Saturday, June 24, 2017

Considering Christ and Mohammed. . .

Those who would equate the sins of Christianity with the sins of Islam might think better. . .
‘Mohammed and his immediate successors were warlords who, when chance offered, massacred their non-conforming prisoners; Jesus was not, and did not. Mohammed specifically wanted to assimilate the state to the kingdom of God; Jesus says his kingdom is not of this world. Although a number of Muslims argue that Islam respects the value of all human beings, religious history shows that Islam neither did so nor has learned to do so; some would argue that Islam would cease to be Islam if it was prepared to accept pluralist liberal democracy. And the word “pluralist” matters: many Muslims (as in Egypt) may accept a “democracy” amounting to dictatorship of the majority, but not that pluralist democracy whereby other religions are even tolerated where there are Muslim majorities. It seems thus far apparent that in the real world the larger the number of Muslims in the population, the more killings for blasphemy, apostasy, proselytizing by non-Muslims, there will regularly be. Which is not to suggest that the number of the violent is necessarily large: rather that the number of condoners, whether or not intimidated, is very substantial.

from a recent review of Miroslav Volf, FlourishingWhy we need Religion in a Globalized World (Yale U.P. 2015)  by Professor John Rist
There are those who insist that a moral equivalence exists between Jesus and Mohammed, though all might agree that the followers of both are perhaps worse than either.  Such a conclusion rests upon a fallacy.  Jesus never calls on His followers to act as judge and jury and sentence those who will not believe to death on earth before they meet their heavenly Judge.  No, indeed.  Yet this is exactly what the Quran requires of those who would faithfully follow Mohammed. 

While there are those (including former Pres. George Bush) who would insist that Islam has been hijacked by those who turned it into a religion of violence, the deafening sound of silence from the so-called "moderate" Muslims in the face of atrocity after atrocity cannot be ignored.  While we in the West might live in fear, the truth is that the worst of the violence Islam has perpetrated has been against Christians living in the Middle East and against those who wear the name of Mohammed but belong to the wrong "denomination."  One might expect some difficulty in moderate Muslims when it comes to condemning violence against the West but surely it would expected that those who live under the umbrella of Islam would find it in their hearts to condemn the violence against their own brothers and sisters in the faith?

Christianity is a missionary religion and those who embrace Christianity do so not under the veil of fear and threat but from the love that reaches out through the cross to all people.  Islam is also a missionary religion but it pursues the unbeliever with threat and fear.  The two are not equivalent in any way, shape, or form.

Friday, June 23, 2017

They just do not get it. . .

From a National Catholic Reporter critique of Cardinal Sarah (and, by extension, Benedict XVI):
My problem with those who favor the traditional worship of the church is not their taste, it is that they twist that taste into an ideological framework.
That is, in a nutshell, the point.  It is NOT about taste, has never been about taste, and will not be about taste in the future.  The cause of worship and liturgy has nothing to do with high brow or low brow, high culture or low culture, traditional or contemporary.  It has everything to do with worship that is consistent what we believe, confess, and teach.  What is sad is that Rome does not get it and so in Rome there still those trying to frame their worship wars into culture wars.  What is even sadder is that Lutherans are mired in the same darn rut -- as if we are also fighting a battle of taste or preference instead of fighting for the heart and soul of the faith and our confessional identity.

Traditionalists (not my term but the one everyone seems to be using) are not trying to wrap their taste into an ideological framework, it is already about ideology, identity, theology, and confession.  What the trads are trying to do is UNWRAP the whole war from the false framework of personal preference and taste.  It never was about guitars or pipe organs, chanting or speaking, vestments or suits, casual or formal, or anything else.  It was and always has been about WHO WE ARE and what we confess.

Our Lutheran Confessions were not merely describing who we were, they were addressing who we were, are, and, in their minds, should always be.  We have not abolished the mass, we have not abandoned ceremony, we have not departed from catholic doctrine and practice, and we have not introduced novelty or been creative with the tradition handed down to us.  We confess that we have been faithful, that this faithfulness required us to agitate for reform in the face of accretions that had obscured the Gospel and turned the hearts of the faithful from God's sufficient grace in Christ to the fragile hope of works that might be good enough.  We confess that this faith, the one we confess, is and will always be (not that a Lutheran Church is, was, and ever shall be).  We confess that to depart from this faith and practice is to surrender Christ and His atoning work AND that to make this practice into a work required for salvation is also a surrender of Christ's atoning work.  Freedom is not freedom without boundary but freedom FOR that which is faithful, authentic, and consistent with what we believe, confess, and teach.

Ooooooh does this get my goat!  Lutherans were slow to change the liturgy because they knew it had confessional implications and the changes they made were hardly noticeable to those in the pews (except for the sermon, of course, and hymnody).  But modern day Lutherans have forgotten it all and passed our confessional identity off as merely a statement for that moment in time with no lasting consequences or implications for us today.  It is the tyranny of the spiritual but not religious but it is framed as freedom (spirit) from the letter (law).  Furthermore, it is the false understanding of what we inherited (usually called "German" and not catholic) and a false understanding of faithfulness (we are good to go as long we keep the doctrine in theory but practice what we want or think works).

Worship wars are not fought over guitar strings or praise bands.  They are fought over doctrine, confession, and identity.  What is a Lutheran and how does a Lutheran worship?  (BTW that is not a question you or I get to answer but one our Confessions answer for us.)  This whole thing is not about who we want to be or how we can pack them in but about who we are.  This identity is framed not simply in theory (doctrine) but also in practice that flows from and is consistent with what we believe.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Australian Update. . .

I have been told that there are currently about 320 'active' pastors and about 210 emeriti in the Lutheran Church in Australia. The good news is that those who are leading the charge against the ordination of women tend to be younger pastors. Indeed, they represent some of the strongest voices against the top down (LCA Bishop) orchestrated campaign to approve the ordination of women. It is certainly a possibility that of the pastors who attend the General Pastors' Conference a majority would hold to the Scriptures and tradition in affirming a male only pastorate.  It is certainly true that most of the bishops think otherwise and they are doing everything in their power to make the ordination of women seem reasonable, logical, and unstoppable.  Yet there are those who are risking all to expose the weakness of the arguments in favor of the change and who are holding the church accountable to the Word of God.

Consultations have been held throughout the LCA to discuss the Draft Doctrinal Statement (DDS) in favor of the ordination of women. The consultations were to that end. The document was read, small groups formed, and, among the six questions asked of the participants:

1) Are there parts of DDS that you do not understand?
4) The fact that the 12 apostles were male is descriptive of the preaching office at the time of Jesus, but is not prescriptive of the office for all time. Discuss.
5) Paul's unchanging goal was that the church be built up in love. This requires different regulations at different times and in different places. Discuss.
6) How does the DDS interpret the prohibitions of 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2 in terms of their implications for the office of the public ministry?
The national journal has put a temporary stop to all letters to the editor. 'The purpose of this decision is to allow LCA members who wish to be part of the consultation process to have ‘clear air’ in which to listen to each other in a respectful manner, as they prayerfully consider and discuss the implications of all of the resources available to them on this subject.' The discussion was led in the usual points: women are competent to assume the role of pastor; Phoebe was akin to a pastor; Gal 3 is the great charter of liberation for women in the church; men and women are equal therefore their roles can be the same in the church; the church has not got it wrong through the centuries because it was in the interests of mission that they did not previously ordain women, but now that our culture has changed it is incumbent on the church to go with the flow in the interests of mission. The problem is that Scripture over all is missing from this discussion, history is descriptive only, and mission and love are pitted against doctrine and unchanging truth.

If you want to read a good, solid, Lutheran approach to the question of the ordination of women, you might want to click here and read a document from one of the younger pastors in the LCA. Clearly, if the debate is to be framed on the basis of what Scripture teaches and Lutherans have affirmed in confession and practice, there is nothing to fear from the topic of women's ordination. However, if Scripture is not allowed to speak, the LCA has a problem.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Playing the blame game. . .

It is fashionable to self-identify as victims and to lay the responsibility for all that is wrong at the feet of others.  Sometimes it even works.  But the sad truth is that playing the blame game generally does little to solve the problem.  I have heard it said over and over again that fewer than 5% of those surveyed give credit to the pastor as the reason for joining a church but 35% blame pastors as the reason for heading for the exit.  So we give little credit to the pastor for church growth but whenever folks fall away it is usually safe to blame the pastor for the loss.  I have heard it said over and over again that if the Church would only get on the bandwagon and get with the times, the Church would not see so many head for the door.  It is a good idea but not true.  The churches that have gotten with the times are in worse shape than those the world loves to hate for being judgmental or hateful.

In the Archdiocese of Hartford (CT) the report is that 127 newly formed parishes will replace the 212 current parishes.  Undoubtedly there will be complaints about evil bishops and a priest shortage that deprive people of their home church.  I have no stake in this so it is easy for me to talk about it.  Guess what, the reason churches are closing or being consolidated in Connecticut has little to do with bad bishops or few priests and it has everything to do with fewer people in Mass on Sunday morning.  I am told that attendance is down to 15% or less of those who identify as Roman Catholic in that diocese.  I am pretty certain that if attendance were up in those parishes, none would close or merged.  The problem lies less with the administrator than it does with the catechetical failure of priests and teachers of the faith and the failure of those catechized to take it to heart.

Before we Lutherans smugly nod our heads, the same problem lies on our own doorstep.  We have congregations where attendance is dropping, where they are unable to afford a full-time pastor, and where they are in danger of closing.  The mythology can lay blame at bad leadership at the national or district level or bad pastors.  But the real problem is that the majority of Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod people are not in their pews on Sunday morning.  It is not a new problem but the poisoned fruits of such a decline of catechesis and a lack of attendance ARE a major problem even for us.  I am pretty certain that if we had double the attendance we have now (still far less than the number of members on paper) we would NOT be seeing congregations closing or finding it impossible to afford a full-time pastor.  We need to be honest.  There are many problems that we face but one of the biggest is the small percentage of our people who are in worship on Sunday morning (and Sunday school and Bible study).

All I am saying is this.  We can all look in the mirror and see part of the problem.  Pastors have not done the kind of catechesis that both informs and shapes people into Lutheranism.  We are not aware of the Confessions of our Church as we should and we are not confident of our doctrine.  This is a real problem.  But we do not need to waste our time wringing our hands over this.  Confess our failure to our people and do better.  The people in the pew have allowed anything and everything to distract them from worship -- including blaming the pastors for being dull or stupid or uncaring.  But let me say that if your pastor is preaching the Law and Gospel and administering the Sacraments faithfully, you have no complaint.  He may be a dullard or slow or disheveled or lack excitement or a polished style or personality but, last time I looked, the Lord did not list these as justification for your absence on Sunday morning.  We all share the blame for the statistics heading in the wrong direction.  We do not need a revolution nor do we need to reinvent the Church or her liturgy.  What we do need is to teach and preach without apology the full counsel of God's Word and the Catechism.  We we do need are people who will put the Lord and His Word and Table as their first priority on Sunday morning.

How many of our current problems could be solved simply by the people of God doubling the average church attendance from 25-30% to 50-60%?  More than you could imagine.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A mission, a plan, a warning and a promise. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 2A preached on Sunday, June 18, 2017

    In the Gospel today we heard Jesus give a mission, a plan, a warning, and a promise.  The mission:  Go to the lost sheep and proclaim to them the Kingdom of God.  The plan:  Travel light and trust the generosity of God’s people.  Heal the sick.  Raise the dead.  Cleanse the leper.  Cast out the demon with the name of His name.  The warning:  You are sheep among wolves – the government and society is against you.  But the promise is clear: Do not be anxious for the Spirit is with you and will give you the words to say.  None of this is time limited; it remains for us.
    This mission, plan, warning and promise are given to every pastor.  37 years ago when they called out my name with the place Cairo, NY this became my calling.  2 years ago when they called out Pastor Ulrich’s name, this became his calling as well.  Every pastor has this calling.  We don’t get to define our mission or make our own plan.  We don’t get to lay out the battle or pick who is our enemy or who are our allies.  And we dare not.  For the Lord has not put us in charge.  It is His mission and plan. He but He has equipped us with a promise that will not fail us.
    Go to the lost sheep of God and proclaim the Kingdom to them.  God’s Word and Sacraments are the means by which God manifests His Kingdom.  These are the means of grace.
The kingdom comes not by the will and desire of anyone but by the will of God and the means of grace.  No pastor is on his own. We serve the Lord and do only the Lord’s bidding.
    With that comes the plan.  Travel light.  In other words, do not get caught up in the world and its things, in the pursuit of an earthly kingdom.  Do not judge by earthly indicators of success but be faithful and God will do what He has pledged and promised.  Trust in the people’s generosity.  You don’t know how hard it is for a pastor to depend upon the Lord and the people of God.  But every pastor has only the Lord and the generosity of God’s people.  Jesus says that is enough.  Every day every pastor struggles to believe that.
    Instead of worrying about these other things, the Lord has sent the pastor forth to heal those sick with sin through the absolution, to raise those dead in trespasses and sin through forgiveness, to cleanse the unclean in the waters of baptism, to cast out evil with the Word of the Lord, and to feed the people of God upon the flesh and blood of Jesus in the Holy Communion.
    Every pastor has also a warning.  You are sheep among wolves, be wise as serpents but innocent as doves.  Don’t depend upon a friendly culture or benign government to be your friend or ally.  You cannot delegate the work of the Kingdom to others to whom it has not been given.  Yet with this warning comes a promise.  Lo, I am with you always.  I will not leave you orphans or comfortless. 
    Every pastor is weak and vulnerable.  Only Christ is his strength and power.  The ministry is not about success but about faithfulness.  Every pastor knows this and struggles with this every day.  In His strength, we are strong and in Him we are made perfect.  Everything depends upon Christ.
    But is it not also true for you as God's people?  Has Jesus not given you a mission and vocation?  Is not your home your Israel and the domain what you serve the Lord?  Do you not also live by faith alone despite what your eyes see around you?  Are you not called to speak and live out this faith within your home, neighborhood, and workplace?  His Word is not only in your heart but on your lips.
    And on this day when we honor those who have shown us a Father’s love, it would be easy for us to list all the things our dads have not done for us.  Hidden underneath all of this and too often missed, are the unglamourous and ordinary things that dads do and we don’t even notice.  Dads are best judged not by the exceptional things they might do but by their faithfulness in the simple things of their calling – providing for their families, protecting their household, teaching the faith in the home, taking them to church, and by being willing to sacrifice his dreams for the dreams of his family.  And if a dad will do that, he will have fulfilled his mission as a father.  All a dad has to do is be faithful and it will be enough.

    Yet the world is filled with wolves.  We wrestle daily with our fears, don’t we?  Yet we are not alone.  Christ is with you.  His Spirit is upon you.  His Word lives in your ears.  His flesh and blood are on your lips.  His Spirit is upon you.  His name has become your name.  His grace is sufficient for you as it is for me.  It is enough for His mission, to fulfill His plan, to keep you in the face of your enemies, and to deliver you to your eternal home.  And everyday you fight to believe this is enough.
    Every pastor needs to hear this.  Everyone of you needs to hear this.  This is why we come here week after week.  It may seem crazy to us, even chaotic, but the Lord owns the mission we are part of; it is His kingdom.  He will deliver us to the future He has prepared for us.  All we have to do is be faithful.  Amen

The difference between tidying up and being made new. . .

I don't know how you are but when we have people coming over, it is a mad rush to tidy up and put things in their places to put on the best face.  We are not unclean people but we live in our house and sometimes you just need to tidy up for company.

Now is also the time of year when we go through our stuff and decide what stuff stays and what stuff goes.  Maybe you do that as well.  They say if you have not worn it in a year or used it in that same time, you might think about letting it go.  I am not sure about that one.  Yes, I know I have a lot of stuff that I have not worn in a while or used in a long time but, well, I am not ready to set it out with the garbage or give it to the church yard sale. . . at least not yet.

There are some who think of repentance in the same way we think of folks dropping in or doing a little spring cleaning.  But it is not a fair analogy.  Repentance is not a clean up exercise nor is it a matter of getting rid of the things you no longer need, want, or use.  Repentance is not house cleaning. . .in fact, it is just the opposite.

Repentance involves getting rid of the very things you love most, the things that form the daily routines of your ordinary life, and the things that go to the heart and core of who you are.  If repentance were any less, we could do it on our own and salvation would be merely a matter of our own willpower.  But it is not.  Repentance means a change of heart that only the Spirit can accomplish.  This is not a decision or a choice but the Spirit working in us daily to reinforce the new identity and the new desires of the heart implanted in us in our baptism.

The problem with sin is not that I am weak and give into something I really do not desire.  No, indeed.  The problem with sin is that this is exactly where my heart is.  Repentance does not mean letting go of things I am not really attached to but giving up the very things I have learned to love and life for.  I cannot tidy up my life.  My life needs to die so that Christ can raise it up brand new.

As Christians we are always up for a little house cleaning or tidying up.  We are always ready to sort through our stuff and let go of the things we no longer want and need.  But this is not what repentance is.  Repentance is not a make over or a flip but a tear down and rebuild.  This is why only the Spirit can accomplish this in our lives, why repentance is not something that can be tied down to a day and a date but is ongoing throughout the earthly life of the baptized, and why each day Christ must increase and I must decrease.  Living out this baptismal reality means not simply an external face lift but an internal rebirth, learning to love the things of God above all things and learning to follow where Christ has led the way.  This is the Spirit at work in our lives.  It is God's power and God's work but sanctification surely involves us and the cooperation of our wills with His will.  While this does nothing to earn or supplement the salvation won for us already in Christ, it does reflect the salvation ours in Christ which we grasp by baptism and faith.

Sadly, too many churches trivialize repentance and treat it like a TV makeover of our wardrobe or homes.  We do not need help tidying up nor do we need help cleaning out.  But we surely need the grace, power, and presence of God to inaugurate repentance in our lives and to keep that repentance going.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Fake News. . .

According to a Charlotte Observer story, another group has claimed to ordain a female priest in the Roman Catholic Church.  The only problem is that the woman who was ordained, maybe even the so-called bishop who ordained her, had been Roman Catholic lay people at one time but that lends nothing to their action or to its legitimacy.  According to the news release, the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, 250 women in 10 countries have been ordained as Catholic priests. In the United States, it said, women priests serve in 65 “inclusive churches.” That includes women priests affiliated with the association and with a second allied group – Roman Catholic Women Priests – that has the same mission.  The only problem is that none of these are recognized by or in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
ad more here:
An international group defiantly opposed to the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on women priests Sunday [April 30, 2017] ordained its first woman Catholic priest in the 46 counties that make up the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte.
The ordination ceremony for Abigail Eltzroth happened in Asheville at Jubilee! – a nondenominational faith community – with Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan presiding. Eltzroth, 64, said she is the second woman in North Carolina ordained by the rebel group, called the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.
The article notes:  Many, but not all, Protestant denominations in the United States have women clergy. The Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church do, but most Southern Baptist churches do not. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America ordains women, but the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod does not. And the Presbyterian Church (USA) has women clergy, while the Presbyterian Church in America does not.  So, why did the woman not join one of those who does ordain women?  It is not like she has a shortage of choices.

My point is this.  The media love to flaunt those who live outside of or on the fringes of the churches because of their rebellious or heretical positions or actions.  That says little or nothing about those churches.  Not Missouri Synod Lutherans who choose to support the ordination of women in a church that does not, who see Adam and Eve as mythological characters in a church that believes them to be real people, or who believe everyone and anyone ought to commune in a church that practices close(d) communion.  The media is simply trying to corner churches into a gotcha position and since it accords with the media's own bias against objective truth, doctrinal integrity, and the like, they delight in false and misleading headlines like Rebel Catholic Group Defies Church - Ordains Woman in NC.  I wish the media were smart enough to know the difference between fake news and real news.  It should have been clue enough WHERE she was ordained that she was not ordained as a Roman Catholic Priest, but that would have ruined the headline and emptied the story of its steam.  Even Francis has not gone that far, for pete's sake, but if they are not smart enough to distinguish between the trivial and titilatious [why is THAT not a word?], you ought to be. 

Read more here:

The The
Read more here:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The wrong kind of ecumenism. . .

Read the whole article by Terry Mattingly:
Soumaya Khalifah's sermon fell in the usual place in the Holy Week rite in which Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta clergy renewed their vows – after a Gospel passage and before the consecration of bread and wine as Holy Communion.  In this Mass, the Liturgy of the Word also included a Quran reading, including: "God, there is no god but He, the Living, the Self-Subsisting. Neither slumber overtakes Him nor sleep. Unto Him belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is on the earth. Who is there who may intercede with Him save by His leave?"
Khalifah asked leaders from the region's 96 Episcopal parishes an obvious question: Was this an historic moment, with a Muslim woman preaching in a liturgy for an entire Christian diocese?  
After her sermon, Atlanta Bishop Robert C. Wright invited Khalifah to join clergy and others at the altar for the Eucharistic prayers consecrating the bread and wine. As the worshippers stepped forward to receive Holy Communion, the bishop said Khalifah took part.  "She held out her hand to receive the Host and it is not my practice to refuse people," said Wright, reached by telephone. He noted that "open Communion" is common across his diocese, especially with visitors. Khalifah returned to her seat without receiving the consecrated wine, the bishop said.
"They gave me the bread," said Khalifah, in a separate interview. "I am a Muslim. I am not a Christian. … This service was about what we have in common, the work we can do together."
Quite a story.  A Muslim woman not only preaching but receiving the host in an Episcopal Service of Holy Communion.  Whether it should or should not have happened, it did.  The mere fact that it happened should have raised questions, not only within the Episcopal communion but for those who are in fellowship with the Episcopal Church.  How is it possible to offer the Christian pulpit which is there to expound the Word of God and Christ crucified to anyone, Muslim or other, to preach another god and another truth that conflicts with Jesus Christ?  How is it possible to use such a moment to then offer what -- at least some within the greater Episcopal communion -- is not mere bread but the Body of Christ to someone whose faith contradicts this presence?  It is not a mere matter of unbelief but of a faith that refuses to believe the essential, creedal, Christian claim of who Christ is and what He has done. It is a strange kind of ecumenism in which conflicts stand but communion is offered, when competing gospels from competing holy books can be proclaimed in the same place. 

At some point, practice will overpower the claim of faith.  I fear that this time either has come or is soon to come for those who claim to be creedal, catholic  Christians in faith and worship but whose practice casts doubt upon such confession.  I write with deep regret that such as point has come for the Episcopal Church.  It was once a noble communion that produced legendary preachers, teachers, hymnwriters, liturgists, and authors who gave eloquent voice to English words.  I do not see how many more moments like this can come and go without the essential Christian character of such a church being lost, willingly surrendered upon the altar of expediency toward the most shallow and vacuous kind of ecumenism.

And where the Episcopal Church has gone, the ELCA is soon to follow.  Mark my words.  This is why we as Missouri Synod Lutherans continue to have such a conversation about supervision of doctrine and practice and why this is not a theoretical conversation. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Another sex problem. . .

The Methodists have been hampered in their road to adopting the full GLBTQ agenda by a contingent of African Methodists who think that the Scriptures still matter.  But some have been frustrated by the slow pace of doors opens to gays and lesbians in a normally rather liberal church body and so they hastened the time table by electing a married lesbian as a bishop -- in contravention of the the rules.  A judicial court of the church rendered the verdict against the bishop but she was defiant in refusing to give up the fight.  "I am a bishop!" she insisted.

From Christianity Today:
Oliveto, 55, speaking at a press conference after the hearing, said: 'My name is Karen Oliveto and I am the Bishop of the Mountain Sky area of the United Methodist Church. I stand here with my colleagues in the Western Jurisdiction, my partners in ministry of the Western Sky area... and my siblings in Christ, the queer clergy caucus of the United Methodist Church.'
She admitted the Church was divided and had come to an impasse.  'As people of faith, we know we cannot give timelines and deadlines to the Holy Spirit.'  She predicted, 'God has and will continue to call faithful United Methodists who happen to be LGBTQI to serve their church. This helps move the conversation away from debating homosxuality as an issue to that of talking with people of the United Methodist Church who are LGBTQI, whose lives bear the fruits of the spirit that enriches the community of faith.'
She stated, 'I am not the first gay bishop and I will not be the last.'
Oliveto remained silent during the hearing, but added that 'the very stones would cry out if we fail to hear her voice' at the press conference.  Oliveto was elected bishop on July 15 and consecrated a day later, although the United Methodist Church technically forbids the ordination of 'self-avowed practising gay people'.
It would seem that the Holy Spirit is having a rocky time transcending what Scripture says and instituting the new path in which love trumps everything else -- even doctrine.  But still the Methodists are in a way anchored by the structure which gives voice to those outside the US for whom the GLBTQ agenda is an offense rather than a new move by the Spirit.  While we commend the Methodists for sticking to their rules, for now, it is clear that for many in Methodism the voice of the Scripture no longer stands for much.  This is true, sadly, not only for Methodists but for many Christians who choose their feelings and reason over the explicit Word of God.  You can read more about her here.

BTW as strange as the picture of her is, even stranger is the affection for GLBTQ people like Oliveto to defend a religion which treats gays and lesbians with even greater disdain than what she accuses traditional Christianity of showing toward the homosexual community.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Evidence for the Tower of Babel?

Biblical scholars have long debated whether the Tower of Babel really existed. Now, a remarkable stone tablet never before shown on film appears to settle that question.  The Smithsonian says so!!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

What manner of distance. . .

One of the things I find most intriguing is the issue of distance when it comes to any discussion of the office of deacon.  Some, whether or not they favor opening the office to woman, distance the work of the deacon from that of priest/presbyter/pastor and bishop.  There is a common desire to de-clericalize the office of deacon, even to see the clericalization of that office as part of its corruption and loss.  It is the mythology of the modern mind that the Church is an egalitarian organization without offices, or at least without those who exercise any kind of authority over other offices.  Part of this mythology is the understanding of service which sees the Church as a philanthropic organization and its ministry or service to the world as care for the least and the lost.  The whole gift of the Gospel is this freedom for ministry and from the domain of cultus that is inwardly focused.  We see this today among churches, even liturgical churches with an ordered ministry, who are abandoning the liturgical service once a month or every fifth Sunday in order to serve the world in Jesus' name by working with food distribution agencies or fixing up broken down real estate or the like.  This equation of service to the poor and needy with the liturgical service, perhaps even the elevation of this diaconia above cultus, is precisely the issue.  Deacons are often seen as the purest expression of this service or mercy work since they are largely unencumbered by a primarily cultic focus.  Theirs, some wax poetically, is pure charity and love, without the self-serving aspect of worship and the internal focus upon the baptized.

This has had profound effect upon the understanding of the Church as a whole, not merely upon one office, such as deacon.  The purest work of the Church is the work of love which leaves behind the nave and chancel to plant God's temple among the poor, the needy, the oppressed, and the marginalized.  This social gospel has become so deeply entrenched that we almost feel guilty about stealing the time and attention of God's people for the Divine Service, for Bible study and catechesis, and for the care of God's house (building not people).  Such an office as deacon has as its focus not the baptized or the ritual and liturgy of worship but real service to those with real and tangible needs.  Since this does not compete with nor does this service have much even to do with worship, the office is open to males and females.  The more distance this office and its work is from Sunday morning, the fewer restrictions to those who can serve in this office.

The problem is that this is more myth than fact.  Dieter Georgi has asserted that the New Testament term diakonia "almost never  involves an act of charity."  (The Opponents of Paul in Second Corinthians (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1986)  John N. Collins went so far as to suggest that in the early Christian use of diakonia and its word-group, "the preaching of the Word has no place in the history of  the diaconate as preserved in  the earliest docrnents.”  Collins takes earlier scholariship to task insisting this and calls for a rejection of "the mistaken understanding that the apostolic diaconate was essentially for works of mercy."

On the one hand, there are those who are in favor of the diaconate (whether all male or male and female) because it is distant from the largely cultic focus of the priestly and episcopal offices.  These are those who remove the comma in Ephesians 4:11-12, "equipping the saints for the work of ministry..." and who see the diaconal service as pure mercy, what the ordained should be preparing the people for, their service shaped vocation to the world.  On the other hand, there are those who speak of the diaconate not as distant or unrelated to the priestly and episcopal ministry but as very near, as Hippolytus put it "the eyes and ears of the bishop."  These folks keep the comma in Ephesians 4:11-12, "equipping the saints, for the work of ministry..."  Again, Collins, those "who find this scheme makes for an inadequate or too passive life for 'saints' in the church are underestimating the role attributed by the author to sound doctrine; it assimilates the whole church into the mystery where growth into the fulness of Christ occurs.  No one is left out. No one has more experience of
the mystery than anyone else."

Some would see the three fold pattern of ministry largely as a distinction of functions.  In this distinct function, bishops teach, supervise, and oversee, priests focus upon the liturgy, and deacons manifest the grace of God to the world.  It sounds all neat and tidy but it is not as neat and tidy as it seems.  Collins and others like him would insist that it is not merely functions which are assigned but the offices support one role and one focus -- deacons are not social workers nor priests merely cultic figures but in all Christ dispensing His work through His agents.  In this way, the Lutheran confession of Augustana V has it exactly correct:  "To obtain such faith God instituted the office of the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments."  The office is one, the Predigtamt, in which the connection between faith and the means of grace is central and the one ministry established by God serves the purpose of God in delivering the Word of God to the people that thereby the Spirit may work faith in them and they may be saved.  Far from distancing deacon and priest and bishop, this brings them very close together, indeed.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Our Identity in the Triune God

Sermon for the Holy Trinity, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, June 11, 2017

[Jesus said] “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19).
    Today is Trinity Sunday, and on this festival day we contemplate the Triune God: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  God in Trinity and Trinity in unity; one God in three persons, this is the true and only real God; and we confess this in each of the ecumenical creeds: the Apostles’, the Nicene, and today in the Athanasian Creed.  Although we confess it, we often wonder about the Trinity.  How can God be one and at the same time three?  We try to explain it, but all of our analogies and explanations fall short at best, and at worst they’re heresy.  The Trinity is one of the great mysteries of the’s a mystery we simply confess.  But what’s not a mystery is who we are.  We’re God’s children, sinners redeemed, holy saints; and our very identity is found in the Triune God.
    In the creeds we confess who God is.  He’s the Father, the Creator, the Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.  Everything we see around us, everything we need a microscope and telescope to see, everything that we can’t see no matter how hard we try, God made it all.  He made it out of nothing.  Just by speaking, God brought all of creation forth, and this includes you and me. 
    When we confess that God is the Creator, we also confess that we’re creatures.  We’re God’s creation.  He’s our Father and we’re His children.  No one who’s ever lived is without a father.  We all have a dad, otherwise we wouldn’t be alive.  This is a fact of life, but this doesn’t always mean that our fathers are around.  Because of divorce, children out of wedlock, death, because of sin, earthly fathers aren’t always there.  They’re not always there to care for their kids.  They’re not always there to provide them with what they need.  They’re not always there with comforting and reassuring words.  But this isn’t so with our Heavenly Father. 
    God the Father is always there.  He’s here caring for us, providing us with our needs, comforting and reassuring us with His almighty life giving Word.  This is how Luther explains God our Father.  He’s made us and all creatures.  He’s given us our bodies and souls, our eyes and ears, and all of our members.  He’s given us our reason and senses, and He still takes care of them.  He gives us clothing and shoes, our food and drink, our homes, our families and all our possessions.  He richly and daily provides us with all we need to support our body and life.  He defends, guards, and protects us from all evil.  And all of this He does out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.  We don’t deserve any of this, and yet He gives us life and cares for it because He loves us.  He loves us so much that He doesn’t just give us an earthly life, He gives us an everlasting one through Christ Jesus His Son, true God and true man. 
    At the end of Luther’s explanation of the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed he says that it’s our duty to thank and praise God the Father, that we should serve and obey Him.  This is most certainly true, we ought to thank, praise, serve, and obey God because we’re His children.  All children are to honor and obey their parents.  Without God, we wouldn’t be.  But we don’t live as faithful children.  Instead, like our first parents who disobeyed in the Garden, we live like rebellious teens.  We live according to our own wants and desires, thinking we know best.  With original sin that we inherited and with actual sin that we commit in thought, word, and deed, we put ourselves in God’s place.  We don’t listen to His Word and we don’t obey His commands.  And with this disobedience we bring punishment upon ourselves.  The wages of sin is death (Rm 6:23).  This punishment isn’t a grounding with no TV or car for a week.  This punishment is forever, eternally separated from God in the torments of hell. 
    But God the Father doesn’t leave us in the guilt of our sin.  He didn’t want us to suffer this punishment, so like the father who pays the price for the window that their child broke with a baseball through, God the Father paid the price of our sin.  He gave up His Son Jesus Christ on the cross. 
    Jesus is true God begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages.  He was before creation and without Him was not anything made that was made (Jn 1:3).  Christ is fully God, and at the same time He’s fully man, born from the substance of His mother in this age.
    For us and for our salvation, Christ came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man, so that He could go to the cross and redeem us, so that He could buy us back from sin and death.  The guilt and punishment of our sin can’t be paid for with money like a broken window.  No the guilt and punishment of our sin can only be paid for with Jesus’ holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.  Christ, the perfect Son of the Father, died in our place.  He died our death, and three days later He rose from the dead, defeating death.  Christ died and rose so that we’d be forgiven, so that we’d be redeemed, so that we’d be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness for all eternity.  We live as redeemed sinners.  We live the life of faith, but we can’t do it on our own.  The Holy Spirit helps us.  He sanctifies us. 
    We don’t live holy lives on our own.  We can’t know Christ Jesus our Savior on our own.  God the Holy Spirit who is of the Father and of the Son, neither made nor created nor begotten but proceeding, He makes us holy.  He does this by giving us faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Hearing the Good News of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection for us and for our salvation, we trust in Christ our Redeemer.  The Holy Spirit gives us this trust.  He calls us to repentance and faith.  He enlightens us with His gifts, revealing to us God’s very grace, mercy, and salvation that He gives in His means of grace.  In the waters of Baptism God’s Triune name is place upon us and we receive forgiveness and are adopted, made God’s children.  In the freeing words of Absolution, we receive forgiveness for Christ’s sake because He sacrificed His life for ours.  And in the Holy Supper of the body and blood that Jesus sacrificed for us we receive forgiveness and the strengthening of our bodies and soul to life everlasting.  Through these Sacraments and the Holy Word of God, the Spirit keeps us forever in this faith, the very faith that confesses the one and only true God: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
 God in Trinity and Trinity in unity, one God in three persons, this is what we confess.  Even though we can’t fully understand it, we believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, one God because we’ve been given faith.  This faith is created and strengthened by the Holy Spirit.  This faith holds on to Christ our Savior who died and rose again for our forgiveness and salvation.  This faith trusts in the grace and mercy of the Father.  With this faith in the Triune God we know who we are.  We’re God’s children, sinners redeemed, and holy saints.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

Personal counseling on a group scale. . .

An article on Henry Emerson Fosdick described his preaching as personal counseling on a group scale. I was not there to hear Fosdick and the only thing of which I am familiar from Fosdick is a hymn, God of Grace and God of Glory. Since I somewhat like the hymn, it is probably quite certain that I am singing the words differently than Fosdick wrote them. But that is true of many hymns born of uncertain pens. What is also certain is that a certain segment of evangelicalism owes a certain debt to Fosdick who delighted in never having confessed the Apostles' Creed and who was for a time the most progressive voice in a Protestant pulpit.

J. Gresham Machen, who published both The Virgin Birth of Christ (1930) and his programmatic Christianity and Liberalism (1923), was not unaware of Fosdick and was not without question to the Christianity of Fosdick's preaching and teaching. “The question is not,” Machen asked, “whether Mr. Fosdick is winning men, but whether the thing to which he is winning them is Christianity.” Machen would not be without preachers to apply his words today, that is sure. For while many are enamored of numbers, the content and faithfulness of what happens among the many popular preachers of American evangelicalism remains questionable, to say the least.

Therapeutic preaching stands in need of a therapeutic gospel and, if one cannot find it catholic tradition, it is certainly possible to cherry pick passages to come up with such a gospel and to name it Christian even if it is not. We live in an individualistic age when Christianity and its message is both defined and judged one mind or heart at a time. Lacking doctrinal integrity and consensus, the only thing left is a therapeutic gospel that appeals to felt need and promises to help us achieve our desires. Those who are good at this are good at filling stadium size churches but the people who sit in the seats are wedded less to Christianity than to their wants, needs, and desires and they will follow whatever voice best addresses them. It is also clear that the categories of Scripture are generally absent from the proclamation of these popular preachers -- sin, death, repentance, atonement, redemption, eternal life, and holiness. In their place, these personal counselors on a group scale address our happiness and how to achieve it, our relationships and how to make them good (at least we might define good), our jobs and how to get ahead, and our lives and how to make them rich and full.

Fosdick may have been early or even a very successful preacher of this therapeutic gospel but he was not the first and he will not be the last. Yet it remains to be seen if the ability of some to pack them in is used to convey anything of the classic Christian kerygma. Jesus has become a self-help guru to enable us to cash in the promises of a new, better, and happier life. For this we will gladly suffer death at an acceptable time (as long as we have achieved our dreams and have many happy memories of the journey). We seek redemption less than we seek affirmation, hope for success more than hope for rebirth. So it is a struggle to preach the Gospel of Christ crucified in a world intent upon what H. Richard Niebuhr described as “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” Machen would remind us. The judgment of God lies not in how many we could pack in but whether or not Christ was preached faithfully to them so that the Spirit might impart true faith.

The Church has been tempted by the therapeutic and by the philanthropic and by a dozen more isms that men have invented in place of the Cross but we are called and set apart for the one purpose of being witnesses to Christ whose death gives us life and whose life death cannot overcome. In Him alone is forgiveness for the sinner and a righteousness to wear that we did not earn. In the end, if you are not a sinner in need of forgiveness, the unclean in need of righteousness, and the dead in need of life, Jesus holds little for you. He will not pat you on the back but neither will He coddle you to hell.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Is it really that difficult? four-fold shape of the Christian life is not so difficult to imagine or to understand.  Acts 2 puts it so very succinctly and yet this little passage is so easily and often overlooked.  These four facets of the Christian life are worth more attention than they get.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and we do well to follow their example. While we often think of teaching in a variety of ways, the teaching spoken of here is doctrine.  Doctrine matters.  The right doctrine saves and the wrong doctrine condemns.  This means knowing the Word of God and confessing the ancient faith in the creeds of the Church.  It means living together under that Word, captive to that Word.  It means living within the catholic tradition and not some sectarian fringe.  What has been believed, taught, and confessed in every place and time.  This is not a modern idea.  St. Paul wrote:  So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings [tradition] we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess 2:15).  Again, we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us (2 Thess 3:6).  If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed (1 Tim. 4:6).  Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing (1 Tim. 6:2-4)For truly it is the call of every Christian and of every age to guard the deposit [of doctrine] entrusted to you (1 Tim. 6:20).

What a sad little word fellowship has become!  What we imagine is but a weak and pale translation of the Greek τῇ κοινωνίᾳ (te koinonia).  Most of us think coffee and donuts or a pot luck in the fellowship hall after church.  Fellowship here means living in communion with the Church and with those who with us are members of the Body of Christ.  This means we are instructed in the faith and teach others, we are encouraged in the faith and we encourage others, we are held accountable and we hold one another accountable, and we find help and aid when struggling even as we come to the aid and help others within the Body of Christ. Such communio is the fruit of a faith commonly confessed, of a life together fed and nourished at the altar, and lived out in lives of prayer and intercession on behalf of others. It is cheap and pale imitation of this communion when we substitute a few bites to eat and something to drink.  Fellowship begins at the altar rail, not in the fellowship hall, and it is strong enough to bear the burdens of others as ours have been borne in Christ.  Fellowship is the life together met in the weekly Eucharist where we feed upon Christ's body and blood and flows from that communion in His flesh and blood into our life together as members of Christ's body in the world.

The “the breaking of the bread” in the New Testament does not mean sharing a baguette or a sandwich or a nice dinner but the reception of Holy Communion, the Eucharist.  It is the worthy communion of those who have examined themselves, who discern the Body of Christ, who live in repentance, and who confess the faithful doctrine of the Scriptures.  As Luther said, worthy means having faith in the words given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  It is not a standard of minimums that must be met but living in the fullness of that life together as the baptized people of God.  We have turned the Sacrament into my private time with Jesus but nothing could be further from the nature of this blessed communion.  We are united with Christ.  He abides in us and we in Him.  We are joined together as the people of God, sharing a common faith, making a common confession, and living together the common life as those declared righteous and living this righteousness out in the world by baptism and faith.  Those who absent themselves from the Lord's Table are missing out and there is something wrong with our spiritual lives when we no longer yearn or long for the blessed food of Christ's body and blood.  Equally wrong is when this becomes a casual communion, individualized and spiritualized to the point where the Words of Christ and His gift in this sacrament have no earthly consequence or identity.  The reverence of the Lord's Table is the solemn acknowledgement that Christ is the host, priest, and food for His Church, extending to us in this sacred communion the fruits of His saving death and life-giving resurrection.

The last facet of life identified here is prayers.  It means so much more than just saying our prayers, repeating words in a perfunctory way. The Greek word is προσευχαῖς (Proseuchais), and is translated simply: “prayers.” Here the Lord demonstrates this life of prayer in the garden with His disciples when he prayed so deeply and earnestly that He sweat like blood.  Prayer is the fruit of our communion with the Father made possible by the Son and taught by the Spirit.  We intercede on behalf of all people as they have need, the Church and her mission, the servants of the Church (pastors and all church workers and vocations to church work), nation and the world, the sick and those who suffer, the dying and the grieving.  The prayers of the ancients passed down to us instruct us in this life of prayer and and our whole life of prayer is summarized and culminates in the Our Father.  For Lutherans this means praying the Catechism as well as reading it and being instructed by it.  It means the ancient collects, the Litany, and Prayer of the Church.  Our hymnal is filled with prayers to help us pray, to teach us to pray, and to give us words to pray when our hearts and minds are too empty or too full to find the words.  The Spirit is at work in this life of prayer -- not only delivering the prayers that rise like incense to the Father but prompting prayers and putting into words the sighs and groans of our hearts struggling to find words.  Prayer is not something small or weak but profound and powerful as pray the good and gracious will of God to be done for us, among us, and through us.  It finds its greatest peace when we learn from Jesus to prayer without fear or regret, "Thy will be done."

Do you want to see the shape of Christian piety and our life together as the people of God?  In Acts we see this piety profoundly and beautifully expressed in a few words too rich to be quickly dismissed.  It is really not that difficult to know what the shape of Christian life looks like.  Acts makes it both clear and plain.  May the Spirit work in us these words that they may be part of us and we part of them.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Do something. . .

There are so many opportunities to do something. . . this commercial reminds us of those.  Do something -- anything.  Doing nothing is not an option.  While this is not in any way a substitute for proclaiming Christ, it is a stark reminder for people searching for meaning, navel gazing is not going to do it.  So to a world so in love with itself, this is a call to wake up and look around you.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Not simply a liturgical problem

While it is undoubtedly true that none of our liturgies are perfect, just as none of our hymnals are, the real problems we have with worship today are not found in the book.  Words do need improving, to be sure, and forms need refinement.  But our problems do not lie with the books.

We all know and can share the war stories of the odd, strange, and embarrassing things that  happen within the confines of the Divine Service. But the problems have less to do with oddities of liturgical aberration. Yes, we have had to bear the burden of clowns, polka music, mimes, pastors who think they are comedians, etc... but our real problems lie beyond even this craziness.

Instead the problems lie with the fact that we no longer think in the kind of terms used by the Scriptures to speak of God and His gifts.  We have lost a sacramental sense to earthly reality.  We have become so enthralled with the pursuit of the immanent that the transcendent speaks a foreign language to us. Western culture has undergone a profound shift over the last centuries and it has resulted not only in a divergence of thought but of language from the culture of Scripture and tradition.

This is also true of the growing distance from the language and poetry of the great hymns of the faith.  We no longer sing them from the vantage point of familiarity both with the vocabulary and the subjects of Scripture and so it is harder for us to sing the age old words with understanding and to appreciate the way they sing the faith.

The fruits of our secular culture and its mindset further and further removed from the Scriptures is that we struggle to maintain a connection with the doctrine and faith of the Church before us and to a piety planted and rooted in the means of grace.  No one is suggesting that culture is supposed to be a bridge between today and the eternal of God's Word and Sacraments but when it becomes an impediment, we struggle to know how to receive their gifts and rejoice in their promise.  This is a problem compounded by the modern evangelical fixation on the here and now and the use of the Gospel to improve daily life more than bestow eternal life.  From the music of secular culture to the pop Christian fare that forms the soundtrack of so many of us, the Gospel is framed in immanent terms as a love affair with a perfect Man who guarantees us all our hopes and dreams.  Where is the language of sin and its death?  Where is the lament of a fallen humanity for what should have been?  Where is the burden of a death God did not mean for His creatures to know?  Where is the longing for grace and the appreciation for a mercy undeserved?

So when we enter the Lord's House to encounter Him not in the realm of feelings or desires but of the living voice that speaks the Word that does what is promises and of the living water that kills what is already dead to make eternally alive and of the living bread that feeds and satisfies us with forgiveness and eternal life, how do we receive this?

Rome struggled with a translation of the Mass that was forever rooted in an age in love with love and with itself.  We Lutherans know the problems of wedding liturgical text to just such a time.  The Romans improved the Mass in 2001 and it was not well received by those who were hoping for a more human and humane vocabulary, more accessible to feelings and less dogmatic.  We Lutherans have no GIRM to define and order our liturgical usage and so we simply rewrite the liturgy or abandon it altogether until we achieve a worship setting that fits without temporal focus.  Yet the struggle remains one for Lutherans still -- how do we understand the Divine Service and receive the gifts of the means of grace?  This is a liturgical question, to be sure, but not exclusively one.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Declining baptisms, confirmations, and ordinations. . .

Some presume that the Church is to blame for declining baptisms, confirmations, and ordinations.  We have fewer baptisms because people do not feel welcomed (especially when they have children out of wedlock or some other circumstance).  We have fewer confirmations because youth are bored with the traditional old church and its predictable liturgy and mournful hymns.  We have fewer ordinations because of the cost of seminary education and the cost to the parish of a pastor (full-time with more benefits) and the way some pastors are being treated (like low level employees).

I would suggest that there is another reason that underlies all of these.  Our people are attending Church with less regularity, if at all.  The total numbers of self-identified Lutherans has not declined as precipitously as have the membership numbers and attendance figures.  People have stopped attending or attending as frequently.  This, combined with the lower number of births from those folks (gray haired and younger folks), means that they are not in Church to request baptism and baptism is not on their radar because they are not in Church.  The lower numbers of confirmations is due to the lower number of youth in our church population but it is also due to the fact that their parents have not well catechized them or broken in them the good habit of regular and faithful weekly Church attendance.  Finally, the lower numbers of ordinations certainly may be reflective of the financial costs of the ordained and to the ordained but it is much more likely due to the fact that sons are not raised in the Church to believe the high and noble calling of the pastoral ministry.

A Roman Catholic put it this way:
There were about 1.8 million Catholics registered in the area covered by the Boston archdiocese 50 years ago; today the official figure is 1.9 million.

The trouble, of course, is that most of those 1.9 million Catholics aren’t practicing the faith. Consequently it should be no surprise that their sons don’t aspire to the priesthood. There were just over 2,500 priests working in the archdiocese 50 years ago; now there are fewer than 300. That’s right; nearly 90% of the priests are gone. If you can’t replace the priests, you can’t keep open the parishes.
The crisis in the Church cannot be fixed with modern music or entertainment or preaching oriented toward earthly wants and desires.  It is born of children raised with only a peripheral connection to the Church, a catechetical distance to the content of the faith, and an experience growing up that Church is not all that important.  They practice Church this way when they become adults and when they become moms and dads they teach it to their children.  Lets be honest.  The vast majority of children of church going parents who teach and practice the faith at home will stay in the Church, will bring their children to baptism, will encourage their catechesis, and will encourage church vocations.  Absent this example and encouragement, it probably will not happen.

So where will you and your household be tomorrow?

Still time to sign up. . .

Friday, June 9, 2017

Is the Word and Sacrament enough?

One of the greatest dangers facing us as Christians is that we have received the Word of God and the Sacraments and decided that they are not enough.  We need something more.  It is not enough that God has made the fruits of Christ's saving death and resurrection accessible to us in His Word, His water, and His meal.  We must supplement these means of grace with something more and we must redefine the mission of the Church from bringing the Good News of Christ crucified and risen to acting as the fixit people who repair whatever people decide is broken in them or their lives.

The occasion for this post is an offhand comment from a visitor who wondered how it benefited the world to schedule more opportunities for worship.  According to this individual, who was very nice and not at all confrontive, the world faced many ills few of which could be helped in any way by people gathering in Church to pray, sing a few old fashioned hymns, and receive a bit of bread and wine.  He was, if anything, honest -- brutally honest!  Though he was not a member of my parish, he could have been.  I know that there are those in the pews who secretly feel the same way.  They, too, wonder about all the time and attention we spend on the Divine Service and an expensive room not often used.  They also wonder about the expensive "toys" that accompany these Divine Services (vestments, Gospel book, censer, chalice, pipe organ, and the like).  Why think what real good could be done if the money were not wasted on these things and instead used to alleviate suffering!  Sound familiar?

Sometimes I fear that Lutherans are, at our core, just as Garrison Keillor described -- people who believe it is best to downsize and minimize.  It is amazing to me that such a church could have produced the likes of a Johann Sebastian Bach -- and then I recall the battles even he had over money to support him and his family and provide the musical resources for the Divine Service.  What has happened to us that we have come to view worship with such suspicion, fearing that it maybe time and resources wasted and that it could all better serve another purpose?

In the end I believe this is less about taste and preference than it is about how we view the means of grace.  Do we believe the Word and Sacrament convey what they promise and deliver what they sign?  Do we believe that what they bestow is the most precious gift God has to give His people?  Do we believe that the means of grace are sufficient to accomplish God's purpose?  I fear that underneath all the talk of how money might have better been spent is a real fear that the business of sin and grace, mercy and redemption, death and resurrection are not as important as whatever needs to be done to deal with a disappointing today.  The pious at least believe we ought to be doing something good and the rest are not sure even about that (since the poor you will always have with you).  But both seem to be agreed that pastors are expensive and maybe not worth the cost and churches are expensive and maybe not worth the cost and worship expensive and not worth the cost.  Otherwise we would have so many battles to fight about the cost of educating our pastors, the need for simpler church buildings and services, and the guilt about spending money on Jesus that could relieve the suffering of some for a moment.

I am not, by the way, denigrating the good we ought to be doing.  Mercy work is not optional but neither is it a substitute for the Divine Service and the work of worship.  And if worship is done as it ought, it will lead to mercy work.  But I do not know of any mercy work that birth the Divine Service.  I will admit that it is not something I have studied and am making an assumption here.  That said, the Church in gathered around the Word and Table of the Lord on the Lord's Day is doing what no other institution does or ever will do.  We ought to remember that.

In the old days, church buildings were primarily, if not exclusively, places for the Divine Service.  Now many campuses (that is what they call them) have many buildings for many other purposes and the chapel is not necessarily at the center of them.  In fact, among some, the place where worship happens is either a multipurpose place or a less significant portion of the facility -- both in size and attention.  My point here is to suggest that this is not without its consequences.  It is as if we do truly believe that the real work of God is being done elsewhere than the Divine Service.  It also questions whether or not preaching and teaching the Kingdom and administering the water of baptism, the word of absolution, and the bread and wine of the Eucharist are the uniquely established charter and purpose for the Christian Church.

Again, I am not trying to make a choice but I fear a choice has already been made.  Numbers are the criteria we judge most important and faithfulness less important than results.  The good that we do seems to give us more confidence that we are making a difference than the Divine Service in which Christ's Word and Supper have central place. 

It is something to think about. . . and I hope that we are thinking.

Thursday, June 8, 2017


with your video instructor Dr. Frederick Hohman

Are you, or do you know, a pianist who currently leads music in worship with the piano, and who wants to make a successful transition to playing the organ?

Frederick Hohman, Pro Organo’s founder, was commissioned in 2016 by the American Guild of Organists to author and present a series of 30 instructional videos.  The aim of this series, which covers four hours of organ instruction on a variety of topics, is to help pianists who have achieved a moderate level of proficiency to make a successful transition to playing the organ.
Please see the list of 30 video lessons below.  Clicking on the image or the topic will take you directly to the corresponding video lesson at YouTube.  Although the videos are arranged in a sequence from #1 through #30, there are occasions where one may wish to view just one or two video lessons on a specific topic, or there may be cases where lessons might be viewed in sequences different from those in the numbered series scheme.
We hope that these videos are beneficial to you or to someone you know who desires to achieve success as an organist.  These videos have been produced by the American Guild of Organist’s CCPE (Committee on Continuing Professional Education), with the supervision of Dr. Sharon Hettinger, who served as producer of the series, and Dr. Don Cook, the AGO’s National Councillor for Education. If you find these videos to be of value, and if you do not already hold an AGO (American Guild of Organists) membership, please consider joining America’s premiere organization whereby organists, active in a wide variety of religious and academic institutions, are united by their similar vocation and mission of supplying fine organ music.
Frederick Hohman presently does not hold a faculty position at any university, but he is available throughout each year as a visiting masterclass leader and clinician. You may contact Frederick through the CONTACT US form on this website.