Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It brought tears to my eyes....

In 1986 the classic movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off a cult film was made and its wisdom is the gift that keeps on giving.  And if you are thinking "what movie" then you got to stop what you are doing, get a life, and watch that sucker right NOW.  Cough a bit, leave work, get it from Netflix or Red Box or stop by Wal-Mart (its always in stock) and go for it!!!  BTW, check out the lyrics to Danke Shoen and Twist and Shout from Wiki before you watch it - trust me, you'll know why later!!

I regularly quote the wisdom from this movie (great theological truths like "never believe in an ism").  Honestly!  Ask my Bible class.  They know classic greatness (or at least learned it from me...).

So my heart was warmed and my eyes welled up in tears when Scott Diekmann put me on to this commercial.  Watch it but only if you have seen the movie first.

Utility and Benefit. . .

I have never quite figured out the extensive money and efforts to promote sports in schools (elementary to college).  It is not that I don't enjoy a good game (though football is my preferred spectator sport).  I do.  But for all the money we invest in sports, it has not borne many benefits to Americans.  We are largely sedentary in our lifestyles -- a nice way for saying, as me Mum used to say, that we sit on our lard butts too darn much.  In addition the numbers of individuals who go on to sports careers is miniscule compared to the general population.  Sports programs are costly, do not directly benefit the health and physical activity of the general population, and provide training for the vocations of but a few.  So, why do we continue to fund them so highly?

I surely know that our heros are largely drawn from the ranks of Hollywood and the stadium.  This is not exactly a great thing.  For every Tebow who seems honorable there are hosts of Barry Bonds with less than honorable pasts.  Still it seems a high price to pay just so we can have a few faces plastered on Wheaties boxes or in Nike commercials.  Is this really why we invest so heavily in sports?  To provide a few role models for our kids (a dubious goal in the first place and this turned out about as well as the sports programs have for personal health and vigorous exercise for the rest of us).

In contrast, the arts are cut at every turn.  As soon as the school runs up against a budget problem art and music feel the pain.  In fact, in my area the choral programs in schools are not choral at all (unless you consider singing melody to a CD background track choral music).  It would seem that at best we are training people to sing with their radios while they make their way into the cubicle for work every day.  While that in and of itself is not a bad thing, I would hope we expect more.

Instrumental music was once the future for those who played something in middle or high school.  Community bands, church instrumental ensembles, orchestra pits for community musicals -- why I recall the days when adults came together in the church and community dragging their beat up trombone, trumpet, flute, oboe, and clarinet cases to make wonderful music.  In my first parish,  nearly half the average Sunday attendance was involved in the parish music program!

To teach youth to sing was once to give them a lifelong outlet for their voices.  Glee clubs, community choirs, musical theater, church choirs, and congregational hymns provided a regular outlet for what folks once learned in school (how to read music and sing in parts).  In the dark ages when I was in school, the choirs sang largely a Capella and we competed for regional and even state honors for excellence.  Most of those folks still sing regularly (from their church choirs to the hymns and songs of Sunday morning worship).

Given the sad state of music in American churches today, I can see practical benefit to shifting some sports dollars to teaching kids to read music and sing parts once again.  More than benefiting churches, it would benefit the people -- it is a gift that keeps on giving over the whole of a person's life.  As a Pastor I know the value of hymn singing as a profound way to memorize the faith.  Take a trip to a nursing home and see how the great hymns of old awaken the sparkle in the eyes of the aged and infirm and renew their sagging spirits as they sing (in their hearts if not with their voices) as one of the people of God gathered around the Word, font, and table of the Lord again.  I long for the days when you could regularly count on at least one stanza of favorite hymns sung in parts by the folks in the pews.

The legendary choral programs of the Lutheran universities (perhaps the places where Lutheranism is still taken seriously in those institutions) are not frosting on the cake -- they give their singers skills and abilities that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.  This is salutary and beneficial for the singers and not simply for those who buy the CDs or listen to the choirs touring.  Singing is a good thing and singing in church is a grand endeavor.  Would that we gave our kids something that truly would stick with them the whole of their lives instead of the great ability to sit and watch on TV the sports they wanted to play in high school but mostly didn't (sitting on the bench, instead).

So my vote goes to reintroducing the choral program into the school, spending the bucks on the bands, and bringing back musical productions (Oklahoma, anyone? -- not just for the stereotypical gay Glee wannabe, either).  In this way we at least give our kids something useful over the whole of their lives instead of merely an interest to follow the exploits of overpaid and often flawed heroes who distract us with a couple of hours of activity on AstroTurf while we eat and drink too much watching them....

From Francis Pott, who is part of a whole movement of composers from Britain who are continuing its tradition of choral music... give it a listen and know that good choral music is STILL being composed and sung!

For those so tempted...

Fr. Longnecker has hit on a problem (not at all unique to Rome) but which lives in the same space as faithfulness, truth, and beauty...  Listen to a few of his words. . .

If you are a convert to the Catholic faith from Lutheranism of Anglicanism or any other form of tasteful religion, then you will have to deal with Catholic kitsch. What are we to do with the trashy trinkets, the horrid holy cards, the sappy statues? How do you put up with the banal hymns, bad preaching and sentimental religiosity?

It's true we have tacky music and bad hymns. But we have Palestrina and Mozart and Byrd as well. We do have plastic glow in the dark rosaries and those night lights you plug in with the Blessed Mother. But we also have the Pieta and the Sistine Chapel and Michaelangelo and Carravagio. It's true we have brutal churches that look like a cross between a space ship and a parking garage, but we also have Chartres and St Mark's Venice and Chartres and Mont St Michel.

In other words, the upward call of God comes to us while we live in the reality of a great many things that by their nature do not ascend but, rather, hold us in chains to this world...  I have often lamented that the Church of Johann Sebastian Bach is also  home to praise bands singing one poorly written line of praise sixty-seven times and that the place where the arts should flourish has often been the place where we have sacrificed beauty on the altar of expediency.  But in my case I was speaking of Lutheranism -- its promise and its reality.  Although I am not sure I am at all comforted by the prospect of encountering the same exact problem elsewhere; it is like saying you have the flu but so does everyone else you know.

In the end, we pray that God will save us from ourselves... which was the problem all the way along and the very reason our Lord became incarnate.  All that troubles us is not outside of us; much, if not most, proceeds from the heart and this is not exclusive to any one denomination.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Who is this Jesus?

Sermon for Epiphany 4B, preached on January 29, 2012.

    Mark opens with John insisting Jesus has it all wrong – John knew how it should be and he should be baptized by Jesus – not the other way around.  It continues with fishermen who drop everything to follow a Jesus about whom they know little (and even though they were with Him three years they continued to define Jesus according to their own ideas instead of listening to Him).  Now we find a crowd shocked because of Jesus’ teaching with authority and His cleansing of a demoniac.  In the end, the crowd was left with but one question: Who is this Jesus?
    It is still our very great temptation to define Jesus for Him instead of listening to Him. We shave off His rough edges and try to make Him palatable, reasonable, and winsome.  Today we are more likely to make Him into a good buddy, a BFF, a Facebook friend as near or distant as we want Him to be.  But Jesus refuses such characterizations and such attempts to manage Him.
    We want a sage, a wisdom teacher to answer our questions or, perhaps, a moral leader to show us what is important about life.  We may look at Him as an example of what we should be if we ever grew up.  But Jesus refuses all of these characterizations or stereotypes.
    We may also try to make Jesus into a Santa Clause who can help us to have it all – successful life, great family, lots of personal time, and the ability to set high and lofty goals and reach them.  But Jesus will not conform to our expectations or our definitions.  He refuses the trivial ways we try to explain Him or make Him more reasonable or manageable.  The Jesus of the Gospels is and should be as astonishing today as He was in that synagogue we heard about in the Gospel reading for today.  In the end our stereotypical characterizations of Jesus add no clarity and lots of confusion – distorting the picture Jesus Himself gives us of who He is and what He has come to accomplish.  We cannot know Jesus at all unless we know Him as He has revealed Himself.
    He is the Divine Word that spoke forth in creation to bring all things into being and yet He is this Word in flesh and blood.  Jesus is the Lord of life and of death who manifests His power and authority over the kingdom of darkness as well as the kingdom of light.  Jesus is the Lord with authority to speak, to teach, and to act.  Even His friends and followers are confounded by who Jesus is, what He has come to do, and how He has displayed His power and authority.  Jesus is His own interpreter, He defines Himself.
    He comes not for fame but to for faith.  He comes not to be served but to serve.  He comes as Lord of all and yet He makes Himself known in humility and compassion for the individual.  Jesus has authority over all things and yet He uses that authority to serve us unworthy and undeserving.  He is God of all and yet He is the Lord over each individual person.  The people of old found Him hard to predict and unlike anyone who had come before Him.  Do we?
    We meet Jesus not where we expect to find Him but where He has revealed Himself.  “He comes to us as one unknown,” says the hymnwriter, yet He makes Himself known to us through His gracious Word and His grace filled works.  The demons knew Him but His own people knew Him not.  His Word surprises us with unexpected authority and power we did not expect.  His preaching is not clich├ęd slogans like we are accustomed to hearing but the living voice of one who does not know the Word but IS that Word.  This Word can shut up and demon and cleanse the person from its power. 
    Dear friends in Christ, we cannot afford to handle Jesus as if He needed someone who manage Him.  We cannot afford to box Him in and weaken His power by limiting His authority.  We cannot simply label Him or define Him – we need to listen to Him and follow Him.  He has His own voice and He is His own best interpreter.  He reveals Himself on His own terms.  It is vital that we realize this early in faith lest we spend the whole rest of our lives trying to find Jesus where He cannot or will not be found.
    We meet Him on the sacred ground He has chosen – the living voice of His Word and the living food of His sacraments.  If we are willing to let Jesus define Himself, we will see that He is a mighty and determined God.  Hidden in weakness is strength, hidden in gracious favor the rebirth of our lost hope.
    Jesus is astonishing not because He is smooth or interesting or crafty or winsome.  He is astonishing because His Word does what it says.  That is His authority.  He does not speak about forgiveness as if to give us hints for success but His Word takes the filthy rags of our sins and makes us clean.  He does not speak evil as if you can make peace with it or live with it.  He calls forth the evil and rebukes the lord of darkness and all his works and all his ways.  Jesus does not talk about life as if it were a matter of finding the right path, He forges through life clearing for us a path that leads right through death to life everlasting.
     You notice that the response of the people was not applause or accolades but the question: Who is this Jesus?  And what kind of authority does He wield?  If we listen to His Word and do not find it shocking and astonishing, perhaps we have not heard Him at all.  He calls forth what is unclean and evil and commands it, cleansing us from its claim in baptism.  My biggest fear is that we hear the Gospel and yawn when we should be as shocked and astonished as the people of old.  For what Jesus came to do, He still does – He forgives sin, He delivers from evil, He bestows the Spirit to bring forth faith, He clothes with righteousness, He gives new birth and eternal life.  What a tragedy that the demon knew who Jesus was while the people were caught up in surprise!  What a tragedy that we hear His voice speaking through His Word and miss His revelation, power, and authority!
    Jesus will not be tamed or domesticated.  He will not be defined or pidgeonholed.  You meet Him on His terms, where He reveals Himself.  If there is any sadness for us as people of God, it is that we have worked so hard to declaw Jesus that He no longer surprises us or amazes us or astonishes us.  When that happens, we no longer know Jesus at all and are far, so far, from His kingdom.  Amen.

Ooooooh it is sooooo on target!

Hans, you continue to amaze me!

Paul Westermeyer on Ending Worship Wars...

Sure, these worship wars have been going on forever, but Dr. Paul Westermeyer of Luther Seminary suggests today’s church arguments over music have rarely been as mean-spirited as today – or this simple to solve (note the difference between simple and easy…).

Yes, liberating our congregations from the manipulative and emotion-based musical proclivities of the surrounding culture is our biggest challenge – but one that’s met by simply getting back to basics of helping the Church sing around Word, font and table.
Dr. Westermeyer unpacks this in a refreshing interview not only for church musicians, but all church leaders.

Dr. Paul Westermeyer says the biggest challenge to today’s church worship is capitulation to a culture that’s based on consumerism and greed – in which bigger is better, and growing my piece of the pie is Job #1. In this interview Dr. Paul tells us that church music is not a commodity but for the glory of God and the edification of humanity.

HT to Church Next for this referral...where you can watch....  OR

Listen to Westermeyer unpack his thesis:  https://s3.amazonaws.com/GrowMyChurch/+P+Westermeyer.mp3

So Sad....

A long wait for Narnia...  read it below and weep...

Walden Media, which produced the first three Narnia films – “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (2005), “Prince Caspian” (2008) and “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (2010), apparently no longer hold the rights to the movies. What is more, the C.S. Lewis Estate must wait a number of years before they can resell them to Walden or another studio, NarniaWeb.com revealed.

Douglas Gresham, the stepson of C. S. Lewis, confirmed the news in a radio interview to Middle-Earth radio back in October. ChristianCinema posted an excerpt from the conversation:

“If you’re aware Walden’s contract with the [C S Lewis] Company has expired, that’s true. And that leaves us in a situation that, for a variety of reasons, we cannot immediately produce another Narnian Chronicle movie. But it is my hope that the Lord will spare me and keep me fit and healthy enough so that in three or four years time we can start production on the next one,” Gresham said.

The exact length of time that the estate has to wait has not been reported, but if Gresham’s hopes that production can only begin with within the next three or four years come true, fans may have to wait another six or seven years before the movie is finalized and ready for the big screen.

Michael Flaherty, co-founder and president of Walden Media, shared in an interview with The Christian Post back in March that the company was planning to make The Magician’s Nephewand not The Silver Chair, as the next Narnia movie, which is a prequel to the very first book in the series. However, now it is unclear whether Walden will be able to reclaim the rights, or which movie a new production company would like to do.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Chapel at Haaaavaaard (Harvard)...

Most of us have some vague idea of the Calvinist origins of Harvard College, founded in 1636 as a Puritan and Congregationalist institution to train ministers. The Divinity School, in but not of Harvard College, came along later, in 1816, when it was the first non-denominational divinity school in the United States.   Remember that Princeton Theological Seminary was Presbyterian (1812) and the Calvinists fled Harvard to found Andover in 1807 because the Unitarians had taken over.  Harvard Divinity School has been an unofficial Unitarian school ever since (though it also claims ties to the almost Unitarian successor to Congregationalism, the United Church of Christ).  Harvard Divinity has a prestigious ring to it and this aura has attracted people from every religion over the years and the school has honored the religious pluralism of their student body by being among the most liberal and secular of the premier divinity schools of the Ivy League. 

How liberal and how secular was recently shown in the puff piece in the Christian Century on chapel at Harvard.  Apparently, there is little desire to resolve or smooth over the competing religious traditions represented on campus.  Instead, the students try to "embody" those diverse traditions and so mirror the popular separation of religion from spirituality and truth from piety that is so abundant in American culture.  According to the article, they keep the traditions distinct but the students try to get into those traditions by being Jews on the Sabbath, Muslims on Friday, Baptists at the altar call, Episopalians in the Prayer Book, Hindus for puja, Roman Catholics in the Church Year, etc...  What is most strange is that the bulk of the student body is still trying to train for service within a particular tradition and denomination and the hard question is how this multi-robed religious vesture aids and assists this goal.

According to the article: We want to be with each other as we truly are, they said. We want to be present for each other’s prayers and rituals and practices. We want to be led in Torah study by the Jewish students and in Friday prayers by the Muslims; to listen to a dharma talk with the Buddhist students and hear a sermon with the Baptists; to be with the Episcopalian students for the Eucharist and with the Hindus for puja; to light Advent candles with the Roman Catholics, offer prayers at the flaming chalice with the Unitarian Universalists and keep silence with the Quakers.

While you will get no argument from me about keeping each of the religious traditions "pure" in their assigned chapel slots, the idea that we can morph in and out of religions is faithful and true to none of them.  This is the big lie of multiculturalism.  While in the past, the ecumenical goal might have been to reduce the distinctives of each religious tradition to find a muddle in the middle, the goal now is to put on the clothes of another faith and test them out from the inside by thinking or acting like that faith for a day (or, in this case, the chapel hour).  Surely this is no better attempt at religious diversity than the past effort to paper over differences and the end result will be that people are true to no tradition at all.  Instead of cafeteria Catholics or luncheon line Lutherans, we will end up with tasters at the religious buffet, with criss-crossed holy books and prayer forms creating a religious patchwork unique to the person.  The churches become mere buildings which house these unique individuals attached to nothing larger than themselves and their own tastes.  In this case, we should all be happy about the leadership Harvard Divinity is providing for it favors none and detracts from them all.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Precedent???

We all know of the debacle that was the sale of University Lutheran Chapel property by the MNS District... well, it seems that others were watching and saw the potential to raise up funds and erase deficits by doing the same thing to their campus ministry properties and other properties owned by the District. 

The Pacific Southwest District has decided to possibly sell their campus ministry property (University Lutheran Chapel) at UCLA.  Apparently there is a need to offset a debt accrued by the Pacific Southwest District.  DP is Larry Stoterau.  Weigh in now before they sign on the dotted line...

BTW in general I do not think that we have done all that well in the real estate business.  We sold the Springfield campus for a song and then the person who bought did nothing to the property but realized a more than 100% return on his investment when he turned around and sold it to the State of Illinois.  If we are so savvy in the real estate business, why were we taken in there?  We sold a radio station (KFUO-FM) for a balloon payment mortgage and in effect became the finance agency for that group after failing to realize or utilize this asset.  And the list goes on. . . Maybe we should put out FIRE sale instead of FOR sale signs on our property...

Libertarians. . . and the Liturgy

I have thought for a while about the words Ron Paul spoke after his second place finish in New Hampshire.  The more I think about them, the more I see his appeal.  He has tapped the libertarian strain of Republicanism and that accounts for part of his success so far but he has also addressed the larger group of libertarians who resent government intrusion and even existence except where absolutely essential.  These are a combination of the old style freedom lovers and the youth who believe that they should all be free do what what they want so long as they do not hurt anybody else.  Freedom is the ultimate, even the only just case in their eyes.  Whether you agree with him or not, he is passionate to the point of challenging almost every mainstream political opinion.  Some evangelicals are drawn to him but they must certainly recognize that he will not advance the cause of a Christian America which some seek so desperately. 

Although you would hardly know it from their European roots, some, perhaps many, Lutherans are drawn to libertarianism.  They believe that any "church" beyond the congregation should be as small, as weak, and  as powerless as possible.  They want a Synodical structure which advises but only with the consent and approval of the advised.  They abhor rules (except the ones that might enshrine their own cause).  They instinctively resist the idea that St. Louis might have anything worthwhile to offer and they resent the money that goes there, sure that most of it must be wasted or squandered in some way.  As Garrison Keillor says, "downsizing" is the best option for church in general and structures above the congregation in particular.

They are especially libertarian about liturgical matters.  They would like it if we would all agree on our own to worship with just enough liturgy and ceremony to satisfy Lutheran identity but resist instinctively the idea that any Pastor or any congregation might be asked or told to do something this way or that.  So even when they agree in principle with rubrics, they disagree with the general idea of a rule that must or should always be followed.

It is my opinion that this libertarianism is about as strong as confessionalism -- and may exists side by side in the same individuals.  For this reason, it is doubtful that Missouri will ever resolve her liturgical diversity with rules or rubrics.  Because of this, it is doubtful that Missouri will ever find any hint of liturgical uniformity or unity -- given that all the arguments for such are and have been fairly consistently made over the last half century for sure, perhaps since the Great Reformation itself.

First of all I am NOT saying that a boat trip to Rome or Constantinople is the logical resolution of this dilemma.  I have nothing of the sort in mind and would discourage those who might see a ferry ride as a panacea to solve the problems they have found in Lutheranism.  But I am saying that the battle will rage without relenting for as long as Lutherans exists, for as long as Lutherans are inflicted with self-doubt about who they are or what the liturgical form of our confessional identity is or should be, and for as long as Synodical structures like Missouri's remain the norm (rules without teeth and teeth without rules or legitimacy to bite). 

So, we have and we will make progress but only through catechesis and training.  Any incremental change will come generationally and not by act of convention or red letter in the hymnal.  The pace of real change will be slow and the temptations and technology is face paced.  I will not see much positive change in Lutheran liturgical identity and practice in my lifetime.  Maybe you will.  If you accept this, then it takes some of the great frustration about the pace and progress of liturgical renewal among Lutherans (that is, renewal in the sense of recovery and not evolutionary change).  If you think I am wrong, I would love to know (it has never stopped you before) and if you think I am right, are you prepared to hang in there for the long haul?

Friday, January 27, 2012

For more than 175 years....

Having spent a fair chunk of my life in Fort Wayne (5 years and countless visits), I was sad to have missed this tribute to the parish on its 175th anniversary.  I did not recall the devastating fire and was surprised -- you would not know it from seeing the building today.  I believe that during the American Bicentennial celebration one of the TV networks (Ray Scherer ?) filmed a service from St. Pauls.  If I recall, there was a huge stack of silver individual cup trays on the altar and it made it seem like a silver missile was arising from the mensa.  If I recall they had an old tub of a pipe organ (Bennett or Austin rebuild of a Bennett) that was done during wartime shortages and it led to sagging pipes.  I am sure that both the tin silo of individual trays and old pipework have been redone -- a testament to the vitality and steadfast character of a congregation that, if I recall, well predates the LCMS itself.

I missed the date of the anniversary but did get the video (HT to Christopher Gillespie for passing this on). Oh, well, enough of my reminiscences and you can watch the video yourself:

They will catch up. . .

Certainly the missionary enterprise of both Protestants and Roman Catholics has borne great fruit.  According to some, about 62% of the world's population of Christians now lives in the global south.  This is in marked contrast to the way things were a hundred years ago.  But this is not without its own set of conflicts.

Rome has found that the money trail continues to flow from Europe and North America but the scandals, cafeteria Catholicism, and open disagreement with the Vatican have made these contributions a mixed blessing to be sure.   I, for one, was disappointed that the Pope's list of new Cardinals included so many from the establishment in Italy and so few from the global South where the faith is more vibrant and where the numbers are growing.

The Anglicans have found it difficult to reconcile the position of these Southern churches with those in the North.  The issue of sex may be the most obvious area of disagreement but it does not exhaust all the nuances in which the Anglicans of Africa, for example, distinguish themselves from the Americans.

Lutherans have found the same problem.  The traditional Lutheran lands have given birth to a very liberal (theologically and socially) identity that is increasingly in conflict with Lutherans in, for example, Africa.  Again, the area of sexuality comes first to mind but it is not the only area of theological and social disagreement.

A conversation with one Anglican suggested to me that it would be only a matter of time before those in the "third world" of Christianity would catch up to their kinsmen in the developed nations.  It was merely that these Christians are immature and with maturity comes a common commitment to social justice and a faith more friendly to the presuppositions of modern science.  Perhaps some of you are inclined to agree.  I am not so sure.

Part of what those Christians in the global South have rejected is the emptiness of a faith and practice that is no longer moored upon certain fact or possessing of a regular practice consistent with those moorings.  It is not just that these younger churches have rejected the conclusions of liberal Christianity.  They have also rejected the methodology that supports those conclusions.  Where there is a robust Christian presence in the developed nations, it is because they, too, have rejected both the end result and the means to that result in liberal Christianity.

It may be true that there will be those who will "catch up" to the emptiness of so much that passes for Christian faith and piety in the global North.  I do not dispute that.  But if and when that happens, it will not be a maturing of theses churches or the faith but a degradation of the evangelical and catholic confession and its practice.  It seems to me that the most help those 60%+ can do for Europe and America is to expose and repudiate the hypocrisy of a faith that often relishes the traditional form but rejects its content.  Creedal Christianity offers not mere historic documents but the living faith of the dead, to whom we are joined in faith as we believe together and speak together of God how He has revealed Himself.

It is my hope and prayer that none of these churches will catch up or mature so that they become more like the incarnations of Anglicanism or Lutheranism in its liberal state.  It is my urgent hope and prayer that they will engage us where we need to be engaged -- on Scripture and what it says, on the creeds and what they confess, and on the piety and practice of this faith that is consistent with both.  This will certainly impact the issues related to sex, gender, and morality but hopefully not limited to these alone!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fishers of men? Who me?

Sermon for Epiphany 3B, preached on Sunday, January 22, 2012.

    Nuance is so often lost in translation.  Just the slightest emphasis on another word may stilt the whole meaning of the text.  For centuries the Word of the Lord we heard read in the Gospel has been used to stir up the mission pot.  The goal either to get people to heed the call and head out as missionaries to the mission field or to dig deep into their pockets to pay for the cost of sending others.  In other cases it was a witness workshop in miniature – guilting or goading people into sharing their story with their neighbors who do not know Jesus.  This is not exactly what Jesus is saying.
    In the Gospel lesson we need to pay attention to three things – the timing, the call to follow, and the declaration of what we are (not what we should be).  In the words of Jesus and the witness of the prophet Jonah, we find the same point.  "The time is come..."  This has nothing to do with our estimation of the proper moment and everything to do with God's determination. The time has come.  You did not make it come.  It has come by the action and the determination of God.  It is what God said to Jonah of old and what He speaks to us today.  The time for the kingdom has come.  This is not about your readiness but about God’s act and God’s call.
    The time for the kingdom is always accompanied by the time for repentance.  So, as of old for Jonah, and in Jesus own words, the right time is the time for repentance.  Repent and believe the Gospel.  Repentance is not something we do so that God finds us approved.  Repentance is the lament of the heart that knows the grace and mercy of God and looks into the heart and sees only filth and sin and death.  Too many assume that repentance is a choice, a decision, to give your heart to Jesus – as if their hearts are what Jesus wants most of all.  But as in the Hammer of God, Jesus takes our hearts and says, "What shall I do with this filthy thing?"
    We are to give our hearts to Jesus alright but we give them with the acknowledgment of their wretchedness and with the prayer that Jesus cleanse and heal the filthy things.  Is this not why we sing "Create in me a clean heart, O God?"  Repentance is faith’s response to the call of God and the prayer for Jesus to wash and make us clean as He has promised and as His saving death has made possible. 
    The time has come.... "Follow Me."  How easy it is for us to think that Jesus wants us for what we can give Him.  As if He needed advisors or executive assistants to sit at His right and His left in glory.  But Jesus does not ask for help.  He calls us to follow Him.  The is the perspective of faith.  We do not lead and drag Jesus behind us but follow Him where He leads the way because He is the Way, the Truth and the Light.  Faith does not advise God but trusts in His wisdom, His will, and His works.  When our Lord calls us to follow Him He is calling us to faith – the very faith His own Spirit gives.
    The time has come.... follow Me.... and I will make you fishers of men...  The same goal as the prophets of old.  Notice here, Jesus is not asking you for a decision.  This is not will you... but I will make you.  In the same way, this is not about gifts or convenient times or interest.  This is not about what you or I might like or volunteer for.  "I will make you fishers of men..."  The emphasis here is on God's work and not our work – God’s work in us and through us.  Now to be sure, this call is to Pastors, but not only to Pastors.  The Word of the Lord is the domain of Pastors but not exclusively so.  The difference is the venue -- Pastor to the people of God and the people of God to the world.
    Fishing for men is not our work but God's work in us and through us.  The repentant speak to the world the call to repentance which the Word spoke to them.  The Gospel of the cross that worked salvation in us, is what we speak forth in words of witness and works of mercy.  And through it all we humbly acknowledge that this is not our glory or our work but God's glory and God's work, by the power of the Spirit.  There is no word in the text about results or measures of success – only the call to follow Jesus.
    There is no statistical guide to see how effective we are nor is any mention made of charting our success.  Because success is none of our darn business.  We are not in the executive suite but on the assembly line.  We simply follow Jesus, we speak the Word spoken to us, we announce the day of salvation.  Let the Father in the executive suite deal with the results.  It is not given to us to judge.  We, like Jonah of old, announce the day of God's salvation, we call others to join us in repentance, and we trust that God’s Word will not return to Him empty handed but will accomplish His purpose and achieve His results.
    We are given the history of the prophets to know that God works in this. A reluctant Jonah spoke and the people believed the Word of the Lord.  Jesus announced the Kingdom and His disciples followed Him.  The Word of the Lord still accomplishes its purposes and never returns to God empty.  It is given to us simply to trust this.  Where the people of God speak forth the Word of the Lord, announcing the day of the Lord, repentance results and people believe the Gospel.  It is not our work but God’s work.
     The day of the Lord is now but it will not always be.  The day of the Lord is in season now but the day will come when repentance is too late and judgment will begin with the faithful.  We have not been given explanations or charged with calculating the results.  We are given to speak the Word of the Lord.  His success will follow that Word.  We are not given a choice about the time or when it might be convenient.  Today is the day.  So you will get no pep talk from me except to hear that today is the day, repent and believe the Gospel, follow Jesus, and you will become, by His power and design, fishers of men.  Period.
    What can we say to what God has said, except – Make is so, Jesus.... Make it so. Amen!

Liars, Evil Beasts, Lazy Gluttons and the Kingdom of God

Sermon for St. Titus Day, preached at the Circuit Winkel, January 26, 2012

It has been a big week.  The Church commemorated St. Timothy on Tuesday, the Conversion of St. Paul on Wednesday, and today St. Titus.  No shortage of things on which to preach here.  But we shall satisfy our time with Titus since today is his.

Timothy and Titus are always together in the Church – though unlikely brothers in Christ. Timothy the son of a Jewish Christian mother and Titus the uncircumcized Gentile.  But Paul is the common link.  He considered them both his own sons, “my own child in the common faith.”

Titus was perhaps the first Gentile Christian.  A test case for Paul.  He took his trophy convert down to the big pow wow in Jerusalem in which the Church would hash out this business of Gentile Christians.  It must have come as some surprise to the Jewish Christians assembled to see and hear a real live uncircumcized Christian.  Perhaps that was Paul’s intent.  They were not debating a theory but a person.  In the end Paul prevailed.  Titus could stay Christian without following a Jewish path into the community of those called the Church.

Paul ordained both Timothy and Titus and they traveled with Paul on his many journeys for the kingdom.  Titus had two big assignments.  One to lay down the law in rebellious Corinth and bring them back into the fold.  It seems to have gone well.  Titus was able to report that the Corinthians were as noble as ever and Paul’s heart was warmed by the news.  The other duty was to direct a collection for the Jerusalem poor.  This two went well.

It is easy to see why Titus is so honored.  Why any Pastor who can calm the troubled waters in a conflicted congregation AND raise up a big donation for the case is sure to be well considered by the Church!  Even today!

Perhaps this was all just preparation for the big task to come.  Titus was sent to Crete - which made Corinth seem like a cakewalk.  Paul said the Cretans were “always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.”  Haven’t all Pastors thought that about their congregations at one point or another?  Perhaps lay folk have thought the occupant of the pulpit a Cretan.  Who knows?

His job was no small task.  He was to “rebuke them sharply” that these Christians defiled by works at odds with their words might be purified and restored among the faithful. So Titus plucked some thistles and planted some flowers in God’s garden in Crete.

But that is the work of Gospel.  We are all sinners   The Lord sends Pastors to sinners because the righteous do not need the Word of the Lord.  We are all condemned by our works and none of our hearts are pure.  It is grace and mercy that we need and yet we cannot hear this without first hearing the bite of the Law, exposing our sins and coaxing from us the honest confession of thoughts, words, and deeds that flow from our evil hearts.

But Titus was not to take delight in dishing it out to the Cretans.  The goal of the Word is not to condemn but to redeem.  God delights not in condemning the wrong but in forgiving and making right liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.

Preachers are wise to remember they are not above those to whom they preach.  The preacher must hold firm to the trustworthy word as he was taught – both for his own sake as well as for the sake of those who will hear the Word through him.  So Paul counsels Titus to remain steadfast in the Word of the Lord or else he will have nothing of sound doctrine to bring to the people of God and will not be able to stand against those contradict that word.

The Church is no showcase of good people but filled with Cretans.  We who are called Pastors would do well to pay attention to Titus and to the words of Paul that prepared him for his life of service to the Gospel.  It is not enough to condemn sin for God has called us also to encourage and uplift, pointing to that which is good and noble and worthy of God.  To this end the Lord has given Pastors the tools of the Word and the Sacraments.  By these means of grace the filthy are cleansed, the wounded made whole, the guilty declared righteous, the hungry fed upon the bread of heaven, and the dying given the life that cannot die. 

And that is the crux of our need today.  We live among wolves and those who speak twisted words instead of the Word of the Lord.  We are gravely tempted to believe that the Gospel is merely a program, like so many other programs in the Church.  We are still tempted to think of the ministry as the work of men instead of God’s work through them.  We are tested by means and methodologies borrowed from business as if the Church were God’s venture capital firm.  Titus does well to remind us that the work of the Kingdom is still work among sinners and that the works of the Kingdom are still the Word and the Sacraments.  In an age in which numbers and statistics seem to rule, the currency of God’s Kingdom is grace and mercy, come to us through the Word of the cross, the water of life, the voice of absolution, and the heavenly meal of His body and blood.  

Unlike so many in the early Church, Titus did live a long life, serving in Crete as Bishop until his death about 96 AD.  And thanks be to God for the work of such faithful folk.  For the  Timothies and Tituses of the Church... and the Pauls who taught them, let us give thanks. And let us pray that the Lord would never leave His Church without those who will teach us to know and remember always the Word of the Lord that is our hope, our life, and our salvation.  Amen.

Child Sacrifice in the 21st Century...

We get all up in arms over children we think are being abused by physical discipline and we expend money to prevent children from entering the labor force too young or being exploited by adults in perverse ways.  We think it abusive if a parent withholds certain medical procedures due to religious beliefs and we make all sorts of new laws and regulations to protect children when a day care van crashes or a child is left in hot care by an inattentive parent.  All these are well and good.  Don't get me wrong.  I am against the abuse of children and believe they deserve the full protection of the law.  But George Weigel has written in the starkest terms of the most grievous abuse of children in abortion -- the modern day equivalent of child sacrifice practiced among some in ages past.  The moderns will refuse and refute his comparison but he is spot on.  We sacrifice the unborn to our irresponsibility, to our pleasure, for the sake our convenience, and to prevent us from having to care for them.  What else would you call it but child sacrifice?  Read it all here.....

Lord, teach me...

A prayer that is a favorite of mine was authored by +W. Harry Krieger.  Old ones like me will recall the name and the man.  Anyway the prayer is, I believe, original by him.  It is a prayer that I like because of what it says and how it says it.  It is the kind of prayer you pray all the time because the need is ever present and its petitions never go out of style.

Teach me, O Lord, not to hold on to life too tightly.  Teach me to hold it lightly; not carelessly, but lightly, easily.  Teach me to take it as a gift, to enjoy and cherish while I have it, and to let go gracefully and thankfully when the time comes.  For the gift is great, but the Giver greater still.  You are the Giver, O Lord, and in You is the life that never dies; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen  

Another one by Krieger that is also very good but not quite as good as the first is this one.

Disturb us, O Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves; when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little; when we have arrived in safety because we sailed too close to the shore. Disturb us, O Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess we have lost our thirst for the water of life; when having fallen in love with time we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build the new earth, have allowed our vision of the new heaven to grow dim. Stir us, O Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas, where storms shall show Thy mastery, where losing sight of land we shall find the stars. In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes and invited the brave to follow Him. Amen.

I have learned much by praying the prayers others have written and I continue to learn much from the prayers authored by others.  Once someone told me that when I prayed (in public) I sounded like a prayer book.  I took it as a compliment.  It was not meant that way.  I have to say that I really don't know how else you learn to pray than by praying the prayers of others.  As a child I learned to pray from the prayers of the hymnal and the prayers of my parents.  I expect most Christians who grew up in Christian homes learned the same way.  The collects were particularly impressive to me and still are.  Everyone ought to give thanks for those Germans who turned to the Book of Common Prayer in attempting to translate the ancient collects into English.  You cannot go wrong with Cranmer.

The language of prayer should elevate as well as communicate.  I am not at all suggesting that simpler or more basic language is not pleasing to God or that He does not hear those prayers. Perhaps its is like the old dilemma -- is your spouse the one person you can dump on or the one person you cannot?  I believe that it is not a bad thing to begin prayer by remembering that God is God and you are not.  Good language and good prayer models can help us understand this.  Praying is not like a couple of old friends sitting on a bar stool pouring their heart out to each other.  Praying always begins with the acknowledgement that God is God, the Most High, and we are creature, sinner, and unworthy of His ear or His answer.

I am not too excited about attempts to modernize old prayers.  It seems to me that tinkering with the language of old prayers is a bit like tinkering with  the language of hymns -- it may be communicate better but it does so with a whole lot less eloquence.  I have a number of prayer books (including Doberstein's Minister's Prayer Book) and they are like old friends to me.  Sometimes, when I being reading the prayers (and praying them) I find I cannot stop and end up going on and on -- they are so absolutely addictive.

I recall a lesson in which we were asked to write a collect (an English literature class in an LCMS college).  It was harder than a sonnet and it taught me something about the language of prayer, about the cadence of the words, about the richness of those words, and about the wisdom of those who have gone before me.  Too many prayers are rather pedestrian -- you pray them once, okay, but you are not likely to pray them again.  I am just the opposite.  I tend to prayer the same prayers over and over again -- because through them I have learned to prayer and those prayers have become the scripts so faithful to the desires of my heart.

Like this one.

Almighty God, unto Whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from Whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee, and worthily magnify Thy holy Name: through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Art and Liturgy in the Missal

I ran across this piece on the use of art and design for "secular" works and the question was entirely germane to the circumstance today in Lutheran service books:  Surely if one artist can accomplish this for the reasons noted above, the same or greater is not unrealistic or out of reach for us in relation to the sacred liturgy and liturgical books of the Church. 

You take a look at what this artist has done with a combination of original art and a carefully chosen type face.  When I look at the LSB Altar Book or Lectionary (especially the cover) I only wish we had given the same attention to art as this work of Tolkien!   Ah.... well...  you can read it all for yourself here...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

In case you did not know where Presiding Bishop Hanson stood...

LCNA (Lutherans Concerned of North America) is the GLABT organization that has pushed ELCA parishes to be open to gays (RIC) and helped to maneuver the stunning adoption of the GLABT agenda at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly a couple of years ago.  At the time, it was known that Bishop Emeritas was strongly in favor of the change and it was greatly suspected that Hanson was more than in the middle.  Now that the ELCA has passed all the GLABT agenda, Hanson can "come out" (so to speak) and formally support this organization and its agenda.

LCNA has announced that Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Mark S. Hanson will deliver the keynote address to the assembly, following the opening worship on Saturday, July 7, 2012.  This is the first time a presiding bishop of any denomination has delivered the keynote address at our assembly.

The primary purpose of LCNA is to call the entire church to be a visible proponent of justice for all gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Aw.... come on now...

I got an email in response to that little piece on the betting Pastor who lost and wore a team jersey and a skirt on Sunday morning.  What was interesting was that the writer took me to task for being so serious about everything.  The writer suggested that I "lighten up" and admit it was just a joke and just once and nobody was really hurt by it, so what was the big deal.

Over the years there have been countless conversations about lightening up, chilling out, getting a sense of humor, etc., toward those who seem to have no tolerance when it comes to matters of religion and faith.  Now I am not really an angry old man (contrary to the opinions of my naysayers).  In fact, I have a sense of humor.  Ask the people I work with on staff.  Ask my family.  Read some of the posts on this blog.  The trouble with a sense of humor is that is does not deflect those things that truly do mark the Church and wound the faith.  An LCMS Pastor losing a bet and wearing a team jersey and a skirt to a men's club meeting might be in poor taste but not such a big deal.  An LCMS Pastor shaving his beard off because he lost a bet might be foolish (if he wanted the beard) but worth a pass by commentators like me.  An LCMS Pastor spending the night on the roof because his youth group raised a big wad for Souper Bowl Sunday might not be my cup of tea but it would not merit a second look.  But when it comes to the most solemn and sacred moments of the week, when the people of God gather around His Word and Sacrament, such foolishness is not just a joke but an offense to the Lord whom we worship and the Church where we gather. BTW solemnity does not mean without JOY but joy does not mean slapstick humor!

The trite and trivial cannot merit a pass when it takes place in worship.  There is far too much that happens on Sunday morning -- distractions from the means of grace or competition for the means of grace -- to let such things go unnoticed.  I have certainly had my share of unintentional mistakes while leading the people of God in worship on Sunday morning but when we Pastors deliberately say and do things that takes the spotlight off of the cross and on to us or when we turn the sacred speech of the Divine Service into a monologue or comedy sketch, we are failing our duty and shortchanging the very people we are called to serve.  Again, it is not that we should not smile in church -- that is not what is being said -- but when our actions are intended for a laugh, we betray the Word and the Sacrament and the Lord who has placed Himself within these means of grace.

"Ya shoulda bin there" ought to be spoken to those who miss the Mystery of the Word and earthly element that conveys Christ and His gifts to us, unworthy though we are, and not spoken about those who missed a YouTube moment.  Some things are just too darn important to mess around with or to mess up -- especially intentionally.  So, when Pastors act like they are on stage at the Comedy Club or when liturgical commentary includes laugh lines or when the dress, mannerisms, or actions of those leading the Divine Service distracts from or detracts from Christ and His gifts, we have a problem far greater than a ham who hogs the spotlight.  My aversion to children's sermons may be shaped by the numbers of children's sermons I have observed in which a laugh track and a "I wish I had a camera" accompanied the sermonette.  But I am willing to grant those delivering such sermons more of a pass on such flops than those who deliberately abuse their office.

"Just this once..." I was asked, "couldn't you have just looked at it and smiled and let it go..."  But that is exactly the problem.  We have "just this once" occasions all the time in Lutheran worship services all over the country.  We have come to figure that if it gets a laugh, it is not so bad.  Because it gets a laugh, we are tempted to repeat it.  This is because if you strip away the pious veneer from Lutheran Pastors you find a David Letterman or Jay Leno waiting to jump out.  The liturgy is the helpful constraint upon us to prevent us from being who we want to be in worship and requiring us to be whom God has called us to be -- ministers of the means of grace and stewards of the mysteries of God.

No, such things will not bring the world to an early end.  I am not saying that.  What I am saying is that we have been far too patient about such things when the offender is overlooked and those who are offended are labelled as the problem.  We DO need to lighten up about a lot of things.  We Lutheran Pastors need to learn to laugh at ourselves.  We DO need to distinguish between minor irritants and major flaws in our churches and our people.  A chill pill every now and then is medicine well needed -- except when it comes to the Divine Service and our failure to honor the Lord by keeping the focus upon Christ and His means of grace.  I know God has a sense of humor but I am not at all sure it extends to the ministration of His saving Word and Sacraments. Call me an ogre but I do not see what is funny about such foolishness in the House of the Lord.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The price of notoriety...

Under the title Megadeth bassist studying for Lutheran ordination at Concordia, we read in the St. Louis papers of the former bass player for Megadeth now studying for the Pastoral Ministry of the LCMS through the SMP program.  You can read the story in the paper by clicking here. 

I am not so much interested in this story, but in the way the SMP program is now being used.  Besides, with a name like David Ellefson, you'd think he would already have been a Lutheran Pastor (former pipe smoking and lutefisk eating kind of Lutheran Pastor who feels right at home in Cosby sweaters and clerical shirts in all the latest colors).

When the LCMS adopted this short cut to spending three years at the Sem and a vicarage, the reasons seemed salutary and urgent enough -- minorities who could not be uprooted from their home but needed to be trained to work among ethnic groups requiring intimate knowledge of the culture and language. Sure, this wasn't the only thing mentioned but it figured prominently in the decision to combine other short circuit paths into one more uniform way to ordination. It even offered the hope of cleaning up the mess of those non-ordained already serving in justified arrangements (lay ministers, deacons, etc., doing Word AND Sacrament ministry supposedly contrary to our Confessions and our own polity). But, in the interest of finding say, a Korean or Sudanese to serve their own population, even some who had reservations thought that a more churchly program that shortened the coursework was not a terrible thing. So the thing got passed.

Now, the bassist from Megadeth (his name is actually David Ellefson) is neither Korean nor Sudanese and, to my knowledge, is a member of no ethnic minority (except the aging population of former heavy metal band members), yet, he is part of the SMP program  -  one of more than 100 students enrolled in the program, which is limited to students who have been sponsored by someone already working in the ministry.

Combining his musical abilities and his faith led Ellefson to a deeper exploration of Christianity, he said. And it led him to start a new music ministry within the walls of Shepherd of the Desert Lutheran Church.  He called it MEGA Life, partially a play on Megadeth and an oblique reference to the Gospel of John: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."  MEGA Life became so popular in Scottsdale that Shepherd of the Desert Lutheran Church bought a new space for the ministry.

Last year, their Pastor Jon Bjorgaard asked Ellefson and MEGA Life director Jeremy DaPena to enroll in Concordia's Specific Ministry Program.  So in this case, the SMP program is being used to legitimate the Christian rock music which this parish is using to springboard a new "ministry."

Now, I have no bone to pick with any former metal band member or groupie who finds Jesus and wants to be Lutheran (at least I will admit to none) but it seems that this program was not tailor made for this circumstance.  In fact, it sounds as if the program is being used because somebody does not want to go to seminary (who does).  Even more so, it sounds to me that one of the reasons both sponsor and praise band leader do not want to go the seminary route is to keep the guy from becoming too Lutheran (hanging around with the likes of church musician Henry Gerike at St. Louis or talking liturgy with Art Just at Fort Wayne).

We in Missouri have many messes in our house and the SMP program appears to be one of them.  According to the paper, more than 100 are enrolled currently (and this compares with 400-500 regular sem students).  So 1 of 4 or 5 of our PITs (Pastors in Training -- dontcha just love acronyms) is an SMP PIT.  That represents a pretty healthy segment -- even somewhat a revolution for this staid mostly Midwestern church body with its all Midwestern seminaries.

As I have complained so often, the biggest changes often come to the church through the back door -- without formal adoption of that which we know up front.  The short changed course work might be forgiven if it were temporary but, in the end, the SMP people will become Pastors just like me (well, probably not as old, cantankerous and curmudgeonly as me).  Or, will they....   Will we end up with two classes of clergy (not by design but by default)?  Will we end up with more and more of that which is non-Lutheran becoming mainstream in our church body because our clergy are less and less equipped to judge what is of the faith and faithful and what is not?

It makes for a great story -- at least it did until somebody checked out the communion policy of the sponsoring congregation and found out it was a "Come to Jesus" congregation in which, it seems, anyone and everyone is welcome (with or without Lutheran faith, much less membership).

Well, there you have it... my own complaints about somebody who gets to wear the same collar I wear (though who probably would never wear it) sans the seminary formation with all of its extra baggage of doctrine and practice.  So in the end you see my concern is really about somebody who got a clerical collar at a discount and my fear that such discounts have the potential to turn the LCMS into the BigLots of Lutheran Churches -- all that is church but without the big price tag, oh yes, and the quality of confession.  What the world does not need is a Filene's Basement of Lutheran Churches... nor does it need any Wal-Mart LCMS franchises.  We need most of all authenticity and honesty of who we are and why we do what we do, how we do it.... Lutherans in doctrine and practice.

Liturgical Diversity in Rome and Constantinople...

The Pope has told the Anglicans in the US and England the same thing:   "Y'all come and bring your liturgy with you."  It is no secret -- both his desire to embrace the disaffected conservative Anglicans and his ecumenical vision of a reunited church with its center in Rome.  But with this invitation comes a few questions about the long term effect of such liturgical pluralism.

Whether acknowledged or not, the development of a Western rite for Orthodoxy (Antiochian, in the case of US) and an Anglican Ordinariate for Rome, brings with it the specter of the kind of liturgical diversity that is already a permanent fixture in Lutheranism.  With our several choices of Divine Service in LSB and with the various choices in ELW, there are some institutional options given to the local Lutheran parish and Pastor -- much less the choices and variations and "improvements" made upon the service that are not offered institutionally.  [A caveat here:  In my own parish I forsake the "canon" in all the Divine Services of LSB to use one of the Eucharistic prayers from WS, Worship in the Name of Jesus, HS 98, or other sources in the LCMS that have passed doctrinal review in some form.]  But I am not here to talk about Lutherans or Missouri.  I am here to comment upon the testing of the waters of liturgical choices previously unknown to Rome and to a lesser degree in Constantinople.  Rome, of course has had uniate churches which have used an Eastern rite but the local Roman parish or priest does not have the option of choosing the Roman mass one week and the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom the next.  Constantinople has also had various liturgies but all Eastern and none remotely approaching the Western form used by some Latin Rite parishes.  In the past the diversity was well controlled and contained.  I wonder what the future holds for Rome and Constantinople now that official sanction has been given to different rites.  Is the genie out of the bottle?

To some extent I find this confusing.  Those who swim the Tiber or the Bosporus should, in my view, swim all the way and not stop on a sand bar in the middle.  I can well understand the desire to retain the Anglican rite since it is, in many respects, the hallmark of Anglican identity.  But how can one hold on to the hallmark of your Anglican identity and be fully Roman?  In the same way, while I know and respect the integrity of a few of those Lutherans who use a Western rite in Orthodoxy, I am equally confused by this since being Orthodox compels an Eastern rite that mirrors the Eastern theology and perspective that is Orthodoxy.  I can understand why -- Lord knows, I would find it hard to give up Advent, Lutheran hymnody, or the form of the Western Mass in order to embrace the theory of Orthodoxy but theology and practice seem conflicted if you retain the Mass but buy into the Orthodox frame of mind.  But that is me...

Not that Lutherans are immune to this schizophrenia.  We Lutherans have bounced back and forth from the catholic identity of our Confessions to the evangelical embrace of Protestantism and even within the current jurisdictions of Lutheranism are parishes and Pastors who might feel more at home in Presbyterianism or Methodism or the non-denominational sea than in the Lutheran fjord of evangelical catholicism. Our diversity is more institutionalized and that may well be where Orthodoxy and Rome end up -- a theory with diverse practices or rites to reflect the ethnic heritage and personal identity of the folks in the pew.  And that might mean that both Rome and Constantinople (at least on American soil) look more and more like the diversity within Protestanism (at least on the outside).

Monday, January 23, 2012

Great week... many posts to come!

As I returned from the Symposia at Fort Wayne, I am again struck by the stature of the faculty, the welcome to hear others in pursuit of truth and faithfulness, the size of this gathering, the centrality and quality of the worship, and the way the Seminary has distinguished itself yet again as the premier place for the great theological conversations of our time!

The Symposia at Concordia Theological Seminary is the largest annual gathering of Pastors of the LCMS!  Add to that a smattering of Deaconesses, a contingent of North American confessional types from outside the LCMS, foreign representatives and students.  What you end up with is a marvelous week of solid theological discussion, worship to renew the soul, renewed friendships to restore the heart, and enough books to keep you busy reading for a long, long time...

Stay tuned... you WILL hear more!

BTW I cannot wait until the Library is finished.  Can we cough up some more shekels so that this completion date for the entire project is moved up! 

Calls and the Way Some of Them End...

Perhaps I should begin by admitting to a certain amount of apprehension about all the talk of calls going on in our church body. There are those who complain that some congregations are not honoring their calls or their Pastors. There are those who complain that some Pastors are not either personally suited to the nature of the pastoral ministry or are not putting the kind of effort into their calls that parishes expect. I am fairly certain that one could list a number of examples of both circumstances -- parishes abusing the "call" and Pastors (or other church workers) abusing their "call" status.

A number of years ago I was a Circuit Counselor who had to accompany a District President into a parish to tell the "called" Pastor that his ministry there was over and he needed to resign. There had not been huge conflict but there were warning lights all over the place that signaled that this man was not personally suited for the demands of dealing with people that the Pastoral Office requires. He was not a bad sort and did not deceive anyone. In fact, I always thought somebody at the Sem should have caught this and required additional training in the areas lacking or, at worst, simply told him that he did not have the gifts required for the exercise of the Pastoral Office. I credit the DP for the even handed and loving way he handled this. I suppose that there are other situations that were not handled so well and ended up in blame games, charges, and accusations. In this particular case, the man knew what was coming and a pretty good idea of why he was being asked to resign.

There were other circumstances but this was the main one that told me there needs to be a way to deal with situations like this. The worst that could happen would be a full blown set of charges at a voters assembly and the painting of one side a winner and the other a loser. The good bishop who handled this avoided this prospect which would have left indelible scars on both parish and Pastor. On the other hand, I know a couple of Pastors who made a few small mistakes here and there (like who hasn't) but who resided in congregations unwilling to forgive and who blew these little things into the giant issues that ended up leaving blood all over the parish and all over the Pastor (and his family). I think of one who went down like the captain of a sinking ship insisting it was not his fault, that this congregation be marked as the guilty party, that they be punished. He would not resign and fought it out -- insisting it was for the cause of the Ministry and not for himself. There were no winners and only losers. I can also think of another one whom I had counseled to stay and fight -- at least for a while. But this fellow was gracious and was concerned less for the office than for his family and the rest of the parish that would be caught in the crossfire. He exuded grace under pressure and wrote lovingly to the people asking their forgiveness where he had wronged them and asking them to seek him out personally that he might leave at peace with all. To this day I marvel at what he did and how he did it.

For all the rhetoric on the blogosphere and temptation to paint every circumstance with the same broad brush, I would suggest that we need to be careful here. Where I vicared, there was terrible conflict between the Pastor who had signed my vicarage application and then succumbed to cancer and his successor who came not more than 6-7 months later. And there I was caught in the crossfire. It was no one's fault and everyone's. This was a terrible match for a congregation which had not even begun to grieve the death of one Pastor and his successor who seemed somewhat blind to circumstances of the parish to whom he had said "yes, it seems good to me and to the Holy Spirit."

My first parish was also suffering the open wounds of conflict between two different groups with my predecessor in the middle of it all. I praise the goodness of God and the wisdom of those who placed me in both -- since I was not like anyone in the fray and was able to distract the folks from some of the conflict for me to have a successful vicarage and first parish (where I ended up staying nearly 13 years). I have a bit of experience with this -- perhaps just enough to make me dangerous -- but what I have learned is that there is no broad brush. Each parish and Pastor offers a certain set of characteristics and circumstances that make it hard to generalize and make it essential to wade into the troubled waters carefully. Sometimes, for no one's fault, the only answer is resignation. In others, the circumstances require that this be made a teaching moment -- even when that comes with its own cost to parish and to Pastor.

What I am saying is that it is easy to armchair quarterback the situations in these parishes and with these Pastors but more often than not we are wrong in our understandings and flawed in our determinations. For these circumstances, a good Circuit Counselor, good brothers in the Circuit, and some wise and patient parish leaders can be a Pastor's best friends and hope. Not every conflict need end with retreat or resignation but that in and of itself is not defeat. So I pray for those who minister to and those who find themselves in the kinds of situations I have attempted to describe. It may be much like finding your way through the dark -- slowly, carefully, and circumspectly, you feel your way through it. God bless all involved in those kind of situations. You need a special measure of wisdom and patience for the road ahead. May God give it to you in abundance.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

You do not belong...

In my city, Sunday morning is one of the most segregated times of the week.  Sure, it involves Blacks going to primarily Black churches, Koreans to Korean congregations, etc... but, more than this, it is the segregation of people by age, marital status, and interest.  Many of the congregations (and most of the larger ones -- of which none is Lutheran where I live) offer children's church so that worship is primarily an adult gathering.  Some have multi site venues which further segregate by age and interest.  Some segregate by preference (contemporary Christian music or old time Gospel songs, for example).  Some segregate by marital status (having special Bible study and cell groups just for twenty-somethings not married, twenty-somethings married without kids, twenty-somethings with small children, etc...).

Many Lutherans have jumped on this bandwagon as well.  They cater to personal taste and status as if they were on Facebook.  In fact, I have worshiped in Lutheran congregations with my three small children only to look around and see that we were the only family with small children among the hundreds of folks gathered there.  We are severely tempted to follow this model even in smaller congregations where the numbers that would be divided up are sparse.  We have been told over and over again, starting with the Church Growth Movement, that the greatest success is when people share the most commonality of backgrounds, status and traits.

As Lutherans, we, too, have bought into the idea that only women can minister to women, only young people to young people, etc... In other words, people need groups and leaders who mirror back to them their own status, preferences, and "felt needs."  We do this almost without thinking when it comes to youth.  We have youth groups and youth ministries and youth ministers.  Even when Sunday morning is not segregated, the rest of their life together in the church is.  We have child care so that adults are free to participate without also juggling parental responsibility.  We are starting to have senior citizen ministries for folks who share the common defect of being old (at least as seen in a culture that idolizes youth even among the graying).  We don't really think about it.  It seems logical.  Everyone with their own kind.  Once I sat in a congregation that actually announced a schedule change that had the college singles meeting with the twenty-somethings that Sunday due to a special program!  How odd?!?

My point?  I am not so sure that all of this segregation is either wise or beneficial.  The Church of Christ is not a mirror reflection of me (as if we needed a class or fellowship group for grumpy old men with gray beards who wear reading glasses and like to tell other people their meandering thoughts).  The Church works best when this segregation is kept to a minimum.  Yeah, I can see some of the wisdom in Sunday classes aimed at folks with the same reading and comprehension levels and so you are probably going to have to keep that... but... the rest of it?  Is it wise for us to expect or label people by age or marital status or other criteria and then presume that their wants, needs, and interests are the same because of those criteria?  Are we shortchanging worship and the rest of the life of the church by presuming that we should all be with our own kind instead of being together in the nave, classroom, and fellowship hall?

I have tried some "intergenerational" stuff and found it as palatable as pablum.  The surprise is that starting about a dozen years ago I began having some high school age youth in my "adult" study because they got tired of talking about the typical youth subjects of sex, video games, movies, drugs, tattoos and piercings.  They have stayed and they keep up just fine.  What are some of your experiences and what do you think about this kind of segregation on Sunday mornings?

Once a young family told me about their visit to a small Lutheran congregation made up mostly of those over 65.  They had two squirmy children who were vocal and one began to sing when nobody else was singing and the other began to cry (babies do that).  They apologized profusely after the service but one older woman said to her, "Oh, don't apologize.  I have been waiting years to hear the sound of a baby's cry in Church on Sunday morning -- it was wonderful.  I sure hope you will be back!"  Actually I can think of nothing sadder than to look around on Sunday morning and see people just like me....

What a way to celebrate an anniversary!

As if the plague of abortion were not itself enough to remember on this, the 39th anniversary of Roe v Wade, we find now that the Obama administration is seeking to severely restrict those health insurers who do NOT cover abortion and, as it appears, limit the exemption to the most narrow of cases.

Here is from Witherspoon Institute:  (you can read it all here)

Houses of worship are almost certainly protected, but all other religious ministries and institutions are almost certainly not. The exemption covers only: a “religious employer” that has the “inculcation of religious values” as its purpose; “primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets”; and primarily “serves persons who share its religious tenets.” Further, the employer must qualify as a church organization under two narrow provisions of the tax code. Religious institutions such as colleges and universities, as well as hospitals and charitable institutions that employ and serve the public (versus only co-believers) will be ineligible. Individuals, and religiously affiliated health insurers are also outside of the scope of the exemption.

In essence, it is the expectation of the Obama administration that the health care transformation it inaugurated would also expand the availability of abortion coverage under insurers and thus become a tool against the respect for life and the fight for the unborn that has united so many diverse religious groups and ordinary Americans since the tragedy of January 22, 1973.

Sebelius own words tell the story:  (you can read it all here)

Scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families, it is documented to significantly reduce health costs, and is the most commonly taken drug in America by young and middle-aged women. This rule will provide women with greater access to contraception by requiring coverage and by prohibiting cost sharing.

This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty. I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.

The task before us has become even larger for the forces against respect for life at all stages now marshals the full resources of the federal government to expand the availability and full insurance coverage for abortion.  What is ironic here is that Sebelius is Roman Catholic and supposedly could be expected to support the full scale stand for life and the fight to repeal Roe v Wade that Rome itself has championed.

Another rap to answer the hate religion love Jesus guy...

From Jonathon Fisk at Worldview Everlasting.... among the many responses to the viral video, this one uses the same musical format to rebut the charges we are all now so familiar with...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Nobodies become somebody in Christ...

Sermon preached for Epiphany 2B on Sunday, January 15, 2012

    Here we are in Clarksville, Tennessee, native home of few but adopted home of many. How many of you ever thought you would end up living here?  I didn't.  I associated Tennessee with the Beverly Hillbillies and had no clue that my life would ever lead to Tennessee.  I had never even heard of Clarksville until a phone call came telling me I had been elected Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Clarksville.  You did not know where I came from either.  You never heard of the little village in Nebraska that I called home.  But it is not where we are from or where we end up or even what we do in between that makes us somebody.
    Jesus is the one who makes us somebody.  He is the somebody who became a nobody in order to turn us nobodies into somebody.  In the Gospel for today, Jesus calls Philip.  Now Philip was from Bethsaida – not a whole lot to say except that was a much better pedigree than Gentile Nazareth. Philip tells Nathanael of what he has seen and heard of the Messiah.  Nathanael wonders out loud "can anything good come from Nazareth?"  Nathanael was a man with an honest heart.  No deception here.  He put his doubts out there right up front.  In order to be somebody, you have to come from some place of note – at least as the world gets it.
    But Jesus isn't from someplace of note.  In fact that is the great charge against Jesus.  The real Messiah could not come from a noplace town like Nazareth and from a nobody family like Mary and Joseph.  Hidden in all this nothing, was something of note.  Jesus did not come from a place that is noted on the map; Jesus puts that place on the map.  And so it is for nobodies like you and me.  Jesus has not come to recognize the somebodies of this world, He has come to transform the nobodies of this world into the somebodies by the grace and favor of God.  He has come not for greatness but for sinners like you and me.
    It does not matter where you came from or where you end up.  It does not matter what you accomplish in between.  We come from dust and we return to dust.  For all that a pedigree or place might give us, it cannot keep us from hearing "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" when they lay us into the ground.  For all that success and accomplishment might offer us, its fame does not last and we are as gone and forgotten as the cemeteries filled with those whom no one remembers.  Our claims are all worthless.  Our accomplishments are worthless.  Only Christ can make us somebody.
    Unlike Nathanael, we are probably not without guile.  We are filled with lies and deception.  We puff ourselves up, we pad our resumes, we enhance our stories in an effort to distinguish us from others and make us somebodies. But it does not help.  The world says there is no such thing as bad publicity.  The world says even attention you get for the wrong reason is attention.  In the end, it all passes away... just like we do.  Whether you seem good and upright or stained with sin and guilt, your only hope rests in the Jesus is the only one who can transform us nobodies into somebodies.
    That is what happens in baptism.  We who came from nothing now have the pedigree of children of God.  We who had no purpose or reason have become the people of God who are His glory and through whom He does His bidding.  We who had only the grave to look forward to, now have life and eternity in heaven.  We who had a past without a future now have our past forgiven and our future secured in Christ.  Jesus is the somebody who became a nobody in order to turn us nobodies into somebody. 
    Our self esteem, our sense of self worth – these do not come from the right pedigree or the right accomplishments or living right.  These are God's gifts to us in Christ.  We were nobody and now we are somebody in Christ.  What we have to share with the world is not some secret recipe to happiness or fame or fortune.  What we have to tell the world is that finally we can be honest.  We are a bunch of nobodies from nowheresville.  What we have to tell the world is that Christ has embraced us, that He become nobody, in order to make us somebody by grace.  Oh, Paul might have put it a bit more nobler than this – He who was rich became poor for us – but it means the same.
    Did you see how quickly "Can anything good come from Nazareth" turned into "You are the Son of God and the King of Israel?"  All because of grace that came out of nowhere and turned a nobody into somebody.  None of us are worth any more or any less than anyone else... in fact, none of us are worth anything until God counts us worthy in Christ.  He came to us with everything to become nothing on the cross.  We come to Him with nothing and He makes us everything by grace.  This is the heart and core of the Gospel, it is the surprise of grace that gives meaning and eternity to our meaningless and temporary lives.
    I never thought I would end up here.  But since I came from nothing, it might have been predictable that I end up nowhere special.  There is no disappointment in my words.  It does not matter where we came from or where we end up.  What matters is the upward call of God.  He delivers to us His own Son in our flesh and blood.  This Jesus embraces all the nothing that we are in order that He might make us something.  This is what Nathanael found out when Jesus of Nazareth saw him.  This is what you and I find out when God beholds us through baptism, marks us as His own, sets upon us the robe of Christ's righteousness, and makes us brand new.
     There is freedom in these words.  Free from the pressure of the world to define us by where we come from or where we end up or what we accomplish, we discover in the great surprise of grace, the God who makes us into somebody–right now in this mortal life, and forever in the life to come. Amen