Sunday, August 31, 2014

When all else is gone, attention focuses on the Pastor. . .

Strangely enough, those who are uncomfortable with ritual and ceremony, even those who believe in the salutary use of the liturgy, are often suspicious of ritual and ceremony because they think it draws too much attention to the Pastor.  They believe in a liturgical minimalism as an antidote to what they find to be too much of the spotlight upon the Pastor and his actions as president of the Eucharistic assembly.  They tend to think too much is made of art and beauty as well.  There is nothing wrong with them, per se, but there is no real need for these either.

The problem with removing statues is that the Pastor becomes the only statue left.  Remove the art, stained glass, and liturgical painting and the Pastor is the only real imagery left.  Removed the ritual and ceremony and the Pastor is left.  Remove the liturgy and the Pastor is still left.  Remove the lectionary and the whim of the Pastor rules.  In other words, the liturgy with its incumbent ritual and ceremony does not emphasize the Pastor but insulates the people in the pew from the tyranny of worship in which the Pastor is the only focus.  Those who are suspicious of clericalism and those inclined to be wary of the cult of personality should be the folks most in support of ritual and ceremony.

The liturgical "audience" ends up sitting more than it stands or kneels and their role is ever more passive.  Yet that is exactly what happens when we steal the liturgy from the people, when we assign them the role of spectator, and when we deprive them of any participation in the ritual and ceremony that accompanies the liturgy.  The Pastor then becomes the sole center and focus of worship.  When will people awaken to the fact that the liturgy and its ceremonial are NOT enemies of the folks in the pew but their best friends.  The lectionary keeps the people from the whims of the Pastor's interests or favorites.  The liturgy prevents the people from listening to a monologue of the Pastor's humor, story telling, and homespun wisdom.  The ritual and ceremony of the church stops the Pastor from taking the people captive to his own preferences, feelings, and ideas of relevance.  The creeds inoculates the people from the ever present reinvention of the faith by the Pastor.

Honestly, if the people really are wary of the domination of the Pastor, the liturgy, its ceremonial and ritual, the lectionary, and the creeds are your best friends and allies.  Absent all of these, there is nothing left but the Pastor.  Sadly, that is exactly what some people and some Pastors want....

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Fluff without much real stuff. . .

It has begun.  The first ordination of a woman as a priest of the Episcopal Church is being recalled with some creative memories.  The fact that the first women ordained were ordained illicitly, without sanction from the ECUSA, and were, in fact, an act not of prophecy but of rebellion has been conveniently overlooked.  The so-called evidence of women serving in the early church is conveniently vague and without serious review as to the circumstance or instance.  The reference to Orthodox ordinations of deacons is likewise non-specific. The reference to "civil rights" is dismissed as an unfair criticism yet the theological justification for the ordination of women is not even mentioned.  Again, God's call must trump Scripture, tradition, and all order or else the work of the Spirit is being stifled.  It is all quite familiar but, like the lies we tell ourselves over and over again, none of it constitutes truth or anything more than a creative view of history -- and then only a short period of history!  Perhaps the most scandalously humorous assertion is that determined historians have provided justification and precedent for such radical action -- determined to be what? anti-history? creatively historical? blind to the clear and unbroken historical witness of Scripture and tradition?  And of course it all ends with the challenge to test the spirits  and see the wonderful fruits that the ordination of women has brought to the ECUSA and to Anglicanism as a whole... Yes, what fruits!  Division, erosion of membership, adoption of GLBT agenda, general doubt or contraction of what Scripture says and tradition affirms with respect to just about everything except a radical social agenda -- all things that also happened during the past forty years of women's ordination.  I do not blame the women for these but surely it is not too far from the truth to tie these all together as a mindset, oblivious to Scripture and tradition, that contributed mightily to the slow and painful death of a once noble church body.

Read it and weep....  or watch it here.....

Friday, August 29, 2014

Awkwardness with ritual. . .

It is not untrue that the reason ritual has suffered is that we are less comfortable with ritual as a whole than we once were.  We are awkward with ritual precisely because we are not sure what to do with it.  We feel the need to announce the rituals we do, to explain what we are doing, and then to interpret what we have done.  All of this destroys the ebb and flow of liturgy in which ritual is essential.

I became aware of this only over time.  Watching the funerals of popes, papal masses on Christmas and Easter, and other large liturgies reported in the news, I heard commentators attempting to do just that -- to announce what was being done on the screen, to explain what was done, and then to interpret it to those unaccustomed to Christian ritual and ceremony.

By its very definition, ritual is repeated action.  Indeed, if we try ritual or ceremony only once or twice or even a half dozen times to see how it feels, to see how it works, or to see how it will go over with the folks in the pews, it is not yet ritual.  Ritual is repeated action -- repeated so often that it is no longer novelty and does not draw undue attention to itself or to us doing it.

Ritual is when you instinctively reach for the light switch even when you know that the electricity is off.  In other words, when the action is so ingrained within you that it no longer is something you think about or even decide to do.  It happens.  For many Lutherans this is the power of the salutation.  The old joke is that when Lutherans first saw Star Wars and heard the line from onscreen "The force be with you" they responded in unison and out loud "and also with you."

In some respects we find Jesus' ritual actions strange to us (such as making a poultice of spit and clay and applying it to the eyes of the blind) because the ritual acts instinctive to His day and culture are no longer repeated among us or familiar and significant to us.

The sign of the cross is for the Christian one of the most instinctive and evocative rituals.  It draws our attention to the Trinity or the cross of Christ but it also had an earlier significance.  In an earlier time the T or tau was associated with Ezekiel 9:4-6 where God command that citizens with a tau on their foreheads and repentance in their hearts be spared His judgment.

Those suspicious of worship have forgotten Romans 12:1-2 where St. Paul ties true spiritual worship to the body -- loving God is not merely a function of the pneuma (spirit) or the nous (mind) but also of the soma (body).  Spirit and truth includes and even implies bodily ritual (present your bodies as living sacrifices).

Our familiarity with ritual happens when the rituals themselves are so familiar to us that they no longer draw attention to themselves but proceed from within us as instinctive gestures that reflect the inward direction of the heart and that which occupies the mind. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Primacy of Relevance. . .

Worship today is the realm of relevance and everything what happens on Sunday morning is the primacy of relevance over doctrine, truth, and the means of grace.  This relevance is achieved through dialog, a casual style of conversation in which self-expression is the ultimate goal.  In pursuit of this kind of religion, an encounter with God is no longer the chief priority but an awareness of and expression of our true selves -- a spiritual encounter with "me". 

Perhaps we were once concerned by the tension between the two opposing paths of affirming self or seeking God where He has promised to be found, but we seem no longer ashamed to hijack this thing called worship and make ourselves the center of all that happens and the criteria by which we judge its success.

God would not want me to. . .   Well, you finish the statement.  God would not want me to worship in a way that was not to my liking.  God would not want me to sing what I do not find meaningful.  God would not want me to give offerings that might deprive me of something I desire.  God would not want me to be uncomfortable.  God would not want me to be part of something I do not fully understand.  God would not want me to worship in a way that is not relevant or modern.  God would not want me to be part of a church that I do not like or feel at home in.

We feed ourselves these lies because it justifies our abandonment of Scripture and our disconnect with tradition in both doctrine and practice (liturgy).  We look little like the Christians who went before us and we like that.  We want to be thoroughly modern even in our pursuit of nostalgic trinkets from a bygone era.  They are souvenirs but they have no relevance to us or to worship except to provide ambiance.  Liturgy, ritual, reverence, awe, attention, and devotion are antiquated concepts to the church of me. 

We come to church on Sunday morning in order to be affirmed.  We may sin but we are not sinners.  We may screw up but it is only an occasional lapse in judgment and not a defect of our nature.  We come to be reminded when we feel low that we are not really bad but only slip up now and then.  We come to given tools to help us be better and the better we want to be is truer to self.  We define our worst sins as when we have put someone or something ahead of ourselves or our desires and the freedom we seek is the abandonment of any and all restraints.  Entertain us a bit, give us an instructive but relevant sermon on obtaining our best life now, celebrate the lives of our loved ones with the consolation of memories when they are gone, and give us something equal to the money we put into the plate and we will be glad to be religious, spiritual, even Christian.

This is what so many mainline and evangelicals have been taught, what they find on Sunday morning, and what passes for faith and religion.  Lutherans so tempted to improve our statistics think that we can emulate their methods while preserving our doctrinal integrity but it cannot be done.  There is no methodology or style that is not inherently infected with substance and doctrine.  That is true for modernity and for the ancient faith as well.  Thirty years ago it was all the rage to believe that style and substance were different, disconnected, and distinct.  We drifted from the realm of the means of grace into the uncertain ground of feelings and personal preference and now, some Lutherans, fear giving up the mall like campuses and full service programs even though they understand that it is no longer possible to drift by degree.  In fact, what we are all realizing, across the religious spectrum, is that the modern Christianity with its pursuit of relevance is not a different style of Christianity but a completely different religion from the creeds, confessions, liturgy, catechesis, and doctrine of old.  Cleaning up our mess is not easy but if the folks on all sides of the spectrum are honest with themselves they know that Christianity cannot survive this schizophrenia of me or Thee.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Do not forget My teaching. . .

Sermon preached for St. Bartholomew, Apostle, on Sunday, August 24, 2014.

    An inexpensive piece of word art said this: The strength of a nation is equal to its weakest home.  Now there is something worth thinking about for a moment.  It is not a “Christian” statement but it is not one that Christians would argue with – knowing that the home is the foundation of Christian life and the place where parents teach their children and children learn from their parents.
    Parenthood means many things.  Some of them so daunting only amateurs would dare to be parents.  Parents must make choices for their children all the time – choices their children may not understand, appreciate, or agree with.  They may reject the judgment of the parent later on.  But from the moment they are born, parents are making these choices for their children.
    Few children get this until they become parents themselves. Yet for all the good you do for your children, little of it endures. One thing, however does endure:  the teaching of the faith.  It outlives the parent in the life of the child.  This is the nature of faith.  Teaching your children the fear of the Lord and teaching your children the doctrines of the Scriptures.  These endure from this life to eternal life.
    Today we heard the wisdom of Proverbs.  "My Son, do not forget My doctrine (teaching and doctrine are the same word)." It is a solemn wake up call to parents and to children alike.  That which endures is the Word of the Lord.  This is the Word that of Moses and the prophets that testifies of Jesus.  So we are told: "Let your heart keep my commands."  Commands here is not limited to ten commandments or morality but refers to the whole of God's Word.  Raise your children to know the Lord by knowing His Word.  This is the work of a parent that outlives mom or dad; this is the gift of the parent that bears the fruit of eternal life in their kids.
    Proverbs tells us it adds length and peace to our lives.  This is not some magic pill to living longer and better lives but the solemn reminder that the Word brings forth faith and faith imparts eternal life.  Here we learn that peace, contentment, and even joy do not depend upon lives being pain or trouble free but lived out in His peace that surpasses understanding and that binds us up in our worst moments.
    The Word of the Lord equips us for success.  But what kind of success?  Not simply earthly fame and fortune that come and go.  No, much more than this.  The success the Word gives us is a life of integrity here on earth and the outcome of faith, the salvation of our souls for all eternity.  This is success that cannot be stolen from you.  It was, after all, this integrity of heart that Jesus saw in Bartholomew.
    Trust in the Lord.  In other words, live by faith.  Be wise in the eyes of the Lord and do not lean upon your own knowledge or understanding.   Acknowledge the Lord.  This is an act of faith.  Worship happens only from the perspective of faith – honoring the Lord with our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, with faith in His promises, with good works that proceed from faith, and from the tithes and offerings of a grateful heart.
    Trust in the Lord and walk in His paths.  Walk in the narrow way of faith that is Christ’s way.  Showing forth in your lives the good works of Him who has called you out of darkness and into His light.  Living out your baptismal life by seeking holiness and by doing the good works that only faith can empower.  We are not free from good works but free for the good works that proceed from faith.
    Turning from evil.  Here we hit it head on.  Turning from evil.  Do not walk in the way of sinners, do not speak lies, do not give into lust, and do not live a self-centered life.  The sad truth is that too often our lives show no evidence of our striving for a higher way, the noble calling of baptism and faith.  But they should.  How sad it is that those who know the mercies of God turn His grace into something cheap and easy by living comfortably as sinners who blend into the world instead of standing out in faith.  Our distinctiveness is rooted in faith and shows itself when we live out this faith and fear of the Lord.  There wisdom truly begins.
    In the Gospel for today we heard how Jesus took note of Bartholomew and saw in this man's heart no guile – no deception.  His honesty seemed almost rude – what good can come from Nazareth?  But he was no hypocrite.  He wore on his sleeve his faith and his fear.  He wore no coat of self-righteousness.  This is the goal of every Christian and this is the cause of Christian parenting: to teach honestly the faith of Jesus Christ from the Scriptures and to live this faith as honestly as we who have this treasure in jars of clay are able.
    Let me be blunt.  You parents do not owe your children a good life or an easy life or even a happy life.  What we owe them is an honest faith, formed and grounded in the Word of the Lord, and able then to produce the fruit of good works.  They may not keep it but once formed and shaped within them, they have a faith to return to.  The words of Moses and the prophets are not generic words but focused in Christ.  This is our integrity.  All things are from Him, live in Him, and will end up before Him.  Such knowledge is too awful and fearful for us to bear unless we bear them in Christ Jesus.  He is the one who values our lives with His blood shed upon the cross and in Him we have the Word of life.  This is what we owe our children and this is what we owe to those not yet of the Kingdom  –  honesty about sin, the truth about the Cross, and a life  rooted in grace that produces a harvest of good works.  This is the shape of faith which, by God’s grace we live with integrity even within the confines of our sinful human natures and this is the shape of faith that leads us from death to life.  My son... do not forget this teaching.  Amen.

Dynamic Equivalence or Formal Equivalence

The terms "dynamic equivalence" and "formal equivalence" were originated by Eugene Nida to describe ways of translating Scripture, but the two approaches are applicable to any translation of any text -- especially liturgical texts.

Formal equivalence tends to emphasize fidelity to the lexical details and grammatical structure of the original language while dynamic equivalence tends to favor the language into which the text is being translated toward a more natural rendering for the hearer or reader.  In this case, dynamic equivalence favors the readability of the translation is more important than the preservation of the original grammatical structure (favored by the formal equivalence).

Though we tend to love dynamic equivalence as a means of rendering a text of one language into our own vernacular, this kind of translation is inherently short lived and becomes quickly dated.  What might be the modern equivalent for this moment is, over time, no longer able to communicate as well -- especially over a decade or more.  Language is not static and words and their usage -- even grammar -- evolves.  Frequent updating, however, robs the people of the familiar and ends up distancing them from that which it seeks to communicate.

It is in vogue today only because our technology makes such constant updating possible and affordable.  In previous eras when printed books and memorization were required for consistency, such change was too great a cost to be paid for relevance.  For this reason a formal or literary style was preferred for Scripture and liturgical texts over slang (so much more subject to change in meaning than the formal).  The more stunted language of a more literal translation is actually more enduring both in accessibility for the reader or hearer and in terms of meaning.

Take for example the use of Christian in the Creed.  This was not a Lutheran invention but predated the Reformation.  It was an example of dynamic equivalence.  Catholic was a word difficult to translate and the word Christian was intended as a synonym for catholicum.  Now, long removed from the original usage, the word Christian in the creed has become antagonistic toward the original it was intended to translate (so much so that a comment on a post on this blog once insisted that the commenter would rather be Christian than catholic.  This is a statement that would undoubtedly cause shock and consternation to the one who originally thought he was doing the reader or hearer a favor by proposing the change form a word more difficult to render in any vernacular than Christian.  Now that person, whoever he was, never intended to rewrite the creed -- no user of dynamic equivalence admits to rewriting the text being translated.  It is a fluid process of many choices and judgments.  Yet the more we choose dynamic equivalence, the more distant we actually are from the original text.  Roman Catholics knew this instinctively when the Novus Ordo was first used some 40+ years ago and yet we tend to be as in love with the lingo of the moment as we do the moment itself.  Hence the resistance among some Roman Catholics to return to a more formal equivalence used in the 2010 Mass translations.  As many have noted, nowhere is the weakness of the sense translation over the word for word rendering of the text than in the collects.  Once so eloquent and majestic, the prayer of the day became a poster child for the 1960s and 1970s that eventually became a joke to the Roman Mass several generations later.

In other words, readability is not necessarily a priority for translations of Scripture or the liturgy which are meant to be heard and sung over many generations and put to memory by young and old.  Lutherans should not lose sight of this truth.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I have an idea. . .


A couple months ago, the mouth-breathing Islamic terrorists of Boko Haram had our attention by kidnapping school girls.

Then ISIS struck and stole the limelight.

Then Hamas stole even more market share by rocketing Israel.

But wait! Then ISIS got back in the game with crucifixions and the YouTubing of a beheading. And they proclaimed that they are now a Caliphate!

Now I read that the mouth-breathing Islamic terrorists of Boko Haram have proclaimed their own Caliphate.  In Borno, Nigeria.

My response:

Don't report on them -- don't give these purveyors of inhuman violence and fear any of their 15 minutes of  fame.  Nothing takes the steam out of newshounds whose agenda is to make themselves seem larger than life more than ignoring them.  Yes.  Ignore them.  Fox, NBC, CBS, ABC, Twitter, Internet, etc...  We feed their penchant to be in the news.  Let us starve them to death by taking away from them every platform that gives them a place to say their hateful words, do their evil deeds, and spread their fear and terror.  Ignore them.  They will not go away but they will not thrive in the spotlight like they have been doing!!

Like an Energizer Bunny

Like an Energizer Bunny, the gray haired Vatican II crowd keeps chugging along. . .

Look at the age, the white hair, and you can almost predict what this Msgr. is going to say. . .

Monday, August 25, 2014

The mouse that roared. . .

It can hardly be called an oppressed minority when the movement boasts the full assets of the media, Hollywood, and a political party to espouse its position. . .   It can hardly be called an oppressed minority when it is made up of people more highly educated and more well paid, on average, than the general population. . .  It can hardly be called an oppressed minority when it has so effectively moved from the fringe to the mainstream of society and culture in such a very short period of time.  In fact, it is such a successful minority that the average American might well think that a third to half of all Americans are gay.  But they are not.

Health survey gives government its first large-scale data on gay, bisexual population – The Washington Post:
Less than 3 percent of the U.S. population identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday in the first large-scale government survey measuring Americans’ sexual orientation.
The National Health Interview Survey, which is the government’s premier tool for annually assessing Americans’ health and behaviors, found that 1.6 percent of adults self-identify as gay or lesbian, and 0.7 percent consider themselves bisexual.
The overwhelming majority of adults, 96.6 percent, labeled themselves as straight in the 2013 survey. An additional 1.1 percent declined to answer, responded “I don’t know the answer” or said they were “something else.”
The figures offered a slightly smaller assessment of the size of the gay, lesbian and bisexual population than other surveys, which have pegged the overall proportion at closer to 3.5 or 4 percent. In particular, the estimate for bisexuals was lower than in some other surveys.
That the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender population is a distinct minority is not in dispute.  That they are oppressed is a conclusion at odds with the facts.  Their movement has been so effective with the media that they have appeared to be larger than the numbers justify.  Certainly we have more people experimenting and we have fewer moral constraints both upon such experimentation and upon the choice to identify publicly as gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual but we do not see this result in people self-identifying as gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual.  This movement is the mouse (mouth?!) that roared and their influence is substantially greater than there actual representation within the population.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Whenever the worship wars flare up, the battle seems always to be centered on text.  There are some on the far right who elevate the Common Service of 1888 as THE text par excellence (LSB Divine Service Setting 3) and who look down their noses at anything and everything but that specific set of words.  Rightly, there are those who bristle at the idea of taking any one snapshot in time and turning that into the rule that must govern the day.

There are also book people who are not what I would call liturgical but who follow the liturgy from the book zealously -- that is, they follow the text even though they may ignore the rubrics.  These are people who would not think of deviating one word from the book but who do not see how the liturgy is fountain and source of our lives in Christ, the sustenance of those lives in Christ, and the focus and anticipated future of those lives in Christ.  They are Lutherans and Lutherans follow the book.

Many of these people see the setting (building), the accoutrements of the setting, the ceremonial, the ritual, the church usages (you name the terminology) as something other than the liturgy so that it matters little to them if vestments are used or not, rubrics followed, ceremonial used -- except that usually they want minimal of these adiaphora about which nothing can be commanded.  Their freedom in the liturgy is not from the words or text of the liturgy but from the other stuff they have long ago decided is something other than liturgy and therefore irrelevant to the liturgy.

On the other side of the spectrum are the people who refuse the idea that worship has any texts.  They rewrite the "liturgy" week after week as if worship had to be reinvented Sunday after the Sunday.  They bristle at the idea of repetition and do not always use the Our Father or the Creed simply to shake it up a bit.  Even when they do use more sacred forms, they change up the wording week after week just so it does not get stale.  They evaluate liturgy by the book and deem it boring, irrelevant, and out of step with people in the pews.  So they reject the texts and therefore reject the liturgy (the ordo, if you will).  Some may loosely follow the ancient pattern of the Mass but their substitutions violate that form.

To some extent the problem is that we have reduced the liturgy or the Mass to a specific set of words -- to a text.  It is that to be sure but it is far more than that.  When we say liturgy we are not isolating a page number or a specific set of words only but the full measure of that which constitutes the Divine Service -- hymns, rubrics, liturgical year, gestures, ceremonial, postures, vestments.  All of these are part of the liturgy.  And more!  Art and beauty are certainly included here -- from crucifix to stained glass to paraments, etc...

Too many think it matters little if the setting or building is antagonistic to what is happening in the liturgy, the walls awful or empty of art, the music poor and an enemy of singing, the one presiding wooden and uncomfortable, etc..., as long as the text is there. Just make sure that the ministers pronounce the words correctly, read the text intelligibly, and the sermon is "meaningful" and all is well with the liturgy.  Except that this is as much an enemy to the liturgy as those who would ditch the whole thing in favor of entertainment!

The liturgy IS a text, rather, a series of texts, but it is far more.  I wonder if our people get this -- shoot, I wonder if our Pastors get this.  How easy it is to give no thought to the architectural setting, to the vestments, to the art, to the music, and to the gracious presiding of him who leads the Divine Service -- and to settle for a text, a set of words on a page and call it done.  I am NOT saying that all of these thing have to be right before worship is as God intends and His gifts bestowed upon His people according to His promise. Of course not.  But what we settle for, what we define as normative, should not be some minimalism of text alone apart from the piety and practice that naturally flow from the richness of the liturgical tradition, the sacred deposit and living tradition that connects us to the past as well as pointing us to the future in Christ.

Unless and until we recapture the idea that all of these things are in service to the worship of God's house and part of the whole liturgical setting and celebration, we will inevitably talk past each other, argue against straw men, and continue to wage worship wars without even addressing the full dimension of what is at play when we gather in the shadow of the saints before us and toward the future we anticipate with the foretaste of the feast to come as the Church, around Word and Table, in the clothing of the liturgy.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. . .

Take a gander at this GIF that shows the swelling and falling of the Roman Empire...

510 BC to 530 AD

In 500 BC, Rome was a minor city-state on the Italian peninsula. By 200 BC, the Roman Republic had conquered Italy, and over the following two centuries it conquered Greece and Spain, the North African coast, much of the Middle East, modern-day France, and even the remote island of Britain. In 27 BC, the republic became an empire, which endured for another 400 years. Finally, the costs of holding such a vast area together become too great. Rome gradually split into Eastern and Western halves, and by 476 AD the Western half of the empire had been destroyed by invasions from Germanic tribes. The Eastern half of the empire, based in Constantinople, continued for many centuries after that.

Here is the shape of the next empire that followed, the one created by Charlemagne.

 Historians generally refer to the Eastern Roman Empire after 476 as the Byzantine Empire. But this is an arbitrary distinction invented for the convenience of historians; it wouldn't have made sense to people living in Constantinople, the Eastern Capital, at the time. People in the Byzantine Empire continued to think of themselves as Romans, and their empire as the Roman Empire, for centuries after 476. In 527, the Emperor Justinian took power in the Byzantine Empire and began a compaign to reconquer the Western half of the empire. By his death in 565, he had made significant progress, retaking Italy, most of Roman Africa, and even some parts of Spain. While his successors wouldn't be able to hold these new territories, the Byzantine Empire would endure as a Christian empire for another 1000 years until it was finally overrun by the Ottomans in 1453.

Read more here. . . 

Fool me once, shame on you... fool me twice...

Donald Trump is reported to have said there is no such thing as bad publicity.  I doubt his veracity on this.  There is such a thing as bad publicity and Pope Francis had fallen into it multiple times.  It is not simply a matter of what he said but of supposedly what he said.  In other words, he has put himself into a position where his words have been reported in a provocative sense when they may not have been -- but who would know and who is to say what he really said or what he meant.

Point and example are his interviews with an interviewer who does not record the interview but relies upon his memory.  The Pope has sat down with this individual several times and in each case the interview (so-called) has resulted in confusion over what was actually said or meant and has made the Pope appear to be naive at best or completely ignorant of the consequences of such journalism at worst.  The point is not simply what he was said to have said but the whole idea that we do not know what he said and, it seems, never will.  He has enjoyed this style of vague communication in which implication, inference, and innuendo seem to suggest he is at odds with the Roman Catholic Church's stated position or desires to change it without directly saying it.  The problem is not the positions but the Pope.  If he is at odds with celibacy or he has inside information about the sex scandal problem or he desires to loosen the communion rules for the divorced, he should be honest enough to admit it up front instead of tossing out seeming tidbits of discord with the RCC's position in a less than forthright or honest manner that both confuse the world and scandalize the church.

So now the Pope is saying that 1 in 50 priests, bishops, and cardinals in the RCC is a pedophile?  That celibacy is on the table?  Well, who is to know.  The interviewer (Eugenio Scalfari) has no written or recorded notes to go by -- only his memory.  The Pope's or the Vatican's spokesman (Father Lombardi) says that the interviewer did not accurately convey the Pope's comments.  So what is going on...

My personal fear is that this Pope is in over his head.  He may be well intentioned but he is foolish and naive in the way he is using or being used by the media.  His ordinary method of a "studied ambiguity" is not how the Church should address the world and it is unworthy of those who would presume to speak for the Christian faith.  It makes a Lutheran long for the days of B16 and JP2.  It is not my church but a Pope's words cast a long shadow over Christianity as a whole and he needs either to be honest and unambiguously own what he is saying or he needs to shut up.  In any case he needs never to speak to Mr. Scalfari again without someone or some means to independently verify what he said and what he did not say.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  That is my Lutheran take on it...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Modern Day Renewer of the Church

Norwegian Bishop Børre Knudsen died quietly in his home near Tromsø Sunday morning, August 17, 2014,surrounded by his family. Norway’s most prominent pro-Life leader had suffered worsening Parkinson’s Disease in recent years. His passing sparked a wave of praise from Christian and even secular publications across Norway. An editorial in the Christian daily Dagen entitled “Heartfelt Thanks, Børre Knudsen” described him as “a unique person. His warm heart, his gentle zeal and his steadfastness stand as strong testimony to a life of selfless service for the Life that God created.”

“When the history of our times is written,” Dagen continues, “Børre Knudsen will be one future generations will hear about. Knudsen’s struggle is not driven by opposition to women’s rights or the preservation of traditional gender roles, but by a strong commitment to protect life itself.”

Vårt Land writes, “Børre Knudsen will go down in history as one of the most important churchly personalities of our time, but both he and his family had to pay a high price because he stood out front in the abortion battle.”

Bishop Knudsen was known throughout Norway and beyond for his gentle demeanor but uncompromising struggle against legalized abortion, beginning when the Norwegian law was adopted in 1978. Protesting the law, he refused to carry out government duties assigned to state church pastors, such as keeping official records, and refused his salary, but continued his pastoral service to his congregation.

Also, a movie, entitled A Priest and a Plague has been made about his life.  It was released in Norway and was shown on nationwide television there a few days ago.  It will be available in this country in October.

HT to Chris Barnekov

Or you could just call her Mom. . .

Having heard of the great and pressing need for a new term for the rather distasteful term surrogate mother, I have been appraised of its replacement.  Temporary mobile gestational carrier.  Ahhh, now that fall off the tongue about as naturally as the idea is unnatural.  But it certainly fits.  It fits a culture in which mom and dad are relative terms and families may have two moms or two dads or some other combination -- including trans-moms and trans-dads (for the transgendered).  It fits a culture in which babies are like possessions to be purchased by those desired and thrown away if the desire passes before the sound of the child's cry.   It fits a culture in which test tubes and medical procedure is replacing love, marriage and the baby carriage.  It fits a culture in which gender neutral terms are used in every possible way to remove the taint of gender from the public conversation.  Yes, I suppose babies need a temporary mobile gestational carrier.  They really do.  But more than this rather sanitized ideal, babies need a mom and a dad, courageous enough to marry and live together in fidelity and smart enough to know that parents are not puzzle pieces but essential and unique parts of the divinely intended and established ideal of family.  Imagine that instead of farming out the messy business of conception, pregnancy, and birth, a mom and a dad find this responsibility to be part of their sacrificial service to their children and a duty to be born by mom with the loving support of dad (a joyous duty at that).  Or is that too much to ask??

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My Kind of Legoland

My kids have always loved Legos.  My oldest son is not too old to remain in love with the little colored bricks and the world of wonder an imagination can create with them.  My kids have made some awesome Lego builds but nothing like this...  Okay, so many Dad helped these kids out a bit.  Either way it is my kind of Legoland!

Note that this is a traditional church, cruciform in shape, altar ad orientum, with all the appointments, and, it appears, a processional in process, probably to a full, sung, liturgy (whether or not it is a Pontificial High Mass is hard to guage without seeing it in person).  Note the baptistry and confessional...  Hmmmm Very creative!

Now this is how kids ought to spend their creative moments!

You can read about it here... or look at the rest of the pictures below:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

An embarrassment of riches. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 10, Proper 15A, preached on Sunday, August 17, 2014.

    I don’t think there is a family that does not have an uncle or grandpa or father who does not delight in embarrassing his kids.  My brother and I used to say it all the time. “Awww, Dad.”  Have you ever been embarrassed by the words or actions of a friend or family member?  Sometimes it is the truth that embarrasses us – the truth the everyone knows but no one says.
    Have you ever been embarrassed by the Bible?  Ever read something shocking to you that you wish God had not said?  Have you ever been embarrassed by Jesus?  Statistics tell us that one of the reasons people give for not inviting people to their church is the fear of being embarrassed by their church or their pastor.  Have you ever been embarrassed in that way?
    Today we found the disciples embarrassed.  They were embarrassed by this pest of a woman from the wrong side of the tracks who refused to shut up and leave them alone.  They were also embarrassed that Jesus did not seem to be bothered by this woman.  And they were embarrassed that Jesus did not do something about her and send her packing.
    They were even more embarrassed when the Lord stopped to listen to her, engaged her in conversation, and then gave to her grace they thought should have gone to more deserving folk.  Jesus listened to her.  She was not a follower of Jesus.  She was a woman with a past.  She was a pest.  She was bothering the Lord with her concern for her daughter.  This was embarrassing to them.  Why didn’t she just go away or Jesus send her away.  Even when Jesus insulted her, she did not deny it.  She was a dog, all right.
    But Jesus then gave her what she asked for – more than crumbs and a shocking display of mercy.  Jesus not only listened to her and talked with her but gave to her daughter the healing for which this woman had begged.  How embarrassing.  Jesus should have known better.  This woman was a dog and she did not deserve His kindness.  Yes, sometimes kindness embarrasses us.  Grace embarrasses us.
    Jesus transcended right and merit and worth to display the nature of God’s love and His kingdom and to give to her the grace she did not deserve and show her the mercy that was His gift.  It was an embarrassment of riches toward someone who did not deserve any bit of it.
    You worry about being embarrassed.  You are the embarrassment.  You are sinners.  Not just little sinners like the person who sticks a toe in to test the waters.  Nope.  You have jumped in head first to every kind of filth, evil, shameful, and scandalous sin.  You are an embarrassment to the Lord.  You have no right to stand on and your only appeal is the same as this woman's -- grace, pure grace, and grace alone.
    That is the gift of God.  God does not give His mercy to those who deserve it.  God does not reserve His grace for those who are holy or righteous or good.  God gives His grace to dogs.  He does so every Sunday.  We deserve nothing of His kindness and yet He is kind to us.  He forgives our terrible sins for the sake of Jesus Christ and counts us as His own righteous and holy children by baptism.
    Every Sunday we come and receive an embarrassment of riches from the Lord.  None of us gets what we deserve from Him – thanks be to God – and each of us receives what we none of us deserves.  Grace upon grace.  Mercies new every morning. Forgiveness for the dirty and shameful sins we commit.  The clothing of righteousness to cover our evil.  The flesh and blood of Christ as our true and glorious food of everlasting life.  The privilege of serving Him who served us by dying on the cross.
    You and I worry about what others will think of us but we do not fear God.  We act like we deserve what He gives to us.  We presume the right to be here in His presence.  We are an embarrassment to the Lord and still He forgives us and calls us His own.  Every week we face this same embarrassment of riches – more that we deserve or dare ask.  It is grace alone!
    We are all barking dogs who are not worth the crumbs but Christ has set a place at His table.  We are all mutts whom the Lord has given pedigree by baptism and faith. We don’t deserve to be heard but He hears us. We don’t deserve to be mercy, but He forgives us. We don’t deserve to eat but He feeds us.
    Grace is the surprise of God to all our sin and unworthiness. Every Sunday we face an embarrassment of riches.  We come with our money thinking we are giving God something big and He gives us His own Son that embarrasses our offerings.  We give Him our worship and think it is a big deal sacrificing a Sunday morning and He gives us our lives back from death.
    Every Sunday it is the same... we come deserving nothing, not even the crumbs due the dogs.  Every Sunday our Lord presents an embarrassment of riches to us. . . And too often, we walk out that door without a real hint of just what a lavish and giving God we have.  You ought to be embarrassed in Church – embarrassed that God would be so kind, so merciful, and so gracious to you, a sinner who deserves none of it.  Today we pray for just such a heart – shamed by mercy into joy!  Amen

Liberal Baptists... not an oxymoron

I had this passed to me. . .

When you hear the word “Baptist,” what ideas pop into your head?  Southern accents, Jerry Falwell, political conservatism, etc?  I suspect that that’s true for most people.  But the truth of the matter is that if you factor out the SBC, Baptists are some of the most ferociously liberal Christians in America, at times exceeding even the Episcopalians.

Case in point:
A transgender woman who attended George W. Truett Theological Seminary and pastored a church in Central Texas as a man has returned to the pulpit.

Allyson Robinson began June 23 as transitions pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington. The calling is temporary — helping with preaching, mentoring and pastoral care duties along with the deacons until the church names a longer-term intentional interim pastor — probably this fall.
Calvary Baptist reaffirmed Robinson’s ordination June 15, prior to Pastor Amy Butler’s departure to become senior minister of the historic and progressive Riverside Church in New York City.

“Allyson Dylan Robinson is a minister of the gospel, trained for the task, and ordained to the gospel ministry by another community in which she has served as pastor,” Butler said in an ordination litany later posted on her blog.

“Over the course of her journey, God has invited her to step into the faithful witness of a new identity, a true identity, and a new name,” she continued.

In an ideal world, liberals would all wear the same name, badge, or identity.  We live in a convoluted world in which, like politics, religion is filled with diversity within the labels.  Lutherans are all over the page.  Methodists, too.  There are fewer Episcopalians on the right but a few.  There are fewer UCC folks on the right, but a few.  But Baptists?  They are the iconic face of stern fundamentalism, right?  No.  We already saw how Baptists in the UK fudged things on same sex marriage.  Now we have Baptists in the US who champion a transgendered minister.  Wow.  How are you supposed to know who is who and what is what?  Since people in the pew can no longer simply trust the label, you have to find out what is believed, confessed, taught, and, now the new one, tolerated...

Monday, August 18, 2014

There is no intolerance so great as from those who claim to be tolerant...

The archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is preparing to drive through legislation to allow women bishops even if it is rejected by the church's governing body, the General Synod.  The synod is poised to vote again on the vexed plan next week but senior sources have told the Guardian that should the move be blocked again, there are now options being considered to force the change on the church.

Options under consideration include an immediate dissolution of the synod so that fresh elections could produce a sufficient majority by November, or even a move by the bishops in the House of Lords to introduce the legislation without synodical approval.  The dramatic intervention would be designed to pre-empt any attempts, which are already being threatened by parliament, to remove the church's exemption from equality legislation.

In other words, if Archbishop Welby of the Church of England cannot get women bishops through the ordinary means, he is poised to change the rules in order to force women bishops upon the church through other, more radical means -- as if anyone ever doubted that the day would come when women bishops would be approved in the good ole C of E.

I love it when those who insist upon tolerance became the intolerant.  They betray their true character when they cannot get what they want.  At that moment, their cause becomes so just that they will bully their point of view on the church.  How much harm has been done by bullies who resort to extraordinary means to infect their radical change upon a church either too slow to accept the change or unwilling to accept it???

This is a perfect example of an abuse of authority.  Women clergy is a modern phenomenon.  Women bishops is even more recent.  It is anti-ecumenical.  It is a radical departure from Scripture and tradition.  It is unnecessary but it is on the must have agenda of nearly all liberal Christians.  No rocks in the road of this social agenda will be allowed to slow or stop the press of change upon the church.  Even schism is an acceptable price to pay for being in tune with the modern mind and the social justice movement of the age.

If Welby had been around when God created, he might well have take over for the Almighty because six days was too long to get it done and Welby had bigger fish waiting to fry down the road.  What will be next?  It is not hard to see.  The Church of England will have gay and lesbian bishops forced upon them and the ecumenical consequences of this act, along with the disconnect from other Anglicans (notably in Africa) will certainly not be a price too high for being able to wave the pink or rainbow flag over Lambeth!

Of course, the threat may have been all that was needed.  The vote on July 14 took place amid cheers -- finally.  Yes, finally...  From the moment the General Synod voted for women priests in 1992, it was inevitable women bishops would follow.  It would have been the ultimate hypocrisy to have had women priests but deny them the episcopate.  One may credit the influence of both Conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics to slow down the process and make what might have been an ordinary and expected decisions wait for some 20 years. Those who feared that this might signal the end of the Anglican Communion and a breach with more conservative groups throughout the world will not have to wait long to see what happens.  This was predictable but in the way death is predictable for those with serious cancer or heart disease.  We do not live in an Alice-in-Wonderland world and so finally Anglicans who remained will have to face up to the fact that any remnant of orthodoxy has flown the coup.

This is the response of the Russian Orthodox, once almost close to recognizing Anglican orders... not so close anymore:

At the session that took place on the 14th of July 2014, the General Synod of the Church of England made a decision allowing women to serve as bishops. The Communication Service of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations is authorized to make the following statement in this regard:
The Russian Orthodox Church has been alarmed and disappointed to learn about the decision of the Church of England to admit women to the episcopate, since the centuries-old relationships between our two Churches had shown possibilities for the Orthodox to recognize the existence of apostolic succession in Anglicanism. As far back as the 19th century, the Anglicans, members of the Eastern Church Association, sought “mutual recognition” of orders between the Orthodox and the Anglican Churches and believed that “both Churches preserved the apostolic continuity and true faith in the Saviour and should accept each other in the full communion of prayers and sacraments.”
The decision to ordain women, which the Church of England took in 1992, damaged the relationships between our Churches, and the introduction of female bishops has eliminated even a theoretical possibility for the Orthodox to recognize the existence of apostolic succession in the Anglican hierarchy.
Such practice contradicts the centuries-old church tradition going back to the early Christian community. In the Christian tradition, bishops have always been regarded as direct spiritual successors of the apostles, from whom they received special grace to guide the people of God and special responsibility to protect the purity of faith, to be symbols and guarantors of the unity of the Church. The consecration of women bishops runs counter to the mode of life of the Saviour Himself and the holy apostles, as well as to the practice of the Early Church.
In our opinion, it was not a theological necessity or issues of church practice that determined the decision of the General Synod of the Church of England, but an effort to comply with the secular idea of gender equality in all spheres of life and the increasing role of women in the British society. The secularization of Christianity will alienate many faithful who, living in the modern unstable world, try to find spiritual support in the unshakable gospel’s and apostolic traditions established by Eternal and Immutable God.

The Russian Orthodox Church regrets to state that the decision allowing the elevation of women to episcopal dignity impedes considerably the dialogue between the Orthodox and the Anglicans, which has developed for many decades, and contributes for further deepening of divisions in the Christian world as a whole.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

I want you to cry at my funeral. . .

Chad Bird has written well of six things he does NOT want said at his funeral.  I can only echo his comments here.  Don't say I was a good man. Last time I checked good works (neither the abundance nor their poverty) was what commended us before God.  Even if I was all that good, how does it comfort those who survive me to have lost "such a good man?"  Don't call out my name (more than a few times and where liturgically it is directed).  Call out the name of Jesus who forgives sinners, clothes the evil with His own righteousness, raises the dead to life, and prepares the place for the dead to go to be with Him forever.  Don't dehumanize me by saying I am now a happy (though chubby) little angel flapping my new wings around heaven.  Sentiments like this kills the honest hope of Christ's death and resurrection.  Don't celebrate my life or console the folks left by telling stories about me.  Lutherans have funerals.  If my life meant anything, it deserves a funeral.  Tell the story of Jesus because by my baptism this became my own story.  Don't say that what lies in the coffin is but a shell of what I was.  God did not merely make my soul; He also made my body -- fearfully and wonderfully -- and I look forward to the resurrection of the flesh and the new and glorious body Christ already wears and, by His promise, I will, too!

If I could add one thing to what Chad has written, I would only say don't read some banal, trivial, secular poem, piece of literature, or sentimental song and call it Gospel.  Most of the stuff read at funerals is crap.  It only increases the pain or diminishes the loss (falsely) and hardly any of it directs us to the real Gospel.  No, resist the effort to recite some pithy saying that is rich in sentiment but devoid of the faith and the hope into which I was baptized.  Even if you are not a Christian, I was so do not dishonor what God did in my baptism by equating some trivial saying with words of Him who is the way, the truth, and the life.

That said, it is the last thing that Chad said I want to focus on.... Don't say I would not want you to weep.  I DO want you to cry at my funeral.  Grieving as the informed who know the hope we have in Christ does not erase our tears of loss or the pain of death.  Our hope sustains us in our grief.  Our hope is our strength in weakness.  Our hope enables us to endure the crushing loss of those whom we love.  But it does not erase it as if there were no pain left in death, no sorrow, no sadness.  Did Jesus grieve Lazarus' death or did He just put on a show of tears for the benefit of the people?  As we shed our tears we affirm Him who wipes away every tear from our eyes.  When Paul cautions us against grieving as the ignorant who have no hope, I think he has in mind the very idea that we are not here to be sad and shed our tears, but to celebrate the life of the deceased and to comfort ourselves with memories and the laughter of his many foibles.  This IS the ignorance that both fails to acknowledge the reality of death as the consequence of sin as well as a denial of the wondrous miracle of Christ who ended death's reign and transformed the grave into the gate of everlasting life.  I hope you will cry for me and in your tears will be comforted by the mercy of God which endures forever and by the death of Christ that sanctifies our own death and the grave of Christ that sanctifies the graves of all who die in Him.

I have shed many tears at funerals.  Some funerals of beloved parishioners have been every bit as painful as those of my family members.  I can recall standing at the grave and barely being able to utter the final words of the commendation:  Christ is risen!  I heard the people respond through their tears with the same wavering voice.  He is risen indeed!  This is exactly what it means to grieve.  We shed our tears, we admit our broken hearts, but through the tears we also cry out to God both in confession of what we believe and as the invocation of His promise:  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Those Christians who would try to paper over our sadness, dry up all our tears, and comfort us with our memories have failed to acknowledge exactly what it is that the terrible choice in Eden stole from us and what it is that the amazing grace of the cross and empty tomb of our Savior has restored.  There is no glory in death except the glory of Him who died that we might live.  Nope, don't celebrate me or my life or my accomplishments or my memorable moments (as foolish as they were).  Do me the honor of some tears and, if my life has meant anything to you, speak faith through those tears in confessing Jesus Christ through the liturgy, the creed, and the prayers.  Grieve.... but grieve with hope...  Rejoice in Christ... but not by denying what it is that afflicted us sinners or what it is that Christ bore for us.  You can do both.  That is the paradox, the creative tension, in which we Christians meet death and confess Christ at the same time.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Lyle Lovett's Favorite Place

Had to pass this on (HT to Gene Veith)...

Read it all here. . . 


have so many favorite places, but I’m picking St. Paul Lutheran Church, in Serbin, because besides being an authentically historic place to visit, it symbolizes how so many Texas communities came into being. St. Paul isn’t my home church, but its origins are much like those of the one I grew up in—Trinity Lutheran Church, in Klein, which was founded in the mid-1800’s by German immigrants seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity. My great-great-grandfather Adam Klein was a founding member of Trinity, but sadly the original building is long gone. 

St. Paul’s building, however, not only survives but still holds services every Sunday, and when you visit it, you step back in time. 

I have a family connection to St. Paul too. My maternal grandmother’s father, my great-grandfather Herman Schroeder, was the schoolteacher and minister of music at St. Paul after he retired from thirty years of service at St. John, in Lincoln. Great-grandpa Schroeder is the only person I know of whom I’m related to who was a musician.

Lovett is a singer, songwriter, and actor who has released thirteen albums. He lives in the Houston area.

Just had to pass this on!  I don't listen to Lyle Lovett's music but it is clear from his words that the song within him was profoundly shaped by the voice of faith, the home of his family church, and the impact of church and faith upon the varied and diverse lives of those who worship in these church homes...  I would not characterize my home church as particularly beautiful from an aesthetic point of view but its beauty lies in the generations of my family whose song of faith nurtured my and encouraged my own voice to sing with them.  The crucifix, the old oak gothic altar, and ancient Estey pipe organ, and the worn baptismal font would make that place one of my favorite places in the world.

An astonishingly rich tradition. . .

What was sacred for prior generations, remains sacred and great for us as well wrote Benedict XVI on July 7, 2007, when he issued the document Summorum Pontificum.  For Roman Catholics it has meant a legitimate restoration of the Latin Mass to a church that has long lived with experimental liturgical change that became normal, robbing them of much of a connection to their past.  It was, as many Roman Catholics had said, that we went to sleep one day and woke up the next to a completely different church.  While the doctrine supposedly was the same, the nature of the liturgical changes as well as a "climate" change within that communion transformed this tradition in ways that no one could have foreseen.  Benedict was, as he has often pointed out, restoring the past, practicing a hermeneutic of continuity.

As much as I have great respect for Benedict, I remain unsure that the restoration of the Latin Mass is the redemptive force so many traditional Roman Catholics believe it to be.  It is symbolic, highly symbolic, of the great and crying need within that church to reconnect their present to their past in a way that does more than offer lip service to a liturgical legacy, a musical heritage, a practice or piety, and a dogmatic tradition.  There is much water that has gone under the bridge since Paul VI promulgated the liturgical reforms after Vatican II and there has grown up another Roman Catholic Church made up of cultural Catholics who may not attend Mass or go to confession but who certainly do not accept the historic teaching of their church without qualification.  More work will have to go on to deal with these issues -- perhaps a few generations of Benedicts and priests who follow in his path.  With respect to Francis, I am not sure he represents a link in the chain  of such a hermeneutic of continuity with Benedict XVI.

My point here is that we Lutherans ought to listen to such conversation.  We have endured a few generations of liturgical change.  This was seen as our own Wittenberg spring that was supposed to refresh the church, rekindle the fire, and help us stop the bleeding off of members to other churches or to ecclesiastical oblivion.  Instead, it has done the opposite.  Where once you knew exactly what to expect on a Sunday morning in a Lutheran parish (pretty much the Common Service of 1888), now Lutherans open the door uncertain what they will find -- from clowns to entertainment worship to seeker services to throw away liturgy to worship from the book to catholic liturgy and ceremony... and the list could go on.  We do not have a public face anymore.  It has become a white board on which we draw whatever face we want to draw to show ourselves both to the faithful and to the world.  We do not have doctrinal and catechetical unanimity (though we came pretty close to such in the 1950s) but we have Lutherans officially all over the page.  Some are mainline Protestants with a lot of show but not much content.  Some are evangelical wannabes with all the emotional fervor and relativisitic appeal of an Osteen but little consistent with our Confessions.  Some are fundamentalists -- liturgical Baptists, if you will -- who diminish our catholicity.

What was sacred for prior generations, remains sacred and great for us as well...    It is a classic statement of the catholicity of what is believed and how it is lived out on Sunday morning.  This calls us all to the means of grace from our speculative focus on psychology, happiness, and self-fulfillment.  It compels us to remember what we too often forget -- we did not invent the faith nor do we invent how we practice that faith on Sunday morning.  We are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition -- not of museum pieces to be adored but of liturgy, hymnody, and piety.  By keeping faith with the tradition handed down to us, we manifest our own identity today as the Church of the ages, catholic in doctrine and catholic in practice.  We cannot afford to disdain what was sacred in order to reinvent ourselves or what is sacred.  We are bound to Scripture and its living tradition of saints who have confessed it through the ages.

The great danger to us liturgically and doctrinally is the same as what haunts Rome.  We have made a radical disconnect from our past.  We have disdained the sacred which was past down to us by those who went before.  No one is saying that we have to slavishly adhere to the past without offering the best of the present.  The liturgy expects and anticipates the living tradition lived out in our own time and doctrine that remains the same must always be restated to answer the challenges, questions, and changes of the modern day.  But when we disown our doctrinal past, we force ourselves to redefine who we are as a church and what we stand for without the aid and benefit of the resources, history, creeds, and confessions that enabled us to once say "this we believe".  When we disown our liturgical past we end up worshiping the present moment and ourselves as much as the God who transcends time and eternity.

Benedict spoke a prescient word for Rome some seven years ago... but Lutherans ought to be listening to the truth of those words for our own house.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sorry. . .

A blog glitch this morning deleted several posts scheduled for today and following... after a few efforts, I believe it has been corrected.  I apologize.... Pastor Peters+

If the Lord really valued Mary. . .

It was a quip.  It was meant as a joke -- well, sort of.  "If the Lord really valued Mary, He would have made her an Apostle!"  People laughed.  But why?

The Blessed Virgin is in no confusion about this.  As the Magnificat sings she sees the privilege of Theotokos (Mother of God) as deep and profound grace for which she is completely unworthy.  But we are no longer so sure.  Motherhood is not the virtuous choice it once was.  Neither is betrothal.  Neither is virginity.  In fact, our age considers children pretty much burdens (at worst) and a choice (at best).  Hardly gifts from God that would make us desire a quiver full of them, eh?!

What do we call those who serve us as maids, cooks, housekeepers, etc...?  Domestics.  It is a term largely of derision today.  It expects that those on the lowest ladder of immigrant status (legal or illegal) will take up these jobs (they are, in our modern parlance, almost unworthy of being called vocations).  Furthermore, we will pay them no more than minimum wage and an occasional buck in tip here and there.

The Blessed Virgin is delighted to be a domestic, to serve as mother to the Son of God, wife of Joseph, and the example of servant love for her family.  That is both why she is so confusing to us as well as so virtuous.  We are modern people.  We live in a modern world.  Women can do so much more.... More than give birth to and mother the Son of the Most High God????  Many Christians would not hesitate to say "of course."  And therein lies our confusion on this Day of Blessed Mary, Mother of our Lord.  If we would honor her, we must honor her vocation as mother, woman of the house, and wife of her husband.  All of this was her vocation for which she was delighted and in which she found God's mercy and grace.

The West (at least in Rome) has decided she was unworthy of death and so preserved from decay (like Enoch and Elijah).  She was assumed.  The East may have opinions about this but calls this her Dormition (her falling asleep day).  We Lutherans are so skittish about the Blessed Virgin that it is the most we can stomach to call her Mary, Mother of our Lord.  Mary, Virgin Mother and whom the generations shall forever call Blessed, is honored (and rightly so) for her faith, her faithfulness, her consent to the Lord's will, her delight in that will, and her stalwart devotion to the Son who was born also her Savior.

The more we denigrate the noble vocation of mother and the more we find marriage an unnecessary option, the harder it will be for us to know what to do with this woman.  Honored by the Lord with the blessed vocation as mother of His Son, she is revered above all other saints.  Yet some still grouse that such is not honor enough.  Better it would be to have been named an apostle or a bishop or a priest.  What foolishness!  Truth to be told, if any man is worth his salt he is quietly jealous of Mary, blessed Virgin.  For she was given what none other has been.  It is her great humility in seeing this honor for what it was and for trusting in the Word of the Lord when it all seemed completely impossible that makes her the mother of all the faithful.  For in consenting to and in becoming the Mother of our Lord, she has become the mother of all Christians.  May we learn to honor her vocation, to delight in her faith, and to follow her as she followed Christ.

My soul doth magnify the Lord : and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded : the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth : all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me : and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him : throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm : he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel : as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

To My Faithful Readers. . .

It took a long time for this blog to be seen by 250,000 people -- a couple of years!  We finally hit the million hit milestone only in September of 2013.  Now we had another 250,000 more hits in less than 10 months since breaking a million.

We are averaging about 28-30,000 page views per month and that does not include those who cross post, reprint, or receive this by feed.  I am astonished!
Who are you readers?

United States           
United Kingdom

God bless you all!  I will keep plugging.  What a great hobby this has become!  Thank you all!!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The most significant event in the life of the parish. . .

It was one of those form questions designed to gain a perspective on what was going on in the congregation.  "What is or has been the most significant event in the life of your congregation?"  Hmmmm....  Well, there was that one year we met our budget and had a surplus....   Or what about that year we decided to build on to the building... Or what about the year we had conflict and some folks left to start another church... Or perhaps it was when our pastor died (or assistant pastor)... the list could go on and on and a good case made for every one of the items listed.   Think about the list you would make for your own parish.

But I did not pick one of those items from the list.  The most significant event in the life of this or any parish is the Sunday Divine Service or Mass.  This IS the most significant event in the life of this or any congregation but that is not the answer most or perhaps all respondents would give.  The great tragedy is that the most extraordinary event in our live together as the people of God and in our individual lives as the baptized is too often seen as ordinary, routine, even casual or trivial.

It is my contention that the reasons why we tend to compare unfavorably with the evangelical church down the block, the reasons why tend to beget conflict and dispute, the reasons why we see people slip away from us never to be reclaimed, and the reasons why our youth ministries of Sunday school, catechism, and youth group have lost their glitter is that we no longer count what happens on Sunday morning as the most significant part of our life together as a congregation and our individual lives as Christian people within that congregation.

There is no pastor who is not in some way overwhelmed by the demands laid upon him and his time by the pastoral care needs, administrative responsibilities, teaching duties, and assorted other jobs that are part of the overall vocation of a pastor.  The truth is that it is also the great temptation of the pastor to put these things first and to devote the bulk of our time and energy to them to the point where the Divine Service gets stuck with the leftovers of our resources.  We often feed this by thinking it is only worship and not as dramatic as the emergency life circumstances that often call for the pastor's presence.  We often justify it by figuring the liturgy is hardly more than prelude for the sermon and so little of our attention goes into its planning or execution.  But it does not matter how great our pastoral care is outside of the Divine Service if we are failing to raise up the Divine Service as the source and summit of our life together and our individual lives as the baptized people of God.  This is where the people of God regularly meet the voice of the Lord speaking in His Word, the grace of the Lord absolving them of their sins, and the very flesh and blood of the Son of God to feed and nourish them body and soul.  This IS the most significant event in the life of any Lutheran congregation.  We need to start stating the obvious with such regularity that our people will begin to realize the truth of this statement and we may begin to bear the fruits of this focus on the whole of the parish's life and ministry.

When Jesus describes the joy of heaven over one sinner who repents, how the angels join in song when one person hears the call of the Father through the voice of His Son and by the Spirit responds with the joyful assent, He is telling us the importance of our lives together around the Word and Table of the Lord.  If our people really began to think like this, I am certain it would have great impact on the mission focus of our work, on the vitality of Sunday school and Bible study, on the urgency of a life of catechesis, on the practice of the peace of God and the exercise of that peace in sins confessed and forgiven one to another, in the reduction of conflicts and disputes, on our stewardship of all God's resources, and in the numbers of those who simply fall away from their place within the Lord's House, around His Word and Table.

So spread the word... the most significant event in our life as a congregation is what happens on Sunday morning when we gather at His bidding around the Word and Table of the Lord.  Period. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A treasure to eternal life. . .

Sermon preached for St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, on Sunday, August 10, 2014.

    What a day for a Pastor named Larry to return to his congregation!  I bet you did not even know there was a St. Larry's Day!  Well, there is.  Historically this saint’s day was also a tide - St. Lawrence-tide signaled the end of one phase of the Sundays after Pentecost and the beginning of another.
    The truth is, however, that there is a saint's day for each of us and for all of us.  In our baptism we were named for the Lord, declared holy and righteous in Christ, and born anew into His eternal kingdom.  But let me tell the story of my namesake.  Born about 225, he was one of the seven deacons of Rome when Valerian began a persecution of Christians.  He demanded all the treasures of the Church.  Here is where St. Larry enters the story.  He was in charge of the treasury.  Tradition tells us that he asked the Emperor for a few days to put it all together.  So on August 10 Valerian came to get the Church's treasure.
    Valerian was not prepared for this moment.  St. Lawrence knew that the treasury of the Church was not in gold or silver or jewels or money.  The great treasure of the Church was the Gospel and this Gospel was not hoarded by freely given away in the words and works of Christian witness and service.  Valerian was not amused.  He roasted Lawrence to death over a fire.  Lest you think this barbarism is ancient fact, note in the news of the 8 Christians crucified like their Lord and of the children beheaded in the Middle East for refusing to renounce the Christ of their baptism.  No, there remains no shortage of martyrs like Lawrence whose blood cries to the Lord for vengeance as we heard in the reading from Revelation.
    Lawrence knew the treasure of the Church.  Do you?  What we so often treasure, God does not.  There is the paradox.  We often wonder where all the offering money goes and why the Church does not amass a big bank account.  We see treasure in money and property and earthly things the world values.  So we are reluctant to give God more than a token of our money, property, and time because these are so valuable to us.  But God wonders if we have missed His point.  Isn't Christ our treasure?
    We see the Church as weak and vulnerable in a world of earthly power and glory.  We wish for the raw power of the world to answer the terrorists of Islam.  But Jesus says the greater power is He who can destroy not only body but soul.  The greater power is the One who can give life to the sinner dead in trespasses and sin; who can redeem the body from death and the soul from bondage.  The real power of the Church is not more of what the world has but what the world does not have and cannot have unless it comes in Christ.  The real power is mercy.
    We judge everything by popularity and fame.  How many Facebook friends and what do people think of you?  These fleeting treasures we sell our souls to own but they are empty and worthless.  What we values God does not.  What God values, we do not.  That is why we are here...
    What does God value?  He looks for faith and trust in Christ. He rejoices in the confession of the penitent in heart.  Heaven explodes in joy when one sinner repents.  He gives Himself to us even though we are unworthy and undeserving.  His grace is scandalously lavish.  He throws it around like it doesn't matter.  But it does matter.  It is the power of life and eternal life.
    Mercy matters.  It matters most of all.  Mercy is the Word that bids the sinner come and forgives us in Christ.  It is the water of baptism that cleans us inside and out.  It is the life giving voice  of the absolution that restores the fallen sinner.  It is the bread of heaven, His flesh for the life of the world, that is our food and our drink in the Sacrament of the Altar.  These matter.
    The alien and strange righteousness of Christ we wear by baptism and faith but can never attain on our own – this is His treasure.  We wear Christ's holiness as the new clothing of our new life in Christ.  It is this that bids us live up to this holiness of life and it is this that encourages us to strive to keep the commandments that reveal to us God's will for our lives.
    But there is more.  The treasure of Christ is not only something we receive in baptism and believe by faith, it is a treasure lived out in daily life.  The mercy that Christ has shown to us becomes the mercy we show to our neighbor in need and the stranger on the street corner.  We love because He first loved us and we love with His love all the world around us.
    We have the poor with us not as burden but as opportunity to demonstrate this treasure before the world.  It is unlike the world's treasure because it cannot be diminished or lost by sharing or giving away.  The world has never seen or known such a treasure as this.  This is what St. Lawrence died for.
    St. Larry's Day is not about me... but it is.  Saints are not holy people we must become.  They are those who know the treasure of God's mercy and grace in Christ.  They see what only faith can see in a world that thinks seeing is believing.  The saints are those who remind us by the words and example that God is trustworthy and true.  He does not disappoint us.  His treasure to us and for us cannot be consumed by moth or destroyed by rust or devalued by inflation.  It only grows in value.  They point us to Christ and to the eternal treasure of His grace.
    The true treasure of the Christian cannot be banked away for a rainy day but is lived out bearing the burdens of others as Christ bore your burden to death on the cross.  The treasure we show before the world is not a holy version of what the world loves but the very thing the world does not get and cannot understand. 
    This grace is so strange to the world that Christians appear drunk on a dream without reality – like Pentecost.  But that is the point.  There is a reality even greater than sin, a treasure greater than the world sees and values.  And there is the paradox.  The greatest treasure of all is the free gift of grace in Christ and the faith that receives it with joy and thanksgiving.  This is the premise of stewardship.  This is the hidden reality we meet each Sunday in Word and Table of the Lord.  This is the strange witness we bring to the world. What you value is cheap and what you think is cheap is of the greatest value of all – God's grace in Christ.  The grace that gives the martyrs the strength to stand firm in the face of persecution and even death and the grace that enables you and me to endure to eternal life.  Amen.