Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The great temptation of choice. . .

I live in a community in which the chains are king -- from restaurants to retail our city thrives on known brands.  You know what to expect from a known brand and when you have a highly mobile population like Clarksville, familiarity trumps all.  People who move here want to know where they can get what they want to eat and where to shop -- they even appreciate it when the stores are laid out in a familiar pattern.

Somehow or another this truth has been lost to churches.  Flexibility and options predominate and, frankly, you never know what to expect when you go to any church anymore.  I had once thought this primarily a Protestant phenomenon but it seems to be universal.  We had a man in church, from England, who had lived in the US for about 10 years.  He was Roman Catholic but found American Roman Catholic Churches a hollow shell of pop Gospel music and irreverent production style liturgy and was amazed to come to Grace Lutheran Church and hear a choir sing Psalm 113 in Latin and a full sung Divine Service.  He was looking for a brand and was disappointed at the confusing array of choices that left so much to local identity.  The same is true of Lutherans who have come to appreciate the reverent liturgy, majestic music, and Biblical preaching of this congregation only to to move and find the local LCMS congregation with praise band, pastor in polos and khakis, and sermon series on improving your lives.  Where is my Lutheran Church? they complain.

Some would say it is about “LCD,” the lowest common denominator, but I would add to the "L" local.  It would seem that not only do congregations do whatever feels good locally but they often struggle to aspire to any standards of excellence that might stretch the pocketbook or require any heavy lifting -- especially when it comes to worship.  Now we all know what the normal course of man’s fallen nature does.  We know that without hearts and minds being in the Word and the Spirit prodding us, we will revert to that sinful nature that has become the default because of sin.  Furthermore, in a world in which preference is king, there is immense pressure on every pastor and parish to conform to the local LCD.  That will end up being what is least confrontational with the folks in the pews, whatever fits the mindset and culture of the moment, and what requires the least amount of preparation and effort. It takes no crystal ball to see where this will lead and what it will do to the Church.

Instead of resisting what is common to us all and what should be ordinary in the extraordinary Divine Service, we should embrace it with enthusiasm.  I am not talking about a rigid uniformity of rules but of the common concern for the well being of the Church, the well being of the people of God, and the ability of the Church to pass on the sacred deposit to those who come after (without diluting or degrading that tradition).  This is important not simply for brand loyalty (though we should not dismiss this) but for our clear confession before the world and the clear identity of the sacred place where God has marked out His Church and His people around His Word and Table.  Nobody in their right mind is talking about putting little marks in the chancel so that everyone stands in exactly the same place at the same time and holds their hands in exactly the same way.  What I am commending is unseating the rule of me from the throne of local determination and the lowest common denominator and adding in our concern to preserve the inward unity by our outward unity.  You begin at least with the hymnal.  You can add to it ceremonies and such but to detract from it or depart from it represents a clear departure also from the confession and identity we have as a Church and a people united not simply in theory but in life.

Should we not all desire to celebrate in harmony with those who have gone before and to commend faithfully to those yet to come the rich and faithful experience the fullness of great treasure that we have?  In case there are those who might wonder if this will turn people away, the people attracted by conformity with culture, modern morality, and a gospel of self-interest are not the unchurched but the restless Christians whose itchy ears refuse to be satisfied with the Word of the Lord and His sacramental gifts and graces.  Instead of playing musical chairs with the people who come and go as they move to whatever is new, we ought to be establishing an outpost of the sacred in this world which identifies us as the Church of the saints of old anticipating the promised future God has given in Christ through the means of grace.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Stay in the faith. . . Stay in the Word

Sermon for Pentecost 19, Proper 24A, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, October 20, 2019.

    In the collect for the day, we asked God to grant us the Holy Spirit to direct and govern our hearts so that we’d persevere with steadfast faith, a faith that endures to the end.  We talk a lot about faith, but I wonder if we truly know what it is?  It can be a hard word to define especially when so many people have so many different ideas about faith.  So what is faith?  Where does it come from?  What does it do?  And how do we persevere with it?
    Faith gets talked about in many different settings, not just church.  It gets talked about in the sports world.  Athletes and coaches say they just have to have faith that all their work and preparation will result in a win.  Faith is spoken about as words of encouragement.  When things don’t seem to be going your way there’s usually someone who will say, “Just have faith and everything will work out in the end.”  But is that what faith is?  Is it a shallow hope that you’ll win?  Is it positive thoughts and optimism?  No. 
    Faith is also described as a mental activity; the ability to know facts and the choice to believe them as true.  Sadly, this is one of the most prevalent views of faith.  Too often we think of faith as knowing what the Bible says, knowing Jesus died on the cross and then our choice to accept Him as our Savior.  But is that what faith is; knowing facts and then our choice to believe?  No. 
    These popular views of faith don’t line up with how God talks about faith.  They assume faith is a mental activity.  But faith isn’t forced positive thoughts and it’s not a decision.  Faith is trust.  It’s located not in the head, but the heart…and it’s not of our making, but God’s. 
We want faith to be our doing.  We want faith to be based on our positive thoughts, on our knowledge and understanding, on our decision and choice because that shows the strength of our mind.  We want faith to be a creation of our determination and will because then we get credit for it.  We want to be able to stand up and say, “I did it.  Against all odds, I kept trusting and believing.”  But this isn’t faith, at least not faith in God.  This kind of faith is trust in ourselves, and let me ask you, can we really be trusted?  No, we can’t.  We can’t trust ourselves because we’re sinners.  Sin is in our heart, and therefore, we can’t create a holy faith that looks to God, because sin only looks inward.  Our sin doesn’t want God.  Our sin hates God. 
We can’t produce faith because our heart is filled with sin.  We can only have faith God gives it to us.  He must create in us new and clean hearts.  Your faith is a gift from God, not because you’re so smart and knowledgeable, not because you’re full of optimism, but because God wants to give it to you.
He gives it to you through the working of the Spirit as you hear His Word, as you hear His Law that shows you you’re a sinner, and as you hear His Gospel that shows you your Savior.  God’s Word is the foundation of your faith.  God’s promises spoken and His promises fulfilled in Christ are what your faith is built upon.  You trust in God because He has done what He said.  You trust in your Savior because He has given His life for you.  These are sure and certain and true.  These can be trusted.
    Today’s parable about a widow who persistently came before an unrighteous judge seeking justice is a parable about trust.  We hear this story and we say the woman was foolish.  Why did she keep going before this judge looking for justice when the judge admitted he cared nothing for justice?  Why did this woman trust in a man who couldn’t be trusted?  In the end, the judge did the right thing, not because it was the right thing, but because the widow keeps pestering him.  Using this story as an argument from lesser to greater, Jesus asked, “Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?” (Lk 18:7).  Of course He will, because God cares for justice, He cares for His people, He can be trusted. 
    The widow showed faith in a man who couldn’t be trusted, but your faith is in God who can be trusted.  God is faithful and just, that’s what we say at the beginning of every Divine Service.  He’s faithful, meaning He’ll do what He promises.  And He promises you forgiveness of sins, life everlasting.  These He gives to you through Christ who died in your place, taking the just punishment of death your sin deserves.  And with the gift of faith, you trust in your Savior.  With the gift of faith you receive that forgiveness and life He won for you. 
    Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, you have His promised everlasting life now, but you don’t experience it now.  You experience pain and suffering, temptation and sin.  It can be tough to stay faithful during these times.  It can be tough to stay faithful when it doesn’t appear as if God is faithful.  And on your own, you can’t remain faithful...that’s why you pray for steadfast faith. 
    At the end of Jesus’ parable He asked the question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8).  If our faith were our own doing, the answer would be “NO!”  You can’t keep the faith on your own.  You can’t persevere on your own.  You must be kept in the faith by the working of the Spirit, and He does keep you in the faith.  As you hear God’s Word, the source of your faith, continually preached and read, the Spirit strengthens your faith.  As you eat and drink the body and blood of your Savior, in whom you trust, your faith grows.  It’s only by these things, it’s only by God’s grace, by His Means of Grace, that you continue to have faith.  He creates it.  He sustains it.  And you live by it. 
Faith is trust.  It isn’t head knowledge.  It isn’t shallow optimism.  It’s trust; trust in God’s Word and in the promise of life in Christ.  This faith isn’t your doing.  It’s given to you by the working of the Spirit.  This faith is founded on God’s Word and strengthened in that Word; and it’ll only endure through the hearing of God’s Word.  So stay in faith.  Remain in the Word, receive the Sacrament, and when the Son of Man returns, He will find faith in you.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

Hidden mercy. . .

Western Christianity seems unduly preoccupied with substance and accident.  We find it hard to get away from the categories of change -- what changes and what does not.  So Rome insists that everything that is real changes and all that is left is the least real part of bread and wine.  And Lutherans insist that there is, indeed, a change, but the change does not replace one neatly with the other but adds something to what is there.  So it is still bread but now also Christ's flesh and still wine but now also His blood.  Rome insists that there can no Real Presence without Transubstantiation and Lutherans insist that Real Presence has nothing to do with a philosophical theory of how Christ is present.  In both cases the issue is really about what is manifest in bread and wine, in eating and drinking what the Lord gives and promises.

The great Orthodox theologian, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, once rather famously said that sacraments do not make things into something else so much as they reveal things to be what they are.  In other words, it is not about what changes or how but the God who reveals what is hidden. Why is it that some are preoccupied with what changes and others are focused on what is hidden there, apprehended only by the eyes of faith, received with grateful faith,  Lutherans and Rome continue to fight it out about what changes, if it changes, or what remains the same and who makes it happen.  In the end, I am not at all sure Luther was as keen on fighting it out on this turf as some Lutherans were.  For Luther as it should be for Lutherans the focus is surely on what God has hidden there.  We do not apprehend it as we do acknowledge it, trust it, receive it with joy and thanksgiving, and are transformed by it as the Spirit brings the promise to bear upon us.  Perhaps because Luther was less the systematician than exegete and his theology more Biblical than anything else.

Not long ago I preached on the parable of the dishonest steward.  I cannot think of any preacher who wants to preach on such a text.  It remains one of those words we wish Jesus had not spoken or we would rather have had Jesus say something else.  But it is a text one approaches simply on the basis that Jesus said it and therefore we must hear it for the Word of God is less about us and what we think than about God and what He chooses to reveal.  Can we not say the same about water and bread and wine and the voice that absolves?  They are wonderful things but hardly what we would have chosen to be where grace is given and Christ accessible.  Yet, there He is.  In parable and Sacrament what is gained comes not by cracking the nut but by hearing it with faith, believing it, and rejoicing at the mercy hidden therein.  This happens by the Spirit.  And what a joy that is!

Monday, October 21, 2019

An unreasonable faith. . .

I have had a number of ongoing discussions with folks who were Lutheran and ended up, either by deliberate choice or accidental detour, not Lutheran.  Among the many protests were the promise that they were still Lutheran in their heart of hearts -- at least until they were baptized again but this time as an adult and by immersion.  And then there were those who dated or married a non-Lutheran who refused to attend a Lutheran Church and so the spouse, desiring to worship together as a family, began attending the non-Lutheran Church and, before long, was no longer Lutheran even in that person's heart of hearts. It has always struck me strange how quickly people can abandon some of the core and center of Lutheran doctrine and practice for non-doctrinal reasons that eventually probably do become doctrinal.  Were they never really Lutheran?  I am not ready to go there.  I suspect that the real issue is faith itself.  They eventually gave up not on doctrine but on faith -- at least the idea of faith that is trust instead of understanding and rational, reasonable, acceptance. 

Lutheranism is not rational or reasonable or systematic.  It is filled with paradoxes left unresolved and it surrenders the hope of understanding or getting God for the trust that believes His Word and is captive to that Word -- captive minds and hearts.  The problem is not so much with Lutheranism as much as it is with the Word of God itself.  People seem to be drawn like magnets to those who can cut and paste the Scriptures together to offer something that is logical and orderly and answers questions and can be understood.  But if God can be understood, does He continue to be God?  Is not a God who is captive to the mind not worth believing?

In a recent conversation a parent in tears lamented a child who had abandoned the faith the child was confirmed in and embraced something more appealing to the mind and more satisfying to the heart.  In the end it was less about doctrine than it was about the need to understand, to have God explain Himself or be explained.  While that is quite often our desire, it mitigates against the very nature of faith (Hebrews says it best -- the substance of things hoped for and confidence in things not seen).  Lutheranism is not all that appealing to those who want a systematic God who can be explained, predicted, and understood.  But Calvinism is attractive for exactly that reason.  Calvin approaches God from the vantage point of reason.  If Calvin is not explaining God, at least he is certain God has explained Himself and transformed faith from trust to consent of the mind and will.

There must be a reason why some are saved and not others and predestination is it.  Jesus would surely not die for the world but only for those who He foresaw would come to faith or whom He chosen to set apart as the recipients of His atoning work.  Infant baptism makes no sense but believer's baptism makes all the sense in the world.  The saved will bear the marks of this salvation and election in their lives of obedience. What cannot be understood with the mind is experienced and God is manifested in feelings (the sublime nature of the Eucharist, for example).  For more than 23 years Calvin kept adding to his Institutes in an effort to unpack more and more of the mystery of God and God's work.  There are not many true Calvinists left but enough -- enough to appeal to those who find it too much to trust the Lord without explanation or reason to back it up.  Instead of jumping headlong into the hidden arms of God at the prompting of the Spirit, the person begins to seek something more to hold onto -- a reasonable faith that appeals to the mind and the movement of God in the realm of feelings and emotion.

In the end I have tired of trying to argue it out.  If I can argue someone into the faith, then somebody else can argue them out.  I do not believe it is fruitful to approach these people with an appeal to the mind.  Their argument is really not against Luther or catholic theological tradition with respect to the Word and Sacraments.  Their argument is with faith itself.  They refuse to believe if believing does not offer something rational to the mind and something warm to the heart.  They will not believe if believing means trusting what their eyes cannot see or their minds cannot understand or their hearts not experience or feel.  If we think we can argue them back into classical and orthodox Christianity,, then we have already conceded the most important theological point -- God is not the end result of the mind's fruitful search for reason and order to life and the future.  God has made Himself accessible in the means of grace -- not to supplement understanding and feelings but to replace them with something eminently more durable.

I was reminded of a small quote from Hermann Sasse:
Not every question can be settled by means of a friendly discussion. It is necessary to remember this in an age which has a superstitious belief in dialog as the infallible means of settling everything. There are questions raised by the devil to destroy the Church of Christ. To achieve this he may use as his mouth piece not only ambitious professors of theology, his favorite tools, but also simple, pious souls.
Consensus is a wonderful thing and compromise sounds positively wonderful but in the end these may just lead us from truth to error in our search for a credible faith and a reasonable God.  I get it.  I feel it as well.  I want a God who will explain Himself to me, clue me into His ways, and fit into the understanding of my limited mind.  Who doesn't?  But as nice as it is, the true faith will always challenge and shock and scandalize us.  After all, Jesus the innocent Son of God willingly suffered for the sake of those who were sinners and enemies of God.  Nobody can find much comfort in a God who willingly dies for the unworthy and undeserving.  Jesus did not suffer for scoundrels.  Or did He???  God can be explained and predicted.  Or can He???  Ultimately all we know is what God has told us and what He has told us points us not to minds that get Him but to the trust of things we cannot see and have only by promise and the witness of the Spirit.  In the end, we must ask ourselves if this is enough?  I pray that the Spirit will enable us to say "Yes, that is more than enough" for me to believe in Him and rejoice in His grace and mercy.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Better sung than said. . .

The chief distinction between a low mass and a high mass is the singing.  Low mass is spoken; high mass is sung (chanted).  Much has been written about how the exception (low mass) became the norm and norm (sung mass) became the exception.  Music was not always welcomed into the liturgy.  St. Augustine had concerns for the sensuality of music, fearing that it would detract from the mass.  But it eventually won out over fears.  At least until some of the reformers overcame the music that sang in the Reformation with their own fears and reservations.  Think here especially of Zwingli who wanted it banished entirely.  But Luther was unequivocal.  Music is the handmaid of the Word, its most profound and noble servant!

I wonder if it might be possible that the Christian faith is better sung than said.  It is not that I have anything against the spoken Word but that music is one of the most profound mediums to use in the proclamation of that Word.  We sing it better into our memory and singing allows the many voices of a congregation to be one voice together.  But I cannot take credit for this.  Anglican cleric Giles Fraser was the one who asserted that “Christianity is always better sung than said.”  His point was made not only for the love of music but because of his fear of academia and the descent of faith into words that attempt to say what is hard, if not impossible to say.   So, according to Fraser, “to the extent that all religion exists to make raids into the what is unsayable, the musicians penetrate further than most.”  Music has the power to address in more than words the depth of the great mystery of God in flesh.  Of course, it does not hurt that the angels sang in the birth of the Savior and that Scripture is replete with calls to sing praise to the Lord.  This singing is not only worship but also witness and confession.

Luther himself was not simply in favor of music as a musician but saw the whole thing theologically,  regarding music as God’s second greatest gift to creation (after theology).  So many have said it that it must be true -- the Reformation might well have failed without the power of the hymn to sing it into the hearts and minds of the people of God.  Still to this day the Lutheran chorales are noteworthy for the way they sing the Gospel into the minds and hearts of the singers and through the witness of song into the ears of the hearers.  Yes, it does matter what we sing.

As the Anglican bishop Nick Baines said it: “I go along with Wesley that if you sing you learn your theology from what you sing. And if you sing rubbish you believe in rubbish. Language matters.”  I am not sure he was the first or the last to suggest that the content of the song and how that sounds  has as much to do with it benefits the Word or detracts from it.

Every pastor knows that you can tell a great deal about the theology your people hold dear by asking their favorite hymns.  Yet even that may be more information than you want to know.  Our people struggle to understand why the silly little ditties or guilty pleasures are not beneficial to the faith and they struggle to identify what it is that makes hymns good.  Yet that should not detract from our recognition that for Christians, faith is sung as much as it is said and perhaps better sung.  What we owe those in the pew is the training to understand what make s hymn noble and profound and what makes it, well, empty and ordinary.  

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Had to repost. . .

The reality is that we have enjoyed a wealth of good teachers, not just good theologians but good teachers, within our small slice of Christian history. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has produced and enjoyed the good witness and thinking and, even better, the apt teaching of giants. I watched the funeral of The Rev. Dr. Norman Edgar Nagel with great sadness that we have lost another of those giant figures. It is, of course, to his joy that he has received the outcome of his faith, the salvation of his soul, but he has not left us without substantial record on which to chew for some days. My good friend The Rev. William Weedon put this together and I am passing it on. Great and pithy gems of wisdom, truth, and theology to ponder, left to us by a kind, gentle, but great man!!

A Miscellany of Nagelisms

A friend asked [Will Weedon] me to share these with him today. I thought others might be blessed. I was, by merely typing them out:

"The good news of Easter isn't that a man rose from the dead, but that the man who had been crucified for our sin rose from the dead."

"Glorying in the element is sarkical. It is is glorying in the gift-all-the-way-down-ward."

"The big thing is not that the body and blood are there, but that the body and and blood of Christ which were given for you are there."

"Faith is nothing but what it is given. What faith is given is the Gift that lives. Living Gift! And so living, it enlivens. As enlivening gift of the Living Lord, it is not suceptible to our measurement or calculation."

"You mayn't have a Gospel justification and a semi-law sanctification."

"The person scornful of the Lord's Supper says: 'I don't need to be given to.'"

"Sasse asks the haunting question: Is our doctrine of inspiration based on Scripture alone or on tradition, tradition that Luther and Melanchthon swallowed whole?"

"All the Christ, Christ, Christ stuff flies in the air unless it is Christ for you. And He is for you where He promises to be."

"You cannot move by analogy—progression of our thinking, yearning—which can have as its outcome God."

"Glory in contingency and the dataness of it!"

"We are not roaming in the realm of ideas. He did it. The sheer He-did-it-ness for which we can lay on Him no compelling reasons; and the data-ness, THAT recognition evacuates any possibility of us laying something down ahead of God."

"Nothing could less like God than the man hanging dead on the cross. Only God could be so human and so weak. So opposite to every religious notion about God—religion being the result of our wishing, emotions, yearning, thinking."

"Of the sheer did-ness and data-ness you have the locatedness—the specificity of time and place. He did it. He provides for its delivery to you."

"Each part of the Gospels is to be read as the whole of the Gospels are to be read, the pushing or giving of the Jesus they bestow."

"The specific Jesus that is the specific gift of that pericope."

"God loves nothing better than dishing out the good stuff. Why else did he make this crazy world?" 

"That which is His great delight, He would bring to us too. So He gives us much more than we need so that we can have fun dishing it out too. In that there is the life of God which cannot be brought into any bondage of coercion."

"Faith is not the product of the exercise of God's power, but the consequence of His giving."

"A gift is rejectable; His power is not."

"Toenails grow. Is that under the power of law or gospel?"

"There is no action of the Holy Spirit outside the Church in the New Testament."

"Unbelief is the refusal of gift, the refusing to be given to."

"The grounds of damnation is the rejection of the gift."

"When the Lord said, 'Follow me,' to Matthew, Matthew was given to. He is made alive as a man that wasn't alive before. That 'Follow me' is Gospel."

"The wordless Law—what man knows in his bones. A wordless God is Deus Absconditus, before whom is only terror and dread. But Law, worded or wordless is the same, and worded is the more terrible and inescapable. Never by an exercise of inescapable power is faith produced. Any inescapable power is Law talk, not Gospel."

"There is an unwillingness in Jesus to be other than Gift. And He wants to be all the gift that He is. Those who just wanted a piece, He wouldn't let them have it, because He wanted to be the lot for them."

"God runs the whole show in two ways: Law and Gospel. Either life or death, it is gift which evokes the faith in the being received. If received as gift, it is received faithfully and gospelly. The man who receives the death by cancer as a gift from the Lord has faith."

"The AC's 'where and when He pleases' warns us off from lusting to get our hands on things and bring them into our control."

"The distinction between Law and Gospel has the ultimate reach in God. There is a God who damns and a God who saves. Only at the last minute do you say it to the same God—up to then it's like there are two gods going on."

"When you find reason taking God captive and laying prescriptions on Him, that's law talk."

"The Gospel runs the third use of the Law. We'd do better to talk about the Gospel's use of the Law."

"It is a measure of our freedom that the Law can be brought into our service as a gift. Then it is a guide. It's not what makes us what we are nor the prompting before Him."

"Love is evoked outside of you. You don't work up a bit of love and then give it away." 

"If ever we did a good work that didn't need forgiving, we'd never know about it."

"Where there's measuring, there's Law-talk going on."

"Rather than measuring good works, let us engender them. Only we can't. The Spirit does it by the Gospel. We do not know what damage is done to people that misshapes and shrivels and warps them. The way of the gifts of Christ in such a one will work in the way they will work and we are not in a position to keep a scoresheet."

"Whatever good thing happens, we can but say thanks!"

"The wholeness of the child! When a little child laughs, there is no part of him not laughing, and so when he weeps."

"The infant is as damnable as the rest of us."

"It is the way of being gifted that its never enough and there's always more."

"Unbelief is refusing to let God be gracious."

"Your forgiveness is as sure as Calvary is sure; the fluctuation is in us, not in Him."

"The Dominicality is the biggy. The first thing to confess about Baptism and the Supper is what HE said about them. After He has had His say, we can rejoice in the gift in our own words. It is the Lord's Supper, not our Supper."

"Confirmation is the public celebration of the fulfillment of our Lord's bidding: We've been baptized and we've been taught!"

"Our good works are only good works because they are forgiven."

"It is vital that we always be on the alert for spotting anthropological analogy in the matter of the Holy Spirit—that is always backwards."

"You cannot move from evidence in you to saying something about the Holy Spirit. That will always be dubious."

"Equating the Holy Spirit with love you end up with quantitative parcels."

"When the lot of good works are within His forgiveness, then we're not playing quantitative games with God."

"We rejoice to confess filioque because the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. That is the point."

"How does the Holy Spirit give the Jesus stuff?"

"We must not talk about faith in any way but a grace alone way." 

"Faith is the creation of the Holy Spirit and the receiving of the Jesus stuff."

"Love and necessity are mutually exclusive."

"Does God think you're worth bothering with? Look to Calvary!"

"Salvation may not be deduced from God's nature, but from what Christ has done." 

"The love of God that is shed abroad in our heart is Jesus' death and resurrection. That is how He loved us." 

"The best confession of the Trinity is that which tells the good news of our salvation that the Father sent the Son to die for us sinners and what Jesus did is given to us by the work of the Holy Spirit. The directionality inherent in this is the opposite of an inverted Trinity."

"Does God make you fit to be loved, and then love you? Or does He love all what's going on, sitting on your chair?"

"To pay attention to the Holy Spirit is to frustrate the Jesus work that He is seeking to do. The Spirit gets behind you and gets you to look at Calvary."

"Would this theology work without Calvary? Then it's not Christian theology."

"What Jesus loves is you, not what He ends up making of you."

"The Supper can never be our work. It is God's giving out what Calvary achieved."

"God is given you in the sarx, whose shins would bruise if you kicked them. To look for him anywhere outside the flesh is to look away from where He is for you."

"The most important question to ask of any pericope is what is the Jesus that this text gives me that is given nowhere else? What is its proprium?"

"The becoming man of God was the becoming man of man."

"The bestowal of salvation happens where we are at. That's the job of the Holy Spirit."

"Can't say unJesusy things about the Holy Spirit. The more Jesusy the Spirit, the more we can be sure we're getting it right!"

Friday, October 18, 2019

United Methodists to unUnite. . .

According to reports, the 2020 General Conference of the United Methodist Church meeting in  Minneapolis will consider how to structure what is hoped to be an amicable and orderly breakup of the second largest Protestant church in America.  But of course, the breakup is not news since the Methodists have been anything but united when it comes to how to deal with the LBGTQ+ issues.  of what church leaders hope can be an amicable, and orderly, breakup of a worldwide church that is the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States. When the conference earlier this year failed to remove language barring LBGTQ+ from ordination or marriage, it was a pivotal vote that signaled the beginning of the end.  When in February the General Conference gave approval to the so-called Traditional Plan, the progressives refused to live with the decision (which is exactly the position the conservatives would have taken).  That left little in the future but schism.  The only question would be who would act first and whether or not the division would be friendly or rancorous.  In any case, the result of the February conference left a chaotic situation in which people who could not change the vote at the meeting would vote with the money.

It is an interesting end to a history of unity, merger, and reconciliation among Protestants.  The history of Methodism has contributed much toward the liberal goal of reducing the number of denominations by finding ways to forge a unity that would cover the diversity hidden under the surface.  What is most interesting, however, is that the doctrinal cracks were held together rather successfully (though Methodism itself was bleeding off members for decades) -- at least until the sexuality issues forced a choice.  That only goes to show how deep and profound the sexuality issues were dividing American churches.  In the end, those who have embraced the LBGTQ+ agenda have won control of the denomination but a denomination a hollow shell of its former self.  An example is, of course, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America which has bled off two church bodies and more members than the second largest Lutheran body in America ever had.  In the end, the ELCA was left to insist that it was a significant church, whatever that meant, as a consolation prize for its empty pews and church buildings.  It goes without saying that Methodism will find the same temptation to ignore the declining numbers and insist that it is significant simply because it says so.

Yet you have to wonder what the Lord of the Church thinks as He watches churches relativize their own confession and the Biblical witness in order to fit their truth to the trendy moment.  And it also goes without saying that this is not surely the end of the apostasy and heresy.  Just how far will churches go in their pursuit of perceived relevance?  I fear we have not seen the end of it -- not for Methodists or for Lutherans, for that matter.  And the future does not look promising for a Christianity that has exchanged the Gospel of Christ crucified for a gender of the day and a truth that feels good for the moment.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Gotta love. . . to hate it. . .

Reported in some blogs was an exchange between Phillie Cardinal Chaput and Jesuit Padre James Martin.  Apparently the good Cardinal took exception to the writings and a certain presentation of Fr. Martin who has a history of attempting to make repairs in the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the GLBTQ+ community.  The Jesuit responded by suggesting that he and everyone else knows what the doctrine of the RCC is concerning homosexuality (or other forms beside the divinely appointed order of male and female love and its shape in marriage), but they are tired of hearing about it and it is not helpful to drawing them back into the life of the church.  Ahhhh, yes.

But of course the Jesuit has it exactly right.  We have a conscience placed in us by God.  We know right from wrong.  It is no secret that orthodox Christianity does not embrace the sexuality of choice but affirms the Godly order of creation, male and female in a lifelong union of fidelity and fruitful love.  We all know this but none of us want to hear about it and most of us don't want to hear it at all.  So, of course, that is exactly why we should not repeat the Law to those who break it.  We do not want to say it and they do not want to hear it.  Perfect symmetry, right?

Except that this is exactly why God placed the Church on earth -- to say to us what we do not want to hear!  The truth in the face of our lies or ignorance or our deliberate avoiding of the Biblical Word is precisely why we are here and why we have a voice and why the Lord has given us His Word to speak.  For how else will sinners of any kind be called to repentance and come to know the extravagant mercy of God who graciously provided a scapegoat to wear all our sins and a righteous Savior to clothe us with His holiness?  Why, if the Church were silent before all our sins we would be like, well, liberal Christianity?!  A faith that is so weak it can only affirm and echo what people have already decided they want to hear or do not want to hear -- and that is no church at all.  In fact, it is the precursor to a hell in which such lies are accompanied with the very suffering that God moved heaven and earth so that we might never know.

So thanks be to God that there are priests, pastors, and preachers who will speak the whole counsel of God's Word and address us with precisely that which we do not want to hear.  For only then can we rejoice to hear the good news that is almost beyond all telling -- it is so wonderful.  Christianity does not need more Fr. Martin's (at least the Jesuit kind) but the faith could well stand some blunt spoken preachers who speak the Law in all its stinging truth and the Gospel in all its sweet mercy. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Healed or Saved. . . Gratitude or Faith

Sermon preached for Pentecost 18, Proper 23C, on Sunday, October 13, 2019.

    Typically this story of Jesus healing ten lepers is used to teach us the value of gratitude.  Who among us did not have a mother or father teach us to say “thank you” when someone did something nice to us or for us?  Because we are so often more content with moralisms than truth, we presume Jesus is being like mom or dad in teaching us to pay attention to the nice things God has done for us and to remember to be grateful.  I suppose you could a worse sermon than one urging you to be grateful for all that God has done to you or for you but that is not what this story is about.  We cannot get off the hook that easy.

    This story, like most of them, is not so much about gratitude as it is about faith.  Now we all know that in Greek the same word you translate “made well” can also be translated “saved” – it just depends on the context which one you use.  But here the translator has gotten it wrong.  Here Jesus is not contrasting one grateful from among the ten cleansed but ten who were cleansed and only one who was saved.  That which distinguishes the Samaritan from the other nine is not gratitude but faith.

    I am pretty sure the other nine were grateful.  After all, the curse of leprosy is not simply the disease itself – not the boils and scabs that mark the flesh or the skin turned white or the raw and festering flesh or the pain.  All of this is bad, terrible, but the worst curse of the leper is that he must bear this disease alone.  For the leper was marked as an outcast, cast out from family life, from work, and from worship.  The diseases that fall under the term leprosy are so highly contagious that the community wanted to make sure they did not get what you had.  So the Law of God made lepers outcasts to protect the rest of the community. The Law of Moses directed a priest who found a man to be a leper to mark the leper as unclean, to burn his clothing and possessions, and to live the rest of his life away from his family and all the people of the camp (Lev. 13:45-47).  As if this were not enough, the leper was also cut off from the Temple, from the sacrificial life of God’s people, and especially from the gift of forgiveness on the Day of Atonement.  Those nine who were healed surely knew what they had been given and were grateful at having their lives, their families, and their place among God’s people restored.  But saving faith is not simply gratitude. 

    The focus of saving faith is never on the one who is grateful or on his gratitude but on who it is who has saved them.  So the Samaritan, an unlikely candidate for saving faith, shows his faith in this.  He cannot go back to his old life, before the leprosy, but he must give and live out the praise of Him who has given Him this gracious gift.  Yes, he was grateful, but more than this, he acknowledged that Jesus was the Savior who had made him clean.  His life now belonged to Jesus, to the One who had redeemed him and saved him, and not to himself any longer.  That is faith.

    The whole thing began innocently enough.  The lepers asked for mercy, that is, for charity, for food, for money, for medicine, for something or anything to relieve some of the burden they carried because of their illness.  This is not unlike the folks who wait at the intersections of our community with their signs, hoping for a hand out.  These lepers had become united in their misery.  Even a Samaritan found refuge in the common wounds and judgment that left them lonely as well as wounded.  Together they were a rather pathetic sight.  The passers by would have found the sight pitiful.  Anything that they might have done would have been gratefully received.  But today their cry for mercy got a profoundly different response.

    When Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests, they all knew exactly what this meant.  They had received a mercy never known before.  Jesus had made them clean.  Just as the Law had judged them unclean, so only the Law could restore them to their families, to their lives, and to the worship of the Temple and so they had to have the blessing of the priest upon this miracle.  But what a small thing that was in comparison to what Jesus gave them.  They went because they had something to show the priest – the terrible disease had been healed.  They were heading back to Jerusalem and to the memory of a life that once seemed lost to them.  Of course they were grateful.  But saving faith and gratitude are not the same.

    This was a sign of the kingdom.  It was not simply compassion for a people who had fallen on hard times.  Jesus healed them so that the priests would know that God had come to deliver His people and so these priests would direct all the people in the Temple to Jesus.  That did not happen.  When Jesus asks “Where are the nine?” He is not asking for something He does not know.  Jesus knows where they are and what they were doing.  The sign of the kingdom is this occasion faith.  These nine were grateful, happy, relieved, and were made well but they missed out seeing this as a sign of the kingdom. They did not see that by this Jesus was revealing Himself as the great High Priest who would deliver a nation and a world from their uncleanness and death.  I am sure they told everyone who would listen that Jesus was a great prophet or rabbi but they did not see or realize that Jesus was the Messiah.

    The Samaritan got this.  He never got to the Temple.  He did not need to.  He saw the scabs heal, the swelling leave, the heathy flesh restored and when he saw that, he saw Jesus as the Temple and the High Priest that mattered most of all.  He did not go back for the verdict of the priests because he already had the verdict of the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.  He went back to give this High Priest named Jesus the worship reserved for God alone.  He bowed down at the feet of Jesus.  In Hebrew the word for worship means to kneel, to prostrate yourself, to fall down before God.  In Greek it is the same: to fall down, to prostrate yourself, and to serve.  He returned to worship not the distant God but the God whom He had met in Christ and who had shown Him mercy.  The Samaritan went to the Keeper of the Law to be declared clean according to the Law.  Is that not what we do?

    We often fear that the reason people are not generous is because they are not grateful.  That is a mistake.  I know plenty of people who are effusively grateful for the good things they have known in life but they have no faith.  Gratitude does not make us into cheerful givers.  Only faith does.  This is not about being grateful but about saving faith, the gift of the Spirit in the word of Christ, who recognizes in Christ the true Temple and the High Priest, and who falls on the face before this Lord and this Lord alone.

    We come into the House of the Lord with the same plea as those lepers of old.  Sin is eating away at us body and soul.  Sin builds walls between husband and wife, parent and child, neighbor and friend, people and God.  Sin has made us outcasts and strangers to the God who made us and to the holy purpose for which we have been made.  Maybe we come only to find a moment of peace, a bit of relief, some quiet moment from the storms of life.  We ask for mercy but God gives us more than healing.  He gives us His one and only Son.  He dwells among us in flesh and blood to save us.  What we need is not simply gratitude but faith that trusts Christ alone and worships Him only. 

    Faith falls on its knees before Jesus.  Faith wants to be always in the presence of this Lord who suffers for the guilty and heals the wounded and saves those unworthy of His grace.  Faith wants to be generous because the treasure we have in Christ makes everything else small in comparison and if Christ cannot be taken from us, then we will not depart from Him either.  Faith rejoices not in the gift but in the Giver.  Faith hungers not simply for bread to satisfy for the moment but for the bread of life to feed us forever more.  Faith does not seek the peace that circumstance can provide, but the peace that passes understanding and comes only by faith, and only from Christ our Savior.  So do not simply be grateful, trust in the Lord, live in daily repentance, believe in His atoning work, and bow down before Him who alone is worthy.  Therein is the only healing and freedom worth having.  Amen.

The next time. . .

The next time that you are told that people are not coming because of your name or your liturgy (assuming both are faithful and a truthful reflection of your catholic confession), you just might want to play this:

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Proms as social statement. . .

Not being able to go there, I usually sit back and review the videos of The Proms.  The Proms is an eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical and some pop music concerts along with  other events held annually, mostly in the Royal Albert Hall in central London. Founded in 1895, The Proms are currently the domain of Auntie, the old title once given to the  BBC. Each season features concerts in the Royal Albert Hall, chamber music concerts at Cadogan Hall, additional Proms in the Park events across the UK on the Last Night of the Proms.  It is not only a musical event but a prominent feature of British culture.

Perhaps nothing brings the event to its climax more than the singing of  C. Hubert Parry's Jerusalem, or God Save the Queen (usually there for the event), and Rule Britannia.

Imagine my surprise, however, when I found that the finale was sung under the rainbow flag.  So this is what Britannia has become?  Wow.  Elgar and Parry seem strange relatives to the spectacle that has come to pass for God, patriotism, and culture.  Maybe they could add a verse to Jerusalem?

Monday, October 14, 2019

That explains it. . .

This from Pope Francis:  I remember when I was a student of philosophy, an old Jesuit, sly, good but pretty sly, advised me: “If you want to survive in religious life, always think clearly; but always speaks obscurely”. 

Apparently Jorge was listening because it has become the single most confounding aspect of his papacy.  You never know what he is thinking because what he says can be positively obtuse.  Perhaps that is what he wants to do but it is more than unhelpful, it takes away from the witness and credibility of the faith.  The world may be adept at words that mean whatever you want them to mean or nothing at all but in the Church we deal with the Word that does what it says, delivers what it promises, and accomplishes God's purpose in sending it.  So when anyone who presumes to speak for God purposefully obscures the clear witness of the Truth, that person becomes an impediment to God's saving will and purpose.  Even worse is when this becomes the operating practice of the Church for then no one knows what is true and what is not.

Lutherans need to pay attention to this as well.  It is one thing to be rude when we are blunt.  We must take care to make sure that the truth spoken is spoken in love but it must always be the truth.  When we muddle the message we lose credibility with those to whom we are speaking.  In the same way we need to avoid distracting from the truth by speaking rudely or pridefully as if we were somehow above the message.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Interesting and ambitious. . .

According to the WELS site, things are rapidly moving from research and surveys into pre-production mode for the new hymnal the Wisconsin Synod is producing to replace Christian Worship (1993).  What I find interesting is the scope of the project and the many accompanying volumes envisioned.

So, the Scripture Committee is moving on to the second major component of its work. The committee is busy producing a series of books entitled “Commentary on the Propers,” volumes that will expand on the previously published “Planning Christian Worship” by providing 4-5 pages of comments per Sunday/festival, showing the common thread that runs through the appointed readings. These comments will give tremendously helpful direction to preachers, worship planners, and musicians.

They expect to provide melody only for the hymns -- except for the print edition.  Because of this the hymnal will have a very large accompaniment edition.  The Accompaniment Edition for the hymns is slated to be a two-volume set totaling 1500 pages, formatted on 8.5X11 pages, with notation scaled larger for ease of reading on the music stand. (This is the format for all of the accompaniment editions.) An additional, separate accompaniment volume for the hymns is also slated to be produced: Accompaniment for Hymns—Simplified.

Although only 62 Psalms will appear in the printed hymnal, more will be available in accompanying volumes.  A separate, self-standing psalter of approximately 700 pages will include the full texts of all 150 psalms, with an average of two or three different musical settings of each psalm. The Psalter will feature approximately 450 psalm settings. These settings will have a much greater diversity of style than the one style that appeared in our current hymnal. A psalm with a refrain and chanted verses is referred to as a responsorial psalm. Six to eight different styles of musical settings will appear in the new Psalter. Each of the 150 psalms will have at least one responsorial setting and one metrical paraphrase (Christian Worship #238 is a metrical paraphrase of Psalm 103). The Accompaniment Edition for the psalter is slated to be a two-volume set totaling 1000 pages.

An Agenda will certainly be published.  This is the volume that includes rites frequently used by the pastor on special occasions such as the installation of a church council, the installation of a teacher, reception of new members, confirmation, etc. This volume and most of the other seventeen volumes are slated to be released simultaneously with the new hymnal, ready to be used for Advent 2021.  I expect that this will include a pocket edition as well as large volume, although it is not specifically noted in the WELS information.

A whole host of support volumes will be published for a variety of audiences.  I am not at all sure what all will be included.  But four manuals are being written to support the new worship books of the WELS hymnal project. The four manuals will treat topics aimed at four audiences – pastors; musicians; congregational groups; lay devotions.  Finally, a handbook to the hymnal will reproduce material certainly already available on the hymns from CW but it will be supplemented with material on the 200 or so hymns new to WELS congregations.  The current book that includes the background story for the hymns and the biographies for all of the authors and composers of the hymns was entitled: “Christian Worship: Handbook.” That comprehensive volume is being updated and will appear as an online resource.

In the end, the WELS Hymnal Project is anticipated to include print books numbering a total of approximately seventeen volumes.  That is impressive.  Remember that the WELS is small (359K in baptized membership, 286K in communicant membership, and 1270 or so congregations).  The financial investment is beyond compare for such a small body and yet it can be made because, if typical, the new hymnal will be purchased by nearly all congregations -- something not seen in other Lutheran bodies (except Missouri, which has seen LSB overwhelmingly adopted). 

What do you think?

Saturday, October 12, 2019

A great many things not good are natural. . .

So apparently there are ornithologists who are rushing to fight over who was first to notice some penguins are living in same sex couples.  In 2013 a NY Times story reported that there were two homosexual penguins in the Central Park Zoo in New York City.  It appears that penguins grow up seemingly gender neutral until maturity.  That does not say much except that gender is not something of prime importance to penguins until they are sexually mature adults.  Now you know where this is going.  Penguins Billy and Bob [made up names to protect their anonymity] have apparently been accepted by the greater penguin population of the zoo as normal.  Ah, there it is.  Being gay is normal!!  Of course, if penguins are naturally this way, it is “only natural” for humans to be gay (and/or gender neutral) and there you have positive proof from nature that God must have made them (and people) this way.  By the way, the Central Park Zoo penguins were not going to outdo other zoos which have insisted that their penguins lived an alternative lifestyle, too.

It is a fallacy to jump from gay penguins to the normalization of homosexuality.  There are a great many things that are natural but not good.  Violence, jealousy, and vengeance are all natural to the human heart and we all know the grave scourge such natural things have foisted upon our lives.  In fact, we confess every Sunday that we are by nature sinful and unclean.  Sin is natural not in the sense that God created us this way but sin has corrupted our nature.  Jesus is blunt in saying what terrible things flow out of the sinful human heart and the overwhelming longing of the sinner under the guidance of the Spirit is to long for a new heart, a clean heart, and a right spirit to contradict and overcome the sinful nature.

In the end the curious thing is that such can never be the norm for penguins or penguins will no longer be a species.  The only way penguins can reproduce is the male/female relationship.  While some humans have forgotten this, it might be good to remember this.  Technology has given us many opportunities but even in the lab the matrix of life is male and female. Just a few crazy thoughts after reading of how happy Billy and Bob penguins are living together as if they were an opposite sex couple -- maybe even happier than if they were one!

Friday, October 11, 2019

Oblique when clarity is needed

With echos of that abortion doctor who kept something like 2200 fetal remains in his home, I think of the consequences of the prolife cause.  We must be urgent and we must be diligent but we must also be clear.  The world situation begs for clarity in the muddle that too often passes for debate on this topic.

And then I read where Pope Francis' reconstituted John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family (the seeming locus of the Roman Catholic push to preserve life and the family order).  Instead of clarity you get a philosophical gobbledygook that is supposed to pass for wisdom of the highest order.  You read it and tell me I am wrong:
“The recomposition of the thought and practice of faith with the global covenant of man and woman is now, with all evidence, a planetary theological space for the epochal remodelling of the Christian form; and for the reconciliation of the human creature with the beauty of faith.  Put in simpler terms, through the overcoming of every intellectualistic division between theology and the pastoral, spirituality and life, consciousness and love, one treats of rendering this evidence persuasive for everyone: knowing the faith bodes well for the men and women of our time.”
I am told it sounds better in Italian.  It does not matter.  Words that say nothing in the urgent cause of preserving marriage and the family and challenging the culture of death are worse than saying nothing.  We must be clear.  We must be on point.  We must not equivocate.  I have little to say about the minions Frank has put into place to disrupt the once formidable force that John Paul II established.  That is not my jurisdiction.  But I do lament that there was once a more clear witness from Rome and it was profoundly appreciated by those Lutherans with the courage to take up the prolife cause.  Now it appears Rome is wavering, if not from the cause at least from its once clear witness for the sake of the unborn.

First the then Cardinal of Chicago muddled things with the moral equivalence of the abortion debate with those against the death penalty or the cause of the poor or climate change.  When he was gone we hoped that less than transparent witness was gone but then another Cardinal in Chicago has taken up the same idea and added the cause of the GLBTQ+ to the idea of justice.  Now the current Pope has taken the whole thing a step further and discredited a once powerful voice for the sake of God's order in the home and the protection of life from its natural beginning to its natural end.

So this is written to Lutherans.  Do not waver.  Do not muddle it up with goofy vocabulary you think sounds eloquent.  Do not equivocate.  Be clear.  The cause of life deserves nothing less.  We have not many friends in the ELCA and a few smaller Lutheran bodies stand with us but it appears the full resources of Rome cannot be counted upon as they once were.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

For those seeking fashion. . .

I have it on good authority that the cutting edge in chasuble fashion is fake fur. . .

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

It is all about how we use the time. . .

Teachers in my parish complain that they are being enlisted into being social service providers in addition to being teachers.  They are asked to provide for their students the things once expected to be done in the home but which we cannot expect now --- due to absent fathers (or mothers), dysfunctional family systems, economic need, addictive behaviors, abusive behaviors, mental illness untreated, emotional and adjustment problems, etc...  These are not all educational concerns.  In fact some educators insist that before meaningful education can take place in the classroom, you must deal with these things.  Maybe you can empathize with this dilemma.

It is not limited to educational settings.  I had a long conversation with a young man who is a production supervisor in a very large manufacturing company.  Some HR people and supervisors in business and industry lament that this has become their role as well.  They end up addressing the things that affect the worker or the worker's job performance.  So poor attendance, job conflicts, home issues, personal and mental health issues, etc... have now become their domain.  In order to keep jobs filled and the work going on, these kinds of things end up on their plate.  Maybe you have found this as well.

In the Church, this kind of stuff worked itself out in the way we prepared church workers in college (prior to seminary, call, and ordination).  We had a system that was not designed for this but perhaps was most effective in weeding out people long before it got to the point where they were commended to the Church.  Now that the old system of captive undergraduate ministerial (and church work) preparation is gone, this job has been thrust upon the seminaries to deal with.  Both of our seminaries have people and programs to address the mental, emotional, physical, relational, and financial well being of their students as well as the spiritual.  The problem is that this aspect of pastoral formation must compete with the curriculum and the typical disciplines you expect seminary to teach -- exegetical, systematic, historical, and practical theology.  Now there is nothing sacred about these categories or the nomenclature we use to describe them but the content of these areas of learning is sacred and Biblical.  Biblical theology, doctrinal and confessional identity, historical awareness, and the practice of these in the parish (everything from presiding and preaching to pastoral care) are the minimums expected of those preparing our pastors and those pastors prepared.

It makes me wonder what is getting short shrift in our effort to fill in the gap created by the change in our preparatory educational system.  I fear something is  being missed by all the need and attention to psychological stability, emotional maturity, relationship health, financial stewardship, AND the disciplines in which pastors are formed for their vocation and equipped with the tools to fulfill that calling.  I know that we have not expanded their time in seminary so something had to give in order to expand (necessarily) the focus on the individual as well as their educational training.

I can also understand the drive of the bishops to demand this of the seminaries.  After all, they not only have to commend these individuals to their first charge but also have to help clean up the messes after they screw up.  Too many of those end up being war zones with casualties including the pastor and his family but also the parish and its very viability.  In some respects, church conflicts are on the rise not simply due to pastors with poor people skills or work habits but also because churches reflect the culture around them and our culture is bitter, divided, and poisoned with distrust and intolerance.  I am not suggesting that we should compromise on our confession but we should realize that the playing field has changed and people are less likely to overlook mistakes and move on than they once were.  We have short attention spans today and one screw up can often become the recipe for the pastor's whole ministry spiraling out of control to some sort of meltdown somewhere.  I fear that some bishops take the congregation's side too quickly since the congregation is the more permanent fixture to them and know of parishes who keep getting pastors and keep having brutal confrontations with them.  Perhaps it is not only the pastor???  Or not even the pastor???  All in all, the pressure is on the seminaries to produce pastors without flaws or weaknesses and on congregations to unearth those flaws or weaknesses and DPs to deal with them.  That is unhealthy and unsustainable.

In the meantime, the rapidly changing world and the unfriendliness of the world to the Church and to the Gospel requires more of our pastors than the days when we could count on society and culture to be somewhat friendly or at least non-threatening to our life together.  Our pastors need even more theological preparation today -- not less.  They need to be well equipped with the tools a seminary provides so that they may discern the errors and falsehoods tempting and trying our people and preach, teach, and counsel with God's Word and the Catechism better than ever before.  The blank slates of people who grew up outside the Church and without any framework of the faith whatsoever only puts more pressure on the pastoral task.  Broken families and the lack of local family systems cries out for pastors to be more prescient and more effective in helping them find some sort of healing to go forward.  All of this suggests that there may not be enough time to fill in all the boxes in three years of on campus residential education and an internship (much less cut back on this or bypass it entirely as an online norm seems to threaten). 

Ah, well, just thinking today. . . and you know how dangerous that can be!!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Some pause. . .

I was reminded a few weeks ago that before you hit post or send on digital media, it might be wise to ask yourself if you would say that same thing in the same way face to face.  I think this is good advice.  I admit that I am sometimes rather snarky but I do try to focus my post on issues instead of individuals.  Those who read this blog join me in wishing that those who posted would do the same.  We can disagree respectfully and with integrity.  It can be done. . . if we want to do it.

Secondly, I was reminded that what I post is the same as preaching it from the pulpit because people associate it not with me only (or anyone who posts on social media) but with the office I hold.  There again are words to give us all pause. 

So let me apologize at this point for those words which have been spoken without love and without regard to how they might be received.  I am sorry.  It is not my intention to speak callously of others even thought it is my intention to point some issues out bluntly.  I only wish that a few of the commenters would make the same apology and endeavor to post more forthrightly and honorably as Christian men and women. 

Okay. . . I made my point.