Sunday, July 31, 2011

From Cleats to a Clerical Collar...

"What a waste...." or such was the whisper of the person sitting next to me when this news was report on the TV in the waiting room where I was sitting...

Chase Michael Hilgenbrinck McDonald was born in 1982 in Quincy, Illinois and he is famous for being a soccer defender with a pro career who ditched it all to become a Roman Catholic Priest.  His parents were ordinary mid-western folk --  dad a regional sales manager for a fertilizer dealership and mom an accountant with State Farm Insurance -- who raised their children in the faith. They took their two boys to Holy Trinity Church in Bloomington, where each served as an altar boy.

Chase made the US Under-17 national team then played for Clemson University, was drafted to a Chilean team, and after four seasons there, he joined Colorado Rapids in early 2008.  Because of a salary cap issue, he was waived but then signed with the New England Revolution.  Hilgenbrick's last game was on a Sunday, July 13 2008, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.  In the summer of 2007, he received the application packet for the priesthood from the vocation director at the Peoria diocesan office.  He retired from soccer on July 14, 2008 to enter the Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland in order to become a priest.  He expects to be ordained in May of 2014.

It was said that his teammates were shocked by his decision.  Suffice it to say that the fellow sitting next to me was not only shocked but felt it a waste of his talent and gift, squandered in service to the Lord.  I write not about Chase Hilgenbrinck but about the way we look at church vocations today.  I have found personally that the biggest impediments to getting youth to consider church work careers are his or her parents.  This is especially true with boys and the Pastoral Ministry.

When I was a child, church work vocations were considered a high and holy calling, one that honored the family as well as the Lord.  Maybe I spent too much time watching Going My Way, The Bells of St. Mary's, or The Shoes of the Fisherman, and such.  Maybe it was a different era.  I lament the way that church service careers have dropped in esteem.  The Roman Catholic Church can blame this as well as the abuse scandal for their lack of candidates for the priesthood.  Jim Nestingen once told me that the seminaries (at least as he noted it within the ELCA) seemed to be magnets for wounded people seeking personal healing.  I know that he is right there and some of it is true in Missouri as well.  I am concerned that we do not seem to be doing as great job today as we did in the past encouraging and supporting first career men as Pastors.  We tend to shepherd our best and brightest into other callings (more uniformly respected and more highly remunerated than church service vocations).  It is also true that our "teacher's colleges" are not producing all that many parochial school teachers, either.

I do not know Chase Hilgenbrinck but I applaud the attention given to his decision and hope that it will give pause to parents and youth sorting out the call of God and a vocation to church work. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Children.... Not So Important...

My informal surveys of catechism students suggest that marriage and children are not as important to the minds, hearts, and goals of these youth who have not yet entered the bloom of adulthood.  One can only hope that things will change but I am inclined to think that some of these things are so fully entrenched that it will take great effort or great event to transform their informally formed conclusions.

Judging from the surveys and polls and musings of sociologists, the kids in catechism class may not be so different that the rest of the youth in our society.  If that is true, it is certainly because they have been shaped by the same factors so evident in the media, culture, and educational bias of our modern day America.  Abortion did not start it and neither did the entrance of women into the workplace during and after WWII but certainly these are markers of the shifting goals and priorities of our people.

Joe Carter over at First Thoughts pointed me to an opinion by Rachel Jankovic under the title "Motherhood Is a Calling..."  She notes  before this generation of mothers was even born, our society decided where children rank in the list of important things. When abortion was legalized, we wrote it into law.  Children rank way below college. Below world travel for sure. Below the ability to go out at night at your leisure. Below honing your body at the gym. Below any job you may have or hope to get. In fact, children rate below your desire to sit around and pick your toes, if that is what you want to do. Below everything. Children are the last thing you should ever spend your time doing.

I was reminded of something C. S. Lewis said, "Homemaker is the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only -- to support the ultimate career!"  We have certainly forgotten that today.  Take a look at the birth rate for the average European, Scandinavian, Canadian, or American (excluding immigrant families) family.  We have determined that just as love is optional to sex and marriage is even less optional to sex, so children are even less linked with sex (sex being about the number one priority -- or pleasure that comes from sex, among other things).

Over the months we have heard about the effects of sex selection from China to India.  The number of “missing” women has risen to more than 160 million, and a journalist named Mara Hvistendahl has given us a much more complete picture of what’s happened. Her book is called “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men.” As the title suggests, Hvistendahl argues that most of the missing females weren’t victims of neglect. They were selected out of existence, by ultrasound technology and second-trimester abortion. They are not missing; they are dead.

Missing women connects to the devaluation of motherhood and of children in general. The sum total--more than 49,500,000 is the number of children aborted in the United States since 1973.  Or the number of children aborted in the world each year.  Abortion is not the cause of this problem -- the changing attitudes of people and the devaluation of children, motherhood, and family -- but it is a statistic that charts the radical shift in priorities and values.  The shocking underbelly of the movement toward autonomy for women is this attitude toward children, abortion in general, and the sex selection abortion of females. Yet our attitudes are often hidden in much less outrageous ways.  For example, in my own neck of the woods there are countless complaints about the need to build more schools (our city has a lot of young families due to its proximity to Fort Campbell).  The angry complaints from the retired, those who have no children, and those not yet (or perhaps ever) married, indicate that schools (and the children in them) are seen as burdens to the community, expensive, and not exactly worth it.  Our assault on family, motherhood, and children takes many forms.

Yet, where is the outcry?  Even those who reported it are not ready to suggest that a woman's right to abortion should take second place to anything else.  Clearly we are not learning anything from all the words written and the discussion taking place in this... more words while family continues to be devalued, motherhood equated as slavery or a less than noble profession, and more children die... oh, well, I think I will have another latte... BTW have you noticed there are no teenagers working in the coffee shops and fast food restaurants?  Where are they?

Friday, July 29, 2011

We did not know if we were in heaven or on earth...

The oft told story of the emissaries of Prince Vladimir of Kiev searching out the various options for religion is so beautiful it matters not if it were true or not.  In 988, the story goes, his representatives sought out the worship and theological life of the choices of the religious alternatives.  It was said that when they entered the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople, they were so caught up in the chant, the incense, the icons, the liturgy, and the sense of the holy presence of God, that they were overcome.  In their report to the Prince they said they did not know if they were in heaven or on earth -- they had never seen such beauty!  They could not describe it except to say, "there God dwells among men..."

As wonderfully quaint as this story is, the sad truth is that those same people would hardly be moved to such a conclusion upon visiting the average Christian Church in America.  Sure, there are those Ralph Adams Cram buildings and some places of extraordinary liturgy and music and some with breathtaking art and some with some puffs of incense where people do not cough away the holy smoke... but... the vast majority of church buildings (whether Roman Catholic or Protestant or Lutheran) are pretty bland and what happens within them fairly pedestrian on Sunday morning.  Whether the lecture hall style that emphasizes the mind or the cushy seated theater setting and lights of the entertainment style, architecture has decided the less is more and more is even less.  Even Roman Catholic buildings (from the LA Cathedral to the suburban religious mall) are not immune from the banal and trite that passes for church architecture.  Protestant buildings are all about size, screens, and seating (from Osteen's converted arena to the strip mall settings with their exposed metal beams and ductwork).  Lutherans tend to follow the same bland setting with some blond, plain chancel furniture thrown into the mix to make it "Lutheran."

What happens in them is also fairly bland.  Few would mistake the average Roman Catholic Mass with its strumming guitars, gauche vestments, lackadaisical singing, and throw away newsprint missalettes as heaven on earth.  Before we get too smug about it, we Lutherans tend to go through the motions without much enthusiasm, singing generic hymns that have little to do with the pericopes, and preach justification in a thousand ways that all sound the same.  That is not even to mention those churches without sacraments, without the liturgy, without any sense that Christ is present except in the feeling of the heart or the thought of the mind.

Scott Hahn wrote convincingly of the Mass as Heaven on Earth and I only wish we thought it were true!  His is hardly a new idea but is as ancient as Christianity but we seem to have done a pretty good job of masking our awareness of this age old thought.  He mentions a host of things that should be routinely identified with what happens in our churches on Sunday morning (I will leave it to you to judge whether or not they happen where you are):

In the Spirit on the Lord's Day... Rev. 1:10;  around the High Priest... 1:13; and the altar...8:3-4, 11:1, 14:18;  surrounded by the priests... 4:4, 11:15, 14:3, 19:4; wearing vestments... 1:13. 4:4, 6:11, 7:9, 15:6, 19:13-14; with candles...1:12, 2:5; and penitent sinners... 2-3; with incense... 5:8, 8:3-5; with the book (of life)...5:1; the Eucharistic meal... 2:17; with chalices... 15:7, 16, 21:9; the sign of the cross (Tau)... 7:3, 14:1, 22:4; the Gloria... 15:3-4; the Alleluia... 19:1, 3, 4, &; 6; calling God's people to lift up their hearts... 11:22; singing Holy, Holy, Holy... 4:8; giving the "Amen" of faith to what God has done... 19:4, 22:21; acknowledging the "Lamb of God"... 5:6 & all over; with the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the angels and saints... 12:6, 13-17, 5:8, 6:9-10, 8:3-4; the chanting of the songs of praise... 4:8-11, 5:9-14, 7:10-12; reading from Scripture... 2-3, 5, 8:2-11; with the faithful fulfilling their baptismal and priestly vocation of worship... 1:6, 20:6; the catholic and universal church... 7:9; silent moments of contemplation... 8:1; with this feast pointing to the everlasting feast of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb which has no end... 19:9, 17....

Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord!  It is not simply a list of details but the various individual things that represent the fullness of the heavenly vision that God has made known to us NOW in Christ, which is coming and not yet fully come, and which we shall know face to face to come...  These are certainly heavenly images but they are seen within the framework of an earthly setting.  Heaven has come to earth!  Time and eternity stand still to pause as God gives Himself to us now in this chronological moment in time as He will finally give us in the everlasting day which is to come.

We have not been to church on Sunday morning... we have been to heaven! Where we get that right, so many other things will be right as well. It is this sense that caused Philip to respond Nathanael as he did:  Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
Would that we had such as sense of heaven on earth on Sunday morning that we called to the world:  Come and see!!

Those Dull Old Lutheran Prayers and Pray-ers

In Lebanon, Tennessee, not far from the city where I abide, an area where car racing and Nascar is king, you open the races with prayer.  Never mind that Nascar was born of moonshine running and that the first drivers were experts at evading the law, snaking their way through the back roads at breakneck speeds, and bringing home the fruit of the still.  Anyway, at a recent race one Baptist brother decided to forgo the dull old prayers of the past and put some zip into praying up the cars and drivers before the race.

Joe Nelms of Family Baptist Church gave the invocation at Saturday night’s Nationwide race at Nashville Speedway. Late in the prayer, Nelms channeled his inner Ricky Bobby when he borrowed a line from the film “Talladega Nights”.

“Lord, I want to thank you for my smokin’ hot wife tonight, Lisa, and my two children, Eli and Emma, or as we like to call, ‘The Little E's,'" he said, while also thanking automotive companies, like Goodyear and Sunoco, Reuters reported.  You can read about it all here.

Brother Joe would probably give the old General Prayer from TLH a big yawn as well as the great collects and prayers of the church.  Some Lutheran folks do as well.  In fact I had somebody tell me once that I when I prayed I sounded like a prayerbook.  I thought it was a compliment.  Turned out it was not.  You may argue with me but I think that before you can pray on your own, you need to learn how to prayer with the saints before you.  I believe that collects teach us how to pray because they also teach us about the God to whom we pray and the promises which are the foundation of our prayers.  It is neither our blessings nor our wants that best shape our prayers but the promises of God.  We are moved to prayer best not by the woes and failures of our mortal lives but by the promises of God.  When we do not see clearly or have trouble trusting in those promises, the Spirit intercedes with prayers formed of our groans and sighs.  Brother Joe would certainly disagree, but I believe that if you want to improve your prayer life, you can begin by praying the ancient collects and prayers of the Church, waling in the foot steps of the great pray-ers of old.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Masculine Christianity

Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill in Seattle has a take on the feminization of the faith.  He also has an idea of how he thinks the faith might appeal to men.  Though it is a little dated, this is what he said:

“…When I came to Christ in college, reading the Bible, and realized the gospel, and I went looking for a church; and a few of the first churches I went to were just completely uncomfortable. It was like walking into Victoria’s Secret. The décor, at first, it’s like fuchsia and baby blue, and there’s pink, and it’s just like, “What in the world has happened here?” And then the songs are very emotive, and it’s like love songs to Jesus, like we’re on a prom together or something. And I didn’t get that at all, ‘cause that made me feel real odd. And then – and then the guy preaches, and he’s crying and all this stuff, and trying to appeal to my emotions. And I was just like, “This didn’t work.” So, I kept looking for a church. So, I found a church where the guy got up and he said, “This week I was out bow-hunting.” He used that as an illustration. So, I became a member of that church. True story. I didn’t have any theological convictions, but if a guy killed things then I – he could be my pastor.

“And then we moved back to Seattle, my wife and I did, after we got married in college. And we were looking for a church. Couldn’t find a church. Finally ended-up at a good Bible-teaching church with a guy, Hutch, over at Antioch that, you know, he’s a line-backer and played football; and he carries a gun; and he has dogs; and he lives in the woods and he kills things. So, I was like, “This will work.” So, we went there. And I never consciously put this all together until fairly recently; that the average church has primarily older people, small children, and women.

“…And we have to get into this issue of masculinity, ‘cause of all cities in the country ours is one of the most confused; completely confused. No idea. What’s a man? What’s a man created for? What’s a man to do? 1 Corinthians 11 says, “A man is the glory of God.” Well, we don’t think of men that way. Either we want them nice and soft and compliant, or they’re thugs and they’re dangerous, and we need to defend ourselves against them. That’s the image of men.

“…What I want at Mars Hill is men. I’m gonna say it as clean, as plain as I can. Did I say I don’t want women and children? That’s not what I said. But women and children with men who abandon or abuse or avoid, that’s not nice for women. Ask a single mother how nice it was that the man abandoned his obligations. Ask a woman who’s getting beaten by her husband how much she would like someone to be stronger than him, and to give him the truth? See, I think the nicest thing we can do for women, the nicest thing we can do for children, is to make sure that the men are like Christ; in a good way; in a loving, dying, serving way. Pouring themselves out. That’s why I get frustrated when I see churches that have enormous children’s ministries, and enormous women’s ministries, and no men.

Now I am normally in agreement with the complaint about the feminized face of faith and church that evangelicalism and the entertainment worship style folks have given Christianity.  Liberal Christianity has also give the faith a facelift that emphasizes feelings, emotions, and desires over truth, order, and clarity.  But... I am not at all sure that his prescription for the problem is any improvement.  We do not need a macho faith and church to counter the feminization of the faith.  What we need is truth, evangelical and catholic identity and worship, the strong Savior who willingly suffers and dies as the sacrificial substitute for sinful men and women.  What we need is doctrine preached form the pulpit and ordered liturgical life rooted and shaped by the Eucharist, the ever present Savior who makes Himself accessible still.  We have gone from Jesus as my BFF to whom I sing love songs to the Jesus who is my hunting buddy and who gets off on brutality in hobby and sport as a real man.  In neither picture of Christ is there much truth or authenticity.

Having never been to Mars Hill, I got my taste of it through the actual experience of a confessional Lutheran.  You can read his complete account here.  His experience did little to suggest that Mars Hill was better equipped to provide a counter to the feeling oriented or truth-less proclamation of evangelical or liberal Christianity.  What we need are strong congregations, who do not shrink from the truth and who are secure in their identity as evangelical and catholic Christians in identity, faith, and practice.  We need to be apologists but not apologetic, if you know what I mean...

BTW since I posted this I have heard of something of a firestorm by what is called "bullying" comments from Mars Hill's leader;  it started with a Facebook post:

Here is a sampling of some of the comments against such a comment.  I expect that there will be more to come on this... we will see...

The Cross on My Lapel...

When the Synod logo first came out, I thought, it is not so bad...  After a while I warmed up enough to put one of the lapel pins on my suit jacket.  It looked smart.  It was tasteful in an understated way.  I bought a couple of more.  Some other men in the congregation also began sporting the Synod cross, with its stylized rays of various shades of burgundy or maroon or whatever that color is (colors not being one of my specialties).

That all changed when an infamous Fort Wayne Seminary Professor whose wit is well known and whose acid tongue can take the wind out of anyone's sails, said to me, "So you are a company man now..."  I did not say much in response.  It may have been a joke but it hit me hard.  Later I took off the cross and left it on the sink in the restroom for some other wag to pick up.

For a long time I wore nothing at all... than I decided to wear a crucifix.  The Autom Company had a selection of inexpensive crucifixes suitable for any lapel and I got a dozen of various kinds, put them on the lapels of my jackets hanging in the closet, and went my way.  Later I found a chalice and host, a crucifix similiar to the one John Paul II used, and a cross with a Eucharistic symbol on it -- I am all for diversity you know.  The truth is I have not worn the Synod logo cross since.  It is not that I hate it but the idea of a company man stuck in my craw.  If I am going to be identified as a company man, at least I will make sure it is the right company -- a simple crucifix does it for me.

I am not fond of the liturgical furniture or sacred vessels or pectoral crosses or cufflinks, among other things, that have the Synod logo cross on them.  I absolutely hated the idea that when a District President is elected, Synod bestows upon him a 14k gold or sterling silver version of the company logo.  A cheap lapel pin, well, not so bad, but a giant silver or gold Synod cross hanging from the neck of the DP (or would it be area VP???).  Ugggggghhhhhh....  But there is worse... I cannot abide when congregations have a giant Synod logo cross hanging over the altar -- this is NOT the place for Synod identification.  What should hang over the altar is a crucifix.  It is there that brand loyalties give way to the who and what we preach, teach, and confess -- the exclusive Savior whose inclusive suffering and death have provided forgiveness, life, and salvation not for the few but for the many, indeed, who gave Himself for the life of the world.

It is not that I am blind to the value of brand identification.  We have used the Synod logo cross on print and other advertising media (Yellow Pages).  I am really quite fond of the new Witness, Mercy, Life Together logo and hope that this becomes a familiar identifier of who we are as Missouri Synod Lutherans.  I just think that the whole thing has gotten carried away.  We do not need to put our corporate logo on the choir robes or chalices or flags (next to the American flag) or the like.  I know it is a nice cross and have seen others outside the Synod use it (without corporate approval, of course).  It just stung me.  What company are you a company man of?????

We in the LCMS are not alone -- you can put the Presbyterian logo cross on nearly anything just as you can the Methodist cross and flame and a host of other logos of which I am unaware.  The point is that the chief symbol of our faith just as the chief article of our preaching, teaching, witness, and confession is Jesus Christ and Him crucified (as St. Paul said). 

So I guess I vote simple crucifix... let Christ shine from the lapel of your jacket if you wear one.  It is not to detract from who we are as LCMS folks or what we do as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  It is just a way to say Jesus Christ and Him crucified, from now until the end of the world.  At least that is how I see it...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Unsinging the Reformation...

Christopher Boyd Brown says the Reformation came about as much by the singing of Reformation hymns as it did through Reformation writings and preaching and teaching.  Joseph Herl suggests that the image of the volks kirche spontaneously breaking out in song is a bit more romance than fact.  Either way, both are agreed that the Lutheran hymn was key to the Reformation -- both in its initial form with Luther's own hymn texts and tunes and in the later periods when the Reformation faith was under duress.  I am not here to argue this point.  It is a given.  The faith proclaimed from pulpit and written into confession had its counterpart in the hymns sung in the congregation and at home.  Even in areas where Rome and Wittenberg took turns as dominant religious expression, the Reformation chorale remained even after the papal mass had been brought back.

My point is just the opposite.  The Reformation that came (at least in part with song) can easily be dispatched by song (or the lack of Reformation hymnody).  Here I am not arguing that Lutherans must sing only those hymns written by Lutherans or Lutherans of a particular time or even hymns only approved by Lutherans.  I am suggesting that by the wholesale disenfranchisement of the Reformation hymn and replacing it with whatever (generic hymns, revivalist hymns, Gospel hymns, non-descript modern hymnody, or the many versions of praise or contemporary Christian music) we are distancing ourselves from our own identity.  We are far too willing to exchange whatever music is "in" at the moment or appeals to our taste for the sturdy hymns of old which speak faith, tell the story of Jesus, and give us the opportunity to sing back to God what He has spoken to us.

I have written before about the impact the right soundtrack has to a movie and to the faith.  I have written before of the covenant we made in the LCMS to use only doctrinally pure hymnals, hymns, liturgies, and agendas.  I have written before of the deep and profound character of the Lutheran chorales both as models and examples of the noblest song of all.  I am not repeating myself (well, I am, but...) as much as I am reminding us that we continue to have a problem which has been our problem for a long time.

You might find it interesting that Paul Glasoe of St. Olaf College wrote an article in the Jan. 6, 1931, Lutheran Herald wondering if we were “singing ourselves out of the Lutheran church” by not teaching children the Lutheran chorales.  His opinion created a firestorm of replies.  Even in the 1930s our people were itching to listen to, learn, and sing the songs they were hearing in the local Methodist or other Protestant churches.  We may not be opening the Methodist hymnal anymore, but we Lutherans are opening the songbooks of other churches and closing our own.  Ask a room full of Lutherans what their favorite hymn is and you might get more information than what you bargained for...

Over at Gottesdienst online a couple of contemporary songs were shown -- one of which was a Christian one and the other not at all.  Of course, the point was that the non-Christian song said more than the Christian one.  The author of the "Jesus, You are my BFF and I love You and love singing to You" song was not just another CCM author.  The Texas District borrowed her to serve as worship leader for an official District event.  Apparently there was not even a Lutheran CCM person as good at writing and singing love songs to Jesus as you could borrow from the local non-denominational mega church.  If you watch the video you can see the twenty-something guys melting as she sings (but melting for who?).  You tell me what will do more to strengthen Lutheran identity, encourage Lutheran confidence, promote Lutheran witness, and equip Lutheran worship and outreach:

The more i seek you,
the more i find you
The more i find you, the more I love you

I wanna sit at your feet
drink from the cup in your hand.
Lay back against you and breath, here your heart beat
This love is so deep, it's more than I can stand.
I melt in your peace, it's overwhelming
Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice,
    With exultation springing,
And with united heart and voice
    And holy rapture singing,
Proclaim the wonders God has done,
How His right arm the vict’ry won.
    What price our ransom cost Him!

Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay;
    Death brooded darkly o’er me.
Sin was my torment night and day;
    In sin my mother bore me.
But daily deeper still I fell;
My life became a living hell,
    So firmly sin possessed me.

My own good works all came to naught,
    No grace or merit gaining;
Free will against God’s judgment fought,
    Dead to all good remaining.
My fears increased till sheer despair
Left only death to be my share;
    The pangs of hell I suffered.

But God had seen my wretched state
    Before the world’s foundation,
And mindful of His mercies great,
    He planned for my salvation.
He turned to me a father’s heart;
He did not choose the easy part
    But gave His dearest treasure.

God said to His belov├Ęd Son:
    “It’s time to have compassion.
Then go, bright jewel of My crown,
    And bring to all salvation.
From sin and sorrow set them free;
Slay bitter death for them that they
    May live with You forever.”

The Son obeyed His Father’s will,
    Was born of virgin mother;
And God’s good pleasure to fulfill,
    He came to be my brother.
His royal pow’r disguised He bore;
A servant’s form, like mine, He wore
    To lead the devil captive.

To me He said: “Stay close to Me,
    I am your rock and castle.
Your ransom I Myself will be;
    For you I strive and wrestle.
For I am yours, and you are Mine,
And where I am you may remain;
    The foe shall not divide us.

“Though he will shed My precious blood,
    Me of My life bereaving,
All this I suffer for your good;
    Be steadfast and believing.
Life will from death the vict’ry win;
My innocence shall bear your sin,
    And you are blest forever.

“Now to My Father I depart,
    From earth to heav’n ascending,
And, heavn’ly wisdom to impart,
    The Holy Spirit sending;
In trouble He will comfort you
And teach you always to be true
    And into truth shall guide you.

“What I on earth have done and taught
    Guide all your life and teaching;
So shall the kingdom’s work be wrought
    And honored in your preaching.
But watch lest foes with base alloy
The heav’nly treasure should destroy;
    This final word I leave you.”

BTW..... In case you don't know Kari Jobe, you can catch her singing the song HERE.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What a sad day...

Mollie Ziegler put it well with the attention given to Michelle Bachman:  Are you now or have you ever been a Lutheran?  Others wonder about the Mormon Moment of folks like Mitt Romney and John Huntsman and whether or not Americans can vote for a Latter Day Saint.  You surely have not forgotten President Obama twisting in the wind while his home church and preacher spent unwanted time in the news headlines until he finally distanced himself from it all.  Pawlenty was Roman Catholic, might have been a Lutheran for a time, and now is comfortably a member of a premier evangelical congregation (Wooddale Church) whose pastor is a darling of left and right.  Gingrich came from Lutheran roots, went Southern Baptist, and more recently became Roman Catholic (in the midst of marriages coming and going).  Ron Paul was raised Lutheran and his brother is a Lutheran Pastor but he left a long time ago.  I could go on, but I won't... it seems the one common thread here maybe if you are Lutheran, you gotta change religions or give up seeking to be President?!?

My point is this.  It seems we want our Presidential candidates to distance themselves from their religious faith, to be religious but not very pious, to have values but not values shaped by their faith, and to govern without being influenced by that faith or those values...  It all started with JFK and the fear that Pope John XXIII would pull the strings on his puppet in Washington (having admired him for some time, would it have been so bad to have John XXIII influence the morals and values of the White House?).  This is in stark contrast to the Presidents of previous eras who spoke out loud their faith and whose political speech was clearly informed and shaped by that faith (though this did not automatically make their great Presidents).

I am so confused by all of this.  I know Luther is supposed to have said better a pagan magistrate or political leader than a Christian who is a scoundrel, but... would it not be better if our political leaders WERE influenced by their faith and values?  Don't we want the folks who lead us to be people of conviction and faith, morals and values?  If we don't like their faith and values or how these influence their governing, we can always unelect them, right?  It is as if we want our political leaders to have faith that helps them as people but does not affect how they govern or make decisions.  Is anyone else offended by the shallowness of such faith?

I do not have any particular take on the current candidates and I am not grinding a political axe here except to suggest that we are somewhat duplicitous to suggest that our leaders be religious but not too religious, have faith but not let that faith affect their judgment or decisions, or have values but not to replace the values we have as informed by the latest poll on important matters... It just does not sound right.  Sadly, our political leaders will give us what we ask of them -- they will be as shallow and rudderless as we often are as a nation, with a great history but clearly uncomfortable with much of that history...

I am sure you will be hearing much more about this.... the political season has barely begun and we have a couple of long years to go before we get a brief respite... at least with respect to a Presidential contest.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Have Church Will Travel...

The congregation I serve got its start in a 7th Day Adventist building -- a perfect match since they did not use the building on Sunday!  But such symbiosis is not always possible.  So where do you go to look for a place to start a church?  Many look to school gyms and cafeterias and theaters -- spaces that sit empty most weekends and therefore are prime real estate for those who want to set up a congregational space close to where people live but without the messy business of building, buying, or paying for a building.

In years gone by, it meant folding chairs, a temporary altar, and a lectern with perhaps a backdrop of some kind and a piano.  Now the tent churches are a bit more high tech -- the chairs are cushier, the screen is for projection, the keyboard replaced the piano, the praise band brings their own instruments and sound system, the altar is gone in favor of a stage, and it all packs up into a 24 foot dual wheel trailer that you can haul to where you need to go.  As long as their is a Starbucks on the way, you can get it set up and going in time for a 10 am praise-a-thon and still have time to lunch on a veggie sub and some pita chips...

Some years ago we hosted an Anglican mission looking for a permanent home.  They stayed with us a while and were grateful for the old A-frame chapel.  It was not a cathedral but we were reminded that "Anglicans don't do well in empty boxes..."

Now that same chapel hosts a very small Orthodox Mission that had to leave their digs on Ft. Campbell when their priest and Army Chaplain got orders.  When they first arrived, they were also grateful for a more churchly home which was made even more churchly by the addition of many icons and a great deal of holy smoke.

It seems to me that many Lutheran missions are no longer looking for a churchly home and even when they get real estate it looks more like a warehouse or mall gathering space than the holy place where God's people meet Him in the means of grace.  In fact, it is a surprise that stained glass craftsmen and others who trade in church appointments are still in business with the number of plain boxes with exposed guts that pass as churches today.  They have become so comfortable with God in a U-haul or a tent that they no longer beg to build Him a home worthy of Him, a place where His glory dwells.  This signals a great disconnect both with the Old Testament past and the early Christian history which evolved into sacred space in designated buildings as soon as legalities and resources were available.

Maybe I am just wrong or hopelessly tied to things or out of touch with modern reality, but I wonder if the detachment from sacred space does not created the dangerous situation of making the Pastor even more important to the journeying congregation on its way to a permanent home.  Certainly the style of contemporary Christian worship and music elevates the stars into center stage a great deal more than even the most elaborate liturgy and ceremonial.  Perhaps that is the goal... I guess I am not very missional, am I?

Religion and Sports

Having lived in an area of the country in which religious sports leagues have a time honored and important place within the religious landscape, I thought I had heard everything.  There were those women who were kicked out of games for wearing shorts too short or men who were removed for cursing and all of them who faced a church  attendance check before being allowed to play in church league baseball, softball, or basketball.  I know that my own congregation participated at one time but can only surmise that the rule against having beer in the dugout probably did them in -- but that is just a guess.

Now I heard that a courtroom and a judge was the setting for a dispute involving sexual orientation and sports.  No, this was not about women turned into men because of steroids or transgender folks (both of which have been in the news and surrounded with some controversy before).  No, this was a different slant on things.

The lawsuit against the NAGAA (that would be North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance) and its exclusion of three bisexual men will continue, according to the Court House News Service. District Judge John Coughenour ruled that the team has the right to exclude heterosexual players, but thought the team may have violated the rights of the men who were kicked from a San Francisco softball team for being bisexual.  The ruling, as confused as it is, seems not to have addressed the core of the lawsuit. The plaintiffs were not removed from the team for being heterosexual, but because the people who voted on their orientation felt that the players were not gay enough. Complicating the issue is that the complaint was leveled by a rival team initially. [Emphasis added]

I would have never found this out but I am well informed of such things through my founding subscription to First Things and my affection for the While You Are At It section at the end of the articles.... I would suggest you might subscribe and tune in as the great conversation on religion and the public square unfolds...

There is also the interesting factoid that women have apparently hit the glass ceiling in other places besides the boardroom of the multinational corporation.  One report shows that women are highly underrepresented among left-wing terrorist groups with only 22% of the members.  Or, if you did not like that, you could, as one paragraph suggests, run through the litany of obvious jokes told on the Staten Island ferry about a certain congressman named Wiener who got in trouble for taking pictures of his, ah, well, you know...  Good to know that when the seriousness of the world and all its weight hangs over us in the balance, we can find some foolish and tasteless diversions...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The More Things Change. . .

I picked up a copy of the festschrift for one of Lutheranisms premier spokesman, teacher, and advocate of Lutheran church music and the liturgy, Walter E. Buszin.  As I paged through the book, I was surprised to find that my copy of Cantors at the Crossroads was the personal copy of Robert Bergt, one of Buszin's successors at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and included an inscription in Buszin's own hand to his friend.  Those who do not know of Walter Buszin should avail themselves of the volume of the Good Shepherd Institute on the Life and Work of Walter E. Buszin, edited by Kirby Koriath and available through the Concordia Theological Seminary Bookstore (Ft. Wayne, Indiana).

From time to time the Lutheran Church has grown weary of its own worthy heritage and chosen instead the lesser song.  Buszin noted in the 1965 a circumstance which has not changed all that much “...never were we greeted [by the Roman Catholics] with shaking heads, cynical smiles, and vocal boos, as we have been in our own circles while speaking of great Lutheran traditions and the superb character of our heritage [of church music].”  It seems that no prophet is without honor except in his own hometown.  Or this from Buszin: “ I cannot help but hold my breath when I think of this, fearing that they will catch on to what the situation is among us Lutherans before we make an honest and prompt attempt to remedy matters.” (1948)  Another most timely quote from about 5 years earlier:  "By seeking today to introduce revivalism, the gospel hymn, and other features commonly identified with religious zealotism, the [Lutheran] churches show that they are at least a generation behind times and show likewise that they have not learned from the tragic mistakes made by others in the past..."

I could go on and on but... the point is this.  The battle for the church's music and liturgy is not a new battle nor are the parameters changed much over the years.  We as Lutherans hold our own heritage in low regard and look to other churches with great envy and covetousness.  We are so casual about our treasures and treat them as of dubious worth and value.  It is a little like the Antique's Roadshow in which an item esteemed to be junk and used as a door holder turns out to be of great value to the shock and consternation of its owner.  Buszin reminded us once that the hymnal, agenda, liturgy, lectionary, and missal are the holy books of our Church which accompany the holiest of books, the Bible. 

We Lutherans are so often our own worst enemy -- disdaining what others recognize as our heritage, legacy, and treasure.  Again, Buszin: "We are often so ignorant, so bigoted, so wise in our own conceits [for the present moment], so prejudiced against the past and against tradition... that we actually rebel when someone suggests that we might be wrong and that we can learn... even from the distant sixteenth and seventeenth centuries."  As Buszin noted, great liturgy like great hymnody and great church music should be received with thanksgiving and affirmed because it is the gift of God, whether or not our minds may fully grasp it in this moment, and I would only add that we run the great risk in every generation of not esteeming the value of what has been handed down to us and discarding what are our greatest treasures...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Some News on Abortion

It seems that the Missouri governor has allowed a more restrictive abortion bill to become law without his signature... a sign of the continuing small steps that advance the cause of the unborn...

While surveying a few things, I ran across this oddity:

A 1940 U.S. law that protects not only the bald eagle, but the bald eagle’s egg.
“If we can see that destroying a bald eagle’s egg is just as bad as destroying a bald eagle, why can’t we see the same thing when it comes to human life?” Father Pacholczyk asked.
Hmmmmm.... Strange there that we accord the egg with the same sacredness as the eagle but when it comes to human life we differently... is it that the eagle is more valuable or more noble or more fragile than humanity?  Perhaps this is merely one more way that the absurdity of pro-choice flies in the face of every ordinary value we apply to life.  Neuhaus was correct in saying that the liberals who fought against segregation should have been pro-life as well.  It is the great paradox that those who speak most passionately for the protection of species in the environment speak so indifferently to the value of human life (in or outside the womb)...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Well Said... the curious case of the UCC. The problem isn’t only their sensitivity to gender-exclusivity in God or their modern sensibilities trumping the Bible. As we saw with the Arians, if you don’t have a Heavenly Father, then you don’t have a Son. And if you don’t have a Son, you’ve lost Jesus.

As evangelicals concerned with the centrality of the gospel, we must speak carefully and biblically about who God is and how he has revealed himself to us. Like taking an ax to a trunk of a tree, if we speak loosely about God and his nature, the gospel will come tumbling down with it.

As creatures, we depend on God to reveal knowledge of himself to us. Who are we to give him his name? He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He has told us so.

HT to The Gospel Coalition...

But the problem is that you’re not Trinitarian just by calling yourself Trinitarian. The Bible doesn’t allow for us to worship the Trinity as God A, God A, and Holy God A and still call ourselves Christian.

Just like you are not faithful or orthodox or catholic because you say you are.... Your words (confession) and your actions (practice) will render the judgment.  And for now, well, the answer is clear.

I Had a Bad Experience...

I will admit it.  I hate going to the dentist.  I hate having my teeth cleaned.  If I could, I would never go back.  But my wife and family have called me to reason over and through my fear and to obtain the salutary services of dentist and dental hygienist to retain my soft and decaying teeth in as good a shape as can be for as long as can be.

I am sure that I am not the only one who lives in fear of the dentist.  In fact, all of us have some fears, rational or not, and most of them proceed from one unfortunate experience or another.  Recently it has become fashionable among some to reach out to those who have had a bad experience with the Church by offering them something that does not look, act or sound like the Church.  Sometimes, they both advertise and celebrate the fact that they are not like "your grandfather's church."  In some places, it has become a standard entrance litany to proclaim this, well, church is for those who have had a bad experience with Church, who don't like Church, who feel rejected or judged by Church. 

No vestments here (rather polo and khakis or jeans and a tee as the standard uniform of relevant clergy).  No chanting or hymns, for that matter (rather a praise band that sings songs that sound like what you listen to on your Ipod -- love songs to my BFF Jesus).  No pews (rather theater seating with cup holders for the Starbucks you get in the food court of the campus or facility).  No Church Year or lectionary (rather sermons on the text du jour chosen by the Pastor to fit the neat 9 week sermon series acrostic he came up with).  No altar (rather, a chancel centered on nothing more religious than a large screen).  No pulpit (the Pastor roams around with a cute little Brittney Spears microphone hanging off his ear).  No baptismal font (rather a blow up kiddie pool blown up and filled for the baptismal services or a real swimming pool does just as well).  No sermons on dull and ordinary things (rather, sermons on punching up your sex life or making the most of bad situations or giving up your addictions, etc.).

I will admit it.  I am as offended as those dentists who tell me that my bad experience was not their fault.  I resent being labelled as one of those bad experience churches because we sing the liturgy and hymns of the Church, observe the Church Year, have all the traditional chancel furniture, and preach from the pulpit sermons on sin and forgiveness, death and resurrection.  I resent being lumped together with every aberrant and uncaring liturgical church and Pastor as an offender against relevance, modernity, and fun.  Even more than this, I resent that the liturgy of the Church is deemed irrelevant, antiquated, and boooooring.

Get over it.  That is what my wife told me when I admitted to her how long it had been since I had been to a dentist and why I was afraid to go back.  Get over it.  It was what I needed to hear.  The liturgy is not child abuse nor some catastrophic tragic event.  It is the place where God's people come to receive the things of His promise (the Word and the Sacraments).  I had a bad experience with Church....  So what!  Get over it.  We have all had bad experiences with churches, with dull sermons, with bad liturgy, with terrible hymns, etc. 

You know what is so amazing?  Even when preach the Word badly, God's Word still goes forth to accomplish its purpose.  Even when we do the liturgy poorly, it speaks and sings the things of God -- what He has done for us and our salvation and where He bestows these gifts.  Even when we struggle to sing hymns played terribly (fast, slow or without any recognizable rhythm), the wonderful hymns of old speak of God's saving grace given to us and for us in Christ.  Even when the building is devoid of art and the liturgy less than artful and the Pastor ill at ease as the liturgist, Christ is there where He has promised to be -- in the Word and the Bread and the Cup!

Some folks need to get over it...  Find another Church home where the faithful confession is married to a more vibrant liturgical expression... Don't ditch the baby with the bathwater...  And for God's sake, don't beat your chest in pride that your church is not like the Church.  Get over it!  Indeed!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Forgotten Parousia

Google parousia and you will find a uniform definition that says something to the effect of coming, specifically Christ's coming again at the end of the age, His return in glory for judgment.  Interesting.  Yet the primary definition of parousia does not mean future coming but rather presence -- even abiding presence.  We have become so fixated upon the idea of the last days and Jesus "return" in glory that we have missed something here -- something profound.

All the secular Greek dictionaries define parousia, "presence;" most Biblical dictionaries also hold as at least the primary definition of parousia as "presence." But a strange thing has happened and now, somehow, the word means "coming" and "coming" has replaced "presence" as the primary association in the minds of people.

The truth is that too many Christians regard Christ as largely absent from their lives and absent from life in general.  He can be called upon but He is not present until He is bidden.  In a recent Bible study I asked who is in charge of this world and nearly all uniformly said "the devil."  The usual image is that we live as Christians alone in a world which is our enemy, ruled by the devil, waiting for Christ to come and usurp the devil from his throne.  Well, what happened on Good Friday and Easter Sunday?  What happens every Sunday?  While this confusion might be somewhat understandable among Christians who have no sense of God's presence through the means of grace, it is not acceptable for Lutheran Christians to speak in those terms.

We do not live in a world where Christ is absent.  We live in a world where Christ's presence ("Lo, I will be with you always even to the end of the age") is hidden and not obvious -- it is seen with the eyes of faith and not so easily with the eyes in our head.  Christ IS present.  He has not left nor has He abandoned us, for whom He suffered, died, and rose again.  He is present in His fullness -- as King, as Lord, as Prophet, as Priest.  Where?  In the Eucharist.

Before he was made Benedict XVI, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger once wrote "Liturgy is anticipated Parousia -- the 'already' entering our 'not yet."  Where is our Lord?  We have taught our children wrongly to point to heaven as if Christ were absent when we ought to be pointing to the altar where Christ is present according to His promise, hidden in bread that is His body and wine that is His blood.

There is in LSB a couple of wonderful collects that put it just so: 

Gracious God, our heavenly Father, You have given us a foretaste of the feast to come in the Holy Supper of Your Son's body and blood. Keep us firm in the true faith throughout our days of pilgrimage that, on the day of His coming, we may, together with all Your saints, celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Lord Jesus Christ, Your time has come, for You have traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover from death to life. Help us to live knowing that the time of our redemption is at hand as You continue to dwell among us at the feast of Your very body and blood, a foretaste of the feast to come; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

In addition, the same theme is present in hymn/song 955, Let the Vineyards Be Fruitful:

Let the vineyards be fruitful, Lord,
And fill to the brim our cup of blessing.
Gather a harvest from the seeds that were sown,
That we may be fed with the bread of life.
Gather the hopes and the dreams of all;
Unite them with the prayers we offer now.
Grace our table with Your presence, and give us
A foretaste of the feast to come.

Sadly, the richness of this truth too often passes over our heads.  The Eucharist is then merely a nice little add on to the worship of God's people, an optional extra not essential to us.  The Eucharist is the means of Christ's presence to us and for us and it is here in this Sacrament that we encounter the promise kept ("I will be with you always...").  Right here and right now in the Eucharist, our Lord gives Himself to us and in this communion we both glimpse and anticipate the heavenly banquet, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in His kingdom without end.  Christ brings heaven down to us on earth, complete with the apostles, saints, angels and archangels (as the Preface reminds us).

I wonder if this could explain the hesitance of some Lutherans to embrace the weekly Eucharist, the frequent communion, and the piety which has both its source and summit in the Lord's Supper.  In the Eucharist we see by faith and receive in the holy eating and holy drinking the heavenly glory hidden in the earthly element, the extraordinary in the ordinary, the mundane that is made sublime. When we realize what Christ has given to us in the Mass, this heaven on earth experience, our sacramental communion with the Divine, we will experience with full effect that of which St. John speaks of "in the Spirit in the Lord's House on the Lord's Day."  Then and maybe then, we will learn to pray with renewed fervor before we present ourselves as the baptized to receive the things of God prepared for us:

Lord Jesus, You invite all who are burdened with sin to come to You for rest. We now come at Your invitation to the heavenly feast, which You have provided for Your children on earth. Preserve us from impenitence and unbelief, cleanse us from our unrighteousness, and clothe us with the righteousness purchased with Your blood. Strengthen our faith, increase our love and hope, and assure us a place at Your heavenly table, where we will eat eternal manna and drink of the river of Your pleasure forever and ever. Hear us, Jesus, for Your own sake.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Could it be???

According to his blog:  William Graham Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) is the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. A Florida native, he is a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and a grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham. Tullian was the founding pastor of the former New City Church which merged with Coral Ridge in April of 2009. A graduate of Columbia International University (philosophy) and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando (M.Div.), Tullian is the author of The Kingdom of God: A Primer on the Christian Life (Banner of Truth), Do I Know God? Finding Certainty in Life’s Most Important Relationship (Multnomah), Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different (Multnomah) and, most recently, Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels (Crossway). Tullian is also a contributing editor to Leadership Journal. He speaks at conferences throughout the US and his sermons are broadcast daily on the radio program Godward Living.

That might be impressive enough but... according to a story on Gene Veith's blog, this guy has discovered the Gospel.  He has been reading Bo Giertz (Hammer of God) and others and it is challenging much of what he has thought and believed and taught.  From Cranach:  I would add that I have just reviewed a manuscript by Rev. Tchividjian entitled Jesus + Nothing = Everything, in which he describes his growing understanding of the  Gospel, with the help of writers including Gerhard Forde, C. F. W. Walther, and Harold Senkbeil.  So there are the Lutherans for contemporary evangelicals.

You can read his account of the transformation for yourself here. The way Linder describes the transformation that took place in his preaching is almost identical to the transformation that has taken place in mine (and Chuck’s–click here). I  have a long way to go (bad habits die slowly, for sure). But a Copernican revolution of sorts has taken place in my own heart regarding the need to preach the law then the gospel without going back to the law as a means of keeping God’s favor.  May God raise up a generation of preachers who storm the the gates of worldliness with “It is finished.”

And then this post from another one of the converted (an Anglican from Texas) who joins the Pastor of Coral Ridge (former home of D. James Kennedy):  Read some of it:
My conversion to gospel preaching was gradual.  I don’t remember what the initial catalyst was, except that people weren’t getting better with sermons on discipline and how to improve your marriage. Those moralistic sermons doled out plenty of advice about what to do, but it totally missed what God has done for us in his Son. Christ came, not to help religious people get better, but to help sinners realize that forgiveness and salvation is outside themselves: in Jesus Christ.

St. Paul, in Romans, explains the gospel as God’s power and God’s righteousness (1:16, 17). This is exactly opposite of repairing your nature by a determined will.  It is what God has done for us when we couldn’t do it ourselves.  He fulfilled the law. He took upon himself our sins.  He burst the bonds of death to give us new life. When this message of one-way love – God’s love without strings attached – love when we are not lovely – reaches our hearts, it causes our spirits to come alive to God and it fills us with meaning and purpose. The gospel speaks to our heart’s deepest need.

When you get to church to find out that the preacher is in the third of a 10-sermon series on “10 steps to cure depression” get up and run out of there as fast as your depressed legs can take you.  It’s self-help, not the gospel.  Chalk it up to a well meaning preacher who hasn’t yet realized that our real hope is in God, in the sufficiency of his work on the cross and in the salvation that is not found in get-better sermons.

Now I do not know these guys, I do not know much about Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (except for the pipe organ there), and I do not know if their conversion is genuine or will last.  What I do know is that this is LUTHERAN stuff and too many Lutherans have not yet awoken to its faithfulness to Scripture and the power of God through the proclamation of that pure Gospel.  Once again, while others are discovering (or rediscovering) our own heritage and legacy, too many of us are turning our backs to it and preaching the very stuff Chuck Collins is telling us to run like crazy away from....

Caught in the Prison of the Present

Larry Rast (new Pres of Concordia Theological Seminary) has a great post about a man who lost his memory, who lives only in the present.  Far from being freedom, this is the worst kind of prison.  Without a past, he has no gauge to judge the present and no compass to set the future.  What was a great tragedy for a man, is a major crisis for a church.  Yet some seem oblivious to it all.

On another forum I once posted a challenge to a church that brought people to Jesus but did not connect them with the Church (the historic Church of community, creed, confession, means of grace, liturgy, hymnody, etc.).  It grew into a discussion of whether or not a church needed to be connected to the Church -- that is, what is so wrong with being a church (congregation) disconnected from the great tradition of the Church?  Alas, I seem not to have made much headway there.

We cannot afford to imprison ourselves in the present tense.  We cannot afford to walk always through new trails.  We cannot afford to be wed to the moment.  This is not an argument from personal taste or style but goes to the very core of who we are as Christians.  We have no present without our tie to the past (this is not only to the past event of the cross and empty tomb but to the Church which Christ established, upon which He has given the promise of His protection against the gates of hell, and to which He has bestowed the means of grace in order for the Church to do His bidding).  We walk always in the footsteps of our fathers for doctrine does not develop or grow but is a given from God and continually needs to be reclaimed and restored when the temptation and urge to detour comes to us.  We are not wed to the moment but the Bride of Christ for all eternity, who makes her way through time and history from the point at which she was created, cleansed, and dressed for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb until the day when the promise is fulfilled for all eternity.  Unless we are at home in the house of our fathers, we are orphans and strangers to all that God has done and all that He has given and continues to bestow upon His people, the children of His promise.

It is so gosh darn frustrating that this becomes an argument about aesthetics or style or taste or culture.  We have far more to lose that familiarity with a page number in the hymnal or a hymn from the ages or Pastor's pretty clothes.  This is about our childish bent to refuse our very heritage and identity.  Even when we do not walk away from the sacred deposit and the living legacy of tradition, we act like teenagers who sneak out after dark to dance with the devil a little bit only to sneak back in and act as if nothing has happened.  The worst prison we can live in is not our peace with our past or our yearning for the future -- rather, it is our marriage to the moment in which we live as orphans from our family and without the ability to pass on a future generation or the living legacy of our eternal hope.

So often this shows up in parents who do not want to force religion upon their children but want them to make their own "choice" -- but raised outside the veil of the faith as foreigners to the House of God, how can they know what is there or choose for themselves?  We have left them adrift by stealing from them their past and we have left them rudderless by sealing them off from their future and they have only one thing left -- the present moment.  They multi-task, they live to pack the moment with as much as they can, they cannot afford to deny any desire or want, and they seek pleasure most of all -- not because they are worse than we were but because we have imprisoned them in the moment.

Far from being freedom, this is the worst kind of prison.  Without a past, the church has no gauge to judge the present and no compass to set the future.  She is adrift upon the moment and the most important thing to her is the passing tick tock of the clock and the need to live on the edge of the moment in time that is her only possession.... 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hymns Are Out

Coming from the Church of the Great Reformation in which the reform was as much sung as it was preached or written or taught, it seems odd that the instructions to the new translation of the Roman Mass (we call them rubrics), would seem to preclude or restrict the singing of hymns.

As an example, in the directions regarding the procession, various options for chant are given and then the parish musician and priest were given this option:  or, (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.  One blogger complained:  The reality is that the Church has official entrance texts composed for every Mass of the year.  In the Gregorian books they are known Introit chants.  Much like the psalm that comes after the first reading, there are similar pieces for the entrance.  They are official texts of the Mass, and chant is the official music of the Church.  Notice that the first three options all reference the use of chants and/or psalms in various forms.  Only the last one departs from this.  Unfortunately, the last option is the one chosen almost universally in American parishes.  More than that, the song chosen often has little to do with the given text from the Roman Missal or the Roman Gradual.  It has basically become a free-for-all, chose whatever suits our whims, kind of selection.

While the Latin rubrics have not changed, the translation has.  The offending option four now reads: (4) another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.  Liturgical song, i. e. hymn, has given way to liturgical chant.

There are choices -- all of them meant to be liturgical chants appointed by the Church or, specifically, those appointed as part of the pericopes.  Hymns are not among the choices (unless you want to rename all hymns chant, rename the hymnal the chant book, and have people chant "On Eagles' Wings! -- as one wag put it). 

All of this seems rather confusing and, well, petty, to a church in which singing is so much a part of it all.  We sing the hymns, we sing the liturgy (sing means that most of our current liturgies have through composed ordinary texts and not strictly "chant" settings of the ordinary).  Of course, as this blog notes, if you want to get the comments button going all you need to do is mention Pastors chanting (not singing but actually chanting) and things get heated.

Eugene Brand, the tireless staff director of the inter-Lutheran hymnal project that resulted in those very popular through composed settings of the ordinary, has had some second thoughts.  He wonders now if it was wise to depose chant from the norm and replace it with what we have now in the Divine Services originating from LBW and its cousin LW.  As one who longs to hear sung again the wonderful chant setting 3 of SBH, I am not unsympathetic to this point of view. 

On the other hand, we have what we have.  Generations have grown up singing the ordinary to the through composed settings so very much in use among Lutherans today.  Given the alternative of praise bands and solo singers with backups, I will vote for the through composed ordinary every time.  In fact, given the alternative, I will also vote for a hymn setting of the ordinary (ala Divine Service, Setting 3, of LSB) over no ordinary at all.

Yet.... chant is the musical form that came to identify with the Church and singing in worship and I am saddened greatly that chant has largely disappeared from the songbook of God's people.  Liturgical chant has become for us a synonym for hymns.  Now I do not anticipate making much change in this identification any more than I would predict that tomorrow the ubiquitous praise band will be replaced by a pipe organ and a liturgical choir.  But... perhaps it would be a good thing for us to reintroduce into the repertoire of the people the most ancient form of liturgical song so that it is still a part of our singing and not some distant memory... even for Lutherans there is something to think about here...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Nobody knows the trouble I've seen...

Sermon for Pentecost 5, Proper 11A, preached Sunday, July 17, 2011.

    When I grew up, any complaint was bound to incite the dreaded response about how bad my parents had it growing up.  The increasing litany of suffering began with we were so poor we did not have shoes, then no socks,  and then not even have feet for the seventeen mile one way walk to the one room unheated prairie school.  Misery loves to glory in how bad we have it.  It becomes almost a competition for how bad it was "when we were kids..."  It is no wonder than our kids have learned to complain – they learned it from us.  They learned from us to forget every joy and blessing and remember every pain, sorrow, or slight.  But it is not without consequences.  Eventually, such selective memory can tear down our joy in Christ.
    Now it is no doubt that this life involves suffering.  The first two hymns we sang spoke honestly of our sufferings.  We carry around the scars of our defeats, our battles, our disappointments, and our bitterness.  Sometimes we even compete for who has had it worst.  But we need to be careful here.  The Christian acknowledges these sufferings but does not focus on them, admits such wounds but does not fixate upon them.  We put our sufferings into perspective, as St. Paul reminded us in the Epistle for today.  It is not a balance scale but a perspective – our sufferings are always in comparison to the love, redemption and glory we have in Christ.
    When we compare what we went through in the past or are going through now, oo what God has prepared for us in Christ, our sufferings pale in comparison. Sure, we feel the pain but we know what pain Christ bore that you and I might be marked for heavenly glory, peace, and bliss.  In comparison to all that He won for us by His suffering and death, our present sufferings are not worth mentioning.  It is like complaining about and fighting for the last cracker on the appetizer tray while ingnoring  the richest banquet table that is being set for us.  Why fight for the distinction of the greatest sufferer when God has prepared for us the greatest joy?
    We live in a world groaning under the weight of sin and its effects.  Ever aspect of God's wonderful creation has been brought down by sin and its death.  We are not alone in wearing the marks of our suffering or complaining under the weight of their wounds.  All around us we see the marks of a decaying world and its people groaning for relief – just like you and me.
    But this suffering and this pain are not preludes to something worse nor are they marks of future pain and future disappointment. No, they are the birth pains of a world and lives being born in the hope and glory of Christ's redemption.  The world around us and each one of us are like a woman in labor, suffering the pain of a moment to give birth to the child of joy.  This is the nature of our lives here on earth.  We must never lose sight of the future God has prepare for us!
    We do not hope in what we see.  We are not consoled by the prospect of a little better world, or a little bit more justice, or a little less disappointment.  We do not hope in a better version of what we see all around us.  Our hope is not simply to be happier or to have an easier life.  Our hope is much grander.  It cannot even be imagined now – God's future is beyond our imagination.
    We hope not in what we see but the radical new creation in which sin, death, disappointment, sorrow and fear have absolutely no place whatsoever.  This is a future we cannot imagine but the Spirit knows this future and He informs our hearts of God's tomorrow and away from our past.  When we are so overwhelmed by the suffering of the moment that we cannot even muster the words to pray, this same Spirit of God transforms our weary sighs and our achy groans into the prayers of the faithful.  We pray God for this wondrous tomorrow to come quickly and rescue us lost sinners from our disappointment and fear, from our sin and death, and to restore us to joy.
    You might think that suffering would teach us to pray but if our prayers are simply focused on our pain, all we pray is the lament of our wounds.  Our Synod Pres. Matthew Harrison has reminded us that we know not how to pray because we know not the promises of God.   These promises are what invites and encourages our prayers.  We do not pray from our suffering but because of His promises.  It is this confident joy that enables us to pray and to know now in the midst of our sufferings His peace and contentment.
    Christians often complain in their misery as if there were a prize for the one who had it worst.  Instead we are to offer the Lord our pain, in the hope and expectation of the future that He has prepared for us.  But this is not usually how we operate.  And it is to our poverty that we forget this hope.    We have all met people who see the gray cloud around every silver lining, who can tear down and stamp our every hope and steal away our ever joy.  These magnets of misery know just how to tear us down.  We know how to complain.  The Spirit does not need to teach us this.  What the Spirit needs to teach us is how to shine like the Son, how to shift our focus from sin's wrong and death's shadow to Christ's forgiveness and life.  The Spirit works to transform the very sighs of our complaints into the confident prayer that hopes and even expects God's to give us what He has promised.  It is this that empowers our prayers – familiarity with God's promises and confidence that He will give us what He has promised.
    In the Gospel lesson we heard of those who wanted to separate the tares (or weeds) from the wheat.  This was spoken in reference to the Kingdom of God but it is surely true of our lives as well.  We want to pull up all the weeds and tares of our lives and leave only the good fruit.  But just as Jesus spoke of patience and trust in God's timing, so are we bidden to trust in God and to be patient, having fully confidence that what is promised is already ours – now by faith and soon face to face.
    We come here every week carrying the weight of all our complaints, all our disappointments, all our sins, and all our death...  Sometimes we are so weighed down by them that we cannot even form words to pray.  So the Spirit points us to the sufferings of Christ, to the accomplishment of Christ on our behalf, and to the promises of Christ in His mercy and grace.  It is here we find an answer to our misery.  We are forgiven.  We are born again from death to life eternal.  We are not orphans but know His fatherly presence over us.  We know how our story ends in the everlasting salvation that is already ours.
    We cannot afford to wait until things go well to be happy.  We cannot wait for people to stop disappointing us to know joy.  We cannot wait for sin to stop before hoping for a future.  We cannot wait for death to know the resurrection and the life everlasting.  The answer to all of these lies in Christ.  Our sufferings do not measure up to His suffering on our behalf.  More than this, our sufferings cannot even compare to the glory God is waiting to reveal to us.  Our faith is simple patience and trust in the God who will not now or ever disappoint us.  And this is what builds in us contentment, joy, and peace.... now and forevermore.  Amen

I told you that this would lead to something worse...

A cartoon about the gay marriage debate showed a hick sitting on the front porch in his rocking chair saying that all these problems began with giving women the right to vote and to drive.  In the next frame of the cartoon, he shouts through a window to his wife cooking and cleaning in the kitchen, "I told you this would happen!  Give women the vote and a driver's license and it was bound to lead to something worse..."  Well, it was funnier if you saw it...

The world is filled with folks with dire predictions of things that will go wrong, of domino effects that start in one place and end somewhere else.  When I grew up it was communism.  You had to stop it somewhere, or else...  Well, most of those old theories of the world's demise have come and gone.  Women vote and drive and have for a long time and not all the world's ills can be blamed on this.  But there are areas in which precedent does matter.  It matters with respect to the law.

If you are like me and have had to force yourself not to watch "Sister Wives" (about as impossible as turning away from the train wreck on its way to destruction), now you can say it.  "I told you this would lead to something worse..."

After the show began airing, Utah law enforcement officials suggested the family was under investigation for violating the state law prohibiting polygamy.  Now the Brown family is planning to file a lawsuit to challenge the polygamy law. They are not seeking that the state recognizes polygamous marriage. Instead, they are appealing to a 2003 United States Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas, in which state sodomy laws were struck down using as justification the unconstitutional intrusion on the “intimate conduct” of consenting adults. They arae seeking help from the federal courts to order states NOT to punish polygamists for their own “intimate conduct” as long as they do not break other laws (like those regarding child abuse, incest or multiple civil marriage).

In this case, one decision which at the time seemed fairly reasonable even though you may not like it will be used to force acceptance of something unreasonable which no one even likes to talk about (except those who watch "Sister Wives."  And this is but the tip of the iceberg...  Remember Bork and the big discussion of the right of privacy which may or may not be constitutional?  Well, here we go again.  Now how to prevent one argument from being used to justify something nearly everyone finds shocking and objectionable -- I do not know and I am not sure the Supreme Court will be able to figure this out either...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Can we still confess this with a straight face?

From our Lutheran Confessions:

1] Falsely are our churches accused of abolishing the Mass; for the Mass is retained among 2] us, and celebrated with the highest reverence. Nearly all the usual ceremonies are also preserved, save that the parts sung in Latin are interspersed here and there with German hymns, which have been added 3] to teach the people. For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned 4] be taught [what they need to know of Christ]. And not only has Paul commanded to use in the church a language understood by the people 1 Cor. 14, 2. 9, but it has also been so ordained by man's law. 5] The people are accustomed to partake of the Sacrament together, if any be fit for it, and this also increases the reverence and devotion of public 6] worship. For none are admitted 7] except they be first examined. The people are also advised concerning the dignity and use of the Sacrament, how great consolation it brings anxious consciences, that they may learn to believe God, and to expect and ask of Him all that is good. 8] [In this connection they are also instructed regarding other and false teachings on the Sacrament.] This worship pleases God; such use of the Sacrament nourishes true devotion 9] toward God. It does not, therefore, appear that the Mass is more devoutly celebrated among our adversaries than among us.
+ The Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV,1-9 +

At the outset we must again make the preliminary statement that we 1] do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it. For among us masses are celebrated every Lord's Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved. And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other like things.

+ Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV,1 + 

When fore fathers confessed those words, they did so because they were accused by the Roman Church of having forsaken the liturgical tradition -- the ceremonial and ritual side of the verbal confession.  In response, they not only denied the charge but insisted that the mass was more devoutly celebrated among them than it was by their adversaries (the Roman Church).  This was serious business.  The recognition of the catholic church was, in part, due to a recognition of the mass with its accompanying ceremonies and church usages.  The Lutherans were intent upon retaining the visual image that was faithful to the verbal confession.

Today we find ourselves in a very different boat.  There are those who insist that substance (confession) and style (music and liturgy) can be separated so that we can worship in many different ways while holding on to the same confession or faith.  This artificial distinction has been used to justify forms of worship which abandon the mass and its ceremonies and adopt the prevailing style and form of non-denominational and evangelical "churches."  In addition, the artificial distinction between mission (making the church friendly to those outside it) and maintenance (the sacramental care and liturgical life to feed and nourish Christians) has led many congregations and their Pastors to ditch the distinctive worship form of the mass in order to grow their church.

The war is certainly not lost but the side of the liturgy is clearly on the defensive.  There are many things that we need to recover in our churches and our confidence in and comfort level with the liturgical identity that accompanies our Confessions are clearly a couple of things on that recovery list.  What was once something we could confess with conviction has become a confession which is only partially true.  It is the hope and prayer of so many within the pews and pulpits of our church body that this will once again be something we can say without reservations but we are clearly engaged in a fierce debate with those who would rather Melanchthon had not written those words.