Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Because it is living. . .

I was reading a piece that suggested that the world changed when music ceased to be live and was experienced mostly through recordings.  I had not really thought about it like that.  The author questioned why with so many more people in the world there seemed to be fewer child prodigies.  He suggests that the fact that most music is no longer experienced live but through recordings has changed more than we can know.  Not being an expert in the field, I would not venture to suggest why.  I only know that it has changed and there is no way to turn the clock back.

But at least within the domain of the Church, I am prepared to comment.  For too long we have paid lip service to Luther's grand statement that music is the servant of the Word and then treated the music of the Divine Service as if it were something even less than a soundtrack to the words.  We have boxed up CDs of music to be used within the Divine Service, arranged according to taste and preference.  We have organ for those who like it and contemporary Christian songs and sounds for those who like it.  Not to mention spoken masses for those who don't care to sing or are not moved by music (at least they claim not to be).  We spend our money on audio equipment to play what we want and how we want it rather than spending our money on instruments and people who can play them.  We no longer believe in live music -- in real organs and organists.  Maybe the pop songs that masquerade as worship music like live music and praise bands but they also like synthesizers and mixers to change what it sounds like so that it sounds like what they want -- even if playing or singing  it did not achieve that goal.

Why not, people ask.  Why can't we have recorded music at worship?  Interesting that the same question comes from folks who either cannot or will not pay for real musicians playing real organs as well as folks who just want Sunday morning to sound like their playlist.  The point that both sides have in common is that music is merely a tool and why would purists presume to tell us what tool to use.  I am not really sure either side wants to sing.  Some want to be entertained by song and some want the illusion of a cathedral but not the bill for it.  So both come together around the audio system that delivers both.

It is the same idea that gave birth to online worship which is the perfect substitute for in person services or virtual communions that replace the need for the assembly.  Technology is not our answer.  It will not rescue us.  The Church must awaken to this and be prepared to provide the instruments worthy of worship and those to play them. The Divine Service is a living thing.  The living Word and the Bread of Life are its center, the font and source of life that death cannot overcome.  The focus is not on us or what we do but upon Christ who bestows His Spirit, delivers His gifts, forgives our sins, and transforms us from the dead into the living who can never die.  Ours is but the response of faith and praise but that it is but a response does not diminish it in any way. Rather, it does just the opposite.  It ennobles our words and song.  But pressing play on a piece of technology is not the same as the offering of voices in song, hands and feet moved by the skills and talents of a musician, and the sacrifice of time, energy, and money to make it happen.

We will have learned a terrible lesson from this pandemic if we have learned that virtual worship is the same as being there, if we have learned that there is no difference between canned music and live, and if we have turned the Divine Service into something cheap and easy.  God knows the difference between live and Memorex even if we do not.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Religious signs without religious meaning. . .

There are religious overtones to the recent protests in the wake of George Floyd's murder that are not easy to talk about.  I am not the first to point his out and I am sure I will not be the last.  But it is a troubling view of the relationship between religion and politics, church and state, faith and the public life.  On the one hand, there are those who have taken up an adversarial relationship against certain religion.  There is no doubt, for example, that the particular rules laid upon churches restricting their assembly but relieved of those who wish to protest is a sign and mark of this disdain for religion.  I wrote before of Governor Cuomo's proud statement that God did not beat back the COVID menace but people did (translation he did).  Yet at the same time, the kinship of some with the protests and protesters has the mark of religion all over it.

Reading from Matt Taibbi (someone with Rolling Stone press credentials):
“Each passing day sees more scenes that recall something closer to cult religion than politics. White protesters in Floyd’s Houston hometown kneeling and praying to black residents for “forgiveness… for years and years of racism” are one thing, but what are we to make of white police in Cary, North Carolina, kneeling and washing the feet of Black pastors? What about Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer kneeling while dressed in “African kente cloth scarves”?
There is symbolism here that goes beyond frustration with police or even with racism: these are orgiastic, quasi-religious, and most of all, deeply weird scenes, and the press is too paralyzed to wonder at it. In a business where the first job requirement was once the willingness to ask tough questions, we’ve become afraid to ask obvious ones.”
The issue here is not the persecution of religion but the hijacking of religion for political purpose.  Pelosi the nominal Roman Catholic and Schumer the nominal Jew seem to have little affection for the doctrine and piety of their faiths except to claim that they are in good standing even when they offend those faiths with their practice or politics.  Neither of them is about to change their politics for the sake of religion but politicians are more likely to use the faith for political purposes.  Yet even this is not quite the same as what we have seen in the protests.

The danger to religion is not so much that it will become captive to politics but that it will cease to mean much of anything.  When those outside the faith and those on the fringes of that faith use religious symbols for political purpose, they do more than offend.  They weaken those symbols so that they become meaningless.  While some might celebrate that the courts allow nativity scenes, when that permission comes at the expense of what that symbol means, nothing is gained and everything is lost.  This is also true when political scenes take on religious signs and symbols.  The politics gain is religion's loss.  In the end it is more than weird but worrisome.  We should be noticing and, more than that, we should be objecting.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Ministers and the Ministry. . .

Article 13 of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession says,“If ordination is understood as carrying out the ministry of the Word, we are willing to call ordination a sacrament” (Ap 13:9). And a little further on the Latin text continues: “For the Church has the command to appoint ministers, which should be most pleasing to us, because we know that God approves this ministry and is present in this ministry.” 
Article VIII has been approved entirely, in which we confess ... Ministers act in Christ’s place and do not represent their own persons,according to Luke 10:16. Ungodly teachers are to be deserted because they no longer act in Christ’s place, but are anti-christs. [quia ministri funguntur vice Christi, non repraesentant suam personam]. (Apology 7:47)

The apostolic ministry is bound to certain persons and is not simply theory. Christ did not institute abstract functions of a ministry, but He has called concrete people into this concrete ministry.  One of the greater dangers to the Church today is to create a divide between the functions and the office in such way that the functions are important but the office is not.  Christ Himself has not only authorized this office but is present in this office.  He is the One acting through the ministry of those He has called, authorized and sent and they do not exist or act apart from His own authority and promise.  Therefore any who would mandate the functions without the office, that is, what the ministry does apart from the ministers, is in violation not only of the Lutheran Confessions but of Scripture itself.  There is no purely functional understanding of the Ministerial Office or ministry in theory, since “publicly teaching, preaching and distributing the sacraments” (CA XIV) always the charge of given to concrete people and on behalf of concrete people who receive them.  Let us be blunt here.  
To speak of the presence of Christ in the Word, in the sacraments, in the Church within the scope of confessional Lutheranism is not possible without at the same time speaking of the presence of Christ in the ordained Pastoral Office.  [Lutheran Theological Review, Lutheran faculties of the Seminaries of the Lutheran Church-Canada 2013]
How strange it is that in our day we are so quick to pass off on certain things as merely apostolic custom.  If anything, to cite apostolic custom is not to be dismissive but to elevate what has the authority of apostolic custom to a level whereby the Church must take it seriously and cannot afford to disregard it as something unimportant or even adiaphora.  The Office of the Ministry does not exist because apostolic precedence or for the sake of good order.  The Office of the Ministry exists by virtue of Christ’s will and for the sake of the salvation of sinners and therefore the Lutheran Confessions locate this office within the God's plan of salvation.  What it is that confers the authority of this office is itself not unimportant or trivial but of the greatest seriousness.  It is for this reason that the Confessions were willing to call ordination a sacrament.  It has nothing to do with an ontological change in the ordained but reverence and devotion to Christ's saving will and purpose and the most devout and solemn attention to that Office for what Christ says it is and not for what we esteem it to be.  In nearly every case over history and in our present day, when the holders of that Office are diminished, the Office suffers and when the Office suffers those who are served by that Office suffer and therefore the work of God suffers.  When we honor those who deliver to us the means of grace, we are not elevating them above others in some hierarchical fashion but remembering with thanksgiving our Lord Jesus Christ and His saving will and purpose in accomplishing salvation for us and then delivering that saving grace to sinners to forgive their sins and to those marked for death to give them life.  There are those who love to forget this just as there are pastors who hate to remember the true nature and gift of this Office.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Church MILITANT. . .

On March 22 of this year, as the corona virus pandemic was ramping up and churches were ramping down, I preached at the ordination and installation of the Rev. Richard Neely Owen.  In the sermon I mentioned the rather unsettling circumstances with which his ministry was beginning.  The service itself had been scheduled for the parish he is now serving but when the Kentucky governor closed down that venue, we shifted it about thirty miles south, across the border in Tennessee, where I serve.  So I was a little exuberant about this and proudly proclaimed that the Church here on earth was always the Church Militant, that persecutions and threats and enemies were the norm for our life together and a pastor's service to his people, and that while a pandemic was exceptional, the battle mode of the faith was the norm.  After saying his first mass here at Grace, it would be weeks and and months before he would regularly offer the Lord's body and blood to the people of the parish he was called to serve.

Now some have been unusually at ease with the shut down of the Church.  Rome quickly cancelled Easter and the bishops fell all over themselves trying to outdo what could not be done in the Lord's House.  Baptists in my neck of the woods are only weeks into resuming in person worship.  Big box evangelicals seem to be pretty happy with their online stuff.  Lutherans, a mixed bag in the best of circumstances, have continued to bicker about who is wise, who is faithful, what is the threat, and why their response is the only reasonable response.  The reality, of course, is that America is not the same everywhere and the threat from this virus is not the same everywhere.  I understand that even if some do not.  There may be places where there was no choice but to close the doors.  However, I believe those places are fewer rather than larger in number and, given Lutheranism's rural tilt, it would and should have been possible for more churches to find ways to continue rather than simply shutter the doors and send people home to watch the screens.

That brings up a point which, now that we are freed from some of the most urgent matters of survival, we could and ought discuss.  What does it mean to be the Church Militant?  Well, let us begin with the foundation for that question.  Who is the Lord?  The Psalmist has a pretty good answer:  Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle!  Because the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love does NOT mean He is milquetoast.  Our God is not schizophrenic -- a mild mannered Clark Kent at some times and a powerful Superman at others.  He does not vacillate between naughty and nice.  He is always the Lord, strong and mighty, and no stronger or mightier than when He meets our death, pays the price for our sin, and suffers for the punishment due us all.  Hidden in the guise of weakness is the Lord strong and mighty and we dare never forget it.  His surrender to be the Victim for our sin was not the act of a weak God or a fearful man.  He is the God-man whose strength is revealed on the cross and not just in the empty tomb.

Strange how it is, then, that the Church seems to muster her strength more to fight on behalf of people and causes other than the faith itself.  Some churches will issue ultimatums and protest the unjust treatment of gay, lesbian, transgender, queer, and every other stab at a gender and identity other than the one you are born with BUT will not fight for the truth of God's Word or over doctrine the Lord warns us against changing.  Some churches will risk dividing people over screens and praise bands but not over the dogmas confessed in the creeds or their own historic confessions.  Some churches will reserve their right to sit in judgment over this president or that or this law or that or this SCOTUS opinion or that but then fall into lock step with the edicts of politicians over what they may do and when they may do it.

IF we are the Church Militant, we should at least remember what it is we are most militant about.  That does not diminish the cause of the poor and the oppressed but it does recall that there is but one institution established by God to preserve and promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are it; we are her.  The Church Militant is a blowhard and a fool if she takes up fighting words at every cause well funded and well articulated by media and culture but stumbles, hems, and haws at confessing the simple creed without caveat and equivocation.  Pardon me for saying this but the GLBTQ+ does not need the Church to plead their cause -- they have the voice of the media, the resources to survive, and, apparently, the SCOTUS to come to their aid.  The unborn do not.  The Gospel does not.  The Church Militant about everything else but the cause of life and the Gospel is not the Church at all.  She is not Militant but passive, empty, foolish, and a sham.  She will never hope to see the Church Triumphant, much less become her, but will be chewed up and spit out by the Lord who loves the sinner but cannot stand the lukewarm.

Friday, July 10, 2020

From the point of view of the fish. . .

Sermon for Trinity 5, preached on Thursday, July 9, 2020.

Last Sunday we heard the gentle call of Jesus “come to Me and I will give you rest.”  We might be tempted to see today’s Gospel in the same romantic and soft terms.  But we would be wrong.  Though we typically see the call of Peter and his fishermen partners as something wonderful, it all depends upon your perspective.

Unless I am mistaken, fish do not want to be caught.  And the only fish that jump in a boat are those Asian Carp that nobody wants.  From the fish’s point of view, fishing is brutal and violent.  The hook cuts into the mouth of the fish and pulls him from the water.  The fish knows this and fights against the pull of the line with all his might.  We call it sport but it is a struggle of life and death for the fish.

It is no less brutal and violent when fishing with a net.  The net is thrust into the water and pulls many fish from their calm and familiar lives in the water to the boat and an uncertain future.  The fish show their desperation with mouths opening and closing and bodies wriggling to return to the water and to their normal lives.  We never think about it that much because we like fish and some of us like fishing.

In Luke 5, this brutal and violent enterprise is compared to the Kingdom of God.  God fishes for men with nets, ripping them from all that was familiar and routine into the unknown that requires absolute faith.  The Lord does not ask for reasoned consent but the Holy Spirit is the great disrupter of lives that have become very  comfortable – even without the confines of sin and its death.  In case you have not noticed, people are not flocking into the Church.  They weren’t before this pandemic and even now some of the baptized are fearful of coming back to the Lord’s House. 

We call the Church on earth the Church Militant – the Church fighting and at war.  But we are not merely at war with the devil, we are in a battle with the world and its allure and with our sinful selves that loved the life we were ripped from in baptism.  God cannot separate us from this world without pain.  Luther once suggested that if the baby knew what was happening in his baptism, he would cry out even louder against it.  For in baptism God is literally ripping the person out of one life and planting that person anew in a life that is strange and unfamiliar and can only be lived by faith and trust.

We are the fish in the net.  We come kicking and screaming, scratching and fighting against the work of God to save us.  We do not jump into the net.  God must rip us from our old but familiar lives and steal us to Himself.  Baptism gives life but not before first killing the old life in us.  That old life does not want to die.  The Church is not militant simply because we have enemies on the outside.  The Church is militant because we are fighting against God and His purpose and grace every day of this mortal life until the old Adam is fully dead in us and only Christ lives in us.

For all his bravado, Peter got this and was a coward in the face of God’s call.  He says to Jesus Depart from me for I am a sinful man.  Hidden in those words is St. Peter admitting that he wants to stay a sinful man rather than surrender to the new and uncertain life to which Jesus was calling him.  So Jesus’ response is not to explain the kingdom to Simon Peter but to comfort him.  Do not be afraid.  Jesus is promising a new life beyond St. Peter’s imagination but it is a new life that must be lived by faith and not by sight.  No reasoned mind will trade the old life which you know for this new life that rips you from everything familiar.  No, only the Holy Spirit can intervene to lead the fish to leave behind the water of their death for the water of life.

And so the Church continues to do violence to the fish living blindly in the water of death.  The Church reaches out with the net of the Word to call, gather, and enlighten the fish and mark them for the new life that God gives in Christ.  This new life is not easy or painless but hard and filled with sacrifice.  We bristle against the net of God’s Word and promise and we find ourselves suffocating like the fish lying on the deck of the fishing boat.  Every day we want to jump back into the old water that hides death and every day God’s Spirit must work in us to keep us in the new water of our baptism and in the new life we live by faith.

Remember how Israel complained that Moses had led them by God’s call away from Egypt.  How quickly they forgot their slavery and how easily they remembered the onions and garlic of their past.  They would have returned to it in a minute except for God’s power and grace.  Are we any different?  People do not come to Church because they love it so but because, like St. Peter admitted, we have no other place to go.  There is life only here and only in Christ.  There is forgiveness only here and only in Christ.  The net of God’s grace chafes against us because the old Adam still lives within, the old desires are hard to kill, and the old life is hard to forget.

There is not a husband or wife who has not from time to time wondered what possessed them to marry.  There have not been parents who have not wondered if their lives would have been easier without children.  Is it no wonder than that our old Adam still fights against our new lives in Christ and tempts us with regret when life presents its disappointments and trusting the Lord is put to the test?

God has fished us by the net of His grace for a new life we live by faith, fed and nourished by His Word and Table, destined for the future He has prepared in Jesus.  The Church cannot bait and switch people into God’s Kingdom.  You cannot lie them into that Kingdom by telling them it is painless and easy.  You cannot make them jump into the net.  Only God can call and gather us.  And that is exactly what He does.  The big and small, the fighting predators and the lazy bottom feeders, the fish the world has deemed valuable and those the world would throw away.  God nets them all, you and me, by His grace and favor.  The old flesh senses a trap and rightfully so but we are being trapped not by for harm but for salvation, not for condemnation but forgiveness, not for destruction but for everlasting life.

It is no wonder the world hates Jesus and hates Jesus’ fishermen.  My friends, let us not be foolish but wise in faith, acknowledging that caught up in the net of God’s grace means a daily battle, not only with the powers out there but with the desires in our hearts.  We hold onto the future God has prepared not with eyes that see but with hearts that believe.  We are kept in this faith not by reasoned argument or rich and rewarding experiences but by the voice of absolution that forgives our sins, the words of the God who continues to speak His Word into our ears, minds, and hearts, and by His flesh hidden in bread and His blood hidden in wine, that we the baptized might do His bidding today and dwell with Him eternally.  Amen.

The Great Revealer. . .

Nearly everyone on every theological side there can be presumes that Jesus came to reveal God to us – even those who do not believe Jesus is the Son of God!  Of course, the words to support this tenet of faith come from Jesus Himself.  He insists that He has come to make known the Father, that those who have seen and heard Him, have seen and heard the Father.  He does so not in arrogance but as the perfect servant whose own will is fully in accord with the will of Him who sent Him.  Jesus insists He does not speak His own words or do His own works but the words of the Father and the works of the Father.  It is explicit in His conversation with Thomas and Philip, among the rest of the apostles, and His insistence that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him.

But there is another side to this.  Before he was Pope John Paul II, he wrote that Christ came into the world to reveal man more fully to himself.  In other words, sin not only obscured our view of God or our understanding of who God is and what His will and purpose are, it also obscured our understanding of who we are and what our purpose is.  In restoring to us the God hidden to us because of sin, our Lord was also restoring to us the deep and profound sense of who we are, what our purpose is, why we are here at all, and what we are to do.

Without the revelation of Christ, we do not know who we are or why we are here.  We are like those who grope through darkness toward something they cannot see and will never see.  It does not mean we will live depraved lives or be diabolic or evil.  We may be fully good and righteous in the civil sense of this righteousness but all of this is temporary and outside the realm of God’s saving grace.  God’s revelation is not merely the light to shine on who we are and why we are here for this life, but who we are and what is the eternal shape of our lives.  Because we know the outcome of our lives, we are free to live this life without fear.  Because we know whose we are, we know who we are and live under Christ in His kingdom forevermore.  

This is also made known in another text from the Easter season periscopes.  If you love Me, keep my commandments.  In other words, the fruit of our encounter with the living God whom we meet in baptismal water and in the voice of His Word and in the bread and cup of His altar does not end with forgiveness.  Forgiveness of our sins has to happen before we are able, with clear conscience, to see who we are in Christ and what we are to be about.  Forgiveness must take place before our sinful hearts are able, under the power of the Spirit, to know and desire the things of God (His commandments).  Forgiveness must take place before our wills are set free to seek after the things of God (His commandments). 

Obedience was not dispensed with because of justification; obedience was made possible by justification.  This obedience of faith is sanctification.  It does not earn or merit anything special from God nor does this obedience contribute anything to what Christ has done to save us.  But it is the fruit of Christ’s saving work in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot cooperate with God in our salvation but by the Holy Spirit’s work we can cooperate with God in His work of sanctification.  For us as Lutherans, this has often been a difficult thing for us to talk about, especially from the pulpit.  But sermons must not only preach our justification.  They must preach sanctification so that we may be guided by God’s Word to live the new life ours in Christ.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Truth not satire. . .

What do you do when satire is no longer satire but the truth that convicts?

An anniversary. . .

Today would have been my parents 70th wedding anniversary.  My dad died five years ago and my mother celebrated her 90th birthday a few weeks ago.  The day cannot pass without a nod to their enduring life together amid ups and downs, troubles and trials, sorrows and joys, and riches counted in relationships more than money.  My brother and I have been the recipients of much of their generosity and have enjoyed the rich blessing of their love, the strong witness of their faith, and the good character of their fidelity.  But we are not alone.  The impact they made in their community lives on long past them.

Marriage has become a rather selfish relationship.  We have come to expect the main job of our spouses is to make us happy.  While this is a great responsibility, it is also an impossible one.  Love has become something rather weak and fragile -- it has a shelf life and a best by date that makes such anniversaries rarer today than a generation ago.  We still say the same vows (unless we write our own sappy little toasts to love and life).  But the words no longer mean what they did.  As long as we both shall live has become as long as we both shall love - a not so subtle testament to the fact that love will probably end and so will the marriage.  We are always willing to love when health is good and life is better but illness and the worst of times usually mean that we have reserved an out.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going. . . out the door.

The love that shows itself in longevity is a long-suffering love, a love that does not rush to judge or count wrongs or keep score.  This love is patient and kind, slow to anger, and quick to forgive.  It is not that this love is beyond us, Christ is still the source of this love and its power.  It is simply that we are not so sure this is what we want.  Oh, we love to see the tearful stories of such long and enduring love but not as a path we want to trod.  We love the idea of such a love but we seem less willing to pay the cost of it.  For such love is just that -- costly.  Christ's love for us cost Him His life on the cross and when His love shines through us it always comes with a cost.  We will need to pack in our egos, put someone before us, refuse to weigh life on a balance scale, and be ready to forgive the unforgivable.  That does not happen without help from above and with a willingness to be shaped and directed by that love.

My parents were not perfect and theirs was not a perfect marriage.  Is there such a thing on earth?  But throughout their life together they shared a common faith, were nurtured by one voice in God's Word, and were fed together at the Lord's altar.  And from that common faith flowed an uncommon love and fidelity.  It is a great blessing to me and also a great responsibility.  To have grown up knowing their strengths makes me more aware of my many weaknesses.  And it reminds me of how much my wife has had to forgive for my flaws and failings.  But forgiveness is not given to the deserving or the worthy but to sinners who lament their sins, take responsibility for them, and ask to be absolved.  Thanks be to God that there are husbands and wives who forgive and a God who absolves the sinner and quiets the conscience.  Because of this, there is still hope.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Pietism and Moralist Therapeutic Deism. . .

Pietism is movement that began within Lutheranism that combines its conservative view of Biblical doctrine with an individualistic focus upon personal piety and which frames Christianity largely within the context of how to live an authentic and godly Christian life. Pietism has been Lutherans gift to Christianity with particularly good reception among Protestants in Europe and North America (and to the missions planted by those so affected).  It is not particularly old, having originated in Germany in the 1600s but with roots far deeper.

It is most often associated with the work of Philipp Spener, a Lutheran theologian who emphasized personal transformation through spiritual rebirth and renewal, individual devotion, and piety.  Spener cannot be blamed for those who took pietism to its natural outcome and the quietistic, legalistic, and semi-separatist practices espoused by its advocates, he certainly provided a good spring board for Pietism to develop.  The Pietists believe "that any true Christian could point back in his or her life to an inner struggle with sin that culminated in a crisis and ultimately a decision to start a new, Christ-centered life" (see Russell Dawn, 2018). Check out a whole issue of Christianity Today on the role and impact of Pietism upon American Christianity.

Pietism flourished in Scandinavia and through Scandinavian immigrants, Pietism has been a force upon Lutheranism for several hundred years.  The idea was that Christianity was not so much a system of doctrine or beliefs as much as it was a guide for practical Christian living. Foremost among such teachers Johann Arndt but centuries later Dietrich Bonhoeffer would suggest that Pietism was the last ditch effort to save Christianity. Methodism borrowed heavily from the Pietists.  Indeed, the Pietist ethic of an active but practical Christianity is more responsible for the characteristics of American Protestant religious identity than the more demanding Calvinistic theology of Puritanism.

Few would echo Bonhoeffer's judgment now and Methodism is a shell of its former size and self.  One might think that this would translate into less influence from Pietism but such has not been the case.  Even Lutheran Confessionalism has lived parallel to the place and influenStilce of Pietism.  Perhaps the most current offspring of Pietism is MTD, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism has replaced orthodox Christianity in many of America's churches –both Protestant and Catholic–across the USA.  
  • Moralistic: In other words, it is the reduction of the Christian faith to good works alone and Christians to respectable people who are more concerned with saving the planet and improving this life than saving souls.  
  • Therapeutic: Its message is both individual and therapeutic.  If you will but turn to Jesus He will fix your tired old marriage, keep your kids from doing drugs or going off the deep end, make your business and, therefore, YOU a success, help you exorcise your personal demons, and help you become the good person you always knew you were. 
  • Deism: But of course God created the world and got it going.  It is just that after that God got tired, retired, and has been mostly a spectator watching what we are doing with His creation. Sure, there is a God, but He is not active and most likely is napping away the time in a comfy chair in the clouds somewhere -- leaving the heavy lifting to us to make the world a better place.
Both Pietism and its bastard child, MTD, have created a weak and fragile Christianity, devoid of objective and eternal truth and empty of dogma worth fighting for.  Living with a God who is not really present but is really absent, sacraments become symbols and Scripture becomes words which must be sifted into something worth believing and teaching.  To the Pietist the question may be is it true for you but to MTD the question is how does it feel to you.  Still American Christianity wrestles with the whole idea of a God of truth and prefers a God of the heart.  American Lutheranism has grown too comfortable with this idea -- whether the liberal end of it which has turned the Gospel into "to thine own self be true" to its more conservative side which asks "why don't you feel and act better if you love Jesus?"  Both sound nice but neither offers anything real or true or worth fighting for.  Which is why American Christianity and Lutheranism has so quickly made its peace with the changing fabric of American culture and society and why our churches are still bleeding members.  Happy people, happy God.  Or so they say.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Come to Me and I will give you rest. . . .

 Sermon for Pentecost 5, Proper 9A, preached on Sunday, July 5, 2020.

    It is a holiday weekend and America uses holidays for just about anything and everything but rest.  We take the time off to clean the house, do the laundry, shop for groceries, do yard work, gather with friends and family, cook up great eats, drink up something to cool us down, and shoot off some fireworks.  It will be a diversion from the ordinary routine, a distraction from the things waiting for us during our time on, and even a chance to catch up on things put off.  But how much of it will be rest?

    Doctors tell us we do not sleep enough.  Psychologists tell us the stress is killing us.  Our bodies tell us that we need time off.  Our minds tell us that we cannot even think straight anymore.  Our memories are clogged with too much stuff and so we do not remember what we should and we cannot forget what we shouldn’t remember.  We need rest.  We need a regular routine of rest.  Maybe there is something to the idea of a Sabbath Day in which rules prevent you from anything that might pass as work.  If we cannot force ourselves to take time off for rest, who can convince us that this is what we need.  I am as guilty as anyone in this.  My busiest day usually falls on the day we assume to be time off.

    But what is the rest we need?  Jesus insists that the rest we need cannot be found in a more stress free life or an easier schedule or a more relaxed pace to thing.  No, Jesus insists that the rest we need cannot be found in long nights of sleep or power naps at work or recreational time for play.  Come to Me, says Jesus.  Here Jesus is claiming to be the rest we need and the peace we long for.

    Jesus offers us real rest – rest from the pain of life and loss, rest from the labor of weary muscles and minds, rest from sickness and affliction, rest from fear and anxiety.  But this is not found in some magical pill or miracle elixir.  He is the rest we need and the peace we seek.  We can find this rest in no one and no where but Jesus.  He is not a sign post or advertisement for the cure to what ails us, He is that cure.  He is the great physician of body and soul.

    TV was invented to bring the family together.  For years it seemed to work, until we got our own devices and retreated to watch our own things in our own spaces.  The same is true of technology.  It was created to make our lives easier.  The sad result has been more complicated lives, higher expectations to be disappointed, and now we are so in touch with all the troubles around the world that we have no escape from it all, no refuge in which to hide from bad news, and no hiding place to run away from all the news that is so menacing and troubling to our souls.
    Jesus has come for just this – for dreams that became disappointments, for sin that could not be hidden, for guilt that could not be denied, for shame that could not be put away, for illness that would not heal, and for death that could not be postponed.  He has come for just this – for all that technology has failed to improve and only made worse, for death that does not honor any friendship, and for conflict that does not end.  His gift is not some secret plan or magic bullet but taking from us our destiny due to sin and giving to us His righteousness, life, and hope.

    Jesus was born to quiet the desperate hearts of a people who long for rest but do not find it.  Jesus lived for people whose good intentions are too few and whose sins are too many.  Jesus died for a people who would do anything not to die.  Jesus rose for a people who might even choose death rather than keep on living in the pain of this moment.  Jesus is our rest.  All around us the world is pushing us and only Jesus takes from us all the burdens of this life and sin and death and makes them His own.  All around us the world is pressuring us to play harder, work harder, love harder, and live harder but only Jesus can give real release and peace to a people who know nothing but the relentless push to define our lives by what we have or what we do.

    The Sabbath was always Jesus.  It was never a day without an agenda or the dream of time off from the old routine.  The Sabbath was always Jesus.  He healed on the Sabbath, gathered grain with His disciples on the Sabbath, and ate and drank on the Sabbath.  He was not breaking the rules but embracing all that the Sabbath was meant to give.  And in exchange, He offers to you and to me rest.  A clear conscience through Holy Absolution.  A new identity in baptism in which the past we want to forget is forgiven.  A new direction for our live in commandments that no longer impose upon us but have become our delight.  And a new end for our days in the eternal day which we enter through His own resurrection to everlasting life.

    The Church is not that rest.  But it is the place where we meet it.  Because Christ is here in His Word and in His Sacraments.  Christ is here still claiming all our failures and failings.  Christ is here still offering hope to those who have none and a family to those who are all alone.  Here is where Christ is.  Here is where the water of life bubbles up to receive its newest newborn by Water and the Word.  Here is where a food without much symbolism but with great substance feeds us in bread Christ’s body and in wine His blood.  Here is rest not because the pastor is a great preacher or has a voice that puts you to sleep but because He proclaims Christ crucified and risen.  Here is rest, not because we can sit back and do nothing but because Christ has done everything and all we have to do is to give Him thanks for all that He has done and still does.

    Come to Me, all you laborers so broken and wounded by the heavy lifting of sin and its death.  Come to Me, all you who wake up to work and sleep to work again.  Come to Me all you whose minds are unsettled by the news around you.  Come to Me, all you who are afraid of losing a loved one to death or dying your own death.  Come to Me, all you who argue and debate with words that should not be spoken and bitterness that leaves enemies in your wake.  Come to Me, all you who play so hard you are more tired that ever and more in debt to what others think and what it costs to make ends meet.  Come to Me, all you who have tried so hard and still it seems like you only screw things up even more.  And I will give you rest.  That is the promise of Jesus.

    So will you come?  Will you come and lend Your voice to the song of praise that comes forth from this place?  Will you come and find hope planted in the suffering and death of the Savior for all who are redeemed by His blood.  Will you come and eat at His table and drink from His cup the heavenly bread and wine of His flesh for the life of the world?  His yoke is easy.  His burden light.  Because He has done the hard part and carried all the weight of our sin and its death.  Will you come?  God grant me a willing heart that I may know Christ as my rest and live in Him all my days.  Amen.

The Limits of our Technology. . .

There are those who have suggested that this pandemic may have been a good thing.  They suggest that it has forced churches to get out of their buildings and into the lives of their people.  They point to their glowing statistics on social media platforms and to the way that worship has left the sanctuary and taken up residence in the home.  They have invented everything from virtual communions to a prayer life and devotional community created by technology. 

We as sacramental and liturgical folks have been severely tempted by the prospects of transferring what we had been doing in person to some sort of virtual or online version.  Not a few have either suggested or actually adopted the practices identified above.  Zoom has been suggested as an answer to a host of questions about meetings, conventions, Bible studies, and the like -- not as something we must do in an emergency but as a regular part of what we also do in person.  Nearly everyone with a smart phone has become a video producer and the infrastructure of our social media must have been tried by the abundance of videos and live streaming events in which we tried to do something when we could not do what we had been doing on Sunday morning.

I hope that I am not the only one who is concerned about this.  What was once an urgent need because of extreme circumstance quickly becomes the norm and routine down the road.  We should be talking about this and proceeding more cautiously.  The Church is not a building.  Everyone knows that and no one is suggesting otherwise.  But neither is the Church a social media group or virtual assembly.  We cannot received an enfleshed Savior through the means of grace via the virtual media of a screen.  It is not possible.  It is not a matter of what we want to do but what cannot be done.  And I am not merely talking about online communions.  Nearly everything the Church does requires bodies together in one place.  Nearly everything about who we are as Church requires community and not isolated individuals in front of a screen.  Although some would argue with me, I think prayer also fits within this discussion.  What we must do when we have to dare not become normative -- not even prayer prayed over Zoom or Facebook or YouTube or Vimeo or even the phone. 

The sad truth is that the people who once worked at home because they must, just may begin to work at home as the ordinary shape of their jobs changes.  Personal interaction with folks who work at home is limited to what technology can offer.  A Zoom meeting or conference call among folks who know each other well already is something far different than strangers tuning into a virtual meeting.  Individual work before a screen can happen anywhere but the community around the water cooler or coffee pot or the things you learn by looking into the faces of your co-workers or hearing the tone in their voices or seeing their body language cannot be communicated on virtual platforms.  These are the very people for whom the Church as another technological tool, demand, or option is the least helpful.  As easy as it is for those to tune in, it is even easier for them to tune out and no one is the wiser.

The sad truth is that we are all probably so happy to get back to -- as close as we can -- to our old routines, we will probably forget this discussion.  But whether or not another pandemic comes along, the practices will continue among those who think that they are effective, a credible substitute for personal interaction, and a replacement for being there.  Imagine how that would impact not only the life of the Church but the understanding of the Church if what we do for those who cannot attend the Divine Service would become the norm for everyone!  CDs of the worship service, videos of the service, phone devotions and prayer, and our social media presence can be tools of the ministry but used with discretion and with a clear understanding of what they are not.  Technology is not our savior nor is technology our enemy but it will be our undoing unless we are clear about the limits of technology to aid and assist us in the work of the Kingdom. 

Monday, July 6, 2020

40 years and counting. . .

Forty years ago today on what was perhaps the hottest Sunday in July in Nebraska, I was ordained.  It was in the church where I was baptized, where my dad was baptized, and where I was taught the faith in Sunday school and catechized.  It was a simple service of Vespers.  There were not too many pastors there but many relatives and family friends and parishioners among whom I grew up.  It was a beginning but one that had been under preparation for more than 26 years.  I did not realize the direction of my life until almost that day.  But on that day I was more conscious than ever that the schooling was safer and easier than the unknown before me.  I had been called by Resurrection Lutheran Church of Cairo, New York.  This was before the days of cell phones, email, and internet and I had no idea what awaited me in New York and they had no idea who it was whom the Church had assigned to them as their Pastor.

My home church had faithfully supported me along the way.  Their financial and prayerful support had helped to bring me to this day.  They even gave me $500 for vestments (which my loving wife made from Almy kits and thus magnified the gift into a full set of chasubles still in regular use!).  We had a meal in the church basement and their were some special gifts from special people.  A quilt was handmade with scenes embroidered from Scripture and countless cards and gifts of money were given to a young pastor whose future was waiting to be written.  I deserve nothing of their kindness but kindness is never deserved -- just like the Lord's kindness is bestowed upon us, unworthy though we are.

We made a trip to pick out a sofa and a couple of chairs and purchased a washer and dryer and freezer from my dad and loaded them up for New York.  We stopped in Ft. Wayne to pick up the rest of our meager belongings and headed into the great unknown.  I still remember the drive through Cairo, NY, one street long with no sign or direction or GPS to tell us we were there.  We did see the moving van and put two and two together and suddenly we were looking over the parsonage that would be our home and the church that would be my workplace.  It seems like yesterday.  But forty years have passed.

I am not a starry eyed youth anymore.  My beard is gray and my hair is graying and my kids are all now older than I was when I was ordained.  My wife is about the only one who has not changed all that much.  Some days I feel old and tired.  But, strangely enough, most of the time I feel much like I did 40 years ago.  I love what I am doing and find being a pastor just as compelling as when I began.  Thanks to the COVID 19 pandemic, the past four months or so have been filled with unknowns and challenges to keep me focused on what I do and not on how long I have been doing it.  I will have to face the day when the dreaded "r" word (retirement) will have to be faced but not now and not yet.  I am happy to have been in only two parishes -- Cairo, NY, and now Clarksville, TN.  I still get butterflies when I mount the steps to the pulpit and I still feel in awe of lifting my hands at the altar and bringing the Lord's body and blood to His people.  I have been given a great associate to ease some of the burden and, as he began his own journey as a pastor, we have built a solid friendship on mutual respect and great affection.

Forty years. . . and counting.  Deo volente. 

Sunday, July 5, 2020

A pause to refresh. . .

What you cannot legally do in Californa churches. . .

Apparently the politicians have decided that there is little risk in bullying churches.  Perhaps they are right.  It does not seem that churches are putting up much of a fight.  In other words, in California you can worship is no one speaks or sings or chants or sitting too closely or letting children out of the direct care and control of the parent, and a host of other things that are non-essential.  But I guess if the church is not essential, neither would any of the church's activities be essential.

Californians are still free to attend their house of worship. But they’re forbidden from singing or chanting. Updated COVID-19 guidelines issued Wednesday by the state Department of Public Health require churches and other houses of worship to “discontinue singing and chanting activities.”  In previously allowing religious organizations to reopen in late May, the state merely said these institutions should “strongly consider discontinuing singing, group recitation, and other practices and performances.

And why shouldn't the California governor be bold?  After all, the U.S. Supreme Court denied an application for injunctive relief filed by South Bay United Pentecostal Church (Church) challenging California Governor Gavin Newsom's restrictions.

And now this.

The US Navy has in some commands restricted participation in indoor religious services off base.  Service members are required to sign that they have received the FRAG orders.  Those who disobey will be held accountable.  The orders also add that “civilian personnel, including families, are discouraged from” these indoor church services, as well.

The provision is particularly odious because frequently the choices on base may be severely limited due to the fact that some, perhaps even many, installation chapels are still closed—even though many of them could well ensure appropriate social distancing.  Of course, the Navy cannot legally prohibit family members from frequenting religious services off base.  Those family members return home where the military member lives.  What is the protective effect of the prohibition for the Navy personnel?

And again, the Church is viewed as an enemy and worship is prevented.  How will this help?

Read more here: https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/health-and-medicine/article243973397.html#storylink=cpy

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Liberty and responsibility. . .

While the focus has certainly been on those who abuse their authority as agents who serve to protect and defend, we should not forget those who regularly protect and defend us and our freedom.  Liberty is not an achievement but a constant battle against those who would steal our freedom from us and those who would abuse that freedom as license to do as they please.  I believe that we have seen ample evidence of both in the last weeks and months.

The overreach of those who, in the name of protecting us, restrict our rights will have to be sorted out unless we as people are willing to let it become permanent.  The power of media not simply to report but to shape public opinion is one that deserves our constant review.  The authority of government to close down churches and restrict what churches do (such as Holy Communion) demands that reconsideration.  The culture of violence that pervades those who are supposed to restrain it as well as those who turn protest into mobs and looting cannot be allowed to stand.  The desire to sanitize the public square from offensive image or speech and to eliminate this from history is not laudable but laughable -- yet this is exactly what must be done by those who want to hijack our liberty and control our thoughts as well as our words and works.

Racism is a terrible stain upon our liberty.  It is an offense against God as well as against mankind.  Yet those who cry out against institutional racism forget that institutions are not the sources or enforcers of such prejudice.  Only people can be racist and only people can be prejudiced.  Those people can use institutions to further their racism and expand the control of their prejudice but institutions are what we make them to be.  To tear down worthy institutions because unworthy people have used them wrongly is not simply a mistake but a fool's endeavor.  How much better to enlist the institutions of our land in the pursuit of equal justice before the law, equal opportunity in the marketplace, and equal status in employment and commerce!

While it is certainly true that prejudice can be recognized though it is difficult for it to be eradicated, that should not prevent us from working as best we are able to look past our prejudices and make sure that the full benefit of freedom be realized -- people judged by their words and their works, by their character and their conscience, and by their selflessness and service.  Freedom is an ugly thing when it is used simply to pursue self-interest.  Our liberty was not won nor defended by those who sought simply to act for their own self-interest.  Our nation cannot be sustained by selfishness without compassion or by self-centered pursuit of the individual against everyone else.  We survive by being a community in which we share common values and fulfill common responsibilities to each other, to the legacy we received from those who went before, and to the future we bequeath to those who follow.  The delicate balance between individual freedom, personal responsibility, and community is what we must work to preserve.

On this Fourth of July, amid fireworks and hot dogs and a cold beer, we might take time to remember this.  As we celebrate in our backyards and, where we are able, with our neighbors, we might dare to remember that freedom is cherished best when people work together to preserve its gift and take personal responsibility for their careful stewardship of its treasure and for passing on to those who follow us not simply liberty but an informed understanding of what it takes to keep it alive.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Lunacy and Logic. . .

There have been those who suggested that lunacy is the rejection of reason and logic.  I wonder if it is the exact opposite.  Could it be that lunacy is to accept only reason and logic?

The SCOTUS opinion in Bostock v. Clayton County is not only a majestic tour de force on behalf of a living document in which words that meant one thing at one time can mean something else later.  No, it is also the triumph of logic, albeit flawed, in order to guarantee an outcome that fits the spirit of this age. The issue before the Court was whether Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that bars employment discrimination on the basis of sex also bars such discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Few could have predicted that with a 6-3 decision the supposed conservative majority would find that the Act does indeed forbid such discrimination. By all accounts the effect will be dramatic in the hands of those who perceive a way to enlarge old legislation with new meanings to their words.  But it is also sheer lunacy.

Gorsuch has tread upon the path of this lunacy in suggesting that if A=B and B=C, then A must equal C.  So, in Gorsuch logic, if a man who identifies as a woman is fired for identifying as a woman, he is actually being fired for that which would be entirely acceptable IF he were a woman.  And a man who has sex with men who is fired is being discriminated against for something that would be perfectly acceptable IF he were a woman. Therefore, employment decisions based on rejections of homosexuality or transgenderism fall under the 1964 Civil Rights Act and are protected.  Seems reasonable and logical, right?  But it is sheer lunacy!

I should not be fired for stealing, for example, if it would not be illegal for me to take what was mine IF it were mine.  I should not be fired for just about any immorality clause, since, there is hardly any morality clause which could not be nullified under some delusion of the grand and great IF.  I should not fired for anything at all since the fulcrum of his argument is the IF that protects everyone.  What about those who identify as Black or African American?  What about those who identify as white?  Where is end to such lunacy?  There is none.

The true lunacy is to argue with logic that leads you anywhere and that anywhere becomes nowhere.  If I were among those poor and oppressed for whom the Act were written I would be rightfully offended.  Unlike the modern day LBGTQ+ movement which is well funded, well served in the media, and well represented before the law, when this Act was written, there were no voices to speak or money to protect or media outcry to herald or legislating judges to act.  And therein lies the true lunacy.  This logic makes a mockery of protected rights and hides them behind the virtual and therefore not real illusion of how I feel, identify, or prefer in the moment.  From the lines of those seeking employment to the high school athletes seeking fair competition, the lunacy of this flawed logic will be the end of more than we care to know and it will result in more unfairness and inequity than it is supposed to overcome.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Fallacy of How Precious Life Is . .

Throughout the corona virus pandemic we have been told that life is too precious to value simply in money.  By this reasoning, we willingly surrendered a booming economy to the medical experts who insisted that this is what must be done.  Now our vocabulary is filled with new words and phrases that have become routine -- from social distancing that is not so social to masks and sanitizers to testing to contact tracing.  We freely set aside our liberty for the sake of those more fragile or susceptible to our unseen threat.  All of this was done because life was too precious to be gambled with and voices within Christendom insisted that love for neighbor was more important than the command of God to worship Him in the solemn assembly.

But the fallacy in all of this remains that life is not precious at all.  Every day during the restrictions imposed upon us in the name of the pandemic, children in the womb were killed in the essential business of abortion.  Now there is talk that it might be possible for doctors to give aid and consent to suicide through Zoom or other technology -- thus assuring that nothing interfere with the rights of those who have decided enough is enough.  The right to end your own life safely and painlessly is nowhere in the constitution but it has become the new right in a bill of rights tuned to a litany of rights not enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

We have witnessed the protests across America and the world over the shocking killing of George Floyd and seen the restrictions upon gatherings lifted for the first amendment rights of marchers (even while constitutional protections for religious assembly were restricted still).  Yet in the midst of this protest against the death of one who was supposed to be protected and served by the police, we dare not admit that abortion continues to take more Black lives than any other means.  Black lives do matter.  Of course.  Except the black lives in the womb.  No one is protesting the fact that every day nearly 1,000 Black babies are ripped from the wombs of their mothers -- with not only the consent of the mother but with the approval of the greater Black community.  So essential is this right to kill that it is never mentioned as protests rightfully and forcefully stand against this killing of a Black man in police custody.

The fallacy that all lives matter or even all Black lives matter is undone by the constant and prevalent practice of aborting the child in the womb.  It happens every day in numbers that are far beyond any other cause of death in America.  Not even heart disease or cancer come close to the rate of death by legalized abortion.  I cannot countenance the brutality of some police but neither am I willing to condemn all police for the actions of some.  I cannot countenance the violence of some protesters but neither am I willing to condemn all protesters as rioters.  But at some point, we as a culture have decided that the death of infants in the womb must be countenanced and all around us in the outrage of a culture of discrimination and prejudice the silence is deafening for the children we murder every day as if it were normal.  There is nothing liberal about liberalism which will fight for the rights of those who live under prejudice and racism but remains silent in the face of the legalized murder of abortion.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Gladly hearing the Law. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 4, Proper 8A, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, June 29, 2020. 

               This morning we prayed, Almighty God, grant that we may gladly hear Your Word proclaimed among us and follow its directing.  This prayer asks to be led by the Spirit so that we’d keep the 3rd Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  But what does that mean?  It means that we should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear it and learn it.  But is that something we regularly do?  Do we consider preaching a sacred thing, or something we’re forced to sit through on Sunday morning?  Do we gladly hear the Word of God? 
               If it’s pleasant sounding, then yes we’ll gladly hear it.  We like to hear the promises of God.  We like to receive His Word of blessing.  Who wouldn’t want to hear these good things?  But maybe we’re too glad and too eager to hear these words, willing to only hear these pleasant sounding words. 
               It’s a great temptation for us to only hear what we want to hear, to seek out preachers and teachers who will say only what we want them to say.  We having itching ears (2 Tim 2:4), and the only thing that will satisfy them are the words we want to hear: words that promise earthly success; words that say we can live the life we want if we just imagine ourselves in it; words that assure us that God accepts us the way we are, sins and all; words that convince us that even though we give in to sin’s temptations sometimes, we’re not sinners and deep down we're really good people; words that say if we just try our best, that’s good enough; words that promise we can build heaven on earth, ending all of the turmoil in the world.  But these words are contrary to God’s Word.  They’re false Gospels.  What we need to hear is God’s true Word, His full Word, His Law and Gospel. 
               But we don’t like to hear the Law, do we?  We don’t like to hear the words that Jesus spoke in our Gospel reading today, and last Sunday, and the Sunday before that.  We don’t like to hear that there’ll always be division on earth, division between father and son, mother and daughter.  We don’t like to hear that we’ll be hated for bearing Jesus’ name.  We don’t like to hear that we ARE sinners, that we’re not good people, that we deserve condemnation and death.  We don’t like to hear that God doesn’t accept us the way we are, that He has righteous wrath because of our sin.  We don’t like to hear that God commands us to be holy just as He is holy (1 Pt 1:16; Lev 11:44). 
               I must admit that at times I struggle with wording my sermons.  I’m concerned with how I preach the Law because I don’t want to offend you.  And yet, that’s exactly what we.  We need to hear the Law, to be offended, because the Law reveals our sin, and sin is offensive.  It’s offensive to God.  We need to hear this, and it’s good to hear. 
               We call God’s Law bad because we hear Paul talking about how we’re free from it in Christ, and therefore it must be bad.  But that’s not the case.  Listen again to what Paul actually says: “What then shall we say?  That the law is sin?  By no means!  Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. … So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:7, 12).
               We think the Law is the problem, but it isn’t the problem, our sin is the problem.  The Law doesn’t bring about our sin, it reveals it.  It shows us what is evil and rebellious.  It shows us that we deserve death.  The Law doesn’t put sin and evilness in our hearts, it’s already there. 
God’s Law is holy, it’s righteous and good.  It shows us our sin and our need for Christ to save us.  And so, with faith, we do gladly hear the Word of the Law, not because it sounds sweet and pleasant, but because we need to be convicted of our sin and called back to repentance.  We need to be offended by our sinfulness so that we can receive the good news Gospel of our Savior, who suffered the righteous wrath of God on the cross in your place.  We need to hear what is holy, righteous, and good so that we can respond to the forgiveness we’ve received and live holy lives according to God’s Law.
               When we hear God’s Law with faith, we rightly understand that it’s for our benefit.  We can see the blessings in it and the rewards for living by it. 
That’s not something we often talk about.  We shy away from talking about rewards because we don’t want to give the impression that we can earn heaven by our works; and we can’t.  The reward of heaven isn’t yours because of what you’ve done, but because of what Christ has done.  And yet, Christ Himself promises rewards for those who received His prophets. 
There are inherent blessings in following God’s Law, for doing what God has commanded.  When we honor our father and mother, when we obey the authorities the Lord has placed over us, we enjoy a peaceful life.  When we love our neighbors as ourselves, when we help them in their needs, when we speak well of them, we often receive these in turn.  When we remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, we receive rest from the crazy world around us, we receive God’s forgiving word and refreshment through the Lord’s Supper.  It’s good to follow the Law of the Lord.  It’s good to obey His commands; for in this, the Lord gives blessings. 
We say we love the Word of the Lord, but what we really mean is we love the pleasant sounding words.  We don’t like to hear the Law.  But God’s Law is holy and righteous and good.  It shows us our sin, so that we might receive our Savior.  It shows us what a godly life looks like.  And so, as God’s children, we gladly hear God’s full Word, His Law and His Gospel.  We hear it with repentance and with faith.  We hear it and receive the blessings He gives through it.  In Jesus’ name...Amen.