Saturday, August 19, 2017

Fr. Martin's version of sex. . .

Father Martin puts forth the notion that the Church has misunderstood God’s plan for human sexuality for her entire history and that she must now switch to a new teaching, namely that the union of man and woman in marital love is not the only path for the true and good expression of human sexuality.  In his new book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity (HarperCollins), Jesuit Father James Martin critiques the Roman Catholic Church’s characterization of homosexuality as "disordered" and the failure of Rome to constructively engage “the LGBT community.”  Of course the point underlying Fr. Martin's book is that God made people the way they are and to reject how they are is to reject God and His making grace.  Father Martin said some of the language about homosexuality used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church should be updated and suggested that “objectively disordered” might be changed to “differently ordered.” “As I say in the book, saying that one of the deepest parts of a person — the part that gives and receives love — is disordered is needlessly hurtful,” he said.

Father Gerald Murray, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in New York City, has rightly said the phrase “differently ordered” is not merely a change in vocabulary but would constitute a grave change in Church teaching. “It would mean that God created two different orders of sexual behavior which are both good and right according to his will: Some people are homosexual by God’s design and some are heterosexual by God’s design. If that is the case, then homosexual acts themselves could no longer be described, as they are in the Catechism ... as ‘intrinsically disordered.’ If the inclination is simply different, and not disordered, then acting upon that inclination is simply different, and not disordered. It would be natural behavior for ‘differently ordered’ people.”

In “One Priest’s Plan to Queer the Catholic Church” on, Xorje Olivares asks Father Martin whether he thinks “full inclusion” of “LGBT” Catholics is possible in their lifetime. Although Father Martin said “LGBT” Catholics are already part of the Church by virtue of their baptism, he responds favorably to the question: “Yes, I do,” citing Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” comment and his reminding “LGBT” people “before all else” of their dignity in Amoris Laetitia.  According to Martin, the only way to rescue the relationship between the LGBT community and the Church is to affirm the LGBT as differently ordered but not disordered, that the fault lies with the Christian tradition in misunderstanding sex from the get go, and the people who must change are not those who, outside of marriage are called to live chaste lives, but rather the Church in embracing the new sexual ethic of preference, feeling, desire, and form (it's all good! in other words).

Fr. Martin asks the “families, friends and allies” of “LGBT” persons this question: “You are wonderfully made yourself! And your family member or friend is made in a different, but no less wonderful, way. What does this say to you about God’s ‘works’ and God’s ‘thoughts’?” (p. 114). He asks “LGBT” persons: “What enables you to accept yourself as you are?” (p. 123).  But, that is the point, we admit who we are but we cannot accept who we are.  And thanks be to God God does not accept it either but has sent forth His Son into the womb of the Virgin, into a life of obedience, into the pain of the cross with its suffering, into death and the cold, darkness of the tomb -- all to keep us from the prison of who we are!  This is the power of redemption.  But there is no power in glorying in our sin and there is no comfort in the refuge of our broken selves.  Fr. Martin is not merely talking about a new way of dealing with the LGBT community but a new Gospel that is built upon something other than the cross and its redemptive fruit, born of suffering and death!  And that, we cannot embrace, or we have nothing at all to offer the LGBT community or anyone -- except learning to be comfortable with who you are and the death that shadows your life and brings you to an end.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Sermon for Pentecost 10, Proper 14A, preached by the Rev. Larry A. Peters, on Sunday, August 13, 2017, at Faith Lutheran Church, Union City, TN.

    The story is told of 3 pastors who went fishing together often until the Methodist minister took a call and left. So the Lutheran pastor and Roman Catholic priest decided to ask his replacement to join them.  They were out on the boat for hours, drinking from their big thermoses of coffee, when the priest gets up and says he needs to excuse himself and walks across the water to the trees.  He comes back and another hour passes until the pastor says he also must excuse himself and walks across the water and into the trees on the shore.  The Methodist minister is now clearly uncomfortable but is sure that he can do what any Lutheran or Roman Catholic can do.  He gets up out of the boat, takes a few steps on the water, falls in and drowns.  Carrying the body back to town mostly in silence, the Lutheran finally speaks.  "Do you suppose we should have told him where the stones were?"
    Walking on water is always easy when you know where the stones are.  Indeed, we often think that is why Jesus is so important.  He knows where the stones are, where you can safely put your feet and where you can’t.  We want Him to let us in on the secret.  We want to know where the secret stones are so that when the storms of life come our way, we know where to walk to avoid the onslaught of wind and wave.  We want to know the safe places to put our feet in a world that is neither safe nor certain.  But that is not what Jesus does.  Jesus has not come to be guide or guru.  He is not a life coach or a mentor.  He is come to save us and the only way He saves is when we see Jesus and Him only.  He is the rock of our salvation. 
    In the Gospel reading for today Peter and the disciples are tossed and turned upon the waters by a storm that did not relent.  They were tired and weary, they were worn and worn down, and they were afraid.  Just when it seemed nothing could get worst, someone called out that Jesus was out there walking on the sea.  Perhaps the first inclination of the disciples was that somebody needed to save Jesus.  Jesus was not a fisherman, after all, but a carpenter.  The next guess was that they were seeing things – a ghost, a shadow, and a mirage.  But it was Jesus.
    Jesus came to them, where they were.  He came walking upon the waters of the very storm that threatened them.  He came walking to them when they were most afraid.  When the disciples realized that it was Jesus, they were not comforted but were even more afraid.  How could it be real?  Was it Jesus or some ghostly dream?  They were ready to dismiss it all out of hand, when the unmistakable voice came to their ears:  “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid.”
    Peter, yes, it had to be Peter.  Peter ventures forward.  “If it is you, Lord, tell me to come to You on the water.”  Notice what he did not say.  He did not say “because it is You I will come to You.”  No, this was not faith talking but fear – pure, raw, and unadulterated fear.  Jesus answered back with the scariest word of all.  “Come!”  And then Peter had to eat his words or trust the word of Jesus.
    In the beginning, perhaps with the first few steps, Peter believed the word of Jesus.  But then he began to look down to consider the power of the wind and the waves, when he saw them he no longer saw Jesus.  He began to sink and cried out in fear for Jesus to save him.  Peter was apparently a fisherman who could not swim!  His fears turned his vision from Jesus until the only things he saw were his fears.
    In the end, Jesus makes it clear what this business of Christian life is all about.  “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  Life is filled with storms.  We are daily beaten around by the winds of change and the waves of discontent.  We are threatened day in and day out by forces beyond our control.  Jesus does not offer Peter secrets.  There are no secret stones on which to stand.  There is only Jesus.  There is no secret wisdom to make sense out of life’s storms.  There is only Jesus.  There is no secret path around those storms.  There is only Jesus.  There is no safe place in which to hide until the storms pass.  There is only Jesus.
    What was true for Peter, is certainly true for you and me.  We come to Jesus looking for short cuts, for the easy paths through life’s threats, for a sanctuary where wind and wave dare not come.  What we get is Jesus.  Jesus who does not run from us when sin had made us unlovable.  Jesus who does not abandon us when we are suffering from a predicament born of our own willfulness and pride in the Garden of Eden.  Jesus who does not shrink from the cost of loving us even when that cost is His life of suffering upon the cross.  Jesus who does not wait for us to find a way to Him but comes to us and is born as one of us in flesh and blood, amid the poisoned air of sin and the stench of death that accompanies every one of us.  Jesus who reaches out His hand and holds on to us when we are ready to let go.
    I cannot promise you an easy life or even a safe life.  I cannot show you a hidden path around suffering or pain.  I cannot give you tips on how to life holy or, if not holy, at least happy.  All I can do is point you to Jesus.  And here He is.  His voice still speaks to us in our ships of discontent, amid waves of destruction, battered by the winds of change.  His arms still enfold us with the absolution that takes our sins away.  His hands still feed us the rich food of His flesh and blood wherein we enjoy forgiveness too rich for us to buy and peace that passes understanding.
    Even now you may be hoping that a magical solution will come along.  A pastor you can afford but who is better than you can afford, someone to lead you through your troubles, make strong and mighty your little congregation, overcome all obstacles and fill the pews and the coffers so that you can rest from all your labors.  Somebody like that will never come along.  But a pastor who will preach Jesus to you will come along.  A pastor who will address you with Christ’s absolution, will come along.  A pastor who will feed you Christ whose flesh is hidden in bread and whose blood is hidden in wine.  A pastor who will point you to Jesus when all you see are the storms and who will speak hope to you when you are too tired to go any further.
    But you need to do two things.  You need to get out of the boat.  Let go of yesterday’s disappointments, today’s anxieties, and tomorrow’s fears and step out in faith.  Leave behind your works and your desires, and trust in Jesus.  And keep looking at Jesus when the distractions of this world beckon us and Satan would use them to create doubts within.  Keep looking at Jesus.  When distractions come and temptations show their wares and life’s storms make it hard to see anything at all, you need to look at Jesus.  That is the power of faith.  Faith sees beyond eyes and hears beyond ears.  The Holy Spirit is the power of this faith to hold onto Jesus and let go of your works, your merits, your sense of fairness, and your past.  The Holy Spirit empowers you to look not by sight but by faith and to see through the storms to the cross and through the cross to heaven.
    The world is filled with the exploits of the brave.  But in the midst of the crises, they did not look brave all all.  They were called fools.  The world will call you foolish when you put your trust in Jesus, when your confidence in Christ refuses to waver even when the going gets impossible, and when you gladly and willingly surrender your works for the one work of Christ on the cross.  Faith Lutheran Church does not need brave people or mighty leaders.  This congregation needs people of faith who will look to Jesus first and always.  This life does not require heroes but men and women and children of faith who believe and who live this faith when the storms of life threaten them most of all.  People who confess Jesus, the Lord of life who suffered all even death to rescue and redeem a lost and condemned world.
    And when it is ended.  When you have taken off the life jackets and secured the boat on the beach and when the wind and wave have passed on for now.  Then let it be said with one voice from this place and from this people.  Truly He is the Son of God.  For this confession is your hope.  By this confession you will endure.  By this confession the world will hear the Gospel.  And by this confession, you will not stand alone but with the saints of old, great and small, and your family of faith around you now.  Together we are a people convinced that God is with us, that His grace is sufficient for all our needs, and that faith is all we need to endure the storms, struggles, and sorrows of this mortal life.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

To Own the Mass or Be Owned by it. . .

There is no shortage of goofiness resplendently enshrined for the world to see -- all courtesy of YouTube and the internet.  But some should not be viewed (except as a warning not to do what is being done while you watch).

The principle of inculturation says that the Mass is to be "owned" by the people and their culture.  In other words, it is a raw form to be adapted in culturally relevant ways by those for whom the Mass exists.  It is a strange idea, to say the least.  First of all it forgets that the Mass is its own culture and neither adopts nor borrows the culture around it.  Second it commits the error of suggesting that the Mass is about us.  Of course it is for us (given and shed for you. . . ) but it is definitely not about us.  If for that reason alone, we should refrain from attempting to interject culturally relevant forms into the form of the Mass.

BTW this is not about the kind of culture we find here -- there is no cultural elitism here or racism.  It is just as wrong if there is an oompah band and polka dancers.  The Mass has its own culture, the culture of the means of grace, which engages and transforms the culture around it.  By making what happens in the chancel merely a stage for the display of what is cultural relevant or reflective of personal preference, we make our Lord and His eternal Word secondary to us and the moment in time in which we live.  Further, it means the Mass must be constantly adapted and updated to reflect the changing tastes and usages of the moment -- something which is not wise at all.

The mark of that which is catholic is continuity.  Change must be incremental and not captive to the moment.  We see this already in the abiding language of the Our Father that transcends cultural and linguistic changes.  But we must also be careful not to enshrine one glimpse of time into the Mass and make it the perfectly pristine moment which must be guarded against any and all development.  It this is true for Rome, it is also true for Lutherans.  I wish it were merely a matter of tolerating some goofiness from time to time but the end result of inculturation has been to make the Mass a platform for us to perform, to make the participants into soloists and stars on God's stage, to reduce the Lord to mere spectator, and to steal from Him both the gift and blessing of worship. It matters not who does it nor does it matter how sincere the people are.  The Mass remains the Lord's and it is His gracious will to invite us into it so that the Word of the Lord may enter our ears and make its home in our heads and in our hearts and the flesh and blood of the Lord may cleanse us body and soul. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

If everyone agrees, perhaps we should continue to disagree. . .

According to the Religious News Service:

Amid ceremonies this year marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, one of Protestantism’s leading branches has officially said it now agrees with the Vatican on the main issue at the root of its split from the Roman Catholic Church half a millennium ago.

The World Communion of Reformed Churches, holding its once-in-seven-years worldwide General Council in Germany, signed a declaration this week endorsing the 1999 Catholic-Lutheran agreement on how Christians might be worthy of salvation in the eyes of God.

The ceremony took place in Wittenberg, where in 1517 Martin Luther unveiled the 95 Theses that launched the Reformation and with it centuries of dispute about whether eternal salvation comes from faith alone — the position of the new Protestant movement — or if it also requires good works on Earth as Catholics argued.

This decision by the WCRC — representing 80 million members of Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed, United, Uniting and Waldensian churches — marked another step in a gradual but remarkable reconciliation on this issue among Christians who once fought wars and declared each other heretics over just such questions.

The World Methodist Council formally endorsed the Catholic-Lutheran accord, known as the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, in 2006. The Anglican Communion is expected to do the same later this year.  [The Anglican Communion will probably do the same later.]
The Reformed noted that nothing separated them from the Lutherans.  Hmmmm.  I am not sure what part of the word agreement is being missed here but something is definitely being missed.  When people agree to a common vocabulary but fail to agree with what the words in vocabulary actually mean, it is not agreement.  It is an agreement that disagreement does not matter.  There is no real reconciliation if we all get to use the same words but attach different meanings to them.  Reconciled diversity is not communion or agreement.  And, if Calvinists and Rome and Lutherans can all say they agree without addressing the historic differences between them, it is the most shallow and weak form of ecumenism which will bear no good fruit.  Listen here. . . 

It is a great photo op but it is little more.  Hail the agreement as something profound but that does not fix what is missing here.  I do not want to disagree and would rejoice the day we could all come together and confess with one voice justification by grace through faith.  Yet even then, if we cannot agree on the second part of it, sanctification, we remain distant and at loggerheads.  I long for true ecumenism and for true unity, as every child of the Augsburg Confession should, but in this, because the Reformed, Methodist, Anglicans, and Romans say "we agree," it make me more hesitant than ever to sign on the dotted line and say it must be so.  Pray for true agreement and for something more than an anniversary photo op.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

We heard from Rome, now from the CTCR. . .

The LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) provides study documents, opinions and statements on theological issues. Established by the Synod in 1962, the commission provides guidance and leadership in the areas of theology and church relations -- something formerly done through the seminary faculties.  The Commission was not established by the Synod to function as a kind of “Roman curia” or “ecclesiastical Supreme Court” that issues final answers to all kinds of questions. Nor is it charged with responsibilities of ecclesiastical supervision or doctrinal review of materials produced by Synod entities.  Its reports and opinions have weight but no official authority; they are not the official positions of Synod until adopted in Convention. 

Piggybacking upon my post of yesterday regarding the position of Rome with regard to the elements used in the Lord's Supper, the CTCR represents guidance but, without the sanction of the Convention, its documents do not have authority to regulate practice in the LCMS.  Nevertheless, from the CTCR of the LCMS regarding the elements:  

There is scholarly consensus that our Lord employed the earthly elements of bread and wine in His institution of Holy Communion. [17]

a. The Bread

The Greek word for bread in the New Testament texts, artos, is generic. It applies to bread in general. [18] While Greek has a more restricted term, azumos, for unleavened bread, it is not found in any of the New Testament accounts of the Lord's Supper.

The fact that unleavened bread was used in the Passover and that the three evangelists set the time for the Lord's Supper "on the first day of [the Feast of] Unleavened Bread" would strongly suggest the use of unleavened bread in our Lord's original action (Matt. 26:17; cf. Mark 14:12 and Luke 22:7). Therefore we have reason to conclude that unleavened bread should also be used today.

Since the Scriptures are silent on the source of the bread, it may be baked from the flour of wheat, rye, barley, or other grains. While the form of distribution should reflect reverence for the elements, there is no specific guidance on the size or shape of the wafer or portion.

b. The Wine

All four accounts of the Lord's Supper speak of "the cup." The content of this cup was most definitely wine. The references in Matt. 26:29 and parallels to the "fruit of the vine" would not have suggested anything else to Jesus' listeners than the grape wine of the Jewish Passover ritual. [19]

In 1 Cor. 11:21 there is corroboration that the early Christian church understood wine for "fruit of the vine." Some of the Corinthians, sadly, had abused the Holy Supper by becoming drunk.

The color, type, or origin of the grape wine is a matter which Christians can select in accord with their situation.

In the oft-cited pastoral circumstance of an alcoholic communicant, the counsel of foregoing Communion for a period of time or the action of diluting the wine with water (perhaps done at the Lord's Supper itself) are preferable. In the extreme situation where even greatly diluted wine may lead to severe temptation, no fully satisfactory answer, in the opinion of the CTCR, can be formulated. The counsel of completely foregoing Communion is clearly unsatisfactory. In this situation, too, the actions of diluting the wine with water or intinction would be preferable. The substitution of grape juice raises the question of whether the Lord's instruction is being heeded.

Luther's openness to Communion in one kinds is difficult in view of confessional texts which strongly urge the Biblical paradigm of both kinds, though the Confessions do not address the extreme situation.

A similar pastoral problem is posed by those rare instances where a severe physical reaction is caused by the elements (as, for example, when the recipient is concurrently taking certain medications, or is simply allergic to one or the other of the elements). The pastor, in such cases, will surely stress the Gospel's power and total effectiveness in the individual's life and patiently seek a practical solution that both honors Christ's word and satisfies the desire to partake in the Lord's Supper.

[17] Representative of such a consensus are the following commentaries: A. Schlatter, Der Evangelist Matthaus (Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1948), pp 741-45; William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), pp. 504-09; I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), pp. 792-807; C.K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), pp. 264-70; Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, trans. Norman Perrin (Philadelphia Fortress Press, 1966), pp. 41-88.
[18] Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 110.
[19] "Fruit of the vine" is, exegetically, synonymous with wine. Cf. H. Buechsel, "genema," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, I (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1965), p. 164; W. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1974), pp. 508-09; H. Seesemann, "oinos,"  Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, V (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1967), p. 164; Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to Mark (London: St. Martin's Press, 1966), p. 547.
I might add that the unleavened bread of the Passover, Matzo, matza or matzah (Hebrew: מַצָּהmatsa; plural matzot) is unleavened flatbread.  Matzo that for Passover is plain, from flour and water only, but the flour may be wheat, spelt, barley, rye, or oat.  The CTCR appears to acknowledge this in part but Rome is more restrictive, wheat only.  In any case, it would be a stretch to include rice or other grains which were unknown for the Passover at the time of Jesus.  In any case, the report of the CTCR is descriptive and offers guidance without the authority to require conformity.  Yet, in both the CTCR and Roman instruction the common theme is that we do not add but detract from the Sacrament when we depart from the forms of our Lord's institution.  That said, it is clear that Lutherans are not reading the CTCR report (or, in the case of the ELCA, their own official instructions on the means of grace) and presume the freedom to do what works for them.  Clearly, this is not beneficial for the larger church and actually detracts from our confidence in and our appreciation for the Lord's Supper (and it remains His and not ours).

I repeat:  I am not in a position to say that such Sacraments that violate form or matter are not Sacraments but anything that would draw our confidence away from the Word of Christ that we are receiving what He promised is not a good thing but a grave abuse of the Sacrament.  No pastor or parish has the right to determine what works best for them in this regard.  While we do not have the same structures as Rome does, the District President is clearly locally responsible for episcope, supervision of doctrine and practice and this is something every DP needs to deal with.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Fear Not

Sermon for Pentecost 10, Proper 14A, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, August 13, 2017.
    We try to convince ourselves that death is no big deal, it’s nothing to fear.  We say it’s a normal part of life, even though it’s the opposite of life.  We lie and say death is a good thing, especially when it brings an end to suffering.  We do everything we can to take the fear out of death...and yet...we still fear it. 
    We fear death.  We fear our own and the death of loved ones.  We’re afraid of how we’ll die.  Will it be painful?  Will I suffer long?  What will happen to my family when I’m gone?  These questions haunt us.  But Christ encourages us in the face of death.  He says “Take heart, and don’t be afraid,” not because death is a small thing and isn’t scary, but because He’s the Lord of Creation who saves you from death.
    The disciples feared death.  Early in the morning, before the sun was up, out in the middle of the sea, after a long night on the sea with strong waves beating against the boat, the disciples saw Jesus coming to them, walking on the water.  What an amazing sight this should’ve been, seeing their Lord performing another miracle, walking on water.  But the disciples weren’t amazed, at least not in a good way.  They were terrified, thinking Jesus was a ghost, a bringer of death. 
    Knowing their fear, Jesus spoke to them saying “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid” (Matt 14:27).  These words of Jesus weren’t an empty platitude or shallow encouragement.  They didn’t comfort the disciples simply because they assured them that Jesus wasn’t a ghost.  No, these words comforted the disciples because they identified Him as the Lord of Creation, as the great “I am,” God Himself. 
    If we go back to the original Greek of the New Testament, Jesus identified Himself by saying “ε?γώ ει?μι,” “I am,” the very words God used to identify Himself to Moses in the burning bush.  God is the “I am.”  He’s the Creator of all things.  He laid the foundations of the earth.  He set the limits of the sea, and Jesus Christ is God.  He’s the Son, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.  All things were made through Christ and without Him was not anything made that was made (Jn 1:3).  Jesus is the Lord of Creation.  He holds it all in His hands, even the wind and waves.  The disciples didn’t need to fear a watery death because Christ was there.  He was in control. 
    Jesus’ words encouraged the disciples, and Peter asked Him to call him out onto the water.  Peter got out of the boat and walked on the sea to Jesus.  Peter was walking on the water; but seeing the wind, he again feared death, and in this fear he began to sin.  Immediately Christ grabbed Peter and pulled him from the water and said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt 14:31). 
    Why did Peter doubt?  Why did he fear death again?  The Lord of Creation was right there with him and He wasn’t going to let anything bad happen to him.  But Peter still feared for his life because of his imperfect love.  That’s why the disciples were afraid...and that’s why we fear death.  We’re afraid of death because of our imperfect love:  imperfect love for God and imperfect love for others. 
    In thesis 14 of his 95 Theses Luther wrote, “Imperfect piety or love on the part of the dying person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater the fear.”  We fear death because our love is imperfect.  We fear it because we fail to love.  We fear death because of our sin.  We know we deserve death because of our sin and this punishment is frightening.  Adam and Eve hid after eating the fruit because they were afraid.  Children hide the lamp they broke because they’re afraid.  We try to cover up our sin because we’re afraid.  We afraid of its punishment.
    Our fear of death comes from our imperfect love for God.  Like Peter we don’t trust the Lord of Creation to protect us, to care for us.  How often do we worry about the necessary, and also the not so necessary, things of life?  He promises to take care of us, but do we believe Him?  We don’t trust His Word to do what it says.  He says faith is produced by hearing His Word, and yet we think we need to change it to get people to believe. 
Our imperfect love for God is seen in our imperfect love for others.  If we loved God, we’d follow His commands, and we definitely don’t love others as He commanded.  Our relationships are tainted with lies, hurtful words, adulterous actions, and thieving thoughts.  We deny forgiveness to others, even though we want it ourselves. 
    We should rightly fear death.  It’s the just punishment of sin.  And yet in the face of death, the Lord of Creation, Jesus Christ, comes to you and says “Take heart; it is I; [ε?γώ ει?μι], don’t be afraid.”  He says this to you not because death is a small thing or a normal part of life, but because He’s come into His creation and overcome death with His perfect love.
    The Son of God became incarnate; He left His place in heaven, and took on our flesh so that He could also take your punishment of death upon Himself.  The Lord of Creation entered creation to redeem creation.  Jesus came into this sin filled world to go to the cross to pay for your sin.  All of your sin, all of your imperfect love, Jesus carried to the cross, and there He died for it, in your place.  He received God’s wrath so that you wouldn’t.  On the cross, the punishment of sin was fulfilled.  And three days later, Jesus rose from the grave, defeating death, winning everlasting life for you and for all who believe in Him, all who have faith in Christ’s sacrificial death, all who confess that Jesus is Lord. 
    This new life God gives you in your Baptism.  Just as Christ pulled Peter out of the sea, the Lord of Creation has pulled you out of the sea of Baptism.  In that water your old sinful man was drowned, along all his imperfect love and sin, and a new man was raised with faith and love for Christ your Savior. 
    With this faith and love, you trust in your Savior.  You trust His promised words of life, “I am [ε?γώ ει?μι] the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn 11:25-26).  You trust in the forgiveness of sins that He won for you on the cross, and in the face of death, with faith, you don’t fear eternal punishment.  Instead you stand encouraged, knowing the Lord of Creation has saved you from it. 
    Does this mean we don’t mourn when friends and loved ones die?  No.  Does this mean we act as if death is no big deal?  No.  Death is still painful.  It’s still a big deal.  Death is never good.  It wasn’t part of God’s creation.  Our sin brought death upon us.  But in the face of death we don’t fear it, because our Savior has conquered it. 
Jesus took your punishment and gives you life.  His perfect love overcomes death.  Christ your Savior, the Lord of Creation, saves you from the punishment of death and with faith you take heart and fear not in the face of death, for you know that He gives you everlasting life.  In Jesus’ name...Amen.

What bread? What wine?

Rome has issued clarifications regarding the elements to be used in the Mass. This was necessary because of the frequent use of questionable elements which call into question the Sacrament itself. According to Rome, the Sacrament has both matter (elements) and form (Words of Christ pronounced over the elements) and both are required for the Sacrament to be valid. While Lutherans do not use the same distinctions, the message ought to sound an alarm for the manifold violations of the elements the Lord used and tradition has affirmed as well as consideration to the Verba themselves and the tendency for some to paraphrase the Words of Christ.
“The bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition. It follows therefore that bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament. It is a grave abuse to introduce other substances, such as fruit or sugar or honey, into the bread for confecting the Eucharist. Hosts should obviously be made by those who are not only distinguished by their integrity, but also skilled in making them and furnished with suitable tools” (n. 48).

“The wine that is used in the most sacred celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice must be natural, from the fruit of the grape, pure and incorrupt, not mixed with other substances. […] Great care should be taken so that the wine intended for the celebration of the Eucharist is well conserved and has not soured. It is altogether forbidden to use wine of doubtful authenticity or provenance, for the Church requires certainty regarding the conditions necessary for the validity of the sacraments. Nor are other drinks of any kind to be admitted for any reason, as they do not constitute valid matter” (n. 50).
My own associate has come back from visits to other LCMS churches with an experience of other choices between wheat hosts and grape wine.  His experience and mine, along with the reports from our members, means that people are using a variety of things in the Sacrament -- practices which violate the Lord's intention.  This is everything from the low gluten hosts that may be used without question (for those with real issues and not simply a choice to follow a gluten free diet) to rice based "bread" and low alcohol wine (mustum) to grape juice (good old Welch's) and other fruit juices (from apple to whatever). 

“Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.  Low-gluten hosts (partially gluten-free) are valid matter, provided they contain a sufficient amount of gluten to obtain the confection of bread without the addition of foreign materials and without the use of procedures that would alter the nature of bread” (A. 1-2).
Mustum, which is grape juice that is either fresh or preserved by methods that suspend its fermentation without altering its nature (for example, freezing), is valid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist” (A. 3).
I am not in a position to say that such Sacraments that violate form or matter are not Sacraments but anything that would draw our confidence away from the Word of Christ that we are receiving what He promised is not a good thing but a grave abuse of the Sacrament.  No pastor or parish has the right to determine what works best for them in this regard.  While we do not have the same structures as Rome does, the District President is clearly locally responsible for episcope, supervision of doctrine and practice and this is something every DP needs to deal with.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The water is foul with dead fish. . .

“Only dead fish swim with the stream,” was the wisdom of British journalist and Roman Catholic convert Malcolm Muggeridge.  We live in a time when now more than ever the so-called progressive elements of all churches are promoting accommodation with culture and even following the cultural lead in essential areas of marriage, family, sexual identity, gender, abortion, etc...  Add to that the evangelicals who are helping Americans find happiness, better jobs, more satisfying lives, better sex, and a God whose chief goal is helping them make their best life now.  The water of the Christian world is increasingly fouled with dead fish who do not swim but merely float along on the current of public opinion and cultural "advances."

We face them in our own church.  These are the folks who constantly remind us that we must do this or change that or we will die.  They use the statistics of demographics and they equate many of the possible responses as neutral when they are anything but neutral.  Far from helping the Church recover her stride, the adoption of agendas from the wants and desires of people, the use of marketing to promote an earthly kingdom instead of the Gospel and a heavenly eternal reality, and the focus on improving life now will not breathe new life into the Church but suck the life of Christ right out of the Church.  The only fish who float along with the stream are the dead ones.  The churches who follow the voice of the individual or culture over the Word of God are sick, dying, or already dead.

Christ has not called us to be passive toward the world but to proclaim the radical Kingdom of God that comes by the Word to plant faith in the hearer and endow them with the new life that may seem  hidden today but revealed in eternity.  The Kingdom of God is not where we make it or where we want it to be but where the Word and Sacraments impart forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ alone. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Elephant in the room. . .

Once again David Luecke writes in the Forum Letter (August 2017) about his views on what is wrong with Lutheranism and why Lutherans are losing the millenials (if, indeed, they are).  There are some classic Luekian expressions (doctrine and practice are two very different subjects, not one compound word) and his view that worship needs to be a heart-felt experience (which many millenials find more present in non-denominational and evangelical church homes).  What is interesting is that he suggests that we have practiced too much deductive reasoning and need to practice more inductive reasoning with respect to this problem.  In other words, we need to focus on the motivations people have for going to Church.  A great sociological place to start but hardly one wherein a Lutheran would be expected to begin.  He seems insistent upon the old saw that Lutherans appeal to head knowledge and that our worship and piety are cerebral instead of heart felt.  And, of course, he suggests that instead of looking back to the tradition passed down to us, we need to look at what is working among the churches in America that are growing.  Key to this, in his estimation, is telling stories of what is happening in lives today and not just in Biblical times.  Hmmmm.  In the end, the question boils down to What will going to church do for me?  Because Lutherans do not ask that question and have no real answer, Lutherans will, according to Luecke, continue to decline into irrelevance.  If you read his material, did I miss anything?

I read this and at once wonder if Luecke belongs to the same church I do.  My own parish is filled with millenials, we have lots of singles and young marrieds in that age groups, have had more than 30 baptisms so far this year, and have many babies, toddlers, and youngsters in worship every Sunday.  Half of our 70-100 new members each year are adult confirmands.  We would be a mega church except that millenials tend to be mobile and many move out every year.  Alas, they are sometimes lost to Lutheranism or at least Missouri because they cannot find a Lutheran congregation with reverent and rich liturgical worship, vibrant Biblical preaching and teaching, a strong music program, deep and welcoming friendships, and high confidence in and expectation of our life together under the cross.

Instead of head knowledge, liturgical worship focuses on all the senses (even smell with incense) and the ceremonial and ritual reflection of what is spoken or sung into the ear only reinforces the power of God working in the Spirit but through the means of grace.  The problem here is not confirmation or catechism that expects head knowledge and even memorization, the problem is that there is no family life to nurture and model this faith and piety.  One can hardly find prayer to be meaningful at church if it is only at church.  One cannot expect the congregation to replace the home as the place where nurture of the faith takes place.

Finally, Luecke asks what works.  Well, what works to fill the pews is not necessarily what works to create and sustain a new life in Christ.  What works?  I thought we Lutherans knew the answer to this.  The Word of God and the Sacraments of God.  They work and never disappoint us.  They are the center of the liturgy, the font and summit of our Christian life and hope.  We are born again not of decision or will or program or choice or preference or even of interest but of the Word.  Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.  Baptism connects us to Christ's death and resurrection and here is where we are reborn to everlasting life.

I know Luecke knows this.  I wonder why he or any other Lutheran would not begin and end with this.  This is the elephant in the room.

An old church in ruins vs a ruined church. . .

Well, what do we have here?
Archaeologists have discovered one of Britain’s oldest churches.  The find – on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, off the Northumberland coast – is of great historical importance because the newly discovered ancient church may originally have been built in or shortly after the mid 7th century AD as part of the monastic spiritual epicentre from which much of northern and central England was eventually Christianised.

It’s also important because it is likely to have been a key site at the spiritual heart of the early 8th-century monastic community that made Britain’s most famous early medieval illuminated manuscript – the Lindisfarne Gospels. The evidence suggesting that this could be the site of one of Holy Island’s original early Anglo-Saxon period churches – perhaps even one built by the founder of Lindisfarne, St Aidan – is complex but persuasive.
The archaeological excavation has revealed that the monks chose the most challenging and difficult location to build their church – potentially for politically symbolic reasons.
The building stood on a totally exposed, extremely wind-blown rocky promontory facing directly towards the great royal palace of the monks’ first patron and benefactor, north-east England’s most important early Christian king, the 7th century St Oswald of Northumbria. The church was constructed just two or three metresfrom the cliff edge. The location was known in Anglo-Saxon times simply as “The Precipice”. Also suggesting an early, potentially late 7th century, date is the very primitive ‘pre-architectural’ style of the church’s masonry.

So far, the archaeologists have found dozens of pieces of broken masonry – including crudely-worked window surrounds – in a style suggesting that the mason was more accustomed to working in wood than in stone.  A final potential clue to its age has been found at the extreme eastern end of the church. It is the probable base of what may well have been the original altar installed there by St Aidan in or immediately after he founded the monastery in AD 635.
 Archeology seems to favor the Christian view of history.  This story is no different.  The story of Christian England's beginnings comes just in time to see how it might end.  May the Lord grant renewal to the heirs of the missionaries and faithful who brought our Lord to Great Britain. . . in time to save the faith from the indifference to and rejection of historic Christianity that seems to characterize most of English Christianity today. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Ups and Downs in South Carolina. . .

In a highly anticipated ruling, the South Carolina state Supreme Court decided August 2, 2017, that 29 parishes whose congregations left The Episcopal Church with the Diocese in 2012 cannot keep their valuable properties.  This decision may well set the stage for a massive exchange of historic church capital in the region.  Seven parishes and a land trust that never agreed in writing to let the national church hold them in trust may hold on to their properties, unlike the others, a majority of justices ruled. The 77-page divided opinion came almost two years after hearing arguments in the case.  Each justice wrote an individual opinion; several included unusually pointed words at colleagues.  This may well prove the basis for an appeal, perhaps to the Supreme Court. 

Two years ago, The Episcopal Church and Bishop Adams' offered a settlement to the dilemma that would have allowed the 35 breakaway parishes to keep roughly $500 million in church properties in exchange for the national church keeping the diocesan name and identifying marks, along with St. Christopher Camp and other assets.  Bishop Mark Lawrence and the Diocese of South Carolina, which broke with the national church, rejected the deal. 

So the situation has gone from one side to the other with both sides expressing moral indignation.  In the end there was no resolution, only loss.  But the fight was never over an absolute.  The Diocese of South Carolina did not want a reformed Episcopal Church, just one rolled back a decade or two before some of the more outrageous stances were taken by that body.  Same sex marriage and the full legitimacy of homosexuality within the church and its ministry were the issues that broke the back of the Episcopal Church AND the ELCA.  Those who broke away from both churches ended up keeping the ordination of women and everything except the LGBTQ issue.

So far will some go and not any further.  Both communions might have found rescue in break offs willing to review the whole history of things gone wrong but in the end certain lines were drawn that could not be traversed.  So, although I am encouraged by the ACNA, NALC, and even the LCMC, I do not hold great hope that courage will rise to give faithful review to what began the decline.  There are no detours around such confrontation.  Without it, these groups will only be biding time.  Maybe for some it is enough.  It should not be.

What does the Roman Catholic Church teach?

According to LIFESITE news:

San Jose Bishop Patrick McGrath told practicing homosexuals that they will not be refused Holy Communion or a Christian burial in his diocese, as long as they request them in "good faith."  Bishop McGrath issued the directive last week in response to Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki who, following Catholic teaching, said that those in same-sex "marriages" shouldn't present themselves to or be admitted to Holy Communion, nor should they receive a Catholic funeral if they died without showing signs of repentance.

McGrath called Paprocki’s guidelines — without specifically mention his brother bishop — “confusing.”  “Recent news reports of policies and practices related to members of the LGBT community in other dioceses can be confusing,” he wrote in his June 29th directive.   “I take this opportunity to assure you that the pastoral response in the Diocese of San Jose remains just that: compassionate and pastoral. We will not refuse sacraments or Christian Burial to anyone who requests them in good faith,” he added.

McGrath justified admitting “anyone” to Holy Communion by quoting Pope Francis.  “Finally, let us remember and be guided by the words of Pope Francis: ‘The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.’ he said.
And then:

In the decree he sent to priests, deacons, seminarians and staff in his Springfield diocese last week, Bishop Thomas Paprocki sets forth a set of norms on same-sex marriage and related pastoral issues that he says are the policy of the diocese.  Paprocki's decree bans priests and parish staff from performing same-sex marriages or allowing same-sex weddings or receptions at any Catholic facilities. People in same-sex marriages "should not present themselves for Holy Communion, nor should they be admitted to Holy Communion." A person in a same-sex marriage who is facing death may only receive communion after expressing "repentance for his or her sins."
Finally, Paprocki writes that "unless they have given some signs of repentance before their death," people in same-sex marriages may not receive a Catholic funeral.
But according to Pope Francis, there is no confusion.  Maybe this is exactly the issue.  The Pope's own overtures have left the Roman Catholic Church with a confusing set of values and practices with individual bishops reading different things into the same words.  Houston, we have a problem. . . .

Friday, August 11, 2017

What of Luther?

In another of many articles from the more conservative wing of Roman Catholicism, Luther is portrayed not as reformer but as radical revolutionary, responsible for a host of ills in modern day Christianity and in the world.  There are too many such reviews of Luther to list.  Google them yourself.

In one such article, it is asserted:  The key issue in debating Luther’s legacy on conscience in the Catholic Church entails whether the teachings of the Church are subordinate to one’s own conscience or whether conscience is bound by the teaching of the Church.  But, of course, that is the problem.  The key issue is misstated.  The key issue was the place of Scripture.  Are the teachings of the Church subordinate to the Word of God or do they source and norm the Church's teaching?  That was Luther's question.  As far the individual, Luther place himself and all Christians also under that Word of God and captive to that Word was his conscience and all true conscience.

Ultimately, my issue is this.  I do not expect Rome to lavish praise upon Luther.  But what I do expect and what we ought to expect is a fair reading of Luther.  If the intent is to trash Luther, there is no scholarship needed.  Luther's own words can be twisted and used out of context to condemn him and it is child's play to do so.  But a fair reading of Luther is much more difficult.  This requires something deeper and more profound than a summary dismissal of Luther.

As we march through the 500th Anniversary of the 95 Theses, it would do well if both Lutherans and Roman Catholics spent time getting to know Luther.  At the same time, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge Luther's own judgment against his works.  They are of uneven quality and some got carried away with passion and emotion.  Lutherans, however, are not bound to the ups and downs of Luther's own admission but to the Concordia, the Lutheran Confessions.  We appreciate Luther, to be sure, but we do not worship him or his words.  Luther must be judged as he admits and, for that matter, as all of us will be judged -- in relation to the Word of the Lord that endures forever.

Perhaps I protest against the impossible.  That may be the case.  Yet Lutherans and Roman Catholics do little to advance any good cause by appealing to stereotypes.  We must work through the material that divides and that which unites us with equal fervor and beneath the Word of God that is both source and norm of what we believe, confess, and teach.  Until that happens, ecumenical statements are but window dressing.  I had great hope for the Lutheran/Roman Catholic dialogues when they began.  Lutherans were awaking to our own rediscovery of what we believed, confessed, and taught and Rome was part of this reawakening.  Somewhere along the way, we ceased the fruitful dialog in favor of either words vague enough to justify different interpretation or the kind of fake agreements in which we agree to disagree as long as we do not find such disagreements divisive of fellowship. It galls me no less when I read Lutherans who have failed to read Rome accurately.  We all have much to repent and not a little of it is the comfort with which we skirt around the hard discussions instead of meeting them head on.  That said, the key issue remains one of infallible truth and where it resides.  Here Luther was reawakening in his own time a concern for the Word of God that was once heartily acknowledged to bind the teaching and witness of the Church and individual conscience.  Perhaps there is nothing more radical than a return to a truth once beloved and now forgotten.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Church Community. . .

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg gave a speech in Chicago a month ago or so in which he laid out a new mission for the platform -- to build real community. Though you will not find a video of it (at least I could not), news stories were filled with quotable quotes. But those few quotations are quite revealing.

With 100 million users taking part in what Zuckerberg called "meaningful communities" within Groups on Facebook, he spoke of his ambition to raise that number to a billion.  He said: "If we can do this, it will not only turn around the whole decline in community membership we've seen for decades, it will start to strengthen our social fabric and bring the world closer together."  Comparing the site to a church, he went on to talk about the need for "great leaders" in such a community, saying: "A church doesn't just come together. It has a pastor who cares for the well-being of their congregation, makes sure they have food and shelter.  A little league team has a coach who motivates the kids and helps them hit better. Leaders set the culture, inspire us, give us a safety net, and look out for us."  He went on to say: "People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity - not just because they're religious, but because they're part of a community."
Perhaps herein lies the problem.  Liberals do not understand the Church or why the Church exists.  They live in a dream world in which community is defined by common interest or preference, where communities are held together by the glue than those interests, wants, and needs, and where the direction of this community is aided and abetted by strong leader figures. In this liberal dream world, God does not play a formative role in this process -- it is all the will and desire of the individuals.  Indeed, it is a lot like theistic evolution -- God starts the ball rolling, hands it off to people, and then watches to see what we do with it.  God is not necessarily excluded but neither is God essential to it all. It is all about finding our “sense of purpose” and this happens when we figure out a way to relate to one another. This is not a community in which demands are made of those who belong but freedom is impart to those who desire.  Certainly, it is not about somebody else or even God telling us what to value, how to live, and where to direct our lives.  Community is merely mutual support, filling each others needs or, better, helping the other find out how to fulfill his or her own wants/needs/desire for themselves.  It is a neutral community without judgment or moral compass (except tolerance that means acceptance and support).

The reality is that we live in a world where "community" is defined quite apart from a physical or concrete reality.  In this world of digital relationship, the unique character of people to touch and be touched is secondary to the electronic image of people, their digital reality.  The whole idea of body and soul has been replaced with self-defined being that does not depend upon the body for much of anything except the rudiments of essential existence. In this electronic "reality" of a disembodied humanity, you may sit before a screen and find and be a part of a community of people whose only connection is that screen.

Perhaps the original tele-evangelists were as quick as Zuckerberg to hit on this social trend and so they were among the first to define the Church as a congregation of individuals whose only connection was a screen.  In any case, evangelicals gathered before a screen watching something together has become a normative experience for much of American Christianity and the definition of community for many of them.  (Which is one reason why I am so against screens -- if that is what Church is, why do I have to be there to watch the screen and why can't I just do it at home?)  Now the un-Churched world sees congregation or community as more or less the same thing as the social media versions.  But there cannot be Church without altar and pulpit and font, without a people called together in one place by the Holy Spirit, gathered before the Word and Sacraments of the Lord, enlightened by the living voice speaking into their ears, touched by the living water of baptism, and tasted in the bread and wine that is Christ's flesh and blood, and sanctified in this experience by the Lord working in them through these concrete elements to which He has attached His promise.  God is not only convener and definer but also the goal and purpose of this community.  Tele-evangelists forgot this, perhaps a nominal Jew like Zuckerberg never experienced it, and now the world thinks this nebulous shaped of community is the same as the Church.  Clearly the Spirit has His work cut out for Him -- if we are to rediscover again the joy and gladness of being called and gathered into the Lord's House where we meet Him where He has chosen to be met.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Not ready for prime time. . .

Cardinal Anders Arborelius of Stockholm says the time not right for sharing of Communion between Roman Catholics and Lutherans.  The new Swedish cardinal—the first-ever member of the College of Cardinals from the predominantly Lutheran country—spoke about the differences between Roman Catholic and Lutheran understandings of the Eucharist in an interview with John Allen of Crux. He observed that “in the Lutheran Church, there are different visions on the Eucharist. Some members are very close to us,... while others have a very different outlook.”  Cardinal Arborelius said:
Many in the Lutheran Church now say, “We have come to an agreement, now we must celebrate the Eucharist together.” Whereas we have to say “No, we haven’t come so far in our mutual dialogue,” and, of course, this will create a kind of frustration among many of the Lutherans that we cannot possibly celebrate together.
Oddly enough, those who are most passionately in favor of intercommunion between Rome and the Churches of the Augsburg Confession are those who have created the distance between Rome and Wittenberg that will preclude such fellowship of the Table.  In other words, ELCA folks and others who advocate the radical ecumenism of reconciled diversity are now in fellowship with those who cannot bring themselves to say that Christ is actually present in bread and wine (as opposed to idea, mind, heart, etc...)  Because of those radical altar and pulpit fellowship agreements, Rome is rightly wary of Lutherans actually believing what we say so clearly in our Confessions.  And Missouri is in the same place.  We want to believe that Lutherans affirm the same Christ and the same real presence but the truth is not the case.  Until there is real unity of doctrine, Lutherans will not enjoy communion with all other Lutherans and Rome, unless Pope Francis decides to bypass it all, will also wait for a day that may or may not ever come (who knows, with the Lord all things are possible).  Just a word of warning for those who insist upon communion with just about anyone and everyone, this will have consequences for those who take such fellowship more seriously.  Missouri longs for true unity of faith and doctrine which will make such fellowship possible but we refuse to jump the gun and wade into seas that just might drown us.  It is the longing for true unity of all Christians that we seek but we will not ignore or bypass real differences in confession to get there.  This time Rome may be closer to Missouri than Chicago.  What a surprise!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

More than enough. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 9, Proper 13A, preached on Sunday, August 6, 2017.

    There is no way around it.  Jesus feeding 5000 plus women and children is a big deal.  Why not? Who doesn’t like free food? If a church can do okay on free coffee, think what we could do if offered free food?  If you feed them, they will come.  Or is there something more to this than a free lunch?  In addition to the food, there are some words of Jesus to His disciples we might do well to pay attention to before we write this off to just food.
    Jesus says to His disciples, “You do it.”  You feed them.  You give them food. You take care of them.  You own their need. And  the response to Jesus?  BUT. . .   Jesus says you have the resources and the response is . . . are you ready for it. . . BUT. . . We are too far away from the places that can feed people so there is nothing we can do.  We have no source of supply.  We cannot make these things appear out of thin air now can we?  BUT. . . it is late.  The day is far spent.  There is not enough time now.  If only we knew about the need sooner and knew earlier that we would have to meet that need, well, we might have done something.  But not now.  It is too late in the game to fix the problem now.  In the first place, we do not have the resources and, if we did, we don’t have the time.  So, what do you expect from us Jesus?
    And then comes the biggest BUT of all. . .  But it is not our job.  It is not our job to feed people who did not think to bring food with them.  It is not our job to take care of them.  Let them take care of themselves.  Which has a subtle twist to it.  If it is not our job, it must be God’s job.  And if it is God’s job, we are off the hook.
    The disciples are full of excuses.  Now is not the time.  Now is not the place.  Not my job.  But that could have been God’s excuse.  It is your sin.  Fix it.  It is the death you chose.  Deal with it.  It is not my job.  You made your bed, lay in it.  But that is not what the Lord did.  He came into time, into our earthly lives, took His place under the Law and upon the cross.  He died the death that was ours.  And now we live because of Him.  You see this is not a story of food but of grace, of how the grace of God has been manifested for us and how we live out that grace by faith.
    The disciples did have something.  They had 5 loaves and 2 fish.  They had resources.  We have resources.  God supplied the resources then and He supplies them to us now.  You are that person with the lunch.  You have what you have, are you willing to trust God's grace and use it for the sake of the Kingdom?
    You bring it to God and it will be enough.  Faith trusts the Lord.  Grace is sufficient.  God is not asking for that which you do not have.  He asks you to trust Him, to trust the sufficiency of His grace.  It will be enough.  It may not be all you desire but it will be enough.  Like the disciples, we offer back to God what He has first given us.  Here are our fish and our loaves.  It happens every Sunday.  We call it the offering.  It cannot buy our salvation but it can show forth our faith.  It cannot purchase God’s mercy but it shows our trust in that mercy.  It may not seem like much, but it is just enough for God to fulfill His purpose.  It comes down to faith, faith in the sufficiency of God's grace.
    The Lord gives and we merely return to Him what He has first given to us.  Did you notice in the text that the disciples did not starve even though they gave up their fish and loaves?  In fact, they had to go baskets of leftovers to take home.  Jesus did not give back 5 loaves and 2 fish.  He gave back more.  He showed them how grace works.
    God has given us all we need for our salvation and for the work of the Kingdom, spreading the news of that salvation to a waiting world.  He does not make these resources come out of thin air.  God provides.  We do believe that, don’t we?  The money you put in the plate, right?  It comes from God, right?  The Lord will not coerce you into giving or shame you into offerings.  He loves a cheerful giver and faith makes the giver cheerful (not an abundance of money or things).  He will not leave you empty or abandon you.  He who has given you things in Christ, will He now stiff you?
    No where is this demonstrated more than in the Eucharist.  We offer the Lord bread and wine – food for a moment.  God returns to us the flesh and blood of Christ, food for eternity.  It is blessed and magnified by grace until it feeds until we want for nothing more.  This parable is an invitation to taste and see the goodness of the Lord.  He feeds the starving poor with Christ’s flesh for the life of the world and He gives to the thirsting to drink of His blood.  The Lord took on all your sin and death and gave you back forgiveness and life.  It is how grace works.  If we trust it for salvation, can we not trust it with tithes and offerings and earthly things?  Amen

The opening prayer of the First Continental Congress. . .

The opening prayer of the First Continental Congress, depicted here in painting, lasted 3 hours long.  Imagine that today. . .

Monday, August 7, 2017

Why, indeed?

As the Catholic writer Tim Stanley commented, “if the average liberal saw a Sufi or a Hindu doing this, they’d call it beautiful and sacred. When they see a Catholic doing it, they laugh. Why praise ritual in the faith of others but denigrate it in ours?” (emphasis added)

Funny how we are adamant that ceremonies be rightly observed when it comes to military burial, the sports rituals across the board, and a host of other arenas but then shift uncomfortably when we find them in Church.  Lutherans, among others, are rather guilty of this.  We are, it seems, supposed to do the rubrics without really liking them or thinking them important or, better, to bend the rubrics to our own preference (which is the ultimate goal of freedom or adiaphora, after all).

I have asked pastors to fill in for me when I was away and they instantly respond, "I don't wear a chasuble and I don't do all that fancy stuff and I don't chant and I don't bow and I don't . . . etc...."  In other words, it does not matter what the people in the pew have come to know and expect over my nearly 25 years here, their own pastoral preference (aka their formal complaint with formality) must rule the day.  Okay, well, maybe I don't need to be gone if my people are going to be so summarily dismissed in their appreciation of rubric, tradition, and practice. I have filled in for pastors who insist that they don't do anything special on Sunday morning but that has not prevented them from handing me a two page list of how to and what not to do.  Even though it goes against my grain, I try to comply.  I am, after all, the guest in the house most frequently visited by others.

It is rather amazing that the same people who go off like a firecracker when somebody screws up the national anthem or who so doctors up the words and melody to own it as their own that the rest of us cannot recognize it, well, they cannot stand ceremony in Church.  The people who are pro-military and all the ritual and ceremony that goes with it are also the ones who constantly wonder why we need to be so fancy in Church.  Surely God is more impressed with our restraint than with all the flourish of word, action, and ceremony?  God knows that this kind of stuff is not really me and God wants me to be true to myself first, right?  Wrong.  If that is all God wanted, it would not have required the death of His one and only Son.

We are fascinated by the ritual and ceremonies of others but when it comes to heading through the door of our Lutheran congregation on Sunday morning, we insist upon our rite right to be ceremony and ritual free (something like the gluten free craze that seems to make this more important that the Word of the Lord and its regular practice -- speaking here of preference and not of medical necessity).  Nope, we think it impressive to watch others but when we enter a Lutheran congregation on Sunday morning we cannot understand why Pastor Fancypants wears dresses and plays like he is somebody he is not.  What is underneath it all is our own disdain for our own doctrine.  We have, for all intents and purposes, reduced the office to its functions and reduced the man to be representative of what we all could (and probably should) do.  And don't forget our own sense of expertise that makes all of history and all our Confessions irrelevant on the topic, after all, who can compare with the way good ole Pastor van Derfoolische did it at St. John of the Brewery when my Grandma Schtuckindermudt was running the congregation.

Okay.  Rant mode off.  I feel better now.  Do you?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Come. . . and eat!

At the center of Eden’s garden-sanctuary were fruit trees, good for food. The sacrifices of Abel, Noah, and Abraham were food rituals, sacred barbecues. An ancient Hebrew worshipper offered an animal, with flour or cakes, on an altar. In the Hebrew Bible, sacrificial fire “consumes” flesh (akal, “eat”; Lev. 9:24), Leviticus calls the offerings of the tabernacle “bread of God” (Lev. 21:6, 8), and Ezekiel says that the altar in the temple is Yahweh’s table (Ezek. 44:16). The “peace offering” was a shared meal: Fat was burned as the Lord’s food, while the rest of the animal was divided between worshipper and priest. The point of erecting a sanctuary was to have a place where Israel could “eat, drink, and rejoice” before Yahweh (Deut. 12:15–19; 14:6).

Though early Christians soon stopped offering sacrifices, food remained central to worship. Jesus came eating and drinking with prostitutes, publicans, and even Pharisees, using meals as occasions for healing and table manners as object lessons for disciples. After Pentecost, the disciples continued to gather to hear the apostolic teaching, to pray, and to break bread (Acts 2:42, 46). Paul assumes that the Corinthians “come together” to share the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:33). When we finally enter the new Jerusalem, we will enjoy the eternal marriage supper of the Lamb. In Christ, we are brought to a better Eden, a better feast where fruit has grown up to become wine.

Foodless worship is unthinkable in the Bible and has been unthinkable through most of Christian history.
With these words Peter Leithart invites us to consider the relationship between food and worship.  It is an interesting take that both makes you hungry and makes you yearn to go to church at the same time.  As well it should.  You can read it all here.

For me you cannot get better on this subject than the works by my old friend and classmate Arthur Just who wrote The Ongoing Feast and Heaven on Earth (Google it and order either or both volumes).  In  both cases he makes the point that as much as this was true for Israel, for Jesus, and for the Church prior to the Reformation, so it is true for the Churches of the Augsburg Confession.  We insist that we have not abolished the Mass (the meal, not the propitiatory sacrifice aspect which transformed the high point from the communion on the body and blood of Christ to the elevation alone).  We have not abolished the Mass.  We hunger for it.  We hold it every Lord's Day and every other day when people desire to receive the Lord's gifts.  The fruits of the Reformation were a more frequent eating and drinking such as the Lord spoke when He bade us "Do this" as His anamnesis.  Lutherans are people of the Word, to be sure, but it is not a Word apart from the meal of Christ's own testament.  We have worked very well to restore a more frequent (if not weekly) Eucharist in the parishes but we have far to go to reclaim the vibrant and robust eucharistic piety that longs to be in the Lord's House where in the blessed Sacrament of the Table we find fount and summit, the earthly anticipation and the heavenly foretaste of the eternal feast to come.  God help us as we move further along in this goal of practice and piety.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Walking with Luther

Walking with Luther and the many events and resources for the 500th Anniversary of the 95 Theses. . .  From the LCMS:

All around the world, people are gearing up to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this fall. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is making available several new resources to help congregations, groups and individuals celebrate this momentous event.

In the two-part videoThe Luther Mile,” viewers follow along on a walking tour of historic Reformation sites in Wittenberg, Germany, with LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison and the Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, bishop of the Independent Evangelical–Lutheran Church, the Synod’s partner church in Germany. The tour provides informative anecdotes about the people and places that were involved in the Reformation, while giving a glimpse of what those sites look like today.

Check out all that is now available at

Watch for more to come.

Friday, August 4, 2017

2.5M Already. . . was stunned to check out the stats on the blog and to find that more than 2.5 MILLION hits have tuned into my meandering thoughts so far, without counting the cross postings on Facebook or those who cut, paste, and print the blog.  It is surprising but also sobering.  Thank you for your kindness and for your interest.  At a time when it seems blogging itself appears to be going out of style, this one keeps plugging away.  Again, my thanks for stopping by

Frank's Style of Governing. . .

Though a Lutheran would prefer no pope, a bad pope is not good for any Christians.  The current pope may be good or bad, depending upon your perspective I suppose, but he is definitely bad in one sense.  He has an agenda, tolerates no question or disagreement, and has worked around the structures in place (when he was chosen in part to reform them) and even the people in place (some of whom he appointed!).

I meant no disrespect in calling him "Frank."  He has cultivated a humble and casual culture as pope.  He does not wear fancy shoes or vestments.  He does not live in the traditional papal apartment.  He loves the photo op and informal question.  He delights in raising questions about doctrine and solving them by changing practices so that they are inconsistent with doctrine.  He loves to party with the Lutherans -- even more it seems than he loves to play with those Roman Catholics more in tune with Benedict XVI than him.  He seems to want to loosen everything up in the Vatican except papal control.  He seems to delight in micromanaging when it seems things are not going his way and to ignore the very people he has placed in office.  He does not explain himself and appears to be above the details when it is in the details his purpose is being advanced.  What do we make of him?

For many years Roman Catholics stood with Missouri Synod Lutherans and others well outside the Roman Church to present a solid witness against the culture of death advancing across America as it has in Europe.  From abortion to euthanasia to assisted suicide, there have been many challenges we have faced together.  But now it seems there is a strange softening of this pro-life stance and an equivalence between these sins and the sins of oppression.  In fact, in the stand for marriage as a life-long union between man and woman, Rome has become somewhat muddy.  On the one hand, the desire to regularize the many divorced Roman Catholics and the kind of accommodation to same sex marriage and the GLBTQ agenda promoted by Fr. James Martin, S. J., and its seeming suggestion that homosexual unions are no more or less sinful than heterosexual unions, leaves us wondering about our partners in witness against the prevailing morality of the world.  On the other, it appears Rome is no longer the reliable and uncompromising voice for the pro-life cause.  Read here how Frank has reshaped the most important pro-life institution in Rome.  In the case of the recent and well publicized status of baby Charlie, the Vatican statement was a master of waffling when a clear voice was needed.  You can read it here and the commentary here.

At the very time when the Church needs solidarity (in Wittenberg as much as in Rome), we have waffling voices who seem unwilling to say this is what Scripture says, tradition witnesses, and we believe, confess, and teach.  Frank's style of governing is not good for Rome but it is also not good for Christianity in general.  His willingness to live with fuzziness when clarity is required means that real Lutherans and real Roman Catholics are further apart and not closer.  Who knows what will survive if his papacy is long and it continues on this course?  What we do know is the cause of life and the voice of truth in marriage and family have been muddled by Frank to the disappointment of many outside of Rome and, sadly, not nearly enough within Rome's umbrella.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What's the treasure?

Sermon for Pentecost 8, Proper 12A, preached on Sunday, July 30, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

    For the past few weeks we’ve heard Jesus teaching through parables, and today He does the same.  The parable of the Hidden Treasure and the parable of the Pearl of Great Value are short parables, but even though they’re short in words, they’re long in meaning.  And as we hear these stories, we begin to ask ourselves “What’s my treasure?  What do I value the most?”
    The answer to these questions is often treasure, that is, money and things.  Simply put, we’re obsessed with our stuff.  It’s all we think about.  Luther said there’s no greater false god than Mammon (LC I 7).  When we have money and things we trust in them, before we trust in God.  When our wallets are fat and bank accounts are in the black, we feel secure; without a care in the world.  We think we’re living in Paradise (LC I 7).  On the other hand, when we’re short on cash, we still trust in it before God.  If we just get some more money, a more reliable car, a nicer home, the latest and greatest tech, then all will be well.  We watch the lifestyles of the rich and famous and we want to be them.  We covet all they have. 
    But not all treasure is gold and silver.  There’s lots of other things we value, like our reputation.  We treasure our standing in the eyes of the world.  We want others to like us, to think well of us.  We want to be part of the in-crowd, so we do the things they approve of, even if God’s Word says otherwise.  We keep quiet on what we consider the controversial topics: abortion, homosexuality, divorce, cohabitation, just to name a few.  We stay silent going along with the world’s view of right and wrong instead of listening to the God who created the world. 
    We treasure our relationships, our family and friends.  These people are the most important to us.  We value them above all else, sometimes even more than God.  We center our whole lives on these relationships that we push our relationship with God the Father to the back.  We ignore prayer time.  We don’t listen to His Word.  We skip the hour or two of worship and study on Sunday morning because we’re visiting friends on vacation or family is in town.  Everyone else gets our attention but God. 
    Family and friends, our reputation, money and things, these are just a few treasures of the world that we obsess over.  And in this obsession, we lose sight of the true treasures: God’s kingdom, His forgiveness and everlasting life, Christ our Savior. 
    The treasures of this world can’t provide us with life.  Sure, they might make life a little more enjoyable and easy at times, but they can’t give us everlasting life.  In the end all earthly treasures fail.  Our money runs out, someone decides they just don’t like us, family and friends leave, and we’re left all alone with only our sin and death.  Nothing on earth can overcome these.  Only Christ and His cross can do that.  Forgiveness and everlasting life can only be found in the kingdom of heaven.  These are the true treasures that we should value the most.  We should be willing to give up everything for these treasures...and that’s how we understand these two parables. 
    Hearing the parable of the Hidden Treasure and the parable of the Pearl of Great Value we assume we’re the man and the merchant who give up everything to buy their treasure.  We assume that Jesus is telling us that we need to give up all we have to acquire the kingdom, but this understanding isn’t complete.  Yes, we’re to treasure the kingdom of heaven.  Yes, we’re to seek it first the kingdom of God (Mt 6:33), but we can only do that because God has treasured us first.
    We can’t be the man or merchant in the parables because we can’t do anything to acquire the kingdom of heaven.  We can’t buy heaven, with money or with works.  Our sinful nature, the world, and the devil would love for us to think that we can.  We often comfort ourselves with our good deeds.  Receiving the praise of the world gives us sense of security.  But none of this is good enough to get us into the kingdom.  All of our works are useless in this respect; they have no value.  We have nothing to offer that is worth a place in God’s kingdom. 
No we’re not the man; God is the man. And that means, WE’RE HIS TREASURE.  God’s the merchant who sold everything He had for you, His pearl.  He did this not because of your good works or because there was anything good in you, but because He loves you.
    When you think about it, a pearl is a great illustration of who we are.  After all, what is a pearl?  It’s an irritant that gets trapped in an oyster or clam that they then have to cover to make smooth.  That’s what we are, the irritant.  We’re sinners who sin.  That’s all we do.  There’s nothing of value in us, there’s nothing good in us apart from Christ, and yet God still gave up His Son so that He could have you. 
    Moses, addressing the people of ancient Israel, said, “The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession...not because you were more in number, but because the LORD loves you” (Dt 7:6-8).  God chose the people of ancient Israel to be His people, His treasured possession because He loved them.  And He chooses you, the people of His Church, the New Israel, to be His people, his treasured possession because He loves you.  And in order to have you, He gave up Christ Jesus. 
    “[God] did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all” (Rm 8:32).  The man sold all that he had to buy the field with the treasure.  The merchant sold all He had to buy the pearl.  God gave up His Son to buy you.  He bought you with the innocent suffering and death of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.  God gave up Jesus on the cross in exchange for you, to redeem you from sin, to buy you back from death and the devil.  With Christ’s blood, in the waters of Baptism, He covers you with Christ’s righteousness.  Covering your sin, God makes you His pearl. 
    We’re God’s treasure, and because of that, His kingdom in ours.  In faith we do seek first the kingdom of God.  We do treasure God’s forgiveness and everlasting life above all else.  We treasure Christ above everything because we know nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rm 8:39).  Nothing compares to life in Him.  Jesus, His forgiveness, His life are worth more than anything here on earth.  Christ and His kingdom are more valuable than all of our money, our reputation, and our family and friends combined.  Hearing these parables we pray.  We pray a prayer of thanksgiving, thanking our Lord for treasuring us and giving up all, even His Son, for us.  And we pray for Spirit given faith, so that we would treasures His kingdom above all else.  We’re God’s treasure, and His kingdom is ours.  In Jesus’ name...Amen.