Wednesday, February 29, 2012

This just in: Muslims and Christians worship the same God and don't need to evangelize each other... so says Rick Warren

I have long lamented the love affair some LCMSers (fairly large and often influential congregations and Pastors) have with Rick Warren and Saddleback.  It is not like Warren has made any moves toward any Lutheran confession or identity. The movement is all one way -- toward the evangelical side of things.  Rick Warren has been a best selling author (Lord knows how many LCMS congregations transformed Lent into 40 days of purpose) and he has mediated political candidates before his congregation (McCain and Obama).  Now he seems to be taking his hand at settling the long standing disputes between Islam and Christianity.  Thank you, Jesus, for giving us Rick Warren to sort out what religious, political, economic, and military experts have failed at for more than 1500 years!

You can read it all for yourself here....

The Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest and one of America's most influential Christian leaders, has embarked on an effort to heal divisions between evangelical Christians and Muslims by partnering with Southern California mosques and proposing a set of theological principles that includes acknowledging that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

For the record, I do not advocate violence or even protest against Muslims who abide by the rule of law and who renounce violence here and elsewhere.  I have no interest in turning America into a Christian nation (although a nation of Christians is something quite different and to this end we proclaim the Gospel here and throughout the world)I do not believe that everything Christians did to Muslims in the past was okay and I don't believe that everything Muslims did to Christians in the past was justified either.  But I am certainly not ready to suggest that we worship the same God and that we merely advocate separate paths to the same ultimate deity.  It is a sham and a curse on our house to give that impression.

The one and only true God has revealed Himself not through a prophet Mohammed but through Jesus Christ, His one and only Son, born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and who gave Himself as the Lamb of sacrifice for our sins, dying our death for us and rising to give us new and eternal life.  Unless and until a Christian and a Muslim can say the Nicene Creed and mean the same thing when confessing it, it is impossible to say that we worship the same God.

But Warren's group has gone a couple of steps too far.  We agreed we wouldn't try to evangelize each other, witnessing to each other to correct misconceptions and to make fully known what it is that each believes but no proclamation of the Gospel -- that cannot be reconciled to the Gospel.  Jesus is the one Way, the one Truth, and the one Life who refuses to share the path of salvation with those who cannot deliver what His life, death, and resurrection have accomplished.  He is an exclusive Savior whose Gospel is inclusive of all people.  Since we do not know the heart, we as Christians are to presume that everyone is elect and to preach the Gospel to all people so that the Spirit may work faith in those whom God has called.

I hope and pray all those Lutherans who read Warren's books and gravitate toward his style will have some second thoughts...  More than that, I hope they have some regrets...

Artists of the Reformation. . .

Lutherans embraced art very differently than others in the Reformation period.  Unfortunately, Lutherans have short memories.  We have forgotten those who gave visual image to the Word.  I am happy to report that one such artist, really a father and son team, the Cranachs, are now featured in a very nice digital archive so that we can begin to reconnect with our Lutheran past and reacquaint ourselves with some rather big figures in the art world of the time -- who were friends and co-workers with Luther and his heirs in the Great Reformation.

The Lucas Cranach digital archive is located here.  Take a gander.  It is amazing!  (HT to Pr. Paul McCain)

Matthias Grünewald is another name of note, though, sadly, much of his work has not survived and some of it was falsely attributed to Albrecht Dürer.  His most famous piece is the Isenheim Altarpiece. Albrecht Dürer was a contemporary of Luther and a great sympathizer with the Reformer.

Lutheran art adorned countless publications, including the Luther Bible of 1522, as well as many altars and altarpieces.  Would that we remembered those who gave such visual form to the cause of reform.  We just might be different in our attitude toward art and adornment.

Well, the point of this is simply to commend for your review the Lucas Cranach Digital Archive.... so I will stop here on my usual rant against iconoclasts..

BTW since Paul McCain has shamelessly stolen from me, it is time for me to shamelessely steal from him, again!  So click on this marvelous link to the Ghent altarpiece and a digital view of that work of art that is absolutely stunning.  Click HERE!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

THE Pill inventor slams ... the pill

Read it here.... it requires no real comment.... just a good feeling when we realize the sad consequences of a discovery that never intended to change the world as it has...

Eighty five year old Carl Djerassi the Austrian chemist who helped invent the contraceptive pill now says that his co-creation has led to a "demographic catastrophe."

Surprise but no surprise...

You remember that I told you a while back of the desire of some Southern Baptists to change the name of their church.  Now a task force has recommended that the Southern Baptist Convention keep its official name but give its members of our nation's largest Protestant denomination the option of calling themselves "Great Commission Baptists."  In other words, Southern Baptists DBA Great Commission Baptists.  I could hardly think of a more ungainly name, unless, of course, you decided upon Lord's Prayer Lutherans.  If you are going to change your name or do business under another name, pick one that trips easily off the tongue and identifies you accurately and effectively.  Even GCB is not an easy moniker.  Also, think of the consequences of the name -- for example, would these Great Commission Baptists counter the No Outreach Stay at Home Baptists?  Finally, the folks in the pews may understand "Great Commission" but I am not so sure that the lapsed or unchurched have a clue what it means... So maybe it is best to stick with Southern Baptist.... and maybe the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod folk might listen in here and think it over....

Good things in small packages...

Smallness is often under appreciated.  I like it when the folks at my local branch remember my name and know who I am.  I do not like it when I have to call through a menu que to speak with someone a thousand miles away when I do certain business with that same bank.  As much as I see benefits to a multi-national bank, I do not want to be one customer number in a bank too big to fail.  I want to talk to Jeanette and Kat.  It reminds me of my small town roots in Nebraska.  I value that.

It seems that most first time visitors to a congregation appreciate a certain amount of anonymity.  But after that, they appreciate on being known.  I work hard to get to know the names of my people and call about 85-90% of the folks on Sunday morning by first name.  Sometimes I feel like I am approaching the limits of my memory chips -- or just getting old.  One great virtue of the small congregation is knowing and being known.

Having grown up in a small parish and having served in a small parish for my first 13 years as a Pastor, another benefit of smallness is ownership.  A small congregation does not depend upon paid staff like larger parishes do.  They know that if you are going to have a nursery, you will need to staff it or if the stall ran out of toilet paper you better get a new one or if you spilled coffee on the floor you will need to clean it up.  Larger congregations make it easy to think that these chores belong to "somebody else."

It is a healthy thing to be fully invested in the church and it is not so healthy to be detached from it -- as if you belonged but only to receive and not to give of yourself.  Small congregations generally count on and encourage this kind of ownership.  In exchange for your sense of responsibility, you belong.  If you belong, it comes with certain responsibilities.  Larger congregations tend to struggle to instill this kind of ownership and responsibility over the parish, its facilities and its mission.

Some are quick to write the obituary for the small parish.  Not me.  I think there is a lot of life there and a lot of lessons to be learned by those of us in larger congregations (with over 200-250 in attendance).  So, if you are in a small parish and often feel like you are never big enough or good enough, let me encourage you.  Do the best you can and let the Lord deal with the results of your witness and works of mercy.  Which is the way it should be anyway!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Are we uncomfortable with our own skin?

Some have contacted me privately and others have also suggested that I was more than insensitive in my post on the WELS answer to a question about crossing oneself.  If I offended, I certainly do apologize.  Let me explain.  An answer in an official church periodical is held to a higher standard than an off the cuff answer to a quick question as people walk out of church on Sunday morning or even a parish newsletter.  Second, if we are uncomfortable in our own Lutheran skin, how can we communicate effectively or winsomely who we are to the world?  Third, making the sign of the cross is not some strange practice of the weird but the very suggestion of Luther in the Catechism.  For this point to be lost in a concern for sensitivity to what others think is the wrong kind of fear.  Of course anything and everything can be abused or become mere thoughtless words or gesture but this can hardly be justification for the heavy words of caution addressed here.

For me the issue is much larger than making the sign of the cross.  It is a question of how comfortable we are in the Lutheran skin of the Confessions, the Catechism, and our liturgical tradition... the less comfortable we are in this skin, the less Lutheran we are... and the world needs Lutherans who find their confessional and liturgical identity uncomfortable about as much as it needs another religion.  Either we are who we are or we are not.

What I look for from official channels is the courage to confess and the boldness to be the Lutherans we claim to be in our Confessions and in our consistent liturgical tradition and piety.  Anything less and we are afraid of our own shadows.  I did not write to offend but to stir up the discussion among all those who would wear the name Lutheran.  Who are we?  The people we confess we are or the people afraid of what others might think if we were true to our Confessions?  Maybe some of you did not think there was this much at stake and maybe I may have overreacted but every time I find Lutherans apologetic about who we are, I am offended.

Another shocking and senseless tragedy...

Keep in your prayers the folks of Chardon, Ohio, and the students whose lives were captive to their worst fears in the shooting today...

How often we have sung these words to God of Grace and God of Glory only to think them merely a metaphor?  How easy it is for us to become accustomed to the things that should shock us?  There is no where else to go but into the arms of Jesus for consolation, comfort, and peace.  Lord, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Cure Thy children’s warring madness,
Bend our pride to Thy control.
Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.

Save us from weak resignation,
To the evils we deplore.
Let the search for Thy salvation,
Be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Serving Thee Whom we adore,
Serving Thee Whom we adore.

A blessing for Synod and a loss for St. Paul's Hamel...

Good Pastor William Weedon announced on Sunday he believed the Lord had called him to be Chaplain at the International Center and Worship Director for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. 

While I am thrilled to have Pr Weedon as the "lead" Pastor of our church directing, resourcing, and supporting the best of evangelical and catholic worship practice, consistent with our Confessions, I cannot help but feel for the good folks at St. Paul's who will so sorely miss their Pastor of more than 20 years.  May the Lord bless them during the time of their consideration and supply them with someone worthy of the Office of the Ministry, as Pr. Weedon has been so faithful to the Lord and to the people there.  

And pray for them all.... Good Pastor Weedon and the good folk at St. Paul's...

Remember Neuhaus' Law?

Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.... the prophetic words of +Richard John Neuhaus...  In this case the venue is Sweden.  The Mission Province is a conservative movement attempting to provide a balance against the pervasive secularism that is both inside and outside the Swedish Church (Lutheran at least in name).

Strange thing, though, is that at the same time a female priestess was not reprimanded for declaring in the Church of Sweden's official newspaper that the fall was not a fall, sin has not brought the curse of death upon the world, there is no need of any atonement talk or a Savior, for that matter, and, the whole idea of sacrifice is repugnant to the modern mind...

Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed....

Read it and weep....(in Swedish, a pdf of the decree)
Read it and weep... (in Swedish the column of the unbelieving priestess)

Church of Sweden threatens to defrock pastors who cooperate with the Mission Province
On February 20, the Consistory (domkapitlet) of the Church of Sweden's Gothenburg Diocese issued a decree warning "all pastors in Gothenburg Diocese" against conducting services or administering other "ecclesiastical acts" (e.g. weddings, funerals, baptisms) in conjunction with Mission Province congregations or koinonias (worshiping fellowships: koinonias are typically composed of persons who are still members of a CoS congregation, but who seek more Confessional worship and teaching).
The Consistory declares that such cooperation would constitute a breach of ordination vows that may be judged so serious as to require that the pastor (or deacon) be "defrocked" (authorization to act as a pastor in CoS be revoked).  The Mission Province is specifically singled out by name, and is the only church body targeted.

 On the other hand, the Consistory specifically states that its pastors are authorized to conduct services or ecclesiastical acts in conjunction with member churches of the Lutheran World Federation, the Methodist Church in Sweden, member churches of the Porvoo Communion, and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).

 In June 2011, on the other hand, the Consistory decided not to defrock Ulla Karlsson, a female pastor who had published a column in the Church of Sweden newspaper during Lent.  The column directly attacked basic Christian doctrine, declaring inter alia, There is no fallen creation and therefore the whole doctrine of the atonement is irrational! Throw out all the talk about sin, guilt, shame, blood, slaughtered lambs and other horrors! It has no place in modern times, among enlightened people!
The Consistory placed this pastor on probation, but did not find her to have committed a serious "breach of ordination vows" to be , or to be "in conflict with the Church of Sweden's faith, confession and doctrine."  She was not defrocked.  Participaing in a Mission Province koinonia service, however, is now declared such a serious breach that it is grounds for being defrocked.

Training the Evil Tongue....

לשון הרע;  lashon hara....  It is the Jewish concept and Hebrew word for gossip (more literal "bad-mouthing").  The heart may be the source of evil but it does not keep that evil contained.  There is a direct line between the evil desires of the heart and the lips that are its mouthpiece.  There is not much to keep the evil in the heart from becoming the evil spoken out loud.

We live in an age in which much speech is malicious, evil, and designed to harm or wound.  It is not merely a matter if giving the evil in the heart a mechanism to go public.  Rather, it is that we are emboldened by the ability of media available to us to hurt and defame and all the while enjoy relative impunity by remaining anonymous.

I admit to having chosen anonymity when commenting on occasion but my Google Identity makes it more difficult to post quickly and leave while making sure I have covered my tracks.  I comment less overall but comment more with my name attached.  There are not a few who complain that anonymous commentary is allowed on this blog.  So far I am not inclined to change this but could if bad behaviors warranted such a change.

Leviticus 19 warns of the dangers of spreading slander.  Psalm 34 urges us to keep our tongues from evil.  James 3 laments how the same tongue can issue forth praise to God on Sunday morning and then become a tool of the devil by cursing those in the likeness of God.  James 1 says a religion which cannot bridle the tongue is an utterly worthless faith.  I have no shortage of proof texts to bolster my point.

My point is this.  In public conversation, in private whisper, on the cell phone or in email, in blog or in print, and wherever we find ourselves, we would do well to consider what we say and why we say it.  There is sometimes a very narrow line between words that inform and words than inflame, words that challenge wrong and words that merely lay blame or explode in harm out of frustration and bitterness.

We in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod are known more for our unofficial publications than for our official ones and this is not because of their erudition and eloquence.  It is not my intention to add to this or exploit this perception.  I have been victim of such evil words in the past and I have been the source of them more than I want to admit.  Perhaps Lent is a good time to practice a little training in righteousness for the heart that informs the tongue and the tongue that publishes the whims of the heart.  I have greatly appreciated the Lenten greeting of President Harrison and its attention to the slander or simple gossip and its effect upon the clergy.  We all know that it is a two way street in parish and in Synod.  So I hope that when we speak of even unpleasant or distasteful things within the congregation or about the laborers in the Kingdom or on blogs such as these, we will (I said we to include myself) work to make sure that the intention is edification and not demolition.

Enough said...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hey... I know who they are!

Click on this link to hear a great story on Concordia Publishing House....  It is a great story of a great resource to our Church....  Deo Gratias!

Prescient words. . .

Though I am generally not much of a fan of Paul IV, he seemed to get it right in Humanae Vitae and, in particular, this paragraph:

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power [regarding artificial methods of birth control] passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.

Die Harder

David Mach's coat hanger crucifixion Die Harder has been installed in Southwark Cathedral. This is the first time that the work has been seen in London. The artist used coat hangers to create the image of Christ on the cross and it emphasizes the pain and suffering Christ endured.  Its title is just as shocking.  Die Harder.

You can read about it here....

It is shocking but perhaps the surprise of it all is that the cross no longer shocks and the suffering endured by our Lord to redeem a lost and fallen creation has been transformed into something less brutal and scandalous than it was...  When we attempt to veil the brutality of the cross, we end up only cheapening the cost our Lord actually paid there to save us...  I do not like this image but perhaps the stark nature of its portrayal of suffering is a necessary thing in this day when an empty cross is more common than a crucifix (especially among Lutherans).

Much ado over nothing... or NOT

Once again a parishioner has related to me a war story over the terrible abuse of that which remains of the elements in the Lord's Supper.  In this case, the individual cups (the only means of distribution of the Lord's blood) and the hosts that remained were summarily tossed in the garbage.  I am sure that we have heard them all.  In my seminary days, a faculty member admitted to putting it all in the toilet and disposing of it with a flush!

Though we also use individual cups (the parish did not use the common cup regularly prior to my coming here), it is our practice that all the remains of the cups not used be poured back into the cruet at the altar at the end of the distribution.  All the cups are then rinsed with the water from that rinsing and the remains of those cups then returned to the earth via the sacrarium (or piscina).  This is to be done a second time as well so that nothing that might be treated as common or ordinary.

Our practices are often the Achilles' heel of our Confessional integrity and nothing is more prone to cast doubt on our sincerity in confessing the Real Presence than what we do with what remains of the Supper.  The rubrics of the LSB Altar Book direct that the remains be brought to order and covered with a veil at that altar (at least during the service).  Absent the LSB Desk Edition with its expanded rubrics, the next best thing is to review the directions in The Altar Guild Manual: Lutheran Service Book Edition  published by CPH and bearing the imprimatur of the Commission on Worship.  Therefore, its directions assume rubrical authority within our church body.

If any of the Lord's body and blood remain, they can be disposed of in a number of ways. The best way is to consume the remaining elements, since the Lord said, "Take and eat...Take and drink," and did not provide for anything that was left over. There is historic precedent *for reserving* the remaining elements against the next Communion. The hosts can be stored in a pyx or ciborium (apart from unconsecrated hosts), the blood of the Lord in a suitable cruet or flagon (apart from unconsecrated wine). What remains in the chalice, however, should either be consumed or poured into the piscina or onto the ground, since there may be crumbs or other foreign matter in it. *The reserved elements* may then be kept in the sacristy or placed on the altar or credence and covered with a white veil. It is un-Lutheran and irreverent to place unused elements in the trash or to pour the remainder of what is in the chalice or flagon into the common drain. - p. 89

So the real option is consumption -- consume remaining elements immediately OR consume them later (having put the consecrated hosts into the proper receptacle --not mixing them with unconsecrated hosts; put consecrated wine from flagon or cruet --or remaining unused individual glasses -- into the proper receptacle --not mixing it with unconsecrated wine.  Pouring the remaining wine from chalice into the piscina or onto the ground is a secondary option with consumption now or later definitely the preference for good Lutheran practice.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Forgotten Luther, Perhaps???

A question to the Wisconsin Synod Forward in Christ magazine wondered why Lutherans do not generally cross themselves (a pretty good question, actually) and the answer was, well, less than salutary.  In addition to resisting the questioner, the answer pointed out that this practice is so fraught with problems that it is not good.

Crossing oneself brings with it potential problems too. It may promote superstition or become a thoughtless gesture.  Yes, you heard it from the WELS... crossing yourself can lead you to become a Wiccan!  Run, run, and run even faster from this terrible practice lest you do not give in to superstition or become a thoughtless Christian!

The only problem with this statement is that Luther says just the opposite in the Small Catechism when he bids us prepare for morning and evening prayers with the invocation and the sign of the cross -- suggesting that this is a most salutary remembrance of our baptism into that name.  Well, I guess there is reason for that.  Luther lived at a time when the confusion of this practice with Rome was not so pervasive as now... WHA????

But be cautious. Historical developments have shaped our culture, and we shouldn't recklessly ignore them. Over the centuries making the sign of the cross fell into disuse among the majority of Lutherans in western Europe and North America, while among Roman Catholics it thrived. We cannot list all factors, but we can acknowledge the reality. Furthermore, crossing oneself is more than simply a pervasive custom for Catholics. It is a sacrament that earns indulgences. Extra indulgences are earned if holy water is used. The simple gesture is linked to horrible doctrines like the treasury of the merits and Mariolatry.[emphasis theirs]

Apparently the answer man (probably not a woman in WELS) is smoking something funny.  Rome has seven sacraments but crossing oneself with or without holy water is not among them.  Crossing oneself is linked to the horrible doctrines like the treasury of merits and Mariolatry?!?!  It is???  I guess Luther was somehow so oblivious to the terrible ties that bind this practice to the devil's doctrines that he screwed up here.  Ya think???

Forest Bivens (now that is a name) has advice for those contemplating the practice of crossing yourself:  Let love be the main player in this drama. Don't be quick to find fault. Cherish your freedom and protect the freedom of others. Explain your choices and listen when others explain theirs. Keep Christ and the cause of truth at the heart of all talk about making the sign of the cross.Hmmmm  I would think that keeping Christ and the truth at the heart of it all is exactly what making the sign of the cross is all about...

But then what do I know....  I guess I would never make it pass doctrinal review in WELS!

God has given us enormously much money.

Those words are not mine but were penned by F. Sievers in 1893 and written during a time of economic doldrums in an article to encourage foreign missions.  Although there are many good things in the article that I could and probably should commend to you, I was most struck by this sentence.  God has given us enormously much money.

We may lack for many things in the Church today but money is certainly not one of them.  We live in a time of great wealth -- both in terms of income and assets.  We are rich beyond estimation.  The only problem is that our resolve is not nearly as great as our wealth.  We act more in fear than in confidence.  We act more to express our pleasure or our displeasure than sacrificially or faithfully as God has given us.

We clearly do not have a money problem -- we have a faith problem.  If our parishes are suffering or our Districts in financial need or our Synod lacking the resources to do God's bidding, it is most certainly NOT because we lack the resources.  We lack the will, the courage, and the desire.  We look for reasons to distrust and for justification for keeping it here at home rather than supporting the work of the kingdom elsewhere.  We foolishly believe that all structures in the Church are wasteful, that all church leaders are blood sucking bureaucrats, and that unless we control where it is spend, our money is ill spent.  I know I am treading on toes here but sometimes we must face the painful truth.

I am not here to suggest that Synod, district or parish have always acted wisely or that we could not do better.  I confess that none of us has not been as wise as serpents or as shrewd as worldly stewards in the choices we have made and the allocation of the resources entrusted to us.  What I challenge is the way we use this to justify withholding resources that belong to God and are given us to manage for His kingdom.

The old joke tells of the Pastor who preaches to his people the good news that we have all the money we need for the building program [or whatever] and that the only bad news is that it is still in their pockets.  The great need of the day is not money.  God has given us enormously much money.  The real problem that afflicts us today is trust, confidence, and faith.  We do not trust God nor do we trust one another.  We do not have confidence that we can live without the things we call our own and we do not have confidence in the structures of the church.  We do not have faith that God will supply all our needs or that others may know more or make at least as faithful choices as we would make in their positions of authority.  We don't give till it hurts; it hurts us too much to give.  I confess this for me first.  If anyone wants to join me in this mea culpa, I will not stop you.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Hospital Chapels, Meditation Rooms, and Junky Waiting Areas...

I for one decry the remodeling of hospital chapels into meditation rooms devoid of religious symbolism and unsuitable for prayer.  Most have become glorified waiting areas complete with empty coffee cups and magazines.  It would seem to me that a room like the one on the right is welcome to no faith and does not provide the faithful of any religion anything more than semi-private space.  Hospitals are foolish to jettison perfectly good chapels designed for prayer in order to offer semi-well appointed waiting areas.

In the local hospital we have beautiful stained glass (without any identifiable religious imagery) but the arrangement of the chairs makes the glass seem like artwork on the walls in a slightly more private and somewhat cleaner waiting area.  I long for the days when at least a few kneelers and pews made it seem like this really was a chapel instead of "meditation room."  Given the seriousness of the illnesses and life threatening situations families must deal with, it seems completely unfair and insensitive to offer them a waiting room instead of a real chapel.  Note:  I am not expecting nor asking for a crucifix but neither am I suggesting that the room must be empty of symbolism and devoid of all religious ambiance in order to serve all faiths.  BTW this should not apply to hospitals run by religious groups.  I have far higher expectations there!

Mouse Dirt in the Pepper...

While reading through volume 53 of Luther's Works, I came across this typical and earthy saying:  In a word, there must be mouse dirt with the pepper.  What was true in Luther's day is just as true today.  The more valuable the commodity, the greater the temptation to dilute the precious with the common.  Growing up on the Nebraska prairie it was well known that real dirt, with mouse and rat dirt, was always included with the precious grain harvested from the field and stored in bins.  So it is no shock then that there is an abundance of unworthy liturgy and song in Lutheran congregations on Sunday morning.  With the precious, you will find the common.  But how shall we handle this?

When impurities threatened the value of the grain for export, the government applied limits to the extraneous material that was allowed with the precious grain in an attempt to regulate the quality of the commodity.  I do not mean to upset your stomach but the same legalities allow a certain level of impurity in just about every food commodity and manufactured food products (example hot dogs).  So do we stop eating everything in order to avoid eating "dirt?"  Or do we send out legions of inspectors to make sure the laws are followed and the product is pure?  Or do we inform the consumer so that the consumer may exercise informed judgment in the marketplace?

When it comes to the liturgy and church music, it is very tempting to use the law to prevent unworthy liturgy and song on Sunday morning.  Such seems at odds, however, with our Lutheran predisposition toward grace.  We cannot avoid or ignore the issue anymore than we can stop eating food because some of it may not be "pure."  We certainly have neither the funds nor the tolerance for inspectors to evaluate Sunday morning's offering of liturgy and song and report the most egregious examples of "mouse dirt" found there.  So, it seems we are left with the only real option of catechesis.  We need to teach our people what to look for and why.

What we do not Sunday morning is not something indifferent but gravely important both to our identity as Lutheran Christians and to the witness of our confession before the world.  Yet even among liturgical types, the people tend to frame much of the discussion in the rather trivial terms of personal taste or culture (high or low).  Increasingly we are adding another criteria to the discussion -- success.  Does it work to pack the pews?  In other words, if it works, can it be all that bad?

The big three reformers certainly saw this issue differently.  Calvin and Zwingli were suspicious of the hymnic form in worship and rejected its use largely because of the emotional character of the music.  It is often shocking to their theological heirs today who use music precisely for its emotional impact!  Their opposition did not last, however, and soon their services were filled with the sound of psalm singing.  Apparently if what you sang was word for word from Scripture, the music was okay.  That did not count for the Mass -- even though the ordinary was and is nearly all directly from Scripture.

Not so for Luther.  He had no suspicion of music and the Lutheran Reformation was as much sung as it was preached and taught.  In his view, music went hand in hand with his high view of the Word of God and his conservative style embraced all but the most objectionable parts of the familiar Mass.  For Luther, musics gift and the liturgy's content existed both for the sake of the Word and Sacraments -- the means of grace.  God speaks and we listen.  By the Spirit's grace, we sing and speak back to Him what He has said to us.  So the content of worship is framed and the witness of the Church is shaped toward music and liturgy that is the hand maiden of the Word of God.

Liturgy and music are shaped not by a strictly aesthetic criteria but by their faithfulness to that Divine and living Word and the Sacraments as Christ instituted them.  In this way, Lutherans preserved the connection between worship and doctrine.  The best doxology is good theology and good theology is sung!

Music is not neutral nor are the liturgical forms and ceremonial content of the service without value and meaning.  Contrary to the anecdotal evidence, Luther did NOT borrow the music of the brau haus for his hymns.  He is also falsely credited with the oft repeated lament Why should the devil have all the good music? (An expression formed by William Booth of Salvation Army fame.)  While Luther had the highest esteem for music, performance was was secondary to participation.  The music of the service, like the liturgy itself, was participatory in nature and the highest forms of music were, for Luther, hymn, song, and chant.

Why do our people not know or understand the high value placed upon both content of the church's music and the unity of the text and melody?  Why is it that liturgy is not understood first and foremost to be an expression of faith or confession?  Is it because they are unable to fathom this or because we have failed to teach them well?  Clearly, they need to be able to distinguish mouse dirt from pepper.  They must know the difference between hymns the speak the Gospel and liturgy that marks us as members of the church catholic and confessions of what we believe, confess and teach.  If we are not of a mind to impose order on the liturgical and musical chaos of Lutheran worship today, then the least we can do is teach the folks in the pew to discern the consequences of the choices before them and give them the tools to demand the good and solid food of faithful liturgy and song on Sunday morning.

I am not of the opinion that our people want watered down liturgy and shallow, trite songs on Sunday morning.  I believe that they instinctively know that something is wrong even if they are drawn by personal taste to that which is not pure and faithful.  But we have taught them that these things are indifferent things, that what matters is what people like, and not to worry about them.  It is our failure and not theirs that they presume only the content of the sermon counts or that all things are equal -- from the "majestic praise" offered at 7 am to the "blended beauty" of 9 am to the "cutting edge" of 11 am.

The farmer knows that if the grain is of lesser quality, it will bring a lesser price.  He learns quickly that a purer product can weigh less and be more valuable.  What we have to teach our people is to seek what is good and pure because this is the Word that accomplishes our Lord's purpose and delivers on His promise.  Anything less may feel good, sound good, and appeal to us but it cannot bestow upon us what we need most of all.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Something about Lent...

If you are not sure you know enough and want to know a bit more, I heartily recommend this old Touchstone article on the Making of Lent by William J. Tighe... it is not long but worth the read.  You can find it here....

Life in the dirt....

Sermon for Ash Wednesday, preached on Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2012

    What did you think the first time you say ashes?  Maybe you thought the person hurt, or perhaps dirty.  And when you discovered that they were marked by ashes on purpose, what did you think?  Why would you mess up a perfectly good face with ashes?  Especially since these ashes admit the bruise of our mortality (sin) and publicly acknowledge that we are prisoners of this mortality (death)?  There is only one answer.  Truth.  Sin is a dirty business.  It is a filthy thing.  It stains inside and out.  From the heart proceeds all wickedness and sin.
    We were not born a noble people.  Since Adam and Eve, we were born with this mark of sin.  We came from dirt and sin made sure we would never forget it.  "From dust you came," says the Pastor as he marks a rough cross upon our foreheads.  No, we are not noble by birth but common, dirty and ordinary because of sin.  Even if we never contributed one bit to that inherited sin, there is more than enough guilt in us to stain more than our foreheads.  Sin is a dirty business and we are up to our eyeballs in its dirt.  But we have added to what Adam and Eve bequeathed to us.  We have added a mountain of sins of thought, word, and deed, of evil things done and good things left undone.  We are dirt made even dirtier.  Our hearts send forth desire into the mind, to give it voice in the words off our lips, and to give it form in the deeds borne of our fallen natures.  As if that were not enough, we don't even know where or how to begin to clean up our terrible mess.  Any ordinary person knows if you cannot clean the mess up, the best you  can do is to try and hide it where not so many see it.
    If you think we wear ashes as some mark of holiness, you are sorely mistaken. They admit no holiness – only sin.  They say on the outside the deep dark secret inside.  They point not to righteousness but guilt. They tell others what God already knows – the deep, dark secret of our hearts.  We came from dirt.  We are dirt.  And we are the dirtiest dirt there can be.
    "And to dust we shall return..."  As if it were not enough to admit where we came from and who we are, we have a future that ends in dirt.  We were dust into which God breathed the breath of life, we renounced that life and ended up the living death waiting for dirt to reclaim us as its own.
    Like Job sitting on the ashes of his repentance, we call to God knowing full well that our future lies in the dirt – unless and until God intervenes.  Like David grieving the death he caused, we call to God knowing that though we have no right to speak, His is the only source of mercy and forgiveness to give hope to our lost condition  Job says: "I heard of you in the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."
    But do not get me wrong.  The ashes on our foreheads are not expressions of despair.  We come not to celebrate our misery but to rejoice in the God who has come to our aid.  The ashes are in the shape of a cross.  In other words, even dirt is not beyond God's reach. Even ashes are not beyond His grasp or power.  The Spirit has called to us that we may call to God today in repentance and ask Him to give what He Himself has promised to us – forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Today we pray for Him to take our filthy hearts not as something precious and good, but to take what is filthy with sin and marked for death and make them new.  We ask Him to  wash us clean inside as well as outside, to make new what is old and dirty, and to give life to what death has claimed.  We do so not with uncertain voices but because of the cross and God’s eternal promise sealed in the blood of Christ which cleanses us from all sin.
    Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. . .   God already knows who we are and what we have thought, said and done. These ashes tell Him that we know, too.  We know that we are dust, that we are dirt, and that our hope rests not in us but in the wideness of His mercy and the redeeming grasp of His grace.
    I'm telling you that it would be better if we forgot about Christmas entirely and kept remembering Ash Wednesday all our lives.  For in the soil of all our failures, regret, contrition, and repentance, Christ has planted His cross and built us up in hope.  Christ comes only to the dirty not for the clean, only for the sick with death and not the healthy, only for the sinner and not for the righteous.  He is born for us helpless sinners we are that the helpless might not also be hopeless.
    Our cowardly hearts don't want to be anywhere near these ashes.  But the Spirit give us the courage to admit our sin, to confess our death, and the faith to lay claim to the redemption which is ours in Christ.  Jesus says, "Come, you sinners, and I will make you clean, whole, and righteous."   In faith, Jesus, we come. Rejoicing, we come.  Calling upon Your own promise, we come.  Amen.

When abnormal becomes the norm....

It used to be called illegitimacy. Now it is the new normal. After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage.

With those words the NY TIMES began an article on the stunning statistic that more than half of all births to women under the age of 30 are to unmarried women!  That ought to make you sit up and take notice.  If you add in women of all ages having a child, the statistic changes to 59% but the point here is clearly the wave of the future.

Among mothers of all ages, a majority — 59 percent in 2009 — are married when they have children. But the surge of births outside marriage among younger women — nearly two-thirds of children in the United States are born to mothers under 30 — is both a symbol of the transforming family and a hint of coming generational changeRead it all here. . .

Marriage has become more than merely optional -- it has become a luxury.  It is what may still be desired but it has become something no longer necessary or even ordinary for children born to women 30 and under.  You can blame so many reasons (breakdown of marriage overall, the numbers of young people who come from single parent homes, the availability of so many reproductive options, the perpetual adolescence of males particularly in that age group, etc.).  These folks like the idea of marriage but not so much its reality.  It has become an elusive ideal for people who believe that the ideal may not be worth the wait.  They are content to have boyfriends instead of husbands, fathers of their children instead of mates, and sperm donors instead of dads.

Racial, economic, and educational differences are hidden in the statistics:  73 percent of black children are born outside marriage, compared with 53 percent of Latinos and 29 percent of whites. About 92 percent of college-educated women are married when they give birth, compared with 62 percent of women with some post-secondary schooling and 43 percent of women with a high school diploma or less, according to Child Trends.

Interestingly, those who withdraw from marriage, seem to expect more from it: emotional fulfillment as opposed merely to practical support.  No one disputes that a household with a father and a mother resident together and sharing in the parental duties as well as loving and caring for each other is also better for both the parents and the children.  Single parenting is still a lonely path and one filled with great intentions and failed realities.  But it is fast becoming the norm and, therefore, the expectation of future generations, for women 30 and under.

It has radical consequences for the Church and the faith.  One can only begin to see how this impacts upon the familiar programs of Sunday school and catechism but it certainly also will profoundly affect the participation and role in the Sunday services.  We have much before us to ponder and we had better not waste any time reacting to these fundamental changes in our society!  We have to do more than simply say "this is terrible...."

Such a circumstance has radical consequences for the Church and the faith.  It moves from the role of the Church and the faith in the lives of the

Married Medievalists Try to Persuade Catholic Church to Make Beautiful Music

Nearly all would agree that an unintended legacy of Vatican II was the loss of a whole history of church music.  The “spirit of Vatican II” caused a significant decline, or even abandonment, of a liturgical music rich in theological content and beauty -- one conversant with the past as well as consonant with the present. The mediocre liturgical music which has become the norm in Roman Catholic parishes since Vatican II, whether poor in content or execution, is a persistent and significant problem.  Two Notre Dame profs have focused their attention on this need.
Roman Catholics know the modern music of Haugen and Haas but do not know the music of Palestrina or Josquin des Prez.  They have memorized the words to Eagle's Wings but do not recognize Ave Verum.  They dance to "I Am the Lord of the Dance" but stare blankly at the sound of Gregorian chant.  Check out the hymnals and missalettes of the last generation or two and you will find that much if not most of the music is twentieth century in origin.

But Roman Catholics are not the only ones.  Check out the ELCA's Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal published in 2006 and you will look in vain for many of the great Lutheran chorales or the familiar strains of Scandinavian hymnody.  In place of these, you find a very large number of twentieth century music (and not a little Haugen and Haas).  Fortunately the Lutheran Service Book has even increased the number of Lutheran chorales and great hymns from our past -- but not without complaint among some.

What was thought to be a relatively benign introduction of more "up beat" sounds and modern lyrics has proven to be a radical disconnect with a whole tradition.  One wag (HT to Touchstone) has taken the Dies Irae and adapted it to lament the state of church music in Roman Catholic Churches today.  BTW the original was in TLH, adapted translation of Irons, number 607.