unconstitutional benefit.

You can read the opinion here.  Although I am sure this is not the last word on the subject, it does represent a significant erosion of something that has long been established law and practice.  While it will surely be appealed and it is currently an opinion only for the federal district in which it was rendered, congregations and pastors in the Western District of Wisconsin are affected by the ruling right now.  It is not clear what, if any, affect this has on parsonages or rectories owned by churches.

I will leave it to others to comment.  Let me remind most of my readers that this has only small effect upon the tax bill of most clergy since the bigger issue for most pastors is the full freight of the social security tax which is payable on all income and from which there is no exemption.  If clergy were not considered self-employed, they would share this cost with the congregation and for most of us it would be a better benefit than the federal income tax exemption on the part of the compensation used to provide a home (as IRS defines it).

Holiness is not nice. . .

Perhaps it is a reflection of our not nice society that we confused holiness with being nice.  Holiness is many things but it must not be equated with being nice, polite, courteous, etc.  You know about Washington and gridlock and the mean spirited political atmosphere all around us.  It is thoroughly understandable that we might be tempted to confuse holiness with being agreeable and trying to get along.  But holiness is not necessarily easy going or mild mannered.  In fact, some of the holiest folks I know are hard to get along with.

Holiness does not remain silent before vulgarity.  It does not shrug off lies that are passed as truth.  It does not abide fools or foolishness for the sake of politeness.  It does not compromise doctrine.  It does not surrender integrity nor the integrity of truth for the sake of kindness.  Holiness is not a choice between truth and mercy.  Holiness is the merciful truth of sin exposed, of death unmasked, of repentance unfeigned, of forgiveness unearned, of righteousness unmerited, and of life undeserved.

Jesus is the model of all holiness yet He was no mild mannered pushover.  In a holy rage, our Lord cleansed the temple so that its true purpose might not be distorted or masked any longer.  In the expression of a merciful truth He called a woman a dog seeking what was not hers.  In display of holiness He insisted that the sin of the adulterous woman was nothing small or innocuous and accompanied her gift of forgiveness with the call to sin no more.  The disciples chafed under the hard sayings of Jesus and the fear that if what He said were true, no one could be saved.  No, Jesus is no agreeable sort but relentless in holiness of life and conduct even as He is unwavering in His walk to suffering and death that brings forgiveness and life.

As one acquaintance put it, holiness is hot to the touch.  Our sinful natures pull away just like we remove our fingers from a hot pot as soon as possible. Holiness makes enemies and stands out and is generally unfairly labelled as arrogance or self-righteousness.  Holiness is in essence the idea that we are set apart, called forth, made distinct, in but not of the world.  Jesus was surely not crucified for being nice but His holiness was so offensive that His enemies could abide it no longer.  Holiness always shines light on sin as a consequence of its very existence.

Christians confuse niceness with holiness too often.  Perhaps because it is easier to try to be nice than it is to be holy in Christ.  On the one hand we figure if we are polite and easy to get along with, we have fulfilled our calling to be holy as God is holy.  We assume that if we are tolerant and accepting, we have kept the Biblical mandate to be the salt, light, and yeast (leavening) Jesus says we are.  Jesus did not call us to faith, wash us clean in His blood by baptism, and breathe His Spirit into our hearts so that we might be nice.  He did this so that we might wear His holiness and righteousness before the world.  When we Christians begin to understand this, we instinctively shy away from it.  If the Lord expects me to speak up and to stand out, we are not so sure we are capable of it all.  But that is also the promise.  We forge not our own holiness rooted in our pure hearts and manifest in our blameless lives.  No, the holiness we wear is the one we were given in our baptism.  We have no boast and it is our calling and our privilege to literally wear Christ and be Christ to the world.  Yes, this is a daunting task.  With us it is impossible, as Jesus testifies, but with God it is not impossible.

Goodness knows I am not saying we need to be rude or arrogant or self-righteous.  There is far too much of that in the world as it is.  But we need to be careful lest we exchange the true holiness of Christ for simply being polite and nice.  Our witness to the world is Christ, whose holiness always convicts us as to our sin and whose mercy provides forgiveness for that sin.  No witnesses to Christ are welcomed by the world.  Jesus is blunt in promising us that the world will treat us exactly the way it treated Him.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake... blessed are you when men revile you, persecute you, and say all manner of untrue evils against you on My account...  But the sad truth is that we try harder to be nice than we do to be holy and our witness suffers because of it.

I am reminded of those bumper stickers in town that proudly announce My child is on the honor roll to which some mischievous parents respond My kid can beat up your kid on the honor roll.  But my favorite is truly the one that speaks not of achievement or strength but character.  My kid is a good kid.  Christians are not called to be bullies nor are they called to parade their righteousness before the world.  They are called to be Christians, the set apart in Christ for Christ, and to witness His truth and manifest His holiness before the world.  This is our baptismal vocation.  This is also the means through which Christ has promised to work -- the faithful witness to Christ in word and deed.

We are long suffering but for the sake of the Gospel...  We are patient but because we know the outcome of the faith and can afford to look beyond the moment to our promised eternity...  We are kind but not for kindness' sake; we are kind in exactly the way Christ has shown us His kindness, compassion, and mercy... We are people of truth and conviction but because only the truth of Christ has the power to rescue and redeem the lost and this is the conviction about which we are most sure and certain...  We are set apart not to hide from the world but to mirror to the world Christ and His righteousness...  Nice will not do.  Holiness is the calling to which we have been called by baptism and faith.  If we are holy, then we will manifest true mercy, compassion, and grace -- not as our own achievement but as those who are constantly being renewed by the mercy of God through the voice of the absolution, the remembrance of our baptism, the preaching of the Gospel, and the taste of eternity in Christ's body and blood.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Just because... for the sake of beauty

When a seat is not just a seat. . .

I am sure you have heard it before.  Make the church less like a church in order to make folks uncomfortable with church more comfortable in church.  We change the structure of the worship service so it is more like divine entertainment than divine liturgy.  We take off the vestments so those who lead worship can be as comfortable and down home as the folks in the pews.  We remove the religious art and replace it all with big screen TVs almost like the ones people have in their homes.  We ditch the pulpit and the preacher walks around or sits on a bar stool as if he were at the island in your kitchen.  We take out the pews and replace them with comfortable chairs, maybe ones with cup holders so you have something to do with your Starbucks cup while you are clapping your hands in appreciation for the performer.  We trade in the sacred space and holy ground of worship for the multipurpose space where you can shoot hoops, practice ballroom dancing, have a bridal fair, sponsor the scouts, eat church suppers, and worship all in the same place -- what could be intimidating about that?

So says one of many preachers whose churches are trading the ambiance of the holy of holies for comfort and less threatening space of a family or great room.  "Aren't they awesome? God has allowed us to sit in these big soft comfortable chairs," Pastor LaCombe said from the pulpit on Sept. 22, the first Sunday with the new chairs. . . or so I read about it in the Wall Street Journal.

What people find uncomfortable about church is not the pews (which, by my own experience can be much more comfortable that some of the chairs used in these multipurpose spaces).  It is the idea of God the holy and man the sinner that is offensive to folks.  People will come to sit in the pews just fine as long as we comply with their standards of taste and decorum and refrain from mentioning their unmentionables (not sex, mind you, you can talk about that, but not about sin or death or repentance).

I read about those churches who are getting rid of holy space for comfortable multi-use settings as if this were something new.  It is as old as time itself.  Holy ground, a righteous God, a sense of sin, and the need for repentance are all uncomfortable because we were wired that way.  Even sin cannot quiet the upset in the conscience.  Avoiding talk of it all does not make the uncomfortableness go away -- only the Gospel can do this.  So I have a novel solution.  Don't waste your money turning the traditional sanctuaries into modified family rooms (about as inviting as the rooms in the funeral home).  Instead ditch the message and tell people what they want to hear.  It won't matter what kind of decor they have around them as long as they can hear what they want to hear, the lies we tell ourselves --- we are okay, sin is no big deal, death is natural, you can have your best life now, you deserve it. . .

Ah, what do I know.  I am just an out of date, out of touch old coot anyway... I guess I will be there to turn out the lights when the last of the traditionals bites the dust... but at least I know I will be on the right side of the line when judgement day rears its ugly head and we find out the truth we told ourselves was a lie and the truth that dare not speak its voice was the word that saves...

Saturday, November 23, 2013

It's about time

Prof. Dr. Werner Klan, Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, Cardinal Kurt Koch, Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Monsignore Dr. Matthias Türk
Prof. Dr. Werner Klan, Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, Cardinal Kurt Koch, Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Msgr Dr. Matthias Türk

Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the International Lutheran Council (ILC) to Hold Informal International Dialogue

VATICAN CITY - The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the International Lutheran Council (ILC), an organization for the purpose of encouraging, strengthening, and promoting confessional Lutheran theology, met to discuss the possibility of extending local and regional informal discussions into an
informal ecumenical dialogue process on the international level. The meeting between the PCPCU and the ILC primarily occurred after several informal discussions between some ILC members and Roman Catholic organizations resulted in positive outcomes, especially those held between the Lutheran Theological Seminary Oberursel of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) and the Johann-Adam-Möhler Institute for Ecumenism in Paderborn, Germany. Other informal discussions that contributed to the meeting between the PCPCU and the ILC included those held between The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Archdiocese of Saint Louis and the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, and those between Lutheran ChurchCanada (LCC) and representatives of the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops.
Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Dicastery, and Monsignore Dr. Matthias Türk represented the PCPCU. Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, Chairman, Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Executive Secretary, Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, Vice-chairman, and Prof. Dr. Werner Klän, Lutheran Theological Seminary Oberursel, represented the ILC.

The discussion had three primary points: A Presentation of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) including its history and priorities, Ecumenical Relations between ILC members and the Roman Catholic Church, and Future Ecumenical Goals.

After a productive discussion, it was proposed that the local and regional informal discussions may be extended to an informal international dialogue process between the ILC and the Roman Catholic Church. These international series of consultations would be delegated to the ILC executive committee and to the Johann-Adam-Möhler Institute for Ecumenism. The goals of these discussions would be to define more unity between the churches represented by the ILC and the Roman Catholic Church and to offer a deeper understanding of the work already accomplished by the Lutheran – Roman Catholic dialogue on the international and regional level.

Cardinal Koch and Bishop Voigt expressed gratitude for the meeting and looked forward to a deepening of relationships between member churches of the ILC and the Roman Catholic Church.

The ILC and the Johann-Adam-Möhler Institute for Ecumenism after an organizational meeting, propose to hold two meetings a year for the next three years with the results of these discussions to be presented to the PCPCU.

My Comments:  For a long time I have suggested that the Roman Catholics need to meet with those who intend to be Lutheran and not those who have no desire to be the Confessional Lutherans our theological documents claim us to be.  Maybe this will signal a new willingness to more honestly confront and discuss what truly divides the Wittenbergers from the Romans...

From acts to identity. . . have written before of the relative modern idea of defining oneself by gender or by sexual attraction.  There is more.  In nearly all of history, homosexual acts were forbidden but homosexuality was seldom treated.  The legal codes of most societies had classes of forbidden acts which included "sodomy" or homosexual acts, but these said little about the object of them or even the perpetrator of those acts.  All of this changed when homosexual acts no longer were the focus but the desire itself, now framed as a distinct and authentic form of sexuality.  In other words, the focus of the previous legal codes and moral judgements were on the actions themselves while today we have transcended the acts to speak of being gay as an identity.

When homosexuality ceased being about acts and began to be a psychological identity, then heterosexuality also became one of several identities.  In this way sexual orientation has not only taken up roots but become the defining feature of a person's identity.  In response, the Christian has struggled to know how to respond to this changing terminology and the distinctive way that sexuality has overshadowed every other aspect of personality.  Some have swept away the Biblical and historical condemnations of homosexual acts that were accepted without question until only the most recent of times.  In this vein, the ELCA has determined that no matter what Scripture and tradition might have said, the "gospel" requires that all people be free to fulfill their sexual desires and to do so within the framework of cultural and religious acceptance -- even encouragement. In this way they have given tacit approval to the idea that sexual orientation is the defining feature of any human personality.  On the other hand, some churches have found themselves in the difficult position (though not unBiblical) of suggesting that in order to be true to faith homosexual Christians must deny their basic psychological and personal identifier -- namely their attraction to the same sex.

The problem here is not simply in choosing which sexual orientation as the correct human identity.  No, I would suggest, the problem lies in rejecting this modern myth that sexual desire defines who I am and returning to the other more Biblical and Christian sources of personal identity, morality, and virtue.  Gayness or straightness is not that which underlies and shapes who anyone is as a person.  Desire is one area in which we all share a common path to virtue through self-denial.  Free to be me is not license to practice whatever I choose or whatever seems right in my eyes.  The freedom accorded to me in the Gospel is first and foremost the freedom to deny myself, to practice self-control of even the most basic of human desires, and to take up the cross and follow Jesus.

Our inordinate and unnatural fascination with sexual desire does not ennoble us but it does have the power to strip from us those things that make us distinctively human, bearing -- though distorted by sin -- the image of God in our flesh.  Sex is not ugly nor the basest of our human desires but neither is it the most beautiful or the noblest of human desires.  Nothing could be more burdensome upon us than to be forced to spend our lives finding out who we are, agonizing over the nature of our desires, and living either in fear or or in bondage to those desires.  There is no freedom at all when the fullness of human identity is reduced to a choice between or a stopping point on the spectrum of heterosexuality and homosexuality.  When the church is forced to give permission to all or to choose one point on this polarity and say "this is what it means to be human" we are in a pretty sorry state.  An identity distinguished essentially by our genital sexual desires is but a sign of the depth to which we have fallen because of sin and how little is left to us of the promise of our creation in the Garden of Eden.

There abide these three -- faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.  Love, not desire.  Love shaped by sacrifice, not indulgence.  Love marked by suffering willingly borne, not perfect pleasure.  Love which looks like a cross, even when, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we wear it by baptism and faith.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A powerful memory. . .

All people my age and older can remember exactly where they were when the news came that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas.  Like my parents who remember the sound of the Sunday, December 7, 1941, report of the attack on Pearl Harbor, people my age cannot forget November 22, 1963, and how their lives were forever changed by those events.  I also remember September 11, 2001, but that memory is completely different.  I do not hear anything in that memory -- only the visual image of the smoke, the wounded towers of the World Trade Center, and the buildings collapsing into rubble.

It is funny but the memory of what I heard is distinctly more powerful than the image of what I saw -- though, to be sure, both memories are deep and profound.  It makes me wonder about the significance of memory and whether or not the memories of what we hear are different from what we see.  Could it be that my generation was the bridge between memories almost exclusively audible and memories almost exclusively visual?  Could it be that hearing and seeing are different kinds of memory?

Faith comes by hearing, says St. Paul to the Romans.  Perhaps the Lord knows what I merely wonder about and has purposefully left His Church with a Word, an embodied Word in Christ but still a Word, to call forth faith, to impart the Holy Spirit, to bestow rich treasure and blessing, to comfort and encourage the faithful, to warn and caution the faithful when they wander, to deliver forgiveness, and to bring to the world the witness of Him who is the Word made flesh, whose glory we have seen, known, and now share.  It is funny thing how remembering November 22, 1963, can raise a question about how we remember things.  I find it curious also that as I recall November 22, 1963, the sound of Walter Cronkite, and the terrible news of the President's murder, my mind also recalls hearing his voice -- the voice of a man on his inauguration whose oratory called a nation and its children to anticipate their great future and to pool their energy and effort to achieving that future.  One more example of an auditory memory so vivid that it supplants the visual memories which are supposed to be more powerful.  What does that say about the power of the spoken Word?

The Church Gathered... the Church Scattered. . .

My friend Pastor William Weedon uses this terminology and I am going to steal it right out from under him.  It is a wonderful turn of a phrase that can illustrate so much about the nature of worship and vocation (which is worship lived out in daily life).

First is the question of whether the first is the Church gathered or the Church scattered.  We have become accustomed to thinking (wrongly, of course) of the Church as a voluntary association.  There are scattered Christians out there who elect to come together for common good and benefit.  In other words, the Church is the creation of the people, the reflection of their will and desire to practice their worship, or at least part of it, in common.  Now, mind you, it is not essential to have the Church gathered.  The Church scattered, in this view, can exist just fine on their own without the Church gathered.  Talk to any lapsed Christian who has stopped participating in the worship life of the Church gathered and you will find them expressing such an idea.

Lutherans, the good evangelical catholics that they are, insist that there is no Church scattered without first the Church gathered.  Faith is born from what is heard, from the splash of water in baptism, and the voice of Christ in the Gospel.  This happens in the Church gathered.  Working through the means of grace, God calls, gathers, sanctifies, and enlightens His Church.  We are not accidental Christians but those whom God has called through the living voice of His Word, in whim the Spirit has worked to break through our closed hearts to bring us to faith, and incorporated us into the Body of Christ through our baptism into His death and resurrection.  This faith lives because it is fed and nourished by the Word of the Lord purely preached, the Law in its thorny prick and the Gospel's sweet, healing balm, and because the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood is set among us, a feast in the midst of our enemies.

For there to be a Church scattered, there must first be the Church gathered.  But the Church does not only live where she is gathered.  We are the called and gathered, to be sure, but we are also the sent.  The apostolic mandate is to go, witness, intercede, serve, and do the works of mercy done to you in Christ.  The Church scattered is when the worship continues as God's baptized people head out the door into home, workplace, neighborhood, and community.  They do not cease to be the baptized when they leave the Lord's House; in fact, this is the primary place where their baptismal vocation of worship, witness, service, and mercy works happen.  All this Lutheran talk about vocation is really about worship, begun in the Church gathered, and continued and extended in the Church scattered throughout the world.

That is the next point.  Vocation is not some different calling from the call to worship but the different venues where that worship takes place, from the gathered Church around the Word and Table of the Lord into the world where we are scattered deliberately by God and sent forth to do His bidding in our daily lives.  We live the high and noble calling of the baptismal life primarily through the relationships in which we live, work, and have our leisure.  This, for Lutherans, is reflected in the Table of Duties (the vocation part of the Small Catechism).  Being husband to wife or wife to husband is not some secular relationship sealed by a paper issued by the state.  It is the primary domain in which we live out our baptismal life as the children of God.  Part of our worship, if you will, is to love our spouses and serve them in love in Christ's name.  And then to children and parents, workplace and employer and employees, neighborhood and community, citizenship and stewardship...  these are all the different venues in which what was begun in the Church gathered is continued by God's design and providential will.

He gives to us His very self in the Word and the Sacraments.  He gives to us the means to receive and respond to this rich and blessed treasure of grace and mercy.  He gives us the resources and opportunities to continue to respond to His grace and favor in the world.  He gives us the circumstance and the challenge of living as His children, in but not of the world, not merely enduring but living out fully the life begun in us in our baptism into Christ.  This to is worship, the continuation in different places what God Himself begun in the one place where He called, gathered, sanctified, and enlightened us to faith and life in Christ.

[As much talk as we do about stewardship, perhaps the real issue is not how much to give but how to see what happens Monday through Saturday as worship, the Church scattered continuing what God began when we were bidden come to His Word and water and table.  Just a practical thought from a guy who thinks about this kind of stuff.]

Missions are not optional to the Church because they are the inevitable result of God scattering the Church throughout the world, starting in the neighborhood but extending over ocean and continent.  So, as Bro. Weedon has put it, "as I once heard at an Orthodox commissioning of a missionary: “Take the worship of the true God into all the world!” The Gospel frees us from our idolatries and enables that whole life worship, where all is referred in thanks to the Father in the Son and by the Holy Spirit. Life becomes a Gloria Patri.”

Or, to use Martin Franzmann's wonderful poetry:

O Spirit, who didst once restore
Thy church that it might be again the bringer of good news to men,
Breathe on Thy cloven Church once more,
That in these gray and latter days
There may be those whose life is praise, each life a high doxology
To Father, Son and unto Thee.

Just a few random, meandering, pastoral thoughts that began from a couple of words read somewhere. . .
as I once heard at an Orthodox commissioning of a missionary: “Take the worship of the true God into all the world!” The Gospel frees us from our idolatries and enables that whole life worship, where all is referred in thanks to the Father in the Son and by the Holy Spirit. Life becomes a Gloria Patri.” - See more at:
as I once heard at an Orthodox commissioning of a missionary: “Take the worship of the true God into all the world!” The Gospel frees us from our idolatries and enables that whole life worship, where all is referred in thanks to the Father in the Son and by the Holy Spirit. Life becomes a Gloria Patri.” - See more at:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why the omission?

There is no shortage of folks suspicious of Pres. Obama's Christianity.  He seldom goes to church.  His daughters have not been raised in any specific faith.  He seems to eschew every opportunity to speak boldly what it is that he believes (except in the most vague and general ways).  I am willing to grant the President the favor of his own word and will accept what he says of his Christian faith.  That said, he repeatedly avoids moments to support his claim of Christian faith.

Consider this example...

Everyone knows that up to 10 versions of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address exist -- several in his own hand and six he acknowledged -- which differ slightly from the others.  None of the differences are substantial.  There is one that is curious.  Several do not include the reference to a nation under God even though the version transcribed at the November 19 delivery and the official version reported by the Associated Press at the time does include under God.  Numerous accounts at the time — based on the AP version of the speech which was transcribed and published at the time — corroborate the fact that Lincoln did, indeed, use the words “under God” in his final delivery at that day as the memorial was dedicated.  For curiosity sake I only note that the main speaker, a Mr. Edward Everett, said some 13,000 words and his oration is forgotten while Lincoln spoke ten lines and everyone remembers it.  Further curiosity lies in the fact that the Harrisburg paper panned Lincoln's words at the time and hoped no one remembered them; a judgement which was taken back now 150 years later by the same paper.

If you want all the details, you can access the curious story of the versions here or there...   What is most curious to me is that Ken Burns working with PBS had a project to have people learn the address and had a number of famous folks read the Gettysburg Address as part of this project.  What is interesting is that EVERY one of those who read, included under God and the version of the address they read was the same for each who read.  EXCEPT President Obama who was the ONLY one to drop under God from his reading.  When this was noticed and questions raised, Ken Burns group changed the web site to say that Obama had been asked to read a different version that did not include the words.  While this may be the truth, it seems curious that he would be the only one to read a different version on a web site designed to learn the address (in which the uniformity of the version would be an asset).

The above is the first version of the website and the screen shot below shows the changed website AFTER questions were asked about Obama's version NOT including the words under God.

Here is President Obama reading the Gettysburg Address but excluding the words under God.

My point is this.  The President is not stupid or uninformed.  He obviously knows the suspicion that exists about his Christianity.  He is an effective communicator.  Why does he seem to purposefully give us little things that tempt us to doubt his veracity? 

Another sin of the boomers...

I have not been shy about condemning my own generation for some of the sins and excesses that have wrecked havoc upon the Church today.  Now I have one more to confess.  This mea culpa has to do with the idea of "dropping out" of the Church.

Barna suggests that prior to the boomers, dropping out of church after high school or in college was somewhat less than the normal it has become since the boomer generation.  Boomers appear to be the first American generation that dropped out of church participation in significant numbers when they became young adults. So, in one sense, the Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) were part of the evolution of the church dropout phenomenon during the rise of youth culture of the 1960s.

So it was my generation that:
  • decided that you should hear the pop music you listen to on the radio in worship
  • decided that church should be fun and that pleasure should be that which defines the success of the worship service
  • decided that morals were in the eye of the beholder and that principles and truth were secondary to what seems right at the time
  • decided that if you get bored, don't like the music, or feel rebellious, drop out of church...
"The significant spiritual and technological changes over the last 50 years make the dropout problem more urgent. Young people are dropping out earlier, staying away longer, and if they come back are less likely to see the church as a long-term part of their life. Today's young adults who drop out of faith are continuing something the Boomers began as a generation of spiritual free agents. Yet, today's dropout phenomenon is a more intractable, complex problem."

In the end, however, the problem always falls back on some failure in the Church.  And this is how the Barna stuff predictably ends.  It is the Church which has failed to treat the drop outs with respect, to acknowledge how smart and cool they are, to engage them on the plain of their own experience, and to bring them back into the Church.  Sadly, such thinking only feeds the ordinary insecurities of good church people and makes us throw out what we have in favor or risky strategies to restore a people not fully churched in the first place.  Of course, one of the great problems here certainly has to do with the family in which these children were raised -- boomer parents openly expressing their doubts to their children, their disdain for doctrine and teaching, their authority over what they will accept of Scripture's teaching and witness, etc...  Could this have something to do with the problem?  Ya think?

"Churches, organizations and families owe this generation more. They should be treated as the intelligent, capable individuals they are—a generation with a God-given destiny. Renewed commitment is required to rethink and realign disciple-making in this new context. Mosaic believers need better, deeper relationships with other adult Christians. They require a more holistic understanding of their vocation and calling in life—how their faith influences what they do with their lives, from Monday through Saturday. And they also need help discerning Jesus' leading in their life, including greater commitment to knowing and living the truth of Scripture."

I am a boomer and I readily acknowledge the sins my own generation has forced upon the Church.  We need to own our sins before anything can change.  Some folks hang on every word Barna publishes.  I find much of their research and their conclusions rather predictable and not altogether helpful.  We need to own our sins before anything can change.  Come on, boomers, let us confess our sins and try to figure out how we can begin to correct them...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The power of friendship. . .

The need and desire for friendship is universal but it is especially acute for the Christian.  Lone rangers seldom make good Christians and loneliness is an enemy of the faith whether it is self-imposed or against your will.

One of the most common stories from soldiers in my parish who have returned from deployments is how lonely they were.  They had certain kinds of friendships but most of them longed for and lamented the lack of Christian friendships at a time when they were most vulnerable to despair and evil.

Sadly, friendships are easier but fewer for most folks.  Sure we have those gazillion Facebook friends and our email address book is filled to the brim but we have less daily interaction with friends than in previous ages.  My parents have had lifelong friends to surround them in all of life's circumstances -- sharing their joys, bearing their burdens, and telling them truths they did not want to hear.  I grew up thinking that I would have such friendships as well.  In reality, my mobility as a Pastor and the nature of my calling has left me wanting more and finding fewer of those good friendships I witnessed growing up. In particular I mean friendships with other men.

There is no substitute for a man for the deep friendship with other men.  Don't go there.  I am not talking about anything more than platonic but that does not in any way diminish the nature of such friendships.  Many of the great movies describe the kind of bonds between friends that enables them to weather together the great storms of life and change, to pursue together what one could not do alone, and to celebrate in common what belongs to both more than it belongs to just one.

Think of Lord of the Rings and the great friendship between Frodo and Samwise.  In many respects Frodo, though the main character, is no greater or stronger than the friend who shared his journey, who stood with him before his enemies, who rescued him from despair, and who carried him when his strength was gone.  It is really one of the best parts of the whole story -- the story of Frodo and Samwise.

It is one of the best moments and scenes in the whole trilogy.  They traveled countless miles in a journey greater than they could have imagined and escaped dangers bigger than their greatest fears. Finally they come to the foot of Mount Doom where ring must be destroyed for good. But Frodo has no strength left, and, despite how far they have come, he cannot finish the job. Standing with him, however, is one whose strength Frodo will borrow again.  He is the faithful and steady Samwise and he will not quit so close to the end of this saga.  He carries his friend and does what it takes to finish the job.  Surely Tolkien meant for this to be one of the great moments in the series and one of the great examples and lessons for the reader.

I write this as one who envies rather than enjoys what is written into the fabric of this movie.  Such friendships have been too often been left as unfulfilled desires -- much to my great regret.  Faith shared in the context of such friendship is faith strengthened, empowered, and equipped for the long haul.  Think of the great stories of David and Jonathon or Moses and Aaron or the small circle within the apostles who were there when others were not (Peter, James, and John). 

I wonder if this isn't one reason why may regular conversations with my dad have become so special.  We talk about anything, mostly about nothing, and yet hidden within those words are the struggles of faith and life.  His support is my strength and, like all friendships, my fear is that I receive from him far more than I give to him. If we can do anything within the Church to support, to encourage, and to nurture such deep friendships among those who share the faith, we have done a good work for those who know them.  We have provided them with a deep and abiding gift and an awareness of the difference a good friend can make for the lonely way that is Christian faith and life.

The friendliest fellow around. . .

I have read over and over again about the need for friendliness in growing a congregation.  You have undoubtedly heard this mantra over and over again.  It is how close your visitors can park, what kind of greeting they get from entry to exit, how clear your signage is, how nice your restrooms are, and how inspirational the preaching and teaching.  In short, you don't have to be faithful to grow -- just "missional".

The one thing we forget is that the devil is the friendliest fellow around.  He is winsome and welcoming.  He uses peers and the press of culture and trend.  He teaches us to love ourselves as we are (without repentance).  He glorifies desire and minimizes the wisdom or need for self-control.  He urges us to live for the moment -- come what may.  He inspires us with our feelings, mirroring back to us what we think, believe, and say.  In short, he asks nothing at all of us -- except we love ourselves, our desires, and are willing to satisfy our desires at all costs.  If the devil were to grow a church, it would certainly be friendly.

Now of course I am NOT suggesting that we be aloof or rude or unkind to visitors.  What I am suggesting is that the real growth occurs when from beginning to end the visitor sees Christ in the people, in the liturgy, in the music, and in the preaching.  I am under no illusions about whether or not the visitor will realize that it is Christ -- that is the Spirit's work as He has promised.  Where we are faithful and the worship is centered in the Word (Law and Gospel) purely preached and the sacraments rightly administered, the Spirit WILL work faith in the hearer.  It may not be timely for us or instantaneous to the visitor or visible to the congregation, but our confidence is that the Lord of the Church will do His bidding and His Word will not return to Him empty.

My parish does work to have plenty of parking, signs to indicate where things are, greeters at the door, a welcome desk to answer questions, packets for new folks, and deliberately friendly folks to get to know who it is who is visiting us today.  This is only common sense.  But the Church does not grow through these means.  The Church grows through the Lord working in the means of grace by the power of the Spirit.

You cannot visit one time and judge a church by what is or is not present.  A month ago our assistant pastor had died on Thursday evening and the Sunday that followed, St. Michael and All Angels, was muted in tone because of the shock of his unexpected death.  We had visitors that day like always.  Of course our reception of these visitors was affected by the grief and loss of a treasured member of our parish family and pastoral staff.  If a visitor is only going to give us one shot and that was the Sunday, well, I am sorry but that visitor is being unrealistic and short sighted.  Besides, as a retired LCA Pastor once said to me about their practice of a prospective candidate preaching a trial sermon, every preacher has at least one good sermon in him; who knows if it is more than one. 

No, I do not think we should stop talking about friendliness -- especially to those congregations rather inwardly focused and inattentive to new faces.  But we need to offer those who would visit something more than a handshake and a smile.  If we speak the Word faithfully, if we sing the Word faithfully in liturgy and song, and if we practice the Word faithfully in the sacramental life of the Church, it is not up to us.  The Spirit WILL do His work as He has promised.

When friendship becomes the sole or major definer of church success, the friendly fellow we call Satan has won and truth has been deposed from its primacy to be an also ran in the race to become a Wal-Mart of religious entrepreneurship.  And that is a sad day, my friends, for the Kingdom.