Monday, October 31, 2011

A Shocking Find...

Lutherans and Muslims got together for a historical combined worship service at Lakeside Lutheran Church in Harrisburg.  This was the final worship service for the Lutherans and signaled the transfer of the building to Muslims for use as a Mosque.  This took place on October 31, 2010, the very date commemorating the start of the Lutheran Reformation. What was the final service for Lutheran congregation became the welcome service for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The main purpose of this service was to build a Bridge between Islam and Christanity. The key speaker was a Muslim Ameer Sahib, a national figure among Muslims in the USA. He said, " A place of worship from follower of Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) Messiah handed over to followers of Messiah of Holy prophet Muhammad (saw)..."

You can watch the TV coverage flattering the way these Lutherans and Muslims came together.

I am shocked.  I am not surprised that Lutherans in decline could no longer afford their building.  I am not surprised that the building was sold.  I am not surprised that Muslims might purchase this building.  I am shocked that Lutherans would worship with Muslims as if this were somehow a friendly exchange between people of like faith.  This is not about Islamaphobia or prejudice but about the witness to the 2.5 million viewers who witnessed this and, for all intents and purposes, got the impression that there was not that much of substance dividing these Lutherans from the Muslims who were taking over their building -- especially when the media anchor suggested that it was a change of people but not God at this address.

BTW thanks to the anonymous person who supplied the link to the first video I watched on this....

Living with an Ozzie and Harriet mentality in an Ossy and Sharon Osbourne world...

A new web site and a new movement in Missouri was born.  It is called On Word.  It has some old and familiar names behind it (Norb Oesch, Dave Buegler, etc.).  It banters about the term missional a lot.  It has some good and some things I am concerned about.

A couple of things....  It speaks of missions from the vantage point of a shrinking LCMS instead of confidence in the Gospel and in the means of grace.  Because of this, it is mostly concerned with things like process and practice than doctrine and faith.  This is not something unique to this group but it is an issue I have with many groups where guilt and shock are used to call us to do what joy and confidence alone can do...

It complains about a clericalism in the church that is crippling the mission.  I have heard this before from different folks and I really do not understand it.  We have more lay folk in short term and long term missions than ever.  We live in the heritage of "everyone a minister" and a church structure that is less and less directed toward or by the Pastor.  Our members do not sit in awe of the Herr Pastor's knowledge or experience.  They are just as educated, just as experienced, and they have opinions they are not afraid to express.  We have more "lay offices" (like deacon) doing things once reserved for Pastors than we ever have.  We have congregations being served by these folks as virtual Pastors.  If anything, we live at a time when clergy are seen as less essential to the life and work of the Church than ever before.

It insists that we do not know the world around us, that we live in a past that is long gone, guided by a theological language, musical style, and liturgical identity that no longer sells, and we have missed the fact that our culture is no longer Christian. Who is he talking about?  We have sung liturgy, weekly Eucharist, and strong teaching (catechesis).  We also know the world around us is unfriendly to the faith, suspicious of the moniker Lutheran, unchurched, and lost.  Yet we also know that what reaches them is not a Christian imitation of their culture, music, or message.  What reaches them are the means of grace.  Period.  Word and Sacrament.  Not some with it Pastor or lay leader who mimics the look and lingo of the day and plants churches that have little or nothing in common with those paying the mission tab.

I don't know a lot of things.  If I were smarter or wiser I would not be blogging my meandering thoughts.  I would get people to pay for them.  But I think our problem is not that we are behind the times.  I think that we have lost confidence in the means of grace, lost confidence in the Lord to do His work through the Word and Sacraments, lost confidence in the promise that where we preach and teach the Word of God faith will be born (in God's time).  Instead, we have given up on the Gospel and now we think that we can do something to reach the heart of the lost.  We have the technology, we have the skill, we have the wisdom, we have the tools -- we don't need liturgy or hymnal or theology.  We barely need the Spirit.  All we need is networking and cash and we can get the job done.  We don't need St. Louis and we don't need oversight and we don't need someone second guessing us.

You listen to the video and tell me what you hear and what you do not.... What I hear is passion and desire but mixed in with disdain for St. Louis (code word for theology, confession, practice, and doctrine).  Sure I hear them talk sacramental but it is not a sacramental faith and identity borne of and shaped the means of grace.  It is a nod toward the confessional identity but the emphasis is clearly on what we are doing, how we are connected, our success, and our refusal to be ignored.  Maybe I am over reacting.  You tell me....

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reformation Thoughts...

If the Holy Trinity was as holy as the Trinitarian dogma taught; if original sin was as virulent as the Augustinian tradition said it was; and if Christ was as necessary as the Christological dogma implied—then the only way to treat justification in a manner faithful to the best of Catholic tradition was to teach justification by faith.

With these words, Jaroslav Pelikan addresses the Reformation not as some blip on the radar of church history or some terrible detour to a once straight path but the true expression of catholicity.  At this time of year, Lutherans often speak of their glorious heritage of reform and renewal as if our history began on this date in 1517.  Luther would strongly object to a characterization of the Reformation movement as sectarian.  Luther would bristle at the thought that he stood for some fringe opinion out of the mainstream of Christian thought and faith.  Yet today that is exactly the impression some Lutherans want to give.  We act as if our history began with a hammer and a nail and a church door and that nothing much happened in the fifteen centuries before that moment in time.  Sometimes we are even more parochial and point to much more recent dates as the start of the true history of the Church (say 1839 and a few ships sailing from Saxony).

Existing side by side in pre-Reformation theology were several ways of interpreting the righteousness of God and the act of justification. They ranged from strongly moralistic views that seemed to equate justification with moral renewal to ultra-forensic views, which saw justification as a 'nude imputation' that seemed possible apart from Christ, by an arbitrary decree of God. Between these extremes were many combinations; and though certain views predominated in late nominalism, it is not possible even there to speak of a single doctrine of justification.

Newman was right in saying that doctrine develops but the doctrine that develops is doctrine gone awry.  At the time the seeds of the Reformation were being planted, the doctrine of justification was developing -- not just ways of expressing the one truth of the Christ event but actual different theologies that competed and often conflicted.  What happened in the Reformation was not the start of something new but the course correction that reclaimed what was old and true and catholic.  The evangelical expression of justification was not some aberration but the reclamation of what had been lost or overshadowed by other truths and not a few lies.

All the more tragic, therefore, was the Roman reaction on the front which was most important to the reformers, the message and teaching of the church. This had to be reformed according to the word of God; unless it was, no moral improvement would be able to alter the basic problem. Rome’s reactions were the doctrinal decrees of the Council of Trent and the Roman Catechism based upon those decrees. In these decrees, the Council of Trent selected and elevated to official status the notion of justification by faith plus works, which was only one of the doctrines of justification in the medieval theologians and ancient fathers. When the reformers attacked this notion in the name of the doctrine of justification by faith alone—a doctrine also attested to by some medieval theologians and ancient fathers—Rome reacted by canonizing one trend in preference to all the others. What had previously been permitted (justification by faith and works), now became required. What had previously been permitted also (justification by faith alone), now became forbidden. In condemning the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent condemned part of its own catholic tradition.

As Pelikan points out in his seminal work Obedient Rebels, it was not the rejection of heretics but the banishment of its own catholic identity that was at work in the Reformation in its response the Counter Reformation.  Yet Lutherans run the risk of doing the very same thing when they reject their catholic identity and forget the centuries of church life and thought that went before the tragic necessity of the Great Reformation.  If we would be so bold as to challenge Rome to recognize the catholic identity of our confession, we must allow others to challenge us to see beyond the the sixteenth century.

Truly both options could not be allowed to stand -- justification by faith alone or justification by faith plus works.  They were conflicting truths that weakened the Church and her witness to the world.  But in resolving this conflict, the authority must rest with Scripture and not with the pious opinions of theologians whether ancient or eloquent.  This was Luther's point.  Let the conflicting ideas be sounded forth in debate and let the voice of God's Word decide.  Not council, not pope, not theologian but Scripture must choose which is authentic, which is faithful, and which is true.  Luther did not hide his convictions but put them forth and Rome should have been prepared to do the same.  Instead we ended up with a breech and a schism and now with competing camps each claiming to be the right one.

Lutherans have become too institutionalized in their Lutheran identity and speak as if Reformation was the greatest moment in history.  It was tragic and however necessary it will always be as tragic as it was necessary.  Rome has become institutionalized in its Counter Reformation and so has amputated part of its own catholic faith and identity -- even anathematizing it. No matter the careful steps tried to reconcile in the Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification, Lutheranism cannot live with justification by grace through faith as being a minority opinion and Rome cannot erase its own history of rejection.  So we delicately dance around what remains -- is justification by grace through faith THE teaching of Scripture or is justification plus works what Jesus came to die for and what St. Paul commends as truth?

And so we celebrate one more Reformation.  Lutherans needing to know and celebrate their history before 1517 and Rome needing to know and celebrate the reform rooted in the Gospel and the faithful corrective to what had become a mish mash of conflicting ideas about how we are made right before God.  Can we give thanks for the Reformation without looking down our noses at those who gave Luther the boot?  Can we proclaim the Reformation truth as not just one permitted opinion but the defining issue and the doctrine on which the whole Church stands or falls?  And the catholic faith is this... ought to be the start of the preaching on this day and the start of every conversation to reclaim Protestantism from its abyss of relativity and Rome from its rejection of what Scripture teaches...

Nifty Little Visual...

HT to St. Thomas the Doubter for this nifty little visual of the size of the religious affiliation of the world's population by region.  It is a neat way to address often mind numbing statistics.

Words from a repentant liberal....

HT to Cranach and Gene Veith...

In honor of his 80th birthday, Christianity Today reprints a fascinating interview with Thomas Oden, a formerly liberal theologian who discovered the church fathers and who now has been advocating a historically orthodox Christianity in all of the theological traditions.  In the interview, he tells about how he abandoned liberalism–largely because of the liberal stand on abortion–how reading Luther helped cure him of radicalism, why we need creeds and church history in addition to the Bible, how evangelicals need to discover the sacraments, and the impact of modernity and postmodernity.  At one point, he calls himself an “ancient evangelical,” which is another interesting term.   

The interview defies excerpting, so read it here:  Back to the Fathers | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction. 

While I am happy whenever a liberal Christian (is there a contradiction there?) comes home to creedal Christianity, to the fathers of the church, and to a sacramental and liturgical piety, it always seems to go largely unnoticed in comparison to the damage done when previously faithful teachers go the other way -- espousing a Christianity lite (devoid of doctrine, fact, truth, and sacramental vitality).   It is too easy for the media to jump upon those who have lost their way and to ignore those who return to the fold.  Perhaps it is difficult for those with a liberal world view to imagine how anyone would sacrifice his cynicism, doubts, and scientific perspective for what many journalists deem to be little more than superstitious fancy.  Whatever the reason, I hope that this replay of a twenty year old interview will continue to raise hackles in the world of the those whose business it has become to raise doubts about the certainty of Christian faith and doctrine.  I just wish that those who turned back got as much time in the limelight as those who turn away.

Oden says "The term paleo-orthodoxy is employed to make clear that we are not talking about neo-orthodoxy. Paleo- becomes a necessary prefix only because the term orthodoxy has been preempted and to some degree tarnished by the modern tradition of neo-orthodoxy" (Requiem, p. 130). Oden has described his mission as "to begin to prepare the postmodern Christian community for its third millennium by returning again to the careful study and respectful following of the central tradition of classical Christianity"  While I am not yet ready to welcome to the table one who is seemingly still comfortable within the contradiction that is the United Methodist Church, it does encourage me to find folks listening to the fathers and to Luther against the ravages of a skeptical modernity.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Oh, what a bad idea on so many levels!

A friend sent me a link to one response to the new Tattoo Barbie.  As if we have had not had enough of semi-realistic dolls reflecting our less than noble side (read that Bratz), Mattel has introduced another version of the ever popular Barbie.  Can the piercing Barbie be far behind?  Some things are better thought about and not done.  As Paul once said, all things may be possible but not all things are beneficial...

Read it all here...

But before we get all hot and bothered at Mattel, we would not have these if there were not those who purchased them.  At $50 a pop, only the most dedicated moms, dads, and grandparents will be able to afford this for their kids.

Good Intentions Gone Awry....

I will admit it... we have collected shoes for Haiti and clothing for Africa and blankets for disaster areas.  I will admit it... there is a certain parochialism that delights in offering cast offs as good enough for those who have nothing.  I will admit it... our good intentions often get in the way of real help to real need.

I have posted before about the confusion over real mission trips and pious vacations that masquerade as mission trips.  I have posted before about the way we avoid dealing with the real needs of the mission field -- money -- and instead feel that we have done something if we have cleaned out our closets and sent off what we no longer want or need.

I will admit that this little article has got me thinking...  We are putting together health kits for Lutheran World Relief (along with money) but this is something that they request and they have laid out what they need.  We send out those shoebox gifts for Operation Christmas Child (though the sentiment of a Christmas gift for someone who has never gotten one probably trumps the value of this one).  Anyway, as I said, this little article and its pictures have gotten me thinking... Not all good is the same good and not all good for a moment is good for the long term....

You listen and read and think about it, too! Haiti Doesn't Need Your Yoga Mat...

Evolution of the Blogger -- minus one incarnation

I see I am not the only one to pass on this graphic of the Evolution of the Blogger.... but let me at least pass it on with this caveat:  where is the self-righteous, smug, prideful, arrogant, haughty, know it all, Missouri Synod Lutheran, confessional, liturgical Pastor-Blogger????  I mean, really.  There is surely no shortage of these!

So whomever is responsible for this graphic -- add me in!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Information and the control of its distribution....

Even as a blogger I am ambivalent about the practice of blogging.  I have a definite point of view but not a particular "political" agenda.  I know that there are those who use this media simply to sound off and complain and I know that there are those who have a definite political goal behind their blogging.  I appreciate blogging for the disbursement of information.  Lord knows, you could end up with cob webs in your ears waiting for some of this stuff in LCMS news releases, Reporter stories, or the like.  I understand that but it is important that information find its way out (example University Lutheran Chapel building being sold).  So often we only find out about things when they are over and done with and have no way to register our concern before the deed is done.  So blogging does provide a conduit for timely distribution of what is going on -- good or bad.

I try to be responsible in what I post.  I do not target individuals and do not make things personal -- if I have, I ask you to point it out to me so that I can correct it.  It is not fair to say that bloggers must be objective -- the whole point of blogging is personal perspective.  Most of the bloggers I pay attention to are similarly circumspect in the way they use the medium.  There are some more apt to be personal or to get personal with their (church) politics but I do not generally comment on their blogs nor accept their information without additional sources.

I think it is unfair to paint bloggers in our Church with the broad brush or to identity them with a certain infamous rag out of a small town in Missouri.  Even when the concern may be similar the methodology is clearly different.

My concern has been heightened because some have issued public or private warnings to the bloggers and some of these have come through official or semi-official channels.  This is a sad state of affairs.  Most of the blogs that I know are passionate for the larger cause of faithful Lutheran confession and practice.  Even then, the various blogs are different and the bloggers are likewise different.  That is not a bad thing.  Different perspectives and points of view are healthy to the larger discussion.

I do not moderate comments.  I retain the right to remove comments that are objectionable in language or tone and do not speak to the issue or topic of the post.  I expect the folks who comment to be civil even when they are passionate in their points.  I do not spend a great deal of time going through comments and, truth to be told, I rather like it when a good discussion gets going.  I think that unmoderated discussion is good in the larger arena of our Synod.  Too much of the debate of the past years has been shaped and defined by others to the point where we have not spoken as honestly and forthrightly as we should.  If our Synod is to find peace and enjoy more solidarity it will happen only where people speak the their points of view and the truth in love, in a free and open discussion.

Just a few rambling thoughts as I hear some raise some concern about folks like me who blog...  BTW, in case you are concerned about the time I put into this, I spend about 30 minutes a day on my blog or reading others.... generally somewhere around 6 am.  Some days I do not read any.  Many of my own posts are scheduled so that I have the freedom to ignore this blog from time to time.  But all the content is my responsibility...

Too funny for words....


Via this isn’t happiness
Via Esgetoloty

An Admirer of Healey Willan

I heard that the great work of the composer Healey Willan, particularly within the context of the potential for English chant and polyphony, is being remembered and encouraged in a new society. The Canons Regular of St. John Cantius have established the Healey Willan Society "in consultation with Mrs. Mary Willan Mason [daughter of Healey Willan], for the purpose of fostering the musical works of Healey Willan."

While Willan’s music is known and loved by church choirs, organists and instrumental ensembles, much of his music in no longer in print or has never been published. After Johann Sebastian Bach, Healey Willan is the most prolific composer of church music. It is the goal of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius and of the Healey Willan Society to bring back into print as many musical works of Healey Willan as possible. This will be accommodated through Biretta Books, Ltd., the publishing house of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius. The Healey Willan Society will foster an increase in the public performance of his musical works in churches, concert halls, etc., as well as through audio recordings, as well as in film, radio, the Internet and television, etc. 

Healey Willan composed two of my very favorites.  One is an absolutely marvelous setting of the Te Deum for use in Matins.  It was a particular favorite at Junior and Senior College and I still miss singing it even after so many years away from those institutions. I only wish that I had a decent recording of the Willan Te Deum.  The only one I could find on YouTube was a rather poor recording of one of the Concordia Colleges holding an alumni gathering.  I did purchase the November Feasts album of the Choir of St. Peter's in the Loop.  (From Fr. Hollywood:  A magnificent choir known as the Schola Cantorum of St. Peter the Apostle (formerly the Schola Cantorum of St. Peter's in the Loop) has given the Church a wonderful musical gift for this sacred time of transition in  the her calendar. This album, Music for the November Feasts, is one of my favorite musical albums of all time - in any category.  This is definitely a "desert island" CD.  It is an ecumenical collection of sacred music covering centuries in a diverse mix of ecclesiastical musical styles: hymn and chant, English and Latin, old and new, a choir of men and women singing both a capella and with musical accompaniment.)  

The other of my favorites is the Willan setting of p. 15 from TLH.  It was composed at the behest of the LCMS Commission on Worship (there was another one they commissioned but I cannot recall it at this moment - Bender, perhaps?).  I also sang this Willan setting first at Junior College in Winfield and came to love it dearly.  As far as I know only Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, still uses this setting and it is, if I recall, their primary liturgical setting in use there.  I have accompanied this and found this absolutely delightful.  If I had had my way, it would have made it into LW and LSB.  In my mind it is far superior to the also beloved setting from TLH still with us as Divine Service Setting Three.  The Kyrie was initially available in Hymnal Supplement 98 by CPH but copyright issues have always been a problem with Willan's estate and much of this music is out of print.  The new hymnal committee elected to use a different Kyrie for LSB.

Both were issued by Concordia Publishing House in the late 1950s or very early 1960s -- both as an accompaniment edition and as a paste in booklet (the Divine Service) or single sheet (Te Deum) so that they could be attached to the inside or outside cover of TLH and made a permanent part of that book.  I would love to know if others have had any experience of these wonderful settings (outside the Concordia Colleges or Redeemer).  It would be great to know that they are alive and well.

While I am reminiscing, I would highly recommend Willan's Introits and Graduals for the Church Year for all those using the one year series.  It is of the highest quality and always in style -- plus, easily accessible for the volunteer choir without great musical ability!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

From Gene Veith at Cranach who quoted an advice column from the US Catholic (which you can read there by clicking here):

Should you pass on communion at a Lutheran church or participate fully?
You are at the wedding of a beloved family member or friend, which is taking place at a Lutheran church. You gladly accepted the invitation to celebrate this happy day with the bride and groom. But then there is a call to come to the table of the Lord’s Supper, to receive communion. This is the awkward moment you knew was coming. Can you, and should you, a practicing Catholic, accept the invitation?
According to the Code of Canon Law, receiving communion in a Protestant church is generally not permissible. According to canon 844, “Catholic ministers may licitly administer the sacraments to Catholic members of the Christian faithful only and, likewise, the latter may licitly receive the sacraments only from Catholic ministers.” The key term here is licit. If a Catholic receives communion from a Protestant minister, it is generally considered “illicit” or unlawful.
The reason for the Catholic Church’s general rule against sharing in the Eucharist with other churches is that a person can only be in full communion with one church. As a Catholic, the core of one’s union with Christ is union with the church. The center of this union lies in the reception of the sacrament of the Eucharist during Mass, which is both a confession and embodiment of unity with the Roman Catholic Church.
But canon 844 includes an exception to the rule “whenever necessity requires or general spiritual advantage suggests, and provided that the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided.”
The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism said that, as a general rule, common worship and eucharistic and other sacramental sharing should “signify the unity of the church.” But it acknowledges that such sharing can also be seen as advancing unity. In fact, according to the decree, “the gaining of a needed grace sometimes commends” it.
Still, within the confines of canon law, the exceptions to the rule are rather limited, and receiving communion from a Lutheran pastor during a wedding would normally be seen as “illicit” for Catholic wedding guests. At the same time, some Catholics would like to, and do, receive communion on these rare occasions.
These Catholics, after a careful examination of their conscience, find compelling reasons to “gain a needed grace” by receiving communion in a Protestant church. And it is also true that eucharistic sharing has occurred at the highest levels of the church. Even Jesus occasionally broke the religious law of his day, though he did so to fulfill the “spirit” of the law.
So it is possible that one could follow Jesus’ lead. In our example a compelling reason might be to demonstrate one’s deep love and commitment to nurturing the relationship of the newly married couple. Intercommunion could be a “yes” to God by witnessing to God’s presence in the marriage and committing to God’s work of salvation in their lives.
In the end, this may be fulfilling the “spirit” of canon law while going against the letter.

Veith's comment:

That last bit is casuistry of the highest order!  Breaking a canon law in order to fulfill it?  What’s surprising to me is that it’s taken for granted that a Lutheran pastor would be glad to commune a Roman Catholic visitor.   See too the first comment in the consequent thread that quotes the rest of the canon law cited here, that the communion can only be in a church with “valid” sacraments, which would be the Eastern Orthodox and some of the separated Catholic off-shoots.  Not Protestants, including  Lutherans and Anglicans, who are not thought to truly have the Eucharist.  This interpretation, though, makes liberal-Protestant-style ecumenism trump everything.

At any rate, is this argument for closed communion–actually, the rejection of altar fellowship–the same as what confessional Lutherans make, or is there a difference?  Note, for example, that the nature of the sacrament is not even brought up in this reasoning.

My Comment:

So what is the Roman Catholic receiving in this "communion" (from the perspective of Rome)?  Could it be that this is a back door admission that the Sacrament of the Altar is valid (if not licit) upon the Lutheran altar?  Or is the US Catholic merely suggesting that such communion would be a symbolic snack, a pious act but not Sacramental reception?  Hmmmm.... I can only imagine the comments....

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The WORD of the Lord!

Sermon  for Pentecost 19, Proper 25A, preached on Sunday, October 23, 2011 (St. James of Jerusalem, recalled)

    Did you ever hear about the group of Lutherans who went to see Star Wars when it first came out?  When they heard on the screen “The force be with you” they instinctively replied “And also with you.”  It is easy to forget what we are saying and to only repeat what is ingrained into us.
    Ever notice how we end the lessons: The Word of the Lord.  Perhaps you have already instinctively thought: “Thanks be to God!”  These words at the end of the readings are not a  defense of what was just read or an attempt to convince you that what was read really is the Word of the Lord.  We do not make it the Word of God. It just is – whether we acknowledge it or not.  The Word of the Lord.  Period.  It seems so routine and commonplace to hear that said at the end of the lessons that we often miss the importance of what that simple phrase means.  And the same with our response: Thanks be to God!  This is no perfunctory response that erupts without thought.  This is faith speaking.  For it is only faith that hears this as the Word of the Lord and only faith that responds with thanksgiving for this life-giving Word that has addressed us children of God.
    The Word of the Lord.  The Word of the Lord in all its truth, purity and fullness.  It is the two edged sword of the Word of the Lord.  The Law with all its blunt truth to order our lives and protect us from chaos and excess.  The Law with all its blunt truth to accuse us of our sin we think is so well hidden and out of sight, lest we think we are getting by with something.  The Law with all its blunt truth to guide the redeemed of the Lord, whose hearts He changed so that what is good and right is what they desire and do.
    The Word of the Lord.  The Word of the Lord is Gospel – sweet, sweet Word of life and hope to bring rescue to the lost and condemned sinners. The Gospel in its sweetness to forgive those who do not deserve forgiving and dare not even ask for this privilege – only grace.  The Gospel in all its sweetness which speaks life to the dead in trespasses and sin, speaks life to those whom death has claimed but Christ has set free.  The Gospel in all it sweetness that saves that what sin has turned into refuse and rubbish – so great is the power of this Word to justify what sin condemned and restore what sin took.
    No word of man can do this for the words of men have no such power. The great and mighty of man fall every day – victims of their enemies and of their own weakness.  The once seemingly invincible paraded around in their fallen state from Libya to America.  The word of man has no such power but only the Word of the Lord.  Whereas the word of man depends upon some other power to keep what it says, God's Word is its own power to kill and make alive, to destroy or create.  God's Word is efficacious – it does exactly what it says.  No other Word can do this – only God's!
    So what can be said in response to this Word of the Lord?  Can we add or take away from this Word?  Can we change or nullify what it says?  No, it is left only to us to hear and recognize that it is the Word of the Lord.  So the Word of the Lord speaks and the Spirit works in the ears and hearts of the hearers so that they hear this voice as the living voice of God and respond with faith: Thanks be to God!
    Thanks be to God that there is Word which is truth that does not change depending upon the day or the circumstance but the truth that is forever the same.  Thanks be to God that there is Word that speaks life and bestows the life of which it speaks to any sinner who hears for no one is too lost that God cannot find him or too bad for God to redeem him.  Thanks be to God that there is Word that bestows salvation – a promise beyond human imagination that can only be hinted at for we see through the glass dimly until God makes it all clear and delivers to us the promise He has given in Christ Jesus.
    Thanks be to God that what the human heart cannot fathom or believe the Spirit works so that with faith we may hear it and with faith we may receive its gifts.  Thanks be to God that this Word is all we need to hold on to when life fails, death is near, or captive to despair.  Thanks be to God!
    Thanks be to God that this Word does not leave us as it finds us but transforms us with the power of its truth and life.  Thanks be to God that God meets us all as we are and where we are but loves us enough not to leave us where He finds us or as we are.  Thanks be to God that we are not passive before this Word but through the agency of the Holy Spirit transformed into the very doers of this Word – keeping in word and in deed the promise of its hope and life in us and through us for the sake of the world.
    So with St. Paul we rejoice that this Word has been heard in our ears, that it has found and made its home in our hearts, declared us righteous in Christ and taught us this righteousness that we might live it out as we live out our new lives in Christ Jesus.
    God's Word is not some fact book or encyclopedia or textbook.  It is the living Word that is efficacious – that bestows what it promises and does what it speaks.  So when you hear that simple phrase again: The Word of the Lord. And the Spirit wells up in you that glorious faith to hear and receive its life and truth, then let your response be not only words: Thanks be to God but action that show forth this Thanks be to God in deeds as well.
    The Word of the Lord endures forever.... I am right now passing away in front of you... Moment by moment, death is claiming me.  But because the Word of the Lord came to me and by baptism I have been planted in that Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, I will endure.  The grass withers, the flower fades, the world is decaying, but the Word endures for ever and those planted in that Word by baptism and faith endure...  You, too, are passing away right now...  so the world around you... so are the words of man is passing away – like a wisp of smoke that dissipates until nothing is left.... but the Word of the Lord endures forever and those who are born again by the power of that Word in baptism, who are daily met by that Word in confession and repentance, who feed upon this Word hidden in bread and wine in this holy Supper, well they become like that Word, forever by the grace and favor of God.  Truly what can we say: Thanks be to God.

Life Celebrants. . .

In one of my favorite old movies, the elderly head to a special place when it gets, well, to that point in life.  The life center where you pass on is filled with wonderful images and music to send you on your way as the the injection aids the life to slowly leave the body.  It is, of course, Soylent Green, and the horror of it all, well, in case you have never seen the movie, I will simply say that the purpose of dying is not just to remove one hungry mouth from the great need of feeding the masses.  My point is that death is transformed from something awful or terrible into something wonderful and peaceful.  It is something comforting amid the discomfort that is life.

Well, something about this story of "Life Celebrants" reminded me of the way death was changed in that old movie and of the way folks today are searching to know what to do with death -- when they have no religious faith in which to frame it.  The truth is it all sounds sick and the idea of  life celebrant helping us transition the death of our loved ones makes me gag. And I particularly object to funeral homes pushing these on people (no, you say, they are not pushing these but merely providing a service?  Except that these folks allow the funeral home industry to control everything and not just the remains.  Lord knows, I have faced enough funeral homes with their own idea of what needs to be done at the funeral to know that clergy are often seen as outsiders to a process and service which is seen as best handled, in all its facets, by professional insiders.

Well, you read it and tell me I am going off the deep end needlessly.... again! Celebrants make funerals more personal...

Forgiveness Hidden and Revealed... the Surprise of Grace

In one column I recounted the surprise of Robert Downey, Jr. and Mel Gibson and a graceful moment in which forgiveness figured prominently.  Just recently I read of another, less surprising, more Christian.  This was the story told by Tim Goeglein and his own fall from grace (within the White House) and the forgiveness extended to him by the Chief of Staff and then President George. H. Bush.  In so many of these small stories, I have grown to appreciate the manner in which Pres. Bush lived the faith he professes while occupying the greatest seat of power in the world.  It is an intoxicating place in which power and pride have gone before the fall of many and here we see an action of grace at work in that same house.

I pass on the story for you to read here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Complaints and rejoicing over congregations...

Sermon preached for Pentecost 18, Proper 24A, preached on October 16, 2011 (LWML Sunday).

    If you were a fly in the wall at a meeting of Pastors, you might hear them complaining about their congregations.  But you knew this.  What might surprise you is how many times a Pastor rejoices in and gives thanks for his congregation.  But then you hear St. Paul speak the same way about the congregations under his care.  Sometimes he rejoices and sometimes he complains.  Today we heard him rejoice about the congregation in Thessalonika.  The very things that caused him joy, would bring joy to any Pastor – even to me!  So lets take a look at what is his cause for rejoicing over this church.
    He writes of the joy and thanksgiving he brings before God our Father as he recounts this congregations work of faith.  The work of faith is not some good work which is done to impress God but the good works that flow directly from faith in God's unmerited mercy.  As I have quoted to you before, one sainted Pastor said we need to get good works out of the church and into the world where they belong.  This means we need to stop parading or pleading our good works before God and put them to work in the world testifying to the grace of God that has saved us.  God works have no place within the Church but they need to be displayed before the world.
    These good works do not replace faith or complete with faith, but flow from faith.  St. Paul is describing a congregation so fully rooted in faith in Christ that good works naturally flow out into the world.  Who would not rejoice at this kind of congregation?  Is this not the kind of congregation that we need to become!  Where our strength and power rest not earthly forms of power but in love, not in earthly size but in acts of mercy, and not in earthly wisdom but in our determination to know Jesus Christ and to proclaim Him faithfully.
    St. Paul rejoices at a congregation where faith is living and active and every day giving birth to the good works.  This is faith active in love!  And that leads us to the second cause for St. Paul's joy.  The church is a labor of love – the labor of Christ's love that results in our love – returned to Him and displayed to the world.  Think about this kind of love.  Imagine how it would be if we did not have to be talked into or tricked into doing the work of the Kingdom.  Imagine how it would be if we did not have to cajoled into doing what we know is our privilege and our duty as the baptized children of God.
    Love's duty is not a burden placed upon us but the very purpose for which we exist.  Christ works in us not as the voice of guilt forcing us to do what we don't want to or shaming us into doing what is right.  Christ's love changes our heart so that what is good and right is our goal and desire.
    Our life together as the Church is born of Christ's love and manifested in the way in which we love as He has loved us.  The neighbor in need, the homeless person hard to love, these are the very opportunities for us to show forth Christ's love.  For we were that neighbor in need for whom Christ came and we were that homeless person marked for death until the love of Christ sought us out through the power of the cross and brought us home to our Father.
    From faith, in love, and now St. Paul describes the Thessalonians as steadfast in hope.  This is where the rubber hits the road.  It is easy to be optimistic when things are going well.  But hope is not dependent upon which way the wind is blowing.  Our hope is as certain when all things are against us as when all things are going our way.  St. Paul is not talking about being more positive or optimistic but living out the hope that is ours in Christ.  Imagine how our lives might change if we were as steadfast in hope as St. Paul wrote about.
    St. Paul lauds this congregation as being steadfast in hope.  They are so confident of God's grace and presence that they act in hope as they live out their life together.  Could that be us?  Should that be us?
    Are we people of hope who demonstrate that hope to those around us?  Is our hope as real as the suffering of the cross that gave this hope birth in us?  Do we see ourselves as people practicing this hope before the world?  Do we find it easier to speak and act out of fear than from the vantage point of God’s steadfast and enduring grace and the hope born of this grace?
    We as individuals and as a congregation are works of God, works of faith, the fruits of Christ's labor of love on the cross to be laborers for that love for the world, and the steadfast planting of the Lord in hope.  That is who we are.  Our calling is to live out who we are within the Church and in our life together as God's people and before the world as witnesses.  But it is too darn easy for us to complain about this or that, to list reasons why we cannot do this or that, or holding on to the misery instead of grasping God's gift of hope.
    As we recall the good work of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, perhaps the LWML and their mites are pretty good examples for us.  Who would think that you could fund a mission with pocket change?  We drop it on the ground and do not even bother to pick it up.  Yet this pocket change has multiplied and magnified the work of witness and service in the hands of the women of the LWML.  If they can do this much with their mites, what can we do with all the resources God has placed in our care?
    You want to know what kind of congregation causes a Pastor to rejoice? A congregation in which faith is active in love, giving birth to the good works that show off Christ to the world...  in which the labor of Christ's love for them has moved and shaped them to work and act in love toward the folks around them and the people next to them in the pews...  so steadfast in hope that they do not give up on the Lord or the work that the Lord has given them to do...
    If you want to know what I pray for, it is that I am the kind of Pastor who will help you as a congregation become all that God has called you to be.  And what is that goal?  Pews filled with folks who rejoice in the blessings of the faith in which they have been saved... loving people within the boundaries of this building, whose love spills over into the world to show forth the cross in acts of mercy and kindness... a hopeful people, more sure of God's hope than of their disappointment, more confident of God's resources than fearful of their future.
    You know what.... I believe that this is what you pray for as well...  That this is the kind of congregation you seek... Therefore, let us not only pray for these things, let us work them out among us as a people living their faith, active in love, steadfast in hope... examples of God's good work and examples of God's good workers, too!  Amen.

Happy St. Crispin's Day!

A little trivia for you. Today commemorates the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

“He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’ ” Henry V, Act 4

And for TWO of my very favorite YouTube videos from one of my favorite plays of Shakespeare and one of my favorite Branagh movies:



A German Lutheran Service from the Preface On...

This is a service from der Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche (Berlin-Wilmersdorf) and it is recognizable and familiar even though you may not speak German.  The congregation is part of the SELK, the church body with which the LCMS has fellowship. Listen to the wonderful chanting of the Pastor and of the congregation and also the vibrant singing.  I believe the date is from early October.

The LCMS and SELK regularly work in partnership, often through the SELK’s mission arm, the Lutheran Church Mission (LKM, sometimes referred to as the Bleckmar Mission). The two church bodies operate a joint mission project in Brussels, Belgium, and their seminaries regularly exchange students. The most recent area of cooperation is the effort in Wittenberg, Germany, to establish a new Martin Luther museum-attraction and welcome center that will share the Good News about Jesus with tens of thousands of area residents and tourists every year. The project also includes planting a SELK congregation in Wittenberg, other ministries to serve the community, and a place for study.

Today, SELK ministers to approximately 40,000 baptized members in almost 200 congregations, and has 140 active pastors. Most of their congregations are located in Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Hessen. The SELK supports and carries on mission work in South Africa and Botswana and has one missionary working in Brazil.

What if the choice had beem different...

Joanne Scheible was a University of Wisconsin student when she met Abdulfattah Jandali, a Muslim immigrant from Syria teaching political science. When Scheible became pregnant, Jandali says, her strict fundamentalist Christian father forbade their marriage. An adoption was arranged, and according to Scheible’s wishes that the adoptive parents be college-educated, two lawyers were set to receive the baby. She traveled to San Francisco and on Feb. 24, 1955, gave birth to a boy.

Scheible’s plan went awry when the ideal couple decided they wanted a baby girl, sending the agency back to the waiting list to a couple named Paul and Clara Jobs, who — according to Steve — said simply “Of course.” When Scheible discovered they didn’t have a college education, she balked, but finally agreed when they promised to give Steve a college education.

In this age of easy abortion this story begs for the question:  "what if..."  What if the circumstance had been today and the choice had been to abort?  Is there a person in the world whose life has not been directly or indirectly benefited in some way by Steve Jobs and the accomplishments of his company?  Surely this is not about capitalism or about the impact of Jobs on the world but about the simple choice of whether or not to abort...   Think of the consequences if the circumstance and choice had been different....

BTW I honor the choice of the girl who placed him for adoption.  This is no cowardly answer but the most noble choice... then and now.  I also honor the loving home and support Paul and Clara Jobs gave to this child who became their son.  Only heros in this background story to a giant among modern day men!

Mormon Baptisms Accepted by Trinitarian Christians???

In a discussion of Mormons and Trinitarian Christianity, I found this little tidbit:  many Episcopal clergy do not require Mormons to be re-baptized.  What?  I did not know that any Christian group accepted baptism from the Mormons.  I am literally in shock if this is the case and it speaks volumes of the nature of the Episcopal situation if it is, indeed, true.

What say you?  Do some Episcopalians or other Trinitarian Christians actually accept Mormon baptism as legitimate Christian baptism?  This is surprising to me because the Mormons themselves eschew the Trinitarian confession and creed.  That being the case, how can we accept the baptism of a non-Trinitarian group? 

Tell me that this GetReligion story is not true.... please?????

Monday, October 24, 2011

For the one house of worship destroyed in 9-11

From the RNS:

Ten years after tiny St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was destroyed by falling rubble from the World Trade Center towers, church leaders reached an agreement Friday (Oct. 14) to rebuild at Ground Zero.

The church, founded by Greek immigrants in 1916, sat in the shadow of the twin towers and was the only religious building to be completely destroyed during the 9/11 attacks.

Under the agreement brokered by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the church agreed to drop a lawsuit filed in February against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls rebuilding at Ground Zero.

The agreement marks a major win for the tiny church, which insisted on sticking to a preliminary agreement to exchange their original location at 155 Cedar Street—now part of a vehicle security center—for a larger piece of property at 130 Liberty Street.

The agreement allows the church to build a 4,100-square-foot church and interfaith bereavement center at 130 Liberty Street in exchange for dropping all litigation against city officials.

“With this agreement, we are continuing New York’s collective healing, restoration, and resurgence,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Now we are finally returning this treasured place of reflection to where it belongs.”

Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said construction on the church is scheduled to begin in 2013, once underground modifications are made to the future church site.

Stavros Papagermanos, a spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, said some funds have already been raised for reconstruction, but could not say how much the project would cost or how long it would take.

Negotiations over rebuilding broke down in 2008 as church officials accused the Port Authority of ignoring the church in the reconstruction plans. The Port Authority, in turn, accused the church of ever-escalating demands.

The church said it had been promised $20 million and the parcel at 130 Liberty Street because the vehicle security facility made the church’s original site no longer viable. Last year, the Port Authority said it supported “the return of the church to its original home” on Cedar Street.

Cuomo intervened earlier this year, appointing engineers to study alternate sites for the church. A statement on Friday from the Port Authority said the study concluded that “structural issues could be resolved” to build the church at 130 Liberty Street.

As part of the agreement, the Port Authority will pay for all below-ground construction and the church will pay for anything built above ground. “There will be no payments made by the Port Authority to the church,” the statement said.

Officials said construction will also have no impact on the World Trade Center site.

“Our pledge is to be a witness for all New Yorkers, that freedom of conscience and the fundamental human right of free religious expression will always shine forth in the resurrected St. Nicholas Church,” said Archbishop Demetrios, leader of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.


Let me make it clear that Robert Downey is not my favorite actor or character.  Neither is Mel Gibson.  But there is something rather remarkable here in the story of what Mel Gibson did for Robert Downey, Jr, and what Robert Downey, Jr, did for Mel Gibson.  It does speak to the issue of confession and forgiveness, of the power of repentance, and the redemption of the fallen.  Now I am not applying religious dimensions to this story -- I cannot see into the heart -- but I do believe that if God can speak through the jaw bone of an ass, he can speak through a couple of Hollywood types and give us a brief and passing and incomplete glimpse of the greater good that happens to us and for us in Christ.

Last night at the 25th Annual American Cinematheque Award Ceremony, which was honoring Robert Downey Jr., the Iron Man actor asked Hollywood to forgive Mel Gibson. Gibson was invited onstage to present Downey Jr. with the prestigious award, since, in the words of Garry Shandling, “The Cinematheque was concerned a bit about Robert’s checkered past, so they chose someone to present the award who could help balance that out and the choice was so obvious, Mel Gibson.”

Gibson spoke kindly of the star, who he famously helped to make a comeback by paying Downey Jr.’s insurance bond so he could star in 2003′s The Singing Detective. “You are my friend,” Gibson said. “When I saw you all those years ago and got all those warnings, I just thought, ‘There’s nothing so much wrong with him.’” Gibson explained, “You’re a good dude with a good heart.”

During Downey Jr.’s acceptance speech, he had even kinder words for Gibson. “I asked Mel to present this award for me for a reason,” he said. “When I couldn’t get sober, he told me not to give up hope and encouraged me to find my faith. It didn’t have to be his or anyone else’s as long as it was rooted in forgiveness. And I couldn’t get hired, so he cast me in the lead of a movie that was actually developed for him. He kept a roof over my head and food on the table and most importantly he said if I accepted responsibility for my wrongdoing and embraced that part of my soul that was ugly – hugging the cactus he calls it — he said that if I hugged the cactus long enough, I’d become a man.”

He continued, “I did and it worked. All he asked in return was that someday I help the next guy in some small way. It’s reasonable to assume, at the time, he didn’t imagine the next guy would be him or that someday was tonight. So anyway on this special occasion and in light of the recent holidays including Columbus Day, I would ask that you join me, unless you are completely without sin in which case you picked the wrong --------- industry, in forgiving my friend his trespasses and offering him the same clean slate you have me, allowing him to continue his great and ongoing contribution to our collective art without shame. He’s hugged the cactus long enough.”

Now, do not write about how both of these men are still flawed and frail human beings.  That they are.  I do not raise them up as examples of anything but I heard something there that surprised me.  Could it be that the story here is not about flawed and failed men but about the power of repentance and restoring the fallen?  Hmmmmm there are probably a ton of sermons already being written about this little event.  I am not writing one of them but I am surprised... Something to think about, for sure.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pastor as Icon of Christ

Do Pastors think of themselves as Christ for their people and do their people see the Christ who works through the voice and hands of their Pastors?  It is not that the Pastor takes Christ's place but that Christ has promised to work through the Pastor in his exercise of the means of grace.  It seems that we do not think in these terms anymore and I wonder why?  This is not the Pastor as Herr Pastor but the Pastor as the voice and hands of Jesus washing, feeding, and speaking the kingdom that comes to us through the Word and Sacraments.  This has little to do with authority or respect and everything to do with the way we see the means of grace.  It has nothing to do with the Pastor's personal righteousness and everything to do with our confidence in the way the Lord has promised to do His work and build His kingdom here on earth.

You can prevent congregation fires...

Once I heard a District President (LCMS) describe what he does as a firefighter.  He went around the District trying to prevent fires where they might be started, put out the small ones before they erupt into massive fires that destroy everything in their path, and marshal the resources for the big fires (the hired guns who specialize in these things).  It is a sad but accurate description of the nature of the office and its responsibilities in an age of ever present conflict and turmoil.  It is for this reason the office is entirely unappealing to me.

Apparently the future looks like more job security for these kind of firefighters. Word has it that attendance across America has gone down, funds are in shorter supply, and conflict is on the upswing (as if there could be more). Nearly two of every three congregations was the site of a conflict in 2010. Sometimes it ended with people leaving or withholding donations.  Hartford religion professor David Roozen, who oversaw the study, said it shows that churches are "under stresses of historic proportions."  "They continue to be key players in society, but they need to be more intentional in their worship and response to conflict," he said in a statement. He added that churches must be open to technological innovation and the growing racial and ethnic diversity in America.

You can read it all here.

It is really no surprise that conflict erupts in churches.  We are sinners.  Conflict is our nature since the fall of Adam.  We deny, run and hide, and blame others.  We draw lines in the sand and dare our brothers and sisters in Christ to step over them.  We see conflict in the world around us.  We experience it in the workplace.  We bring it home at night.  We bring it with us into the pews.  We avail ourselves of the loopholes but cut the others no slack.  We justify every cause as righteous and make the muddy situations black and white, are you with me or agin' me.  So I understand the conflict.  But I do not understand why we do not use the resources of confession and absolution, the liturgy, and our baptismal vocation to answer these natural tendencies toward conflict.

How is it that we Lutherans can practice confession and absolution every Sunday and then retreat to our camps after the forgiveness is declared?  How can we speak with one voice in the liturgy or sing with one voice the hymns and then speak with many voices in conflict over coffee or in the parking lot at the end of the service?  Can it be that we call ourselves a congregation while acting like individuals who nominally cooperate out of need without joining with heart, voice, and hand with our brothers and sisters in Christ?

It seems to me that the more we cater to this conflict, the more conflict there will be.  The more we see our leaders as the professional firefighters, the more fires will be set.  The more time we spend on reconciliation the more reconciliation will be needed.  Maybe we need to take seriously what we do in confession and absolution, the unity we share through our baptismal identity, the oneness of our many voices speaking as one in word and song in the liturgy, and the unity of the meal in which individual faith and life is merged together in the table and the gift given to us in the one bread and the one cup... 

Just a few thoughts on what is going on and whether or not we are doing what we think we must or that which we ought to do in response to this conflict and upset.  Trust is not automatic; trust is earned.  But trust is earned by those who hear and heed Luther on the 8th commandment -- thinking the best instead of presuming the worst.  If this does not happen in the congregation, it will not happen in the family either.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Christian Kitsch

Kitsch.  Defined as an inferior form of art, a tasteless or defective copy of an existing piece or style of art. Kitsch tends to take that which is iconic and make it trivial and common with cheap mass-produced objects that are both unoriginal and sentimental.

Catholic kitsch is easy to spot.  Open the pages of nearly every church supply house and you find tacky rosaries, art works, gauche crucifixes, plaques that plague us with all sorts of trite and trivial sentiments, etc.  The Romans may excel at this but Protestants are not immune from it either.  Visit any individual or chain Christian or Bible book store and you will have abundant examples of the genre.

Sadly, kitsch does not only exist on the walls of the well meaning, it happens in churches as well.  It happens in the liturgy.  It is the poorly chosen choir anthem or the throw away hymn that is cool today and lukewarm tomorrow...  It is vestments that embarrass rather inspire, children's sermons that are meant more for America's Funniest Home Videos than the faithful, PowerPoint because we have the technology rather than for salutary purpose...

Some find it rather benign.  I once thought that way.  Like the Elvis on velour, it was something better ignored than noticed.  I don't think that way anymore.  Kitsch has diluted and distracted what is real and genuine.  It has contributed to the sense of the moment, lost from the frame of time, without reference to that which went before or the best to be commended.  Kitsch has come to define what Christianity is for too many people tired of well meaning but tasteless analogies that do not teach, or at least, do not teach well.  The singing group Lost and Found once had a lyric in which they likened their parent's church to the YMCA -- devoid of mystery or presence or eternity.  They rejected such plastic portrayals of Christianity and insisted that they wanted the real palms and wine of something that was an is real instead of pale imitation, a symbol instead of sacrament.

I wonder if we don't drive off as many folks with the kitsch we tolerate as we do the other factors so often named by those who pay attention to those who leave.  Honest ritual and ceremony is not an end but that which points to what it the end, or should I say, Who is the end.  Our kids are being run off the real religion of the cross with a fake and tacky religion of sentiment without power, feeling without fact, and reality stripped of mystery.  We explain everything away so that there is nothing left to behold.  We throw out reasonableness as if God were merely a riddle to be solved and religion mere morality or path to your better life now.

I enjoy art and humorous art and good copies of great art.  But I get sick at the thought that Santa kneeling at the manger is what we have come to or that the best we can offer our people is a Beanie Baby Nativity Set.  Yes, Christmas seems to bring out the worst in us.  I am not appealing to taste but to that which is authentic, real, and true to the faith.  When St. Paul calls us to focus on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things, he is not appealing to taste or speaking snobbishly.  He is appealing to us to offer our best, to seek the best, and to honor what is good for its goodness.  Our kids are calling us out.  They do not want trash.  They want reality.  If we believe that Jesus is more than a metaphor, let us give them the reality that is Jesus... in word, in action, in art, in worship, in song...  In the end we will also be the better for it.  Really.  We will.

An Inconvenient Truth...

Surveying the back section of First Things (why don't you subscribe) I found this interesting tidbit on the statistics of neonatal mortality.  It seems that the US ranks 41st (yes, you read that right, forty-first) down from the top of the list of deaths of infants in the first four weeks after birth.  Yes, 41st -- tied with Croatia!  Can it be?  Can it be that infant mortality in the USA is so far behind our neighbors to the north (Canada) or Australia or New Zealand or Israel or Japan or South Korea or Singapore?  Or is there something more to this?

In article in National Review, James Atlas of Stanford Medical Center says something is not right here.  He thinks that the problem may be that fact that a lot of countries do not count the deaths in the same way.  Some, including some in Europe -- like Belgium, France, and Spain -- don't count a baby as born alive until that baby lives a certain period of time following birth (not the definition of the WHO that collects such stats).

So perhaps 30% of these infant deaths go uncounted since the baby does not live long enough to be counted as having been born a live.... read that sentence a couple of times.... hmmmmmm - did not live long enough to be counted as born alive???

This is not about where the USA ranks on a list.  This is about the value attached to life -- a meter that does not begin running until the baby has made it around the block on his or her own first.  Never mind that the child has been alive for nine months in the womb.  Never mind that a live birth is just that -- a live birth -- no matter how long that life endures.  Hmmmmm... there is something here that is most distressing.  If we can do this to the beginning of life, can it be long before we will declare a life over when it ceases to fit the definition of a well lived life?  You do the thinking!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Another great quote and wisdom from Löhe via Pres. Matthew Harrison

Löhe: "Every question has its own time."

My friend Rev. Wolf Knappe, student at Erlangen under Sasse, Elert, Althaus et alia, has graciously translated a significant document by Löhe in which he renders his opinion at some length on the debate between the Saxon/Americans and Grabau on church and ministry. It is my intention to include this document, along with Grabau's Hirtenbrief and the Saxon response all as addenda in the forthcoming revised edition of Walther's "Church and Ministry." These documents will greatly assist in helping us to understand the Missouri Synod's own public position on these matters, namely Walther's great "Kirche und Amt," while also allowing the principal players to speak for themselves, as it were. Matt Harrison.

Every question has its own time, when it can no longer be repressed, but becomes so important that it has to be solved with dignity. There has always been a blessing on such developing struggles. If the fight was often heated because of the injustice of the parties, at the end there always was the peaceful fruit of justice, the pure teaching concerning the point in question. Blessed Pastor Loeber says very correctly...: “This is the blessing of all the struggles and conflicts in the Christian Church, and the hidden wisdom of our God, that he can bring about a very sweet fruit of more mature knowledge and firmer faith for all those who open their ear to the truth, even from the bitter roots which the nasty devil allows to grow among Christians.” Perhaps the example of our American brothers makes it more clear for us; perhaps God will grant us a unity based on the Scripture for the good of the whole Church. In any case we can learn to understand that the American Church, as young as it is, because of its greater independence, is way ahead of us in practical questions, even though many among us think that we give some undeserved honor to our American brothers when we consider them equal in comparison with our confused churches.

Interesting reactions.... Interesting situations...

Several have noted that there were other things done by Vatican II besides Novus Ordo.  Perhaps it was such a pivotal change the others seemed minor in comparison.  But they were not.  Several have commented upon the effects of the re-institution of the permanent diaconate.  Now that was one I had not thought that much about -- the effects of the change, that is.

One deacon reminisces:  
After Cardinal Lawrence Shehan ordained Deacon George Evans as one of the first permanent deacons in the United States 40 years ago, a lot of people didn’t know what to make of the new clergyman. “It was a struggle in the first few years,” remembered Deacon Evans, now retired but still assisting at St. Rita in Dundalk. “People were asking, ‘Why are you doing what priests do?’” 

For so long the diaconate had merely been a stop on the train to the priesthood that the idea of permanent deacons was strange and new to Roman Catholics -- even when the office was not.  “I was accepted,” said Deacon Derouaux, now retired in Florida, “but people had a difficult time with some of the things we were doing in the liturgy. To them, it was important that the priest do everything.” Even some priests, unsure how the permanent diaconate related to their own ministry, could be suspicious. 

Permanent deacons had long played an integral role in the first few centuries of the church, but disappeared in the Middle Ages. The diaconate became limited to “transitional deacons” – men who would go on to become priests.  Pope Paul VI reestablished the permanent diaconate in 1967, allowing both single and married men to be ordained to the ministry.  Deacons proclaim the Gospel and preach at Mass. They also perform baptisms, witness marriages and conduct wake and funeral services. 

Given the shortage of priests, I cannot imagine what parishes would do today without the permanent diaconate.  You can read more here or another perspective here. What interests me is not the circumstance in Rome that either created it or continues it, but the difference on the part of people.  What was radical in 1967 has become ordinary today -- so ordinary that the over abundance of Eucharistic Ministers has further distanced the people from a parish life once defined solely by priestly ministry.  In the local hospital these extraordinary ministers bring the Eucharist to the sick and the priest is there generally only for anointing or last rites.  In the local Roman Catholic parish of more than 3500 families, two priests, occasionally assisted by another, cannot possibly do all the masses, hear all the confessions, and do all the baptisms, funerals, and other areas of service open to the diaconate.  Perhaps it is the experience of so many non-priests or a sign of the times that lay and ordained deacons have become so, well, routine.

There is a parallel in Lutheranism.  While the chancel was the domain of the Pastor exclusively, now there are varieties of lay people assisting, and, in some places, replacing clergy.  The plethora of locally defined diaconal offices, the informal role of assisting minister, lector, cantor, etc., and the high cost of having a full-time Pastor in a small congregation have created the situation in which we, too, have become blind to the changes both in expectation and acceptance we see so clearly in Rome.

Some insist that this a good thing.  In Rome it has become a necessity and there are Lutherans who suggest that we are likewise stuck with this out of need more than out of theology.  I will admit that I appreciate aspects of both sides of the argument.  I have trained a number of men to serve in the semi-official role of assisting minister in the Eucharist.  They act as virtual liturgical deacons and nearly all have also been what Missouri calls an "elder."  Yet I am conflicted by the ease at which people have accepted this and the way some no longer raise any question or have any concerns about non-ordained in the pulpit or, it some cases in Missouri, at the altar.

Rome will have to deal with its own problems and needs.  Lutheranism, if we are going to have deacons, needs to define them, delineate coherent job responsibilities and boundaries, and create a common training program that will both prepare those who could and should serve and weed out those who should not.  I think about this in the shadow of the commemoration of St. Philip the Deacon.  Anyway, we cannot afford to have the patchwork quilt of offices, people, training, responsibilities, and unofficial officials the way we do now.  It is unhealthy not only for the Church but for the people serving.  At some point in time we need to discuss this more fully and resolve this more deliberately and uniformly.  Absent some rules and definitions, we will end up with a murkier muddle about who is a minister and who is not, what they can do and what they cannot, who trains them and who does not, and who authorizes them and who does not... which, it seems, may have a little something to do with the Supreme Court case we are waiting to be decided....

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Good Diagnosis but Lacks a Good Prescription...

What is humanity's greatest surprise:

Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices his money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he doesn’t enjoy the present; the result being he doesn’t live in the present or the future; he lives as if he’s never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived.

With these words the Dalai Lama (whom I have met and with whom my wife and I enjoyed a private audience at his villa near Margaretville, NY, some years ago -- but that is a long story) has done a good job of diagnosis of the human condition and our frailty.  It is my experience that the diagnosis is easier than the prescription for healing.  And, of course, this is where Buddhism falls down.  I quote his diagnosis because it is short and pithy.  The answer to our human frailty and the answer to the dilemma of the human condition lies not with a simple re-ordering of the present day and its priorities.  It requires nothing less than death and resurrection.  If it were simply a matter of rearranged values and some discipline, we would have hardly needed or counted on any divine intervention.  But each week we come confessing not only the diagnosis but also the helplessness that makes us sinners miserable.  We cannot save ourselves.  What we have said and thought and done wrong is our fault, our own fault, and our own most grievous fault but without the incarnation of the God who can rescue us we are left only with our regrets.  The answer to our lost and sinful condition that has left us with a skewed view of past, present, and future -- as well as dead to life itself -- is nothing less than Jesus Christ.  So we rejoice to hear not some call to discipline or self-denial or wisdom but the Gospel itself.  Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to died for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins.  As a called and ordained servant of Christ and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  To which the only answer needed and appropriate is the faith to say, Amen.