Sunday, October 22, 2017

Does anyone here see the contradiction?

It is a shallow ecumenism, indeed, when a Roman Catholic Cathedral serves as a borrowed home for the "installation" of a female ELCA bishop by the female ELCA presiding bishop.  If you do not have the guts to say "no" to something which contradicts Roman Catholic teaching so clearly, then what hope do we have of a real conversation on the doctrinal differences between Rome and Wittenberg?  In the end, these are not exactly confession Lutheran folks so we might presume that Roman lite is also the flavor of the Marquette cathedral and diocese. 

Orthodoxy welcomes foreigners. . .

According to 2015 reports, nearly half the nearly 1 million Orthodox Christians in the United States today are converts.  Although for now the majority of these married into the church, a growing number are converting because of attraction for Orthodoxy itself.  While for now the majority of the laity have been raised in the church, it may be very soon when that is not the case,

More than 70 percent of the roughly 75,000 Antiochian Orthodox Christians in the United States are converts. The Orthodox Church in America, with roots in Moscow and about 85,000 adherents, reports a 50 percent figure. In Greek Orthodox Christianity, by far the largest branch in the United States with almost 480,000 members, it's about 25 percent.  Some might say the Greek Orthodox Church has remained mostly Greek because the culture is so powerfully wed to that jurisdiction -- much more than others.

When the day comes and a majority of the Orthodox Christians in the USA are converts, it will dramatically change a church known for its ethnic identity -- perhaps more than any other denomination in America.  The numbers of people attracted to Orthodoxy include Hank Hanegraaff among the converts from Protestantism, in particular evangelicalism.  Their numbers account for a significant numbers of those who have swum the Bosporus but not all of them.  Lutherans have contributed a fair number, as well.  What is clear, however, is that those attracted are not from the ordinary ethnic backgrounds Orthodoxy has usually been associated with - Greeks and Russians, in particular.

Lutherans were heavily defined by ethnic backgrounds once.  In fact it almost exclusively contributed to the plethora of Lutheran groups a hundred or more years ago -- before the merger phenomenon and the transition into more Americanized groups.  Some, in particular the ELCA, have embraced their American identity even more so than their Lutheran identity, choosing to diverge from that Lutheran-ness when they believed it was in the wrong (homosexuality being one example).  It has created a huge gulf between the more conservative Lutheran groups and contributed to an ecumenical agenda that has favored unity in diversity more so with non-Lutherans than with Lutherans.

What will happen to Orthodoxy when it is populated more by converts than by those raised in the faith?  One thing that might happen is that this may slow the Americanization of Orthodoxy since those attracted to Orthodoxy are intent upon remaining out of the mainstream (one of the very reasons they went church shopping in the first place).  If this happens, Orthodoxy may be one of the few denominations to actually become more conservative (not the best term but one we all understand) as it becomes less ethnic and more American in its complexion.  That would certainly confound some of the folks who may think that Orthodoxy needs a face lift to meet modernity.

It is interesting that, at least anecdotally, this is exactly what is happening in my own parish.  Those coming from outside of Lutheranism are not coming for the Lutheran lite style of Lutheranism which minimizes Lutheran distinctives.  No indeed, they are coming to be fully Lutheran -- in faith, in worship, and in piety.  They are instructing the long time Lutherans in what it means to be Lutheran and encouraging those who have grown rather comfortable in their faith to rediscover what it means to believe, confess, and teach the faith with conviction.

In any case, it will be something to watch.  Orthodoxy, at least the Antiochians, have even tried a Western Rite Orthodox worship format to reach out even more to those running from American churches whose faith has grown cold, weak, and shallow.  How far that goes in all of this, I cannot say but Orthodoxy is aware of the interest from those outside and is encouraging it. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Unleashing the Gospel. . .

Read here for the Archbishop of Detroit's call to mission.  It surely has some things in it that make Lutherans a bit uneasy but overall it is a remarkable document to come out of a Roman Catholic diocese.  Clearly, the Archdiocese has embraced the new evangelization with what some might call a Protestant sort of fervor. 

If you are interested enough to read 45 pages or so, you might find several sections rather surprising.  In 3.3, The Roots of the Crisis, there is a clear and compelling diagnosis of what has happened along the landscape of Christianity and within the culture to bring us to the present crisis.  In the next section, 3.4 Good and Bad Habits, there is a frank discussion of virtues and vices on the part of the Diocese.  Jumping ahead to the Markers, you find a clear call to repentance and a call to believe that sounds like it could come from almost any Protestant denomination.  I found the Marker on Scripture (3.2) exceptionally interesting.  The Action Steps give clear direction to the Archdiocese as to how they expect to address the crisis and make improvement toward the stated goals. Within the document is even a frank admission of responsibility for some of the sins of the clergy and the church structures with regard to the abuse.

In any case, it is certainly interesting and, if they intend to live by these words, we are seeing a clear shift in the way a diocese operates as they address the future.
This letter ends where it began, in chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles. Here we see the Church living an authentically Christian communal life: following the teaching of the apostles, practicing fellowship and care for one another, partaking in the sacraments, and praying together. And we see how God blesses them by adding to their numbers. We see a mystery, a reality at once human and divine, the created manifestation of the work of the Creator Spirit. The Church is the sacrament of the risen Christ in our midst. She is alive because he is alive. She grows with the vigor and power of his divine life. And her living is not for her own sake but for the sake of her mission. Her Lord sends her to proclaim the good news that “the crucified one has been raised,” just as he was sent by the Father.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Me first. . .

Sent to me by a blog reader. . . very interesting!

On Sunday morning October 7, 1894, parishioners filled the Bedford Avenue Baptist Church of Brooklyn, New York, in anticipation of experiencing what The New York Times termed a “novelty in communion service” (October 8, 1894). Two newspapers had announced in late September that this church would implement individual cups. The September 28, 1894 issue of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle quoted Bedford’s pastor, J. H. Gunning, as saying that the cups would be used at the next communion service. However, attendees who arrived expecting the individual cups “were disappointed” to see the same old six silver goblets (The New York Times, October 8, 1894). After the service, Rev. Gunning called a business meeting during which he said he was anxious that his church be the first in Brooklyn to use individual communion cups. A majority voted, by standing, to purchase 200 three-inch tall silver cups lined with gold at a cost of thirty-five cents per communicant.

Up until the 1890s, Protestant churches throughout the world used common communion chalices. Some used just one, while others were known to use several in order to administer the fruit of the vine in a time-saving manner. However, churches using multiple chalices still had tens or perhaps hundreds of people sipping from the same cup during a communion service. In the late-nineteenth century, when outbreaks of diphtheria and tuberculosis were common, American sanitarians agitated to reform this religious practice—though no disease contraction had been linked to the use of a common communion chalice.

Reformers proposed several alternatives such as intinction, individual fistulas or siphons (straws?!), scalloped-rim chalices, and disinfectant cloths. However, among all proposals, individual cups emerged as the most popular method. Enough pastors and laymen became convinced of the sanitary need to use individual cups that the idea took hold, then rapidly spread into the twentieth century. This reform changed what was believed to be an almost 1,900-year-old method.
From what I understand, individual cups then entered Lutheranism a generation or two later.  Fear entered the mind and heart and with that fear distrust over the Lord's Word and then a reasonable, rational, and sensible solution to prevent disease.  It is a small thing, perhaps, but it illustrates well how fear challenges what the Word of the Lord says and yesterday's unassailable truth and practice becomes today's object of concern, fear, and rejection.    It should not come as any surprise that the suggestion for individual cups first came in an article written for “The Annals of Hygiene, of Philadelphia,” and not from theological perspective.

Lutherans knew nothing of individual cups until we saw what our Reformed cousins and the rest of American Protestantism was doing.  Then we too got on the bandwagon -- perhaps out of novelty but more likely because we, too, lost confidence in the Word and promise of the Lord and succumbed to the fear of disease (what turns out by every study to have been and still be an irrational fear).

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Where do you think you are going dressed like that?

Sermon for Pentecost 19, Proper23A, preached on Sunday, October 15, 2017.

    Is there a child alive who has not heard from mom or dad, “Where do you think you are going dressed like that?”  Not a few husbands have heard that as well.  Sometimes we forget that the job of clothing is supposed to make us look better – not worse – better than we are.  Beauty is NOT in the eye of the beholder.  Some things just need to be covered up.
    So in the Gospel for today, Jesus told a story of a King who had a wedding for his son and of the many invited, who were called, but did not come.  What do you have on your calendar?  The truth is we often consider going to things hoping we will get a better offer later.  They had better stuff on the calendars.  Some times anything is better than the things we don’t like.  Like church on Sunday.  It is a calendar appointment that always seems to give way to anything better that comes along.
    Usually there are no consequences other than the awkward meeting of people whose invites you have blown off.  But not here.  There were consequences.  And the consequences were grave.  The King’s anger sent off the servants of his wrath to kill and destroy the murderers who had killed the prophets and refused the call of God’s Word.  Surely there are not such dire consequences for skipping church.  Or are there? 
    If the invited refuse and are killed, who takes their place?  The unworthy.  The sinners without pedigree and without place are given a place at the table and a part in the wedding feast without end.  By the way, in case you did not get it.  The unworthy refers to you and me; we who were no people until God’s people rejected the promise and God extended the great invitation of grace to those who had not heard the Law and the Prophets.  We are those sinners who came dirty  and were washed, who came without proper clothing who had to be given a wedding garment.  The good and the bad,  called and gathered by God, to sit in the place of honor.
    One fellow, however, was without that wedding garment.  Where do you think you are going dressed like that?  It seems cruel at first but it is not.  The man had refused the gift of a garment.  He wore his own clothes.  He was dressed up in what made him comfortable.  He wore his own good works.  He was not simply casual.  He was prideful.  If it is good enough for me, it ought to be good enough for God.  How many still think that?
    All those who think God cares only about your sincerity take note here.  The sincere are not saved.  The repentant are saved. Those who give up their rags to wear the glorious clothing God alone provides, the righteous robes of Christ given in baptism to the good and the bad, all unworthy, to wear by faith.
    There are consequences.  It isn’t really “just as I am I come” to God but in Christ, clothed with His righteousness, wearing the clothing He has provided, I come.  The consequences of rejecting God’s righteousness is the place of darkness, of gnashing of teeth, the outer darkness of hell.  His clothing may have been comfortable but it cost him the comfort of grace.
    The good and the bad are covered only by the righteousness of Christ.  It matters what you wear.  This parable is shockingly without comfort.  Those who belonged were killed and the sinners unworthy of the King took their place.  They were declared righteous and wore Christ’s own righteousness.  In other words many are called but few are chosen.  God does not call the righteous but declares righteous the called. Sinners can enter because they wear the right clothing of righteousness.
    What do we say to this?  Paul teaches us.  “Rejoice! Do not be anxious!  God’s peace will guard you.”  Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder.  God decides what is beauty.  God has declared YOU, a sinner, beautiful because He has so clothed you, your sin is covered by Christ’s righteousness.  Without this clothing there is only darkness and gnashing of teeth but with this clothing there is peace and joy.
    Some complain about this.  Some are not so sure that beauty ought to be an end.  Remember the response to the woman who wasted expensive ointment anointing Jesus?  How many look at church buildings or pipe organs and think this money could have gone to do something useful?  Is beauty too expensive?  First think what your beauty cost the Lord -- His suffering and death; not with silver and gold but with His holy and precious blood were you bought and washed and clothed.  It cost God everything to clothe you in  forgiveness and righteousness.  Wear this clothing by faith.  Do not exchange it for your own works, no matter how comfortable those works may be.  They offer no hope and no joy.  Live then to the praise of Him who has redeemed you.
    Where do you think you are going dressed like that?  Some will surely remind me at the door, “Pastor, clothing does not make you holy.”  That is wrong.  The clothing the Lord puts on you does make you holy.  That is also why we act as we do – we see how we are dressed in righteousness and we seek to live up to that clothing and be God’s righteous people.  You will not be saved by the clothing you put on your selves but you will surely be saved by the clothing the Lord puts on you.
    So what does it mean? Is there a dress code for worship? Yes there is.  We come wearing Christ’s righteousness or not at all.  How does this translate into what you put on when you look into your closet on Sunday morning?  I will leave that to you except to say there is something not quite right about being too comfortable in our own skin.  After all, the practice of dressing up for church began not with the desire to impress other people or God but to reflect the faith of the heart, remembering what God had clothed YOU so that you may be righteous, holy, and beautiful.  Amen.

Asperges on steriods. . .

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Bad Manners or Bad Truth. . .

The world around us has come to judge manners above everything else and then to define manners not as politeness but as approval.  So some insist that it is bad manners to speak of something as sin or someone as a sinner.  Being nice is more important than being right.  Good manners means treating people with whose lifestyles you disagree with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.  Anything else is just plain mean.

Let me say upfront I agree that we ought to learn how to be polite to one another -- even toward those with whom we disagree.  That said, what good comes from acting like we approve of things which we do not approve?  Are we being nicer to the person by ignoring the false truth or heresy they confess?  Are we being nicer to the sinner by not identifying the sin?  I am not at all suggesting that we be rude in our condemnation of sin or in our call to repentance.  Indeed, there is no room for smugness or superiority.  To say we are all sinners is not to make light of sin or to dismiss it but to admit the seriousness of our fallen condition.

Christian manners have come to mean that we ignore those who live together without marriage, those who break their marriage vows, those who make homosexuality and heterosexuality equivalent, and the culture of anything goes consensual sexual behavior.  There are no good manners in telling lies: as Scripture says, the truth is to be spoken in love.  Love cares about people who live lies (gay or straight).  The great equalizer is not the acceptance of all kinds of sin.  No, indeed, the great equalizer is the call to repentance, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

I will agree that when the Church picks and chooses the sins to preach about or the sinners to call to repentance we do a grave disservice to the Gospel.  Yet we do the very same disservice when we purposefully refrain from addressing the sinner with the truth of Scripture out of fear we will offend them or sound bad in the face of a society ever more tolerant of moral failure.

It may be easy to think or speak as if this were all about sex.  It is not.  It is about morality built upon rights and wrongs.  It is about God's Law which refuses to be diluted or changed by the whims and preferences of time and culture.  We could be addressing everything from vulgar speech to callous indifference to truth and to the needs of the neighbor.  It is not all about sex although, as we learn from Eden, sex seems to the first place to start when we consider our fallen condition.

Either the Church is right in what it teaches about human sexuality, or it is wrong. Either the Church is speaking the higher way of love which is more than desire or the Church is speaking lies to its people. Even though a great number of folks are convinced that the truth is offensive and that mere politeness requires us to hold our tongue, the Church is showing the utmost disrespect by failing to be honest with those who violate the truth with regard to the evil of abortion, the nobility of virginity, the sanctity of life, and the self-control that places limits upon the free reign of desire.  It may well be that the day is soon coming when the Church will find the Gospel as hate speech and traditional morality to be judgemental and disrespectful.

The truth is not always respectable or respectful in a world set against the enduring truth of God and His Word.  It is an inconvenient truth that we cannot approach every sin and every sinner with kid gloves.  I am not countenancing being rude or disrespectful but suggesting rather that God's Word will be found intolerable and untenable in a world set adrift from that Word of Life.  I am not being prescient or even wise, just being realistic.  The Gospel will always be judged offensive as long as do not believe in sin and therefore find a Savior superfluous to our modern lives.  So for this reason the Church will be required to speak the Law as well as the Gospel or risk being found unfaithful before the judgement seat of Christ.  We cannot avoid it but neither should we work against the power of that Word by being offensive on purpose.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trained for a world that does not exist anymore. . .

Most pastors come to realize sooner or later that they were trained for a world that almost no longer exists. Great wisdom, right?  Well, duh.  What else is new?  The world is ever changing and if we are bent upon preparing pastors for a snapshot of the world in this moment, it is guaranteed that that they will be sent forth 8 or 4 years later into a different world.  Think of the difference between pre 9-11 and post 9-11.  Think of how polarized our communities and our politics are post-Obama and mid-Trump.  How do you prepare for such life changing events?  I only wish I knew. And if we expect our seminary faculties to prepare us for the world that might be or even the world as we know it in this moment, we have laid upon them an impossible burden.  We might as well quit and send the men home to fend for themselves.

But. . . if we are training pastors for the Gospel, raising up men who know the Word and how to preach and teach it, equipping seelsorgers who can care for the people of God in every circumstance with the means of grace, making father confessors who can address sinners with both the call to repentance and the voice of absolution, and making modern day prophets speak the Word of the Lord that endures forever, well, then, it does not matter how the world changes, they will be ready and able to do God's bidding on behalf of God's people. 

I am old and cranky.  I have a globe in which the bulk of the world across the Pacific was marked with red and the name USSR.  I remember before I opened my email in the morning to find hundreds of things from parishioners, District and Synod, sales people, and junk.  I recall the day when an answering machine was new technology and nobody had a cell phone glued to their ear.  I long for the days when we looked into the faces and eyes of people instead of into screens.  I can still see the weekday morning Bible classes filled with young women who did not work outside the home.  I can even recall the day when a pastor fresh out of seminary lived in a parsonage and had a salary and benefits under $12K a year. 

Those days are gone.  Our lives are defined more and more by technology.  Nations have come and gone.  Rogue terrorists rise and fall right under our noses and not just in the Middle East.  Nearly everything we own is now made in a country once our mortal enemy.  Great orators speak 30 second speeches.  News tweets and comments and facts are indistinguishable.  Children get the choose their gender.  Modern day education disdains nearly everything I was taught.  But guess what?  Sin remains as the great stain upon our humanity and death still casts is long, dark shadow over us and all creation.  The smokescreen of change often seems to mask the things that do not change, the things for which Christ became incarnate, lived obediently, died sacrificially, and rose victoriously.

If we are intent upon training pastors to fit the moment, the snapshot in time that we know now or think we can predict 4 or 8 years hence, we delude ourselves.  The men who go to the seminary are not immune from the problems around them or naive about the nature of and pace of social, cultural, and political change.  We do not need to teach them what is happening in the world.  We must equip them with the tools of God's Word, with a knowledge of Christian history, with skills to preach and teach, and with confidence in the means of grace to address God's people in the midst of such problems and changes AND to address the people in the world who do not yet know the changeless Christ.

I have no hope and confidence in our ability to produce men who are intuitive about and equipped to navigate the manifold changes of this world and, indeed, this mortal life.  I have great confidence in our ability to produce men who know the Word of God, who believe it, who can preach and teach it, and who can care for the people of God through the means of grace.  I have great confidence that if we do this, we HAVE equipped our pastors with all they need to be faithful and effective for the sake of the Kingdom no matter how much the world changes over the 40-50 years of their life from college through retirement.  If we are faithful, God will do what He has promised.  If we abandon the things over which God has placed us to pursue another venue of leadership in our world, we will present to Him more an impediment for rather than an instrument of His purpose and gracious will.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Trivializing the Reformation. . .

Lutherans have been accused from the beginning of being papist sympathizers or failing to go far enough in their reform of the Church.  In every age and generation since Luther, faithful Lutherans have been forced to defend themselves and their catholic doctrine and practice.  Already in 1524 Luther mentioned how Karlstadt had chided the Wittenbergers who continued to elevate the host in the consecration as "neo-papists" and "unreasoning asses and horses" and even "kissing cousins of the anti-Christ."  Walther in his own day was forced to defend the old Lutherans whose theology and practice was derided as Romish,  In the days since there has not been a lull in the steady drumbeat of Lutherans unhappy with the catholic voice and ceremony of their own Confessions, much less those outside the fold who find Lutherans "half Catholic." 

As we make our way through the 500th Anniversary of the shot sent around Germany, if not the world, we find Lutherans still struggling over who they are and who they should be.  Wannabe evangelicals and progressive Protestants still do battle with those who claim the title confessional.  In convention, resolutions are passed to affirm the historic doctrine and to encourage the ceremonial that accompanies such faith even though many parishes and pastors continue to ignore them or claim the freedom of adiaphora to do as they please in the name of expediency. 

How foolish and shallow this Reformation must be if the disputes with Rome were merely ceremonial!  How we should repent of the schism and claim the shame of those who would divide the church over merely ritual and ceremony!  The challenge Luther faced as not in small things but in great truth, the article upon which the Church stands or falls.  Whoever makes it a matter of ceremony invents a straw man that demeans Luther and all his cohort and makes a sham out of the claims of the Augustana.  It is as if Lutherans were so arrogant and selfish as to divide the Church over matters of how we practice rather than what we believe, confess, and teach.

We must bear in mind that those who reject catholic ceremonies and rites often are revealing their discomfort with the doctrines these ceremonies and rites confess and in rejecting them have rejected the doctrines as well.  We must also bear in mind that ceremonies and church usages that are in themselves adiaphora become confessional when they are proscribed.  No one would insist that such ceremonies and church usages are required but when they are no longer admitted as beneficial, worthwhile, good, right, and salutary, adiaphora become confessional issues. 

It should be the earnest desire of those who claim the legacy of Luther to use this anniversary to remember the Reformation as the tragic necessity of a church in which were it not for ceremony and liturgy the voice of the Gospel would have been muted entirely.  Luther was a conservative reformer and promoted a reform that preserved what did not conflict with the Gospel.  To many it was a reform that was not reformation enough and to some Lutherans today it represents a tradition they wish to ignore or forget, but to those who take seriously what was once confessed, it is the cause that can never be forgotten.  We dare not trivialize the Reformation by making it merely a matter of appearance, of ceremony, or of rite.  There is meat on the bones of the Reformation and it is not about how the thing looks on the plate.  It is what we confess and it is how that confession is lived out that remains both the core and the scope of the Reformation.  On this anniversary year, we cannot do less than remember this.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Looking back to August 15. . .

Just in case you were thinking I had missed the Assumption of Mary, August 15 (which we Lutherans more typically celebrate as a commemoration of Mary, Mother of Our Lord, or even Mary's Dormition -- with the East -- or falling asleep day), I did not.  Sometime later, however, I came across this and it begged a response:
So, the Bible, while not specifically recording Mary’s Assumption, does present other assumptions, thus showing it to be a biblical concept. Further, Mary’s physical presence in Heaven seems at least hinted at, if not directly described, in the Book of Revelation.  The Church does not rely solely on Scripture. In this case, what we celebrate is most fundamentally taught to us by Sacred Tradition; the memory of Mary’s Assumption goes back as far as we can remember.
Well, it seems we have Enoch walking with God (Gen. 5:24) and Elijah caught up in a whirlwind (1 Kings 2:11) and Moses without a grave (Deut. 34:6) and all of this adds up to a precedent and even a doctrine of bodily assumptions.  And because some folks talked as if it had taken place, and if anyone were to be assumed into heaven Mary would be the top candidate, therefore it must have taken place.  Now there is an interesting thought progression.  No wonder some Lutherans are nervous about Mary.  Talk about creative exegesis!

I still recall the poignant words of Ted Kennedy eulogizing his brother Robert. Among the many profound and eloquent words, was this: My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life. . . How true are those words. How much more true when it comes to Blessed Mary, Mother of our Lord. She neither requires nor asks of us to be enlarged or idealized beyond her own life and the judgment of our Lord that she was "full of grace" and will by all nations be called "blessed." We need not create a cause or reason to bestow upon her a higher honor than the honor she holds whether we give it or not. She consented to the Father's will and the words of the Archangel and the Lord who spoke to create all things took up residence in her womb as a baby. By this act of pure faith, guided by the Spirit, she became the mother of all the faithful -- those who trust in the Word of the Lord, who ponder upon that Word in faith, and whose glory is, above all, to have known the unmerited favor of God. She quite joyfully acclaimed this God in flesh her Lord and Savior and her greatest glory is to join in this faith and confession. To try and do more only detracts from the greater glory God has shown her and the grace He made known to her.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The author of marriage. . .

Lutherans and Roman Catholics can both agree that “God himself is the author of marriage”  (Catechism of the Catholic Church).  We have all attended weddings which were postponed while the couple lived together saving up for the big party.  We have all attended weddings in which no expense was spared and no detail left out, where the whole event was picture perfect.  We have all found weddings filled with all the requisite money, activities, decorations, and people and yet there is a certain emptiness to it all.  We are well fed, well drunk, well partied out, and we have the gifts and thank you notes to show for it all.  But has there been any hint that God is indeed the author of marriage, that marriage is a gift of God, and that He has graced marriage not only with His favor but with the grace of forgiveness to heal the husband and wife when life pulls them apart.

Lutherans and Roman Catholics do a great job of making the day special, of making sure that bride and groom are front and center, of imaging a wedding made in heaven (even if marriages are lived here on earth).  But have we done enough to make sure that in both wedding and marriage we give witness to God as the "author" of marriage and the one who defines it -- not for His good but for ours?  Have we worked to prepare a couple not only to make sure that there wedding speaks to the faith but also their marriage?

The marriages of Christians are surely tempted and tried every bit as much as those outside the faith -- if not more.  And they fail.  Christian husbands and wives enter the divorce court just like those who claim no faith.  And they treat their marriages as unpleasant task rather than holy joy.  Therein lies the key.  Marriages should not be dealt with simply as means to happiness but as places where the holy joy of our heavenly Father and the blessed grace of Christ and His Spirit are present (just as our Lord visited the wedding feast at Cana and manifested His holy joy to husband and wife and to all their guests).

The witness we give to the world in both wedding and marriage is not some picture perfect relationship without problem or trouble but a place where the holy joy of God's grace and favor are lived out, imperfectly, but lived out nonetheless.  Key to this is the home of husband and wife within the Church, fount and source of the grace in which they stand, and goal and summit to which they live.  Where husband and wife find their lives richly nourished by the means of grace, they will bring children into this same blessed life to encounter the holy joy of His favor and the blessed new life of His redemption.  And this will be the evidence presented to the world of the power and gift of this Gospel -- the holy joy that sustains, nourishes, nurtures, and grows us.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Quicunque vult. . .

Lutherans sadly have become less and less familiar with the so-called Athanasian Creed.  It is a shame, to be sure.  At best we say the Creed once a year, on the Sunday of the Holy Trinity, whether we need it or not.  This was following the Roman liturgical usage.  At worst, it has been discontinued even on that one annual day when it was typically the creed of the day.  In fact, it has become so unfamiliar that not a few Lutherans choke under its words (even more than the catholic faith but the end when those who have done good are raised to everlasting life and those who have done evil to everlasting death).  Some Lutherans hae gone so far as to say they cannot confess the words of the creed -- only its doctrinal content (a rather strange dichotomy between words and the doctrine those words confess).  After all, they say, this conflicts with the Lutheran doctrine on which the Church stands or falls -- the doctrine of justification by faith.  Strange, I would say, because good and evil at the end stand within the context of the faith defined and confessed at the beginning.  Furthermore, if the Athanasian Creed is heresy, then Jesus is a heretic (Matthew 25) for saying the same thing as the Creed (only saying it first).

A little history finds that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer had ordered that the 'Athanasian' [don't we all know that it wasn't actually written by S Athanasius?] Creed be used once a month.  In the Church of England, it was ordered to be said twelve times a year. It is printed after Evensong in the Prayer Book.  In Roman usage the Quicunque vult was used on every Sunday when the liturgy was not lengthened by a Commemoration.  Sadly, in the wake of Vatican II and its concern about the tightness of and the spare use of liturgical language, Annabale Bugnini took the Council's direction to heart and removed the Athanasian Creed even from its last usage in the Liturgy of the RC Church.

Many do not care much for the Athanasian Creed.  Some try to refute its legitimacy at all and challenge the idea that it is one of the three great ecumenical creeds.  Certainly it is Western, rather pedagogical in form and content and not typically know much or used at all in the East.  That said, it is a Creed that begs a more frequent usage.  It puts us squarely before the Mystery of the Holy Trinity which cannot be explained.  It says as much as what the Holy Trinity is not as what it is and that is probably the best we can do with respect to this great mystery.  That said, it reminds us that we confess the Trinity not to define it or even to comprehend it but to worship it -- it being of course the ever-living and eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So even though we are long away from Holy Trinity Sunday, perhaps we are not so far that it would behoove us to drag it out and confess it again.  If only to force Lutherans to say that which dare not be said aloud (the dreaded word catholic).  But even more so because we need to remember that the goal of faith is not to inform the mind but to move the heart to worship Him whom we know as He has revealed Himself, one God in three Persons.  The problem for us today is more than our discomfort with this Creed -- modern clergy and lay probably tend to be rather popularly Unitarians or Modalists and quite happily so.  In fact, for most Christians today, the less said about the Holy Trinity the better the faith is.  But how can we forget what Jesus has come to make known?  The name of the Trinity is not simply words but the name in which baptismal water is endowed with the power to wash clean and give new birth and the name that becomes the power to absolve the baptized from their sins.  Such a name dare not be forgotten and such a faith should not be forgotten even though the formula is pedantic, repetitive, and even tedious as it dribbles away at what the Trinity is by confessing what it is NOT.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Subtraction and addition. . .

With very few exceptions, Luther’s liturgical reforms were marked by omission, translation, and minor changes -- but not by addition. With very few exceptions, the liturgical work of Lutherans since Luther have been reforms marked by addition, translation, and, sometimes, major change.  Therein, according to some, lie the problems with liturgical change and reform since Luther.  Some insist that what Luther excised must remain forbidden.  Everything from the Eucharistic Prayer (an evangelical form and not a repetition of a Roman one with its overt sacrificial language) to ceremonies once considered non-problematic but later lost to Lutheranism is non-Lutheran.  This is not a principle I find convincing or, for that matter, Lutheran.

Luther was not a liturgical scholar (something both good and bad).  He was a reformer who dealt with the circumstances of his time and no one can diminish the good service to the Gospel that Luther gave to the Lord and to the Church.  That said, the circumstances Luther faced are different from the circumstances we face today.  Luther's chief reform of the Mass, for example, was largely unknown to the people in the congregation since the Canon was inaudible to them and the sacrificial language so objectionable to Luther was not something they heard week after week.  The omission of this part of the Canon went unnoticed to them -- except for Luther's explanation and justification.  Luther's work in offering a reformed form to the Church was considered radically conservative -- even by folks of his time -- though today we find Lutherans all over the page and hardly anything that happens in the chief Sunday service merits the term shocking anymore.

Though the Lutheran Confessions do not insist upon lock step uniformity of form or ceremony as condition of orthodoxy, they certainly do not expect that the liturgical practices of the Church would be one congregation deep and wide nor do they mean that adiaphora allows anything goes.  We find ourselves today in a position in which we must add rather than subtract.  The additions are most often those things that were once commonplace and ordinary for Lutherans (everything from the weekly Eucharist to Eucharistic vestments).  Liturgical reform today requires restoring what has been lost -- not because we want to but because we must if we are to be consistent in practice as well as doctrine.  Lutheran liturgical reform today begins by conscientiously considering, teaching, and restoring what we have lost.  It is not first and foremost a matter of borrowing from others but finding out what it was in form and practice that we Lutherans once knew and have forgotten or chosen to ignore.

It does not follow that Luther's omission of things from the medieval Roman Mass was a liturgical principle for reform in our own day.  Rather, Lutherans face the serious and very real task of rekindling our identity, an identity distorted and disfigured by our own discomfort with the liturgical shape of the doctrine and faith we confess.  Add to that our willingness to borrow from evangelicals and others what we think might work to fill the empty pews and we have shape of the situation we face today.  Though I am indeed an advocate for an evangelical Eucharistic Prayer, the chief and primary force of Lutheran renewal must always be reconnecting with and becoming comfortable with our own past.  Until that happens, Lutheranism will face not only chaos on Sunday morning but, worse, the presumption that Sunday morning has nothing to do with the faith we believe and confess Monday through Saturday.

Luther subtracted what was objectionable in his day for the theological cause of the Gospel.  In our day we must practice liturgical addition for the theological cause of the Gospel in our own day.  If we refuse to know and be shaped by the ceremonial and liturgical that flows from our own catholic confessions, then those confessions are lost to us and they become theory that has no application among us.  When that day comes, Lutheranism will cease its claim to Luther's legacy and will become just another dying Protestant denomination.  Until that day comes, this pastor and the parish he serves will struggle to maintain the liturgical identity that is the other side of our doctrinal coin and will add back into the life of the people those things lost to us by a history of Pietism, Rationalism, humanism, and embarrassment over our own identity.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Wedding Sermon. . .

The sermon, based upon Ephesians 5, preached by the Rev. Larry A. Peters, at the wedding of  (the Rev. Seminarian) Coleman Geraci and (Deaconesss) Rachel Fickenscher, at Kramer Chapel, Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN, on Saturday, October 7, 2017.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Coleman and Rachel.

Flannery O’Connor famously wrote “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” – but you already know that Rachel.  O’Connor’s story has become one of the most profound short stories in American literature – but it is not so much about marriage.  The theme of the story, however, is how grace works in territory held largely by the devil.  And that is why we are here.

Something indeed happened to make finding a good man or a good woman difficult and it is the same thing that transformed marriage into a relationship that requires much work.  When Adam surveyed and named all that God had made, he found one thing off.  He was alone.  It was not that God gave him much choice in the matter.  A deep sleep and the loss of a rib and Adam was presented with the best woman available.  And he recognized it.  Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!

For Eve it was not much different.  From the first time she opened her eyes, Adam was in her vision.  There was no awkward meeting, no courtship, no eHarmony surveys – and there were no in-laws to deal with, either.  It was perfect!  A perfect match!

Things went downhill from there.  Sin and jealousy opened their eyes to things they had never seen before and it as not good. The complement became competition.  The relationship became a power struggle.  In the end Adam threw his perfect spouse under the bus to justify himself and she was not without excuse as well.  Ahhh, and now we are back to Flannery O’Connor.  Marriage has become how grace works in a territory held largely by the devil.  Marriage made be made in heaven but it is lived out right here on earth, where sin and its death reign.

Even though the fall changed Adam and Eve and all their children, including you Coleman and you Rachel, St. Paul still holds up the ideal.  Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord and husbands love your wives as Christ gave Himself up for her.  Being people who have gotten rather comfortable living with the way things are since the fall, his words are hard to hear in our ears.  So despite God’s creative intent and because of sin, marriage have become where grace works even though the territory is held largely by the devil.  But this grace is not merely existing, this grace is thriving and transforming and succeeding in God’s purpose for His glory.

Let me put it another way.  Two sinners standing before the Lord making ideal promises would be a fool’s errand for any husband and wife to be except that God is here.  He has provided grace to you so that you may make promises that are not only ideal, they are real.

Despite what you may think, Rachel, Coleman is not perfect.  He may not even be as good as Adam.  And Coleman, I hate to say it, but Rachel is not perfect.  She may not be as good as Eve.  But you are not here to recreate an idealized version of marriage.  You are here, by the grace of God, to grow into your new vocations as husband to Rachel and wife to Coleman.  Neither of you will master it in your lifetimes but God will supply grace so that you may daily grow up into the godly man who will provide for and protect his wife even at the cost of himself and the godly woman who will not shrink from honoring her husband as God’s man in your life and home.

All of this happens in territory held largely by the devil.  You must live out your marriage in a world which denies mean and women are different and invents genders at will.  Your marriage is lived out in a world where love always comes second to self  – where giving comes way down the line after getting and where it is always me first.  Your marriage is lived out in a world where manliness is mistaken as power and womanliness is mistaken as a competing power. 

What St. Paul is advocating for is nothing less than a marriage shaped by grace  – the grace of forgiveness, the grace of self-sacrifice, the grace of honor, the grace of compassion, and the grace of real love (not proud or arrogant or selfish). 

So where on earth do you see this?  You see it first in Christ and His Church.  Our Lord is devoted to His Church, covering her sin with His righteousness and forgiving her, defending her against every enemy, taking her side before His Father, and ruling her not by might but by grace and sacrifice.  He has made the Church, His bride, a new creation by water and the Word, wooed her, won her, and bought her with His blood.  And the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit,  responds to the power of this love with faith and trust, with a grateful heart and with humility that is in awe of such perfect love.  Herein she learns to love, learns to love holiness, and to live the holy new life God alone has bestowed.

But you also see it in marriages where imperfect men and imperfect women in peace and forgiveness and joy become servants of one another for Jesus’ sake.  I see it here.  I see it in you, Coleman, and your desire, by the grace of God, to be Christ-like toward Rachel.  I see it in you, Rachel, and your desire, by the grace of God, to submit to Coleman as to the Lord. 

Marriage is not holy because holy people get married.  Marriage is holy because it is made holy by grace.  A good man is hard to find.  A good woman just as hard to find.  But we proclaim a Gospel where love has become incarnate, to seek and find, to forgive and restore, and to find perfect joy in the other – no matter its cost. 

The world is going to hell in a handbasket and it has been for a long time.  We cannot even say for sure what it means to be a man or a woman, anymore.  Marriage is the object of scorn where desire is mistaken for love, where  children are seen as burdens or as objects, and where husbands and wives are forced into the impossible role of making us happy. 

But your marriage is not lived out in the world.  It is lived out under grace, before this cross and from this altar.  You have Christ for you and Christ in you by baptism.  Hidden there is the most wonderful joy of marriage that is today, tomorrow, and forever. So Rachel, submit to Coleman as to the Lord and Coleman love Rachel as Christ loved you.  For you belong to Christ and your life together is lived out in Christ, in grace, and in peace.  And your life together will be the sign of Christ’s love to our broken world and of the perfect love that exists between Christ and His Church.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved you and gave himself up for you, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  Amen.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Benevolent Father. . .

A little book was given to me and I had not paid attention to it for some time.  Then I opened the book and began to read.   The book is He Sent Leanness—A book of prayers for the natural man, by David Head (published in 1959). There is much in this book, some wisdom, some humor, not a little irony, sarcasm, and so much more.  Perhaps one of my favorites is this confession (calm down, it is sarcasm):
“Benevolent and easy-going Father: we have occasionally been guilty of errors of judgement. We have lived under the deprivations of heredity and the disadvantages of environment. We have sometimes failed to act in accordance with common sense. We have done the best we could in the circumstances; And have been careful not to ignore the common standards of decency; And we are glad to think that we are fairly normal. Do thou, O Lord, deal lightly with our infrequent lapses. Be thy own sweet Self with those who admit they are not perfect; According to the unlimited tolerance which we have a right to expect from thee. And grant as an indulgent Parent that we may hereafter continue to live a harmless and happy life and keep our self-respect.”
In it he writes the confession of sins we would like to make -- instead of the one that is printed out in the book.  He compares it to another confession (both, by the way, modeled after actual Calvinist forms):
“Almighty Judge: we have lived far from thy ways like wild goats. We have on all occasions rebelliously followed our own inclinations. We have deliberately and shamelessly broken thy holy laws. We have never done anything we ought to have done; And we are utterly depraved. We desperately miserable offenders can only expect thy harsh judgement. We live obsessed with the unrelieved knowledge of our guilt. The thought of Jesus Christ does nothing except increase the depth of our shame. We have no right to expect anything hereafter except the intolerable burden of our unrighteousness, and the hell of our eternal disgrace.”
Confession and ancestral sin in particular are sore subjects for us today.  We think that sin is out there, something avoidable, or something unavoidable, and, therefore, we are not culpable for it.  Sin and guilt have been dealt with in our age but not by confession and absolution.  We have rendered all kinds of sin normal and therefore good -- from the juicy sins of sex and prurient interest to the ordinary of theft and jealousy.  Others we have removed by insisting that they cannot be avoided and therefore cannot be all that bad. 

It seems abhorrent to us that we should be held responsible for the sins of our ancestors and yet we insist upon fighting again and again their age old battles.  Why do we continue to wrestle over such ancient wars and prejudices and yet insist that original sin is an outrage?  Add to that the fact that we have made our peace with death and decided to rehabilitate hell and it is no wonder that our confessions have become rather weak and shallow.  So even though we may have retained the firmer words of confession that are uncomfortable in our mouths, our hearts have surrendered them in favor of the kinder and gentler admission that we could have been better if we had only known better and, in any case, the guilt is only temporary.

What we forget is that by diluting the confession, we make the cross obsolete and render the supreme act of Jesus' suffering and death both unnecessary and downright foolish.  In the end we are the fools.  We are the fools who deny sin and its consequences upon us and the world in which we live and the fools who try to find something to talk about instead of Jesus' death and resurrection.  The end result is a weak morality, a love that accepts and rejoices in anything and everything, and a God who largely unwanted and unneeded in our modern day lives.  But the answer to this is to relearn the age old confessions and the renewed awareness that we are, indeed, poor, miserable sinners.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Riding the racehorse toward acceptability. . .

So. . . there is this Brazilian bishop appointed by Pope Francis in 2014 and he listens to reports of suicide and depression among homosexuals and who decides to preach about it.  Well, more than simply preach about it but actually to call homosexuality a “gift from God.” In words he insists were designed to “save lives” and help “overcome prejudices that kill,” Bishop Antônio Carlos Cruz Santos of Caicó, Brazil, has jumped over tolerance to embrace homosexuality good.

“If homosexuality is a gift, and therefore it’s good, then why is it not good to act upon it?”“so many brothers and sisters with a homosexual orientation who feel misunderstood and unloved by us, who are Church, by their families, by their society and even by themselves, as it was in the days of slavery,” Cruz said.

The bishop also referred to Pope Francis’ 2013 quote:  “If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?”  The bishop said.  “There’s a logical inconsistency there that’s going to lead to a lot of confusion, especially for young people, which will actually lead to more damage. Because when they live outside God’s plan for human sexuality, that always leads to unhappiness and despair.”

So. . . does anyone think that the Brazilian bishop is anything but a prophet of the new way Pope Francis has determined is the best means to engage the current culture of sex and gender?