Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Multiculture is no culture. . .

In the grand egalitarian scheme of things, multiculturalism honors every deity held in esteem by every people -- the more the merrier!  Even in some Christian schools (even some Lutheran ones!), the presence of a diverse student body and the attention to various calendars creates a no-win situation.  On the one hand, if you are a Christian (Lutheran) school, should you not honor the one and only culture of Scripture and the God who is the author and actor in its story?  Of course, you risk offending those who do not share in that Christian culture of identity, belief, and practice.  Or do you suggest that every religion is equal and every god has a place at the table and presume that not only the Christians but every other religious adherent is likewise watered down and religious lite?  Unless it is merely the honoring of a legacy or history, what god wants to be merely one of many gods and what god wants to share the glory with every other deity that passes for a religion?

It would seem to me that the best choice is not to honor the student but to honor the character and identity of the institution.  If it is a religious school, honor the religion that claims it and orders its life.  Those on campus who are not of the religion of the school are not there to take down that religion.  I suspect that all of them are there because somehow they got the money and grades to get in and they want to leave with an impressive piece of paper on their wall (sometimes useful for gainful employment and sometimes not).  I would further suspect that these diverse religious populations tend to be significantly smaller than the group that owns the property and runs the institution and perhaps the greatest percentage of the study body is not all that into any religion.  What good does it do to play with the faiths of others as if you were ordering food at an ethnic restaurant?  For everyone who is acting the part of being religious, there are those who truly believe their faith.  Does it make anybody happy to turn any religion into a watered down imitation or parody of itself?  

If the students on campus are so moved and want to practice their faith, hey, its a free country.  But to try and sponsor such events as if multiculturalism were a really good thing ends up only diminishing every faith and makes all of them seem rather petty and insignificant.  While his might not be recognized by a culture determined to make gender a decision, the people running these institutions should know the difference.  In the end, multiculturalism treats every religion and ethnicity as if it were the soup du jour or the daily special at the diner.  Who wants their faith and culture treated in this way?  Who would allow outsiders to parody and stereotype their faith and call it virtue?  As a Christian I am offended and I would expect that anyone serious about their religion would be likewise offended.

It sounds so good and noble and all but in the end it makes a joke out of that which ought to be the most serious thing in our lives -- this we believe, teach, and confess.  While this is most certainly true of Christianity (and Lutheranism), it should be no less true of other faiths. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The curse of being normal. . .

There was a time when Christianity was exceptional, when it was filled with mystery and awe, and when it drew the notice of the curious and bored.  There was a time when Christianity stood out and did not fit in, like a square peg, it did not fit in the round hole of predictable and ordinary life and thought.  There was a time when Christian worship was about that which could not be held or seen -- known by faith but judged an even greater reality than the rest of life.  At some point in time, most of this disappeared both from within the household of Christian churches and people and in the view of those on the outside.  Christianity became normal.  I long for the time before this happened.

Blame or reason cannot be laid at those outside the Church -- either critics or admirers.  They did not do it to us.  We did it to ourselves.  We became enamored of the idea that God could be explained and so faith could be explained.  We ended up with a faith that was not an encounter with the mystery of God but a rational conclusion to a series of logical proofs.  We turned faith into something ordinary and God became just as ordinary -- a convenient refuge in an emergency and a pursuit when the material was found wanting but not an end to and not even the definer of life.  Church became more and more about us and less and less about God and so Christianity became a rather pedestrian religion, a normal faith in normal things.

We decided that even though Jesus insisted His kingdom was not of this world, ours would be.  We would build a kingdom for God by taking over governments and governing.  We would build a better world by force, if necessary, so that God would be impressed with our efforts and we could be judged an earthly success as well as a heavenly one.  Then, when we were in charge, we manifested a decidedly earthly wisdom and spirit in how we administered the power we had been given or simply grabbed.  It was the exchange of one set of ordinary things and people for another and the world hardly noticed.  Though I am sure that God has noticed.

Gone are the days when we actually believed that standing in the House of God was standing on the holy ground of God's presence.  Now we sit back in cushioned seats, sipping our designer coffee from our special mugs, waiting to be entertained or for self-improvement tips for our lives -- if we come at all.  We sit back in our neighborhoods and workplaces doing the same thing -- without any real sense of vocation or purpose larger than the next moment, the next thing on our screens, and clock out time to pursue our leisure without constraint.  We seem proud of the fact that Christians are just as sinful as those outside the Church, divorce at the same rate, cohabit as frequently, and have kids with the same problems as those without Christian faith.  Perhaps we forgot or maybe we just did not want to be the Church -- the called out to stand out.  In any case, the world looks at Christianity and, at best, sighs with boredom.  At worst it blames Christianity for all the problems inside us all.

I think about the worst thing that happened to Christianity, to Christians, and to worship is that we became normal, average, ordinary, and nothing special or different from the landscape around us.  I fear that this was the point where the children raised in the Church began to ditch her and the world began to ignore her and we started yawning in the face of God.  Maybe at some point, Christians and their churches will begin to be not normal, not average, not ordinary, but something as special as the places where God is at work bestowing the miracle of His gifts in the mystery of the means of grace.  Until that happens on a large scale, make sure it is happening in your congregation.



Monday, May 27, 2024

The mystery is the unity. . .

Sermon for the Holy Trinity (B), preached on Sunday, May 26, 2024.

In our world today the byword for everything is diversity.  This diversity is not simply a celebration of difference but the promotion of such difference.  In fact, it is the presumption that diversity by itself is a cardinal tenet of human rights and authenticity in people and in our institutions.  We have all become blank canvases in which we paint the picture of ourselves and repaint it as often as we want.  The job of the world around us is to celebrate every incarnation of ourselves and our truth and our identity and cheer us on.  I do not need to tell you this.  You already know it well.  Diversity is good and uniformity is bad.  That is the shape of things in our world today.

In contrast to this, the confession of the Holy Trinity is not about diversity at all.  We are not confessing three Gods or three persons who share part of the Godhead or persons with competing wills and purposes.  The great mystery of God is not the Three Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  No, the great mystery of God is that the Trinity is unity.  The Father is not the Son is not the Spirit – as the Athanasian Creed takes pains to point out.  But the confession of the Trinity would be a lie about God unless we accompanied this with the Unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This Unity is revealed in the love of the Triune God for us sinners.  This is not a celebration of diversity or even distinctions as much as it is the joyful confession of love in the shape of a family.  When God sent Adam out to name creation it was so that Adam would realize he was not a family but alone.  From that realization, God reflected on earth the familial shape within the Trinity.  It was not good for man to be alone because God was not alone.  Because God created man with a will, the man that God made had to realize this before understanding and appreciating the blessing of family.

The Trinity is Unity.  That is the mystery revealed in Christ.  The Father is the source of love.  From His love, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father.  In love the Spirit proceeds to reveal this love to creation.  All manifest this love for us sinners, for you and me.  In this saving work, we see the Unity of the Trinity displayed.  The Son comes with the words of the Father.  The Spirit makes known the words of the Son.  There is no competition in love.  There is no pride of place or jealousy or envy.  Love perfectly unites the Son and the Spirit in the fulfillment of the saving will and purpose of the Father.  That is the mystery of the Trinity.

When the Church confesses the doctrine of the Trinity we are not looking for distinctions between the persons but celebrating the unity of the Trinity.  It is not then about a law laid down but love manifest from the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Sure, in the words of the creed there are teeth.  Any who will be saved must so think of God.  This is not about putting God into a box.  Rather it is about the marvel and joy of sinners who by the power of the Spirit see the love of God at work in Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

When the Church confesses the doctrine of the Trinity, we are not trying to explain God or to cut God down to a size that fits our reason or understanding.  The Trinity certainly defies understanding.  But who wants a God who can be understood?  Such a God is not a God at all but only an extension of our own reason and selves.  If you want a God you can understand, go to the Pantheon or Olympus.  There are explainable deities.  But if you want a God who loves with the perfect love that saves you, then the Trinity is exactly that God.  Trinity Sunday is not about explaining the mystery of God anymore than it is about understanding it.  On this day we join with the Church that has gone before us to confess the God of love – the Father who is love’s source, the Son who is eternally begotten in love, and the Spirit who reveals this love that we might believe.

When the Church confesses the Trinity, we are confessing what Scripture says.  Instead of bending God to our wills and making Him a creature of our imagination, we confess what God has said about Himself in His Word.  It may make your head spin but it warms your heart to speak of the Father from whom all things come, the Son who rescues and redeems those captive to sin and death, and the Spirit who fills our minds and hearts with this glorious knowledge by faith.  This is not a mathematical formula.  This is not some philosophical proof.  This is the Church, hearing the Word of God and then speaking that Word back to God and in witness to the world.  This is God manifesting the love within the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to you and me – sinners and enemies who have been saved by grace.

To think rightly of the Trinity is to believe, to submit both mind and heart to the Scriptures and the Spirit.  To think rightly of the Trinity is to worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  To think rightly of the Trinity is to preach this pure Gospel of love to a world which has lost hope of ever knowing such love and lives in the darkness as the blind feeling their way through life until death.  To think rightly of the Trinity is to rejoice in the love of God that has saved you.

Let me say one more thing.  If you are not sure the Trinity is correct or whether it even matters at all how we define God, think about this.  What kind of God allows His Church to get His very identity wrong?  If God is all powerful, then He has had every opportunity to correct the error of the Trinity and rewrite the creeds to reflect this correction.  But He has not done so.  The Holy Trinity has been confessed in preaching and teaching, in creed and confession, in worship and in catechesis down through the ages to the present day.  The authority of the Church hinges upon this doctrine of one God in the Three Persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  If we have gotten this wrong, we have gotten nothing else right.

In the end it is this simple.  To think rightly of the Trinity is to believe the Gospel. To think wrongly of the Trinity is to reject the Gospel.  You cannot pick and choose between the Trinity and the Gospel.  They go together.  No where is this more profoundly revealed than in the Gospel reading for today.  Its shape is distinctly Trinitarian.  The Father sent His one and only-begotten Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.  The Spirit begets us into the family of God, born not of flesh and blood but of water and the Spirit.  We do not enter the Kingdom of God as individuals but as the members of the body, the family of God, to be joined to God and call Him Father, to know Jesus Christ as our brother, and to live in the blessed unity of the family of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.  

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Don't explain God today. . .

It is always bad when we go beyond what God said to explain what God was trying to say.  It gets worse when we presume that we must explain God in simplistic terms to make Him and the Christian faith reasonable, understandable, and comprehensible.  Who wants a God who can be explained -- well, those who want to predict Him and therefore control Him might.  In the Athanasian Creed, God is not so much explained or defined as we admit what He is not and who He is not.  But who God is and what He does lies in mystery -- not a puzzle to be unpacked but an awesome truth which we confess and in which we marvel at the mercy.  So read the creeds today and keep yourself from the great temptation to crack His mystery and make Him more like us and therefore able to be manipulated.  Just confess what we must all confess in order that we might be saved.  It is enough.


Saturday, May 25, 2024

My battle with silence. . .

Everyone of us says we love silence -- especially silence in worship.  But all you have to do is program in some silence and you find how uncomfortable it makes us.  If the pastor says we are going to take a minute of silence, about 30 seconds into it we are fidgeting and looking around to see what is going on.  Maybe we are not programmed by God for silence.  Maybe it is a discipline learned and appreciated more after learning it.  I wish I knew.  I will admit that I have a battle with silence.  Sometimes I love it and sometimes it drives me crazy -- and I am talking about silence in worship.

From the still small voice to a thousand other moments in God's dealings with men, we know that silence is filled by God.  He fills it not with sound but with Himself.  I wish I could say that I had learned to love silence in this way and because God fills it.  I am not there yet.  Sure, I hate the noise level of most churches where people are assembled in worship.  It is noise largely unrelated to worship yet not quite unrelated to our life together as God's people.  Fellowship is noisy by nature.  Conversations are seldom as quiet as we think they are.  I am not talking here about the cell phones that go off or the mechanical noise of things dropped but the ordinary noise of life -- a hushed conversation, a child singing, and the like.  It is hard to see that these are really an enemy of the purpose of our gathering together but neither are they primary.  Is it better to have silence if it means we do not greet one another or acknowledge our life together in Christ?  What is the trade off?  My mind is definitely conflicted.

One thing I do wish for is at least a few solid minutes of silence before worship.  It would be a start if the pews would be silent or at least quiet for the minutes before the start of service.  It would help the people of God to be devoted to prayer for those moments before the Lord's name is invoked and sins confessed and praises sung and prayers prayed.  Yet even that seems too hard a thing.  It is almost a relief to me when other noise covers our busyness -- the bells ringing, the organ prelude, the hymn introduction -- and brings us to attention.  At least then we might look up away from ourselves and seemingly ready to look to the Lord.  The typical reality is that we are so busy that without a bell ringing or the organ intoning the first hymn we just might not even know that the service is beginning.  It is my conflicted opinion that I still have not resolved.