Friday, November 30, 2012

Some might say that were not REAL women...

From the news:

Almost half of the lay people who voted against legislation to allow female bishops in the Church of England were women, according to figures released on Monday, as senior members of the church were urged to speed up reform or risk consigning it to years of ignominy and irrelevance.

Voting records released by Church House showed 33 of the 74 General Synod lay members who last week caused the long-awaited measure to fail were women and most of them are affiliated to the conservative evangelical group Reform or the traditional Anglo-Catholic movement Forward in Faith.

Far from the emotional but untrue idea of men stealing away the rights of women, the last vote in the Church of England was swung largely on the hands of women... who said "no".  We will have to wait and see how this gets spun....

A life extended or made new?

It seems that our preoccupation with health and medicine is consistent with our preoccupation with the extension of mortal life.  We want a healthy life, a happy life, and, if the first two apply, a long life.  Listen to the commercials.  We want a face lift.  We want to get rid of all the wrinkles and we want to eradicate the effects of aging.  We do not yearn for new life but for the same old life -- minus our complaints, of course.

Russell Moore touches on this point.  If it were not that you were forever captive to the cold, perhaps a vampire's life would not be so bad.  If it did not encapsulate death for eternity, perhaps a zombie's life might not be so bad.  The horror of such beings is that death is not freedom but the prolonging of the weakness, the making of the mortal immortal.  Born of a slave culture in which if even death cannot free you, you can never be free, we have beings enslaved to their slavery forever.

Part of the Christian witness is to expose the great lie that extending life is an acceptable substitute for life made new (everlasting life).  Sadly, Christians have trivialized the promise of the Gospel and tended to shape the immortal with the characteristics of the mortal -- to the point where it seems all that is different is the length of it all.  We have taken the promise of life made new and settled instead for an old life made bearable and an old life extended. 

The biblical story of the Fall of humanity is one of a humanity that comes under the sway of death by obeying the appetite. God places a fiery sword around the Garden of Eden, Genesis tells us, so that the primeval humans wouldn’t eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. Why? It’s because God didn’t want to consign humanity to a never-ending existence of this kind of walking death. He sentences us to the curse of death so that, ultimately, we can be redeemed.

The gospel tells us that, apart from Christ, we were walking in the flesh, that is slavishly obeying our biological impulses and appetites without the direction of the Spirit. As such, we were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). But we weren’t inert. We instead, though dead, “walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). We were walking dead slaves.

And, in our death, our appetites weren’t silenced but instead drove us along. This walking death, the Apostle Paul writes, was driven along as we “carried out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph. 2:3).

Moore has it exactly right.  To extend this mortal life, even one cleansed of most of its troubles, is to become the walking dead for eternity.  We do not need this.  We do not really want this.  But we have come to settle for this instead of exploring more fully the promise of the Gospel which makes all things new -- even people.

Moore again:
The gospel doesn’t just extend our lives forever into eternity. That’s what we, left to ourselves, think we want. The rich young ruler asks Jesus how he can inherit eternal life, but Jesus points out that he wants to eternalize his present state rather than to be hidden in the life of Jesus himself. That’s a zombie walk, and Jesus loves us too much for that.

Jesus offers instead life, and that abundantly, as we eat of his flesh, drink of his blood, share in his triumph over the accusing slavemaster.

Our devotion to ecology, our blush at the color green, our youth culture, and our quest for the right drug to squeeze a few more years from these mortal bodies -- they all distract us from the reality of our prison and the promise of God which is better than today minus its down side.  It is a sign of our fallen natures that we scoff at the promise of life made new and eternal while bowing at the altar of a today extended to eternity.  How can a world hope for more when even Christians seem willing to settle for that which is so much less?

Don't believe me?  Just listen to a hundred or so sermons trying to decipher the idea of the abundant life Jesus promises to us?  Then try to find a sermon written on Paul's promise of that which is beyond imagination -- which, as Scripture says, eye cannot see, heart cannot desire, and mind cannot conceive.  We have traded in the treasure of an eternal lifetime (now there's an oxymoron -- eternal lifetime) for the cheap imitation of a life well lived, a well lived life a little longer, and an eternity which is basically an extension of the present minus some of the bad stuff.  It is no wonder that such a Gospel does not sell to a world living in the shadow of death.  It is a wonder that so many folks come to church every week to hear about a life which is such a shallow imitation of the promised one.

We need to preach more powerfully and profoundly the promise of what is to come so that we will be less content to settle for a little bit more of what we already have.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Prayer Warriors. . .

One of the terms I have always been uneasy about is the term "prayer warrior."  It is a common term and you find it used by LCMSers as well as those all over the evangelical map.  I understand the term and its origins.  I think the term itself is less obnoxious than the ideas associated with it.  But I wonder if it is high time to drop such usage because of the flawed ideas that have accompanied and been the fruit of this term.

A prayer warrior refers to anyone who prayers for others but it is generally used in the context of those who see themselves in some form of spiritual warfare against satanic and demonic forces as well as for the sake of the one in whose name the petitions are sent forth to heaven. Prayer warriors ray for individuals, for causes, for needs of nations or regions, etc...  The image that always comes to my mind is Pat Roberson attempting to pray away a hurricane that threatened CBN.

The thing that bothers me most is that we have institutionalized the idea that praying for someone or something necessarily means praying against others and their cause.  This may be true but the adversarial relationship does not quite fit the nature of prayer and the idea of intercession.  The nature of prayer requires a graciousness that is too often lacking in our prayers.  When we pray primarily out of fear or resentment or bitterness against those who disagree with us or whom we believe might hurt us (or have hurt us), we miss what it means to pray.  When we pray for our enemies we cannot be content to pray that they suffer but learn to pray that their hearts may be converted and that God may intervene to transform them from enemies into brothers and sisters in Christ.  When we pray for the erring it is not enough to pray that they are confounded by their error but that the Lord would show them their error and bring them to a knowledge of the truth.  When we pray for those who suffer and against those who cause this suffering, we cannot afford to turn prayer into a choice between opposing sides but to pray for God's will to be done for the sake of all sides to whatever issue or conflict there is.

Unfortunately, our listening to the evangelicals and Protestants has taught us more about prayer than our rich treasure of the great collects of the Church.  So we end up sounding more like them than we like, well, us.  Consider here the great litanies and the bidding prayers of old.  Pray them to learn from them and you find in them a humble spirit and a gracious character that reflects God's gracious and merciful nature.  They are not only words to pray but prayers that teach us to pray.

It is the mark of Christian prayer that we exhibit the same merciful and gracious nature toward our enemies and those who oppress us as God has shown to us -- who were His enemies and still He loved us.  We do not need to import into prayer the same militant attitudes that divide us and set us at odds in the political sphere.  God is not some neutral party who must be swayed to our point of view like the independent voter.  We pray to address the Lord with all that is in our heart and yet with confidence "Thy will be done..."  We believe in this will.  We know it to be good and gracious through Jesus Christ.  We live not in fear of God's will nor of those opposed to it for His will shall prevail.  Just as death could not hold Jesus, neither can death and the enemies of Christ's life steal from His people what Christ in His mercy has bestowed upon them (us).

I believe that this is part of what it means to pray the promises of God.  To pray the promises of God is to pray from the vantage point of faith -- of confidence in His good and gracious will.  To pray the promises of God is to pray from the perspective of what we know instead of what we do not know.  To pray the promises of God is to pray not to change the mind of God but to pray God's mind upon all that troubles and afflicts us as individuals, as a people, and as a world in need of His mercy and grace.

Many years ago a person with whom I had some disagreements was elected to a congregational office that required us to work together.  I was fearful of what this might mean for us both.  An elderly Pastor counseled me to pray for him but not to pray that he become easier to deal with or come around to my point of view but to pray for him simply by naming him as a child of God before His Lord and that God's will be done in him and through him.  I thought it was foolishness and was thinking I needed to pray that some travesty befall this guy so that he could not serve where he had been elected.  In the end, I reluctantly prayed as I had been taught.  It was pure freedom.  It was gift and blessing beyond comprehension.  Prayer became one of the means by which I learned that he was not my enemy and that I was not his, that we were both those whom Christ loved even to death.  I cannot say the guy changed but the fruit of the prayer was that I changed and we found the common ground to work together.  Many years later he became a friend in a way that I had never imagined.  I thought I knew prayer.  This older veteran of the cross taught me that prayer is not a weapon.  It is a gift.  I cannot judge the individual prayer warriors but I hope that they realize what I learned by this experience.  Prayer is not a weapon.  It is a gift.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Common Bond...

The Fall 2012 issue of the Thrivent magazine produced a nice puff piece on how wonderful folks think it will be when Thrivent Financial for Lutherans becomes Thrivent Financial for anybody with money.  It comes as no surprise to those reading here that I am not so encouraged by or supportive of the dilution of the Lutheran identity in this supposedly Lutheran fraternal.

A fraternal is required to have a common bond shared by its members.  Apparently Lutheran is too restrictive (now there is a laugh) and the goal is to broaden the bond and open the door to others.  Thrivent is called a "faith based organization" in the article.  That must be a definition from governmental entity since Thrivent is hardly faith based.  The only criterion for membership is being Lutheran and you get to decide what that means.  Since the whole idea of Thrivent is said to be helping people be wise with their money and generous with their lives, what could it hurt to include everyone in this?

I guess we have all forgotten how and why fraternals were formed.  People with a common identity and need came together to meet the need.  Now it seems that the idea of growing the amount of money Thrivent handles is the main idea.  Oh, yes, it is couched with the legitimacy of how much more money Thrivent will be able to put back into the community but with the weakened chapter system, the adoption of Choice dollars, and the corporate piece of the giving pie expanding, we will see the big institutions supported (name recognition and all) and the smaller charitable efforts in the local community suffer.  Do you remember which charity won the Thrivent million dollar lottery?  Oh, yes, St. Jude Children's Hospital -- not to disparage its work but does anything think it a real struggling charity with strong Lutheran ties?

I noticed that the article did not include one voice against the corporate goal of expanding the base so that anybody with money who is willing to call themselves Christian can participate.  But that is to be expected.  Thrivent is a democracy in which not all that many people vote.  I am not so naive to believe the change would or could be defeated.  We are too greedy as people and we buy too quickly into what we are told as long as we think we might be better off as a result (so much for the charitable component).

This post probably does not apply to most of my readers but  I am making my case here since it seems no one at Thrivent seems willing to debate the points I make.  I know they are listening but I am not sure they are hearing.  So before the next issue is in our hands, the mold will be cast.  Thrivent is for anybody with money.  Now that is a laudable goal!

There is something wrong when. . .

I clipped a sentence from a story about the Boston Archdiocese and the story of its rebirth from the ruin of the sexual abuse scandals.  The sentence is simple enough but its truth is profound.  There is something wrong church is no longer the first choice of the best and brightest...

Every now and then I get myself in trouble for agitating against the short cut paths to ordination created by my own church body and for sticking up for first career clergy as what should be the norm and second career the exception.  I will admit I sometimes sound resentful and curmudgeonly about the subtle shift in our Synod where the single, first career seminarian is the oddball in the sea of diverse people who are anything but young and single.  According to Synod's Reporter, 40 percent are over the age of 30, 47 percent are from an LCMS Concordia University, 60 percent are married, and the age range is from 21 to 69 years old with an average age just under 30.  I am happy for every one of them.  Don't take my comments in the wrong way.  But I still wonder why nearly half our guys studying for ordination are over 30 and coming to the Sem from other careers.  Why was this not their first choice?  If it was their first choice, why did it have to be deferred?

According to Synod's own figures, one fifth of our active Pastors are in MY age group -- 55-59!  The next biggest segment are those aged 50-54.  Combine the two and nearly 40% of our Pastors are age 50-59.  Now another shocking number.  The next biggest category are those 60-64.  If we add up those 50-64, the total is 54% of the entire ministerium of the LCMS.  Those under 40 constitute but 19% of the total active Pastors in our church body!

My point is this.  There is something wrong when the ministry is not the first choice of our best and brightest.  As I look back upon those who entered St. John's College in Winfield as pre-sems with me, I recall some of the brightest and most gifted young men I have ever known.  Certainly that was true at Concordia Senior College as well.  Those were troubled times for our Synod and still the classrooms were filled with bright, dedicated, and gifted young men seeking ordination.  My constant worry then was whether or not I was smart enough or gifted enough to serve the Lord in His Church -- especially when I compared myself to my peers!

What is wrong today?  Could it be that we are not paying enough to attract them?  Some of the cynics may think this but I don't.  Student debt and low entry salaries are real enough factors but they are not the primary ones, I believe.  Could it be that there are more options available today?  It is true enough that the career choices are exploding but it has been more than four years since hiring was up and people in college had a real expectation of a great job at a good salary at the end of that college career.  But I don't think this is the reason either.  Could it be our culture no longer values the religious vocation in the ways it once did?  Heck, I was inspired by Bing Crosby and those priest movies back then but neither the high esteem of religious vocations nor the lack thereof contributed much to my decision.  I don't think that this is a primary reason for the situation today.

I will be blunt.  I think that too many Pastors (sometimes me included) speak of the Ministry as if it were a burden we are not sure is worth the effort or the energy.  We talk about the church structure as if all the folks in St. Louis were idiots and all our elected leaders were clowns.  We talk about the work of the kingdom as if it were a losing battle to the forces of darkness and the weapons of the Gospel were useless against the enemy.  We discourage men from considering the pastoral vocation either by overt words or by the attitude we bring to what we do as Pastors.  We talk about the Synod as if the glory days were in our past and about the need to break up church into little bits of people who like each other and get along theologically and in terms of personality.

Now don't get me wrong -- I don't think we should gloss over the errors or minimize the problems before us.  But is it not important for us to exhibit the confidence in the Lord of the Church as much as we discuss the errors and debate the problems?  I was told once that in politics and religion, the conservatives tend to eat their young.  In other words, we sometimes place the bar so high that in order to be happy, hopeful and healthy we must be in heaven (or, perhaps, commiserating and complaining since we do seem to enjoy that).

If we are to prepare young men to take our places, if we are to equip the Church to do Christ's bidding, if we are to meet some of those problems with solutions, and if we to do the work of the Kingdom faithfully, we need to exhibit the hope we have in Christ to the world.  We need to be positively Lutheran and positive about the Lord's work.  You cannot simply be against things and, thankfully, our confessions are not simply bullet points of condemnations.  They speak positively of who we are, what we believe, what we confess, and what we teach. 

  • I spend a week at the Concordia Theological Seminary each year and am energized and encouraged by both the faculty and the students -- especially by the worship life of that community.  
  • I am constantly amazed at the quality and quantity of deeply profound, very accessible, and faithful books published by Concordia Publishing House each year.  
  • I have grown to know and to be encourage by more and more faithful men whose confident ministry of the Word and Sacraments provides a wonderful face to Lutheran identity -- especially some of those here in the South.  
  • I have become acquainted with overseas partners and other Lutherans interested in a partnership with our Synod and have found these earnest and solid Lutheran folks from a huge variety of cultures (I am happy to accent Siberia, the Baltic states, Africa, and Southeast Asia, here).
  • I have grown to know and am regularly impressed by the faithful leadership, theological integrity, and personal dedication of our Synodical leaders (both elected and appointed).
  • I listen to Issues, Etc. and Worldview Everlasting, and a host of other exceptional media.
  • I appreciate the good work of Higher Things and a ministry to youth that does not talk down to them or seek simply to entertain them as is the norm throughout the Christian world today.
  • I read regularly some of the theological journals that both impress and challenge me as a Lutheran thinker and Lutheran Pastor (Logia, Gottesdienst, For the Sake of the World among them).
For those who wonder if there will be places for these young men, let me give you one.  Our regional directors for international mission are desperately searching for faithful Lutheran men to serve throughout the world.  Interestingly, I recently was contacted by one of them (you see how in need they are when they seek out an old man with few gifts like me).  In a conversation I found out that our good confessional Pastors either decline to consider or refuse to even talk about these openings -- and some of these doors will close if we do not fill the openings soon!

Remember Dickens Tale of Two Cities?  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. 

Could that be us?  Do we speak this way? There is something wrong when the Church is no longer the vocational choice of the brightest and best. . . when we no longer inspire youth by our words and example. . . when we discourage the dreamers from joining the journey with old men. . .

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The religion incapable of delivering its promise...

George Weigel wrote in First Things of the inability of shallow, tribal, institutional-maintenance religion to meet the challenge before Christians, to sustain the life of Christians wearied by the changes and chances of this mortal life, and intimidated by the press of cultural religion and generic spirituality.  Only a robustly, unapologetically evangelical [Christianity], winsomely proposing and nobly living the truths about the human condition the Church teaches, will see us through….[read it here]

Though Weigel certainly directed his comments to Roman Catholics, his words are worth a wider reading.  Christianity in general, and my own Lutheranism in particular, is well in need of the same chastening comments.  It is not a matter of the institutional survival but the feeding, care, and nurturing of a people with the resources of the Word and Sacraments given by Christ to His Church.  It is not about merely keeping what we have but marshaling the resources God has given to His Church to fulfill His purpose in the world.  It is not about fixing the world's wrongs and leaving the world better than we found it but about shining with Christ's light into the encroaching darkness of a world in decay and on a path of destruction.

I have long said that ecumenism is best served by churches serious about the Scriptures and about maintaining and passing on the best of their confession and identity rather than watering down faith so that it is easier for anyone to accept but harder to recognize as the Church established by the blood of Christ.  I have long said that no one is best served by promoting a Christian lite version of their own denominational identity.  The world pays scant attention to the watered down Christian identities that offer nothing to those already within their pale much less something for those caught in sin and its death.  If Christianity is to continue, it will not be due to our accommodation to culture and its skewed values or our denial or redefinition of the Scriptural faith once handed down by the saints.

Liberal Christianity as promoted by the critics and scholars, evangelical Christianity and its repackaged health and wealth gospel, and cultural Christianity with its nod toward legacy while embracing a modern, entertainment appeal are utterly incapable of offering the sinner captive to death anything.  Distraction, maybe.  A feel good moment, maybe.  But we need an answer to death, a remedy for guilt, a means to holiness, and a medicine of immortality.  We need a robust and unapologetic Christianity.  It is and has always been my appeal to Lutherans and it is one I commend to others.

Seeking to know what Scripture teaches means confronting the evangelical and catholic tradition.  Seeking to confess what Scripture teaches means embracing that which is evangelical and catholic in the very best sense of both of those terms.  Seeking to witness to what Scripture teaches means listening to the fathers even as we speak in our own language the timeless and hopeful Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen.  Weigel is absolutely right.  Christians can afford no more cafeteria adherents who pick and choose from the buffet of truth and then go home stuffed full of themselves but empty of anything to offer their neighbors.  Now is not the time for those ashamed of Christian doctrine or embarrassed by Christian truth.

When he is right, he is right on...

"There is not an individual, however clownish he may be, who does not claim to be inspired by the Holy Ghost, and who does not put forth as prophecies his ravings and dreams.”  Martin Luther

You can blame Luther for many things but the splintering of Protestantism, the rise of the human mind and conscience as judge and definer of Scripture, and the individualistic perspective of truth, faith, and salvation were all there on the drawing board long before Luther raised his voice for reform and renewal.

Luther predicted this sad future and, although lamenting whatever role his reform might have had in it, clearly identified that this was not an outcome owned either by Luther or the Lutherans.  There are many who claim him and who claim to be heirs of his legacy whom Luther would certainly condemn and claim with Jesus, "I know you not."  I hope and pray that Lutherans are not among them but I would be hard pressed to say that Luther would not be at least as scandalized by much said and done by those who formally bear his name as those who claim kinship with him in spirit if not in name.

"I never approved of a schism, nor will I approve of it for all eternity. . . . for it is not by separating from the Church that we can make her better.” Martin Luther to Pope Leo X, January 6, 1519

Luther's voice is impassioned but not crazy.  He bequeathed to his heirs not some rash and reactionary faith but one solidly grounded in Scripture and the fathers of the Church.  Part of our Lutheran identity is to condemn the clowns and buffoons as well as proclaim that which is evangelical, catholic, and apostolic -- even when that lunatic fringe bears an official Lutheran imprimatur.   As much as we are called to address the loons outside Lutheranism, we must also confront and condemn the ones within.  We do so not as the superior to the inferior but as those whose orthodoxy is rooted and grounded in Scripture and the Fathers.  we speak not with the joyful glee of those who delight in the sinner getting what is deserved but as those who grieve disunity, heterodoxy, and apostasy.  We speak not with the quick wit of the pundit but with the patient word of the sage whose wisdom is Christ and whose love is also Christ's own.

One of the great errors of our age is that even when the answers are orthodox the perspective remains personal taste and individual judgement.  Luther's reformation was a churchly one.  As Lutherans we must act and speak as churchly people.  It has often been said that the problem with Lutherans is not that we have no pope but that we have too many.  The authority we refuse to vest with the Bishop of Rome becomes the vaunted clothing of every individual person (both Pastor and lay).  I know that I have certainly transgressed in this area and made public my arrogance on this blog.  It is not without my own regret and repentance.  We have not discarded one pope so that we might all be popes.  We are supposed to have cast off the mantle of one dictator so that the rightful voice of Scripture and the catholic tradition may hold us accountable.  Instead we have cast off every restraint and made ourselves subject to none.

The affection for democracy in church government and the convenient refuge of congregationalism have not brought out the best in us as some have thought.  Instead we vote upon matters only the Word of God should decide and we have made the congregation an individual fiefdom where we can do what we choose with impunity.  Lutheranism deserves better.  Luther deserves better from his heirs.

To be Lutheran is to be catholic, to be Biblical, to be evangelical (Gospel centered), and to be sacramental.  We cannot pick and choose from that list nor should we spend our time bickering over the order of those traits.  It is an all or nothing proposition.  We cannot afford to be sectarian in faith or practice.  It is this that makes the Lutheran light shine -- not blessed Martin the man but this central thrust:  Our Confessions speak with unanimity the faith of the Fathers and the truth of the Scriptures.  There is no Lutheranism apart from this and there are no kin of Luther outside of this.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thy Kingdom Come...

Sermon preached for Pentecost Last, also called Christ the King, Proper 29B, on Sunday, November 25, 2012.

    Day after day, week after week, year after year... alone and together we pray, "Thy kingdom come..."  But we are not sure we mean it. We do want the Kingdom to come, but not yet.  We have things to do, lives to live, places to go.  We want the Kingdom to come but we want it to come after we complete our own agenda for life.  It is as if we love our King but we don't want Him too near us.  Look around you.  In a rock concert or sports arena we pay big money to sit up front but in Church we hug the back seats.  We rush to the front of the line in our busy world but hide in the background when Christ asks "who will go and work for Me?"  We pray for God's Kingdom to come but we long even more for long and full lives, well lived, so that we can soak up as much of this world's pleasures before the day comes when it all comes to an end by death or Christ’s return.
    Dear friends.  The King is coming but the Kingdom is already here.  It matters not what we pray; we neither hasten nor delay Christ's return in glory.  If it does not make a difference for when the kingdom comes, it matters to us.  Luther said "God's kingdom comes by itself without our prayer but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also."  On the last Sunday of the Church Year, we hear the announcement that the Kingdom is already here and with it the call not only to be ready – as if for disaster – but to look for and live in anticipation of Christ’s coming.
    Unlike the days of old when Christ came to a world oblivious to His birth, in obscurity and the cover of darkness, Christ will return in unmistakable power and glory.  The signs are all around us.  They are not here to frighten us but to make us wise unto salvation.  No one, including Harold Camping, can read the fig leaves and predict a day or an hour.  Not the angels in heaven nor the Son of Man knows this – only the Father.  But the change of seasons, the march of time, the advance of age... these can be read as the call to watch and prepare.  Too easily we are deceived, distracted, and lulled into complacency thinking we can afford to look away from Christ and His kingdom.  But the march of days toward their fulfillment when Christ comes again in His glory give us a different picture. It is coming.  Will we be ready?
    He has not left us alone.  We are not left to our own devices.  He has given us the Counselor, the Spirit of Christ and His resurrection.  He has given us the means of grace by which His saving presence is still with us.  He has given us the tools and resources to be ready, to live in anticipation of His coming, and to welcome Him when He comes.
    It is not if He comes but when.  It is not what we can do but what He has already done that prepares us for that awesome and mighty day.  The means of grace are here to equip us to be ready for His return in glory.  We live right now in the Kingdom of God.  His Word speaks and our sins are forgiven.  His water cleanses the guilty as well as the dirty.  His heavenly food of His flesh and blood are the pure spiritual food of 100% grace, undiluted and strong.
    Why is it that we fear so His coming?  Do we believe that He comes to rob us of something?  Why is it that we are so preoccupied with the present moment that we are unprepared for that promised day to come?  Faith longs for Christ's coming.  Not as a death wish that seeks life's end but as the life wish of those who know His grace now and who seek to live in it forever.  As a people rejoice in the promise known only dimly now but who are sure that even more awaits us in eternal glory – beyond imagination.  Faith longs for His coming and lives life in anticipation of His coming again.  Faith is convinced that the right moment to manifest the values and perspective of the Kingdom is now.  We live in that Kingdom today, living by the means of grace but we wait for Christ our King to come and finish His new creation in us as well as outside of us.
    So, we refuse to allow ourselves to be lured into dullness and frozen in the moment.  We remain alert by abiding in Christ through His Word and Sacrament.  These means of grace keep us clothed in His righteousness and ready in faith to receive Him whenever He comes.  Without them we are at risk of losing sight of the goal and losing our way to its fulfillment.  Because of the means of grace, we are focused upon Christ, clothed by the gifts of His suffering and death, and readied for His return in glory.
    Our world is spinning ever faster.  Where did the summer go?  Why are we already near Christmas?  We need an anchor.  We need to be moored to that which is eternal or the pace of today will leave us lost and vulnerable.  Christ knows this.  It is for this reason He has anchored us in His Word.  It is for this reason He has given us His sacraments.   
    His Word endures forever and those who grasp hold of that Word by faith will endure forever.  We pray not as a people without hope but because hope resides in us by baptism and faith.  "Thy Kingdom Come" is not the prayer of an uncertain people whose world is falling down on them and who want relief.  It is the confident prayer of a people who know today with its joys and sorrows and yet who have confidence in something better to come.  We pray “Thy Kingdom Come” not as a people who disdain this world and all it is but as those who see through the haze of today toward the eternal future we were marked for in baptism and in which we live by His Word and Table.  "Thy Kingdom Come" is the prayer of a people who have been made bold to hope for more, not to settle for the present moment but to see the future even today.
    There is a scene from Fiddler on the Roof when the people realize that the Czar holds their fate in his hands.  They ask the Rabbi to pray for the Czar.  He thinks for a moment and then says, "May God bless and keep the Czar... far away from us..."  In the end they leave their homes with regret and fear, having lost their hope, they leave with only their memories.  Are we those people?  If our future lies in the hand of the Lord, do we run to that hand or run away from it?  Are we merely a people with a past or do we see our destiny in Christ and the future He has prepare?  Do we have confidence in what the hand of the Lord holds for us or do we live in fear of our King and His kingdom?  When we pray "Thy Kingdom Come" are we also praying, "but not yet and not near me?" 
    We have come to call the last Sunday of the Church Year “Christ the King Sunday”.  It is called Christ the King because Christ our King has triumphed by His cross, because we are His people and subjects of His eternal kingdom.  We live today because of what He has done but we are not content with today only.  We live in anticipation of the eternal.  Soon this present day will give way to the eternal, to the Kingdom of glory.  We pray not to make the Kingdom come more quickly or slowly but so that we may be ready for the King when He comes.  We pray so that it may come first to us lest we be left out when He comes.  We pray so that our lives may always live in anticipation of this future, free to live today fully and living today so that we may behold our eternal tomorrow.  Thy kingdom come.  Indeed.  Amen.

What does this mean?

Next year will mark the fifteenth anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification which asserts, “We confess together: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”  The Lutheran question is germane at this point.  What does this mean?  Because the real effect of the JDDJ has not been clarity but further confusion.  The Vatican back tracked off the hullabaloo and some Lutherans read over the whole thing again and said "wait just a minute" (the LCMS) and now we have a document that has uncertain status for the signatories and an even more uncertain meaning for the respective groups who "came together."

I just finished watching a Netflix series called Borgia:  Faith and Fear.  Certainly sensational and a little too risque for my blood, it is an interesting view into the papacy and the state of the Church at the time Luther was but a boy growing up.  The hoped for reform did not come.  From Alexander VI we went to Pius III to Julius II and finally Leo X (who excommunicated Luther).  We went from the Borgia Pope to a frail member of the Curia who lasted 26 days to a soldier pope to a pope who quipped "Since God has given us the Papacy, let us enjoy it."

Luther was a man with many warts and is in no danger of being canonized either by the Lutherans or Rome.  Lutherans today seem to go to great lengths to distance themselves from some, perhaps much, of Luther's writings (most of which Luther himself did not regard highly).  That said, where would we be without him?  Would the Church be in better shape?  Would the few reforms that Rome has embraced have come earlier than the 400 years after Luther it has taken?  Rome has its own issues and problems and, whatever good or ill Luther did, it is unfair to blame all of Protestantism's errors upon one man.  Yet, all in all, who can deny the sad state the Church was in while Luther's personal turmoil, the political landscape of Europe, and, I believe, the work of the Holy Spirit conspired to raise up on flawed voice for the cause of grace alone?

Reunion with Rome is a long way off.  Lutherans themselves need to agree upon justification before agreeing substantively with Rome.  Which makes the time ripe for Lutherans within and Lutherans looking across the Tiber to ask honestly and seek Scriptural answers to what has become the quintessential Lutheran question:  What does this mean?

We are not Luther at his best and, sadly, Lutheranism often looks and acts and sounds like Luther at his worst.  Before giving up on him, it might be high time we tried being Luther at his evangelical and catholic best -- sort of like our Confessions claim.  Perhaps by being renewed in our own Confessions we might have something solid to say to Rome and to the not yet Christian world around us -- something more than a litany of our faults and failings and the rambling excuses and justifications for them all.  What does this mean?  When we find some clarity in our Lutheran identity we will find the voice to speak to Rome and to rest of the world.

Real change takes time. . .

I was asked the other day if I was looking for a call.  It was a surprising question since I am at that unattractive age where it is assumed I am coasting toward retirement.  I was actually flattered that someone had expressed an interest in me.  When my bride and I were first discussing the business of calls and congregations, I said something like "I think I only have a couple of moves in me."  What I meant is that I did not think I would be packing up every couple of years to plant myself in a different congregation.  When the first call appeared to be less than hoped for, I told her we would probably be there two years tops.  That ended up being nearly 13 years.  Now I have been here for 20 years.  Ah, how time flies...

For a person like me, a long pastorate is an important tool.  I want to be an agent of change, an instrument for the renewal of Lutheran confession, identity, and practice.  That kind of change takes time.  A generation or so is optimal. Almost thirteen years just about did it and it has kept an identity in that congregation that was not there when I arrived.  I am not meaning to credit me as much as the wonderful sense of Lutheran identity that inevitably results from getting to know who you are (both theologically and liturgically).  Now it has been twenty years and the babies I held in my arms when I got here are in college, some are married, and they have grown up accustomed to the full Divine Service and to the teaching of the catechism.  For them it is ground zero of their Christian faith.  And with them, their parents and grandparents have become more unabashedly Lutheran.  That is a good thing.  I am NOT talking denominational pride here but confidence in their Lutheran confessions and answers and comfortable in their Lutheran clothing on Sunday morning.  It ain't perfect but it is a sea change for many of the folks who were here and others who came since.

Real change takes time.  In the parish and in the Synod.  We cannot rush these things.  I do not mean we can afford to be lazy or inefficient but I do mean that need to spend less time measuring our progress and more time working on it.  If there is any real problem I have with some in Synod it is that they want to rush things.  They seem to have no patience.  If I have learned anything it is that time is in God's hands and we take what He gives us and use it faithfully.  For me as a Pastor that means spending less time measuring and more time preaching and teaching and presiding.  And, that is how it should be, don't you think?

What we do bears fruit years down the pike.  Sometimes a generation passes before we see the fragile seed bear its fruit -- good or bad.  Change in the parish is gradual -- deliberate and noticeable but gradual.  Change in our church body is gradual -- it cannot be judged by a convention cycle or even one person's term of office.  It will be measured over time.  Change on the mission field is also gradual -- especially in the fruit born by educating indigenous clergy at our Seminaries so that a new generation of Lutherans unapologetic of their confession is raised up throughout the world.  Preoccupation with instant analysis and momentary progress or regress are the enemies of churchmanship and faithful confession and truth.  As I said in a previous post, we are measuring ourselves to death and cannot see the forest for the trees.  Paul expresses the very same thought in 1 Corinthians 3.  Real change takes time.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Do not trust in earthly rulers or kingdoms...

Sermon preached for Thanksgiving, on Thanksgiving Eve, November 21, 2012.

   We all know the story of how pilgrims and puritans came from old England to make a New England.  They saw themselves as God's people and their journey to this new land as like the journey of His Old Testament people to the land of promise.  They were probably more comfortable in the Old Testament than the New, having made the Gospel into Law and Christ from Savior into Enforcer of His laws.  They bore up under extreme hardship and when it seemed they had turned the corner, they took a day to give thanks to God. 
    With this thanksgiving, was their longing for a truly NEW England – one ruler, one people, one religion, one piety, and one morality.  Some of them were ready to make George Washington a Kingly David or Solomon to lead them.  But there is another side.  One with a sense of reconciled diversity in which government established no religion and the minority had the same rights as the majority.  It was easy to thank God when we were alike and shared so much in common.  It is much more difficult in the midst of a diversity so broad that it satisfies few and antagonizes many.  But we are here today to pray for presidents and leaders and to say thanks for the rich bounty that is so easy to take for granted.
    Though our forefathers wanted a new nation; we find the new world has come to look decidedly like the old.  It too is filled with sinfulness and uncleanness.  It is as disordered and broken as the world people came here to escape from.  It is not an accomplished fact but an ever demanding work, always in progress and never complete.  It is easy to lose our way when there is so much to be done, when our successes seem so fragile, and when our progress seems so small.  In the midst of is all, we find that the kingdom we need is God's and not ours.
    The kingdom that endures is the Kingdom of Christ.  The cross has established this Kingdom and the preaching of the cross makes this Kingdom endure.  Its gifts are not measured by dollar signs or monuments of stone but by the blood shed for us on a cross and the life offered to redeem our own lives.  This Kingdom is not measured by progress but in faithfulness and endurance.  Its victory is not of our accomplishment but Christ's sacrificial death.  Its life is living out the promise of the future  The Psalmist warns us against putting our trust in earthly rulers and kingdoms and urges us to trust in the Lord and His Kingdom alone.
    This does not diminish our love or appreciation for the nation in which we live.  It frees us from the impossible standards which would require of this nation a perfection it cannot deliver and a progress it cannot reflect.  Today is not about pilgrims or puritans.  It is not about ships or journeys.  It is not about old worlds or new.  It is about that which endures forever and about the glimpse of eternity God gives us in this moment in time.  We pause in this moment in time to appreciate our nation and its rich blessings all while acknowledging this American dream is not an end in and of itself.  It is a blessing from God that is ours to appreciate, to rejoice in, to share, and to bequeath to those yet to come.  That does not diminish this nation or our heritage but honors it without being deceived by it.
    We pray for kings and presidents, for nations and countries, for peoples and causes –  always understanding that but one is eternal – Christ and His Kingdom.  We live the grateful life of a people so richly blessed never allowing ourselves to think we deserve it or can squander its blessing without risk.  We receive His gifts to share them.  We preserve what we have by being generous with those who have not.  We take this kingdom for what can do because we have confidence in the eternal kingdom born of what Christ has done.  Our freedom makes sense only when we use it for the sake of others.
    There is no need to think more highly of this nation than what it is.  To confuse the mortal with the immortal is the path of destruction.  Neither can we think of this nation and its blessings as less than what they are.  To devalue God's blessing upon us is to forget what is our heritage.  We give thanks.  We are a rich people who deserve less.  Faith has taught us this.  Christ has taught us this.  God has given this -- it is grace and nothing less.  When we live this lesson out in daily life, our nation can only be enriched.  Pray for our nation, pray for kings or presidents, but pray most of all that we may well distinguish the temporal from the eternal or we will have certainly sold our birthright for a bowl of lentil soup.   Amen
I believe the dominant mode of reflecting on congregational life in our time is not theological (as I believe it should be), but managerial, psychological, and political.

A managerial congregation will borrow outlooks and methods from the corporate world, and be preoccupied with metrics, goals, objectives, and outcomes largely cast without use of the church’s historic grammar. 

The psychological congregation sees its life in therapeutic terms, and employs the language of health and pathology, of addiction and recovery, and co-dependence. 

The political church sees itself as a change-agent in an unjust and oppressive society, and understands its mission to advance a series of predetermined causes. 

The procedural church is functionally atheistic, in that everything depends on us, and nothing depends on God, other than to bless and sanctify the works of our hands.

All borrowed from Per∙Crucem∙ad∙Lucem where you can read the whole article.   I have cut a pasted a couple of its more poignant paragraphs diagnosing the trouble with the Church today.  Thoroughly indebted to wisdom of others, the point of this post is to remind us that we are the Church but we seem to want to be something different.  Our pursuit with management is reflective of our love affair with earthly success and tangible signs of our effectiveness at what we do as well as our desire to dominate.  Our love affair with therapeutic endeavors is testament to our desire to fix things -- to fix people, to fix families, to fix neighborhoods, and to fix communities -- and our denial of suffering as a part of daily life. Our political identity connects the two previous affections with the desire to rally people to a cause and to a better world today while forgetting that the goal of the Kingdom is not the reform of that which is passing away.  The procedural idea underlies it all since it places us back where we have always wanted to be since the Garden -- in the middle of it all and in charge of it all.

Too much of what passes as wisdom in the Church today could fit under one of those headings listed above and too little of what the Church is and does flows from the Gospel of the cross.  It seems to me that the religious right and left are fully united in their idea of using the Church to achieve a specific goal -- they just differ on what that goal should be.  The Church is not a means to an end but, in effect, an end in and of itself.  It/she is here and now and forever by God's grace and declaration.  It/she endures not because it/she dominates or wins, or is efficient.  Faithfulness is the only criteria by which the Church is judged and God is not shy about telling us this.  It is just that faithfulness has become less than enough for us.  We yearn and desire to be something more or something different.  In doing so, we are much like the people of God who sent Moses packing to find out the mind of God while they had in mind what they wanted and desired.  Perhaps the best the Lord can do is grind up our best laid plans, promotions, and schemes as He had the golden calf ground up and then present it to us to drink as the taste of repentance.

Let me close with the concluding paragraph by the author with whose words I began:

Without sound teaching, faithful preaching, lively and sacramental worship, and enriching group life, the congregation can have [everything else right] and still have lost its soul.

Idealism and cynicism...

Good words from Gene Veith:  There is a close link between idealism and cynicism.  I wonder if Veith learned this from George Carlin?  Probably not, but there is a lot of truth there.  Some of the most idealistic folks I know are also the most cynical about the state of the nation, the state of the community, and the state of the church.  Some of the most cynical people I know hold up such lofty ideals and expectations that they are sure to be disappointed and frustrated.

I have long said that in politics, the liberals embrace all kinds of other liberals while the conservatives eat their young.  No one is good enough, conservative enough, true believer enough to fit the mold and so conservatives fight and lose when their cause may even enjoy majority support.  That is also true in the Church.  Liberal Christians enjoy the various shapes of liberality in other Christians and churches while conservatives seem to constantly narrow the definition until no one but themselves fit.  We have far more splinter groups among the conservatives than we do the liberals  -- that is largely due to the hefty dose of idealism and the lack of compromise in politics and in the Church.  In my own Missouri Synod's somewhat tumultuous history over the past 40-50 years, those on the conservative side have splintered into various factions while those on the more moderate side seem more than willing to put up with subtle differences to be a united front.  Some say that this factionalism has led the center right to lose the Synodical Presidency more than once.  I don't know but it is hard not to agree with that premise.

I only wish that conservatives spoke with a more welcome and winsome voice to gather and unite and that the, well, more moderate folks among us were more discerning and less accepting of every new thing.  The idealist in all of us seeks a church body that all looks similar to me.  The realist seeks the same thing.  The cynic is not sure that it will ever happen.  Most of the conservative folks I know are really fine people.  They yearn for a Synod united in doctrine and practice -- not out of enforcement but because people are true believers.  Most of the moderate folks I know are really fine people.  They yearn for a Synod in which Pastors and congregations trust other Pastors and congregations to make local decisions with theological integrity even when they may be different from the norm.  Both are idealistic, though the conservatives are probably more cynical.  They would have those who disagree to leave while the moderates simply want the conservatives to shut up. 

The problem lies in the fact that this tension has brought great harm to the whole work of our church body.  The congregation (both conservative and moderate) consumes more and more of the money pot.  The Districts feed well at the same pot.  The work we have in common suffers.  Recent Lutheran Witness articles have point out the fiscal cliff that is rapidly approaching.  At some point we must begin an earnest conversation to end this tension.  For the life of me I do not get why some think our church body would be better off smaller and for the life of me I do not get why others do not see the need for a common identity in teaching and practice.  But that is the problem.  Idealism has given way to cynicism on both sides so we impugn the motives of our enemies and seek comfort from our like minded friends.  I hope and pray that our idealism will not leave us the embittered skeptics who hope for nothing good and are willing to risk nothing to see if that good might be out there.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving... what it should NOT be...

Lessons and Lection

Over time I have come to sigh when the Scripture readings for the Mass or offices are announced with the words "The first lesson is from..."  In our culture, the word "lesson" is clearly taken from the realm of education and the classroom.  We have come to expect from the readings of Scripture short, concise, and clear lessons -- perhaps even life lessons -- instead of expecting to hear the living voice of the Living Word of God.  The idea of a lesson has to taken us that often Pastors tailor and trim the appointed lection or even replace it with another to make it speak more clearly and concisely to the point being made in the sermon (which itself is often seen more in academic model of a lesson rather than as homily or sermon).

It is high time we challenged the presumption that the readings from Scripture are primarily or even secondarily lessons and insist up hearing them as they themselves intend -- the life-giving Word of God that breaths with the Spirit and speaking the living voice of God in our midst.  While there might have been a danger in some previous century that the worship space could be mistaken for a lecture hall, today that reason propositional argument has been displaced by another kind of lesson.  The life lesson has replaced the sermon and the Word of God we long to hear and we seem to hear more typically in a Protestant setting is a how-to or help for inspirational address designed to assist us in repairing and improving our selves, families, homes, jobs, etc.  Where the clear outline of the past was once in vogue, now we have a more rambling style of story and moral or lesson, story and moral or lesson, story and moral or lesson.  The illustrations are often more visual than logical and accompanied by appropriate (and inappropriate) visual and musical cues.  But the problem remains the same.  Scripture is harvested for purpose instead of read to be heard.

I have often said that we listen differently when we hear only with our ears and do not have a printed text with which to follow along.  I would also suggest that the primary problem in the "lessons" read on Sunday morning is less who reads them than how they are read and how they are heard.  We may not be able to control how they are heard by the hearer but we can do everything in our power to make sure that the reading of Scripture lets the Scripture speak clearly and boldly.

It is never a good practice to omit verses or shrink down the lection either for clarity or for brevity.  For example. the Palm Sunday reading of the Passion (hence Passion Sunday) is often abridged to cover only the highlights.  This is an understandable but flawed practice.  For one thing, the days of packed Lenten and Holy Week services means that fewer people than ever before hear the whole Passion.  It may not fit with the former ideas of Palm Sunday triumph, but the Passion needs to be heard.  Interspersing the long sections with a hymn stanza or two or alternating voices (especially where you have two Pastors in a parish) is fine but dramatic readings in which voices take up a part turns the Scripture into a play with actors.  If that is what you want, head to Oberammergau.  The Palm Sunday Divine Service is not that.

There are some sections which are designed to be left out when pastoral discretion requires.  You find these marked with red brackets in the lectionary book or noted on the calendar.  In these cases the pericopal directions have provided cues to the Pastor when such omissions may be appropriate but that does not mean that the shorter readings should automatically be chosen.

Alternate readings are also available but most involve substituting one set of three "lessons" for another set and not a pick and choose idea (one from column A, one from column B, and one from column C).  When there are these extensive alternates, it is generally because of historic choices made (even when that history may only be as old as the three year lectionary).

Scripture is not support for your preaching direction.  Preaching follows the Scripture.  Let Scripture speak.  Get out of the way of the text either by overly dramatic readings or by wooden reading that amplifies the speaker as much as the dramatic style.  Rehearse so that what is heard is the Word.  The power is not in the orator or the oration but in the Word.  It is not a text meant to be taught or a truth to be caught.  It is nothing less than the living voice of God and the means of grace through which He delivers that which is spoken to us.  As Revelation reminds us, dare not to tame or put reins upon the Scripture.  It is a wild word.  We let it speak.  Period.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Praise the Lord!
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever!
Save us, O Lord our God,
    and gather us from among the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
    and glory in your praise.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    from everlasting to everlasting!
And let all the people say, “Amen!”
    Praise the Lord!

How to proclaim a day of Thanksgiving. . .

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to "recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.


Yes, I know that Washington was not the heroic and orthodox Christian we would want him to be.  But I do lament how our pedestrian proclamations no longer use words to their full advantage.  For whatever the first President's creedal transgressions, he knew how to turn a phrase.  Words like these remind us long after their writing that God ennobles us and that thanksgiving and humility in no way diminish us as a nation or as  people but show forth the better of us.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Always an England, Maybe Not Anglicanism

We will find out soon if the Church of England will have women bishops. [I wrote this a few days ago and the answer for now is "no" though not because a majority declined, rather, only because the 2/3 super majority was not reached.] Though some of us had no doubts about the inevitability of it all, it appears the Parliament may also have a few cents to add to the discussion.

“Should the Church of England vote against the equality of women they should no longer be the established church!”

Or if that was not clear enough:

"If you don’t vote for women bishops we’ll make you have women bishops anyway.

Perhaps therein lies the problem. An established church has no power to resist parliamentary influence.  Sweden found out but too late.  Even disestablishment does not cure the ills once the church has become merely an agency of the state.

Unless it were not unEnglish, disestablishment might hold off the further encroachment of secular liberalism.  But, alas, it is so,well, unEnglish.  The whole identity of the C of E is inseparably intertwined with the monarchy and the government.  If the C of E were not the established church, would it be anything at all?

Oh, well... it is all academic, anyhow... the C of E will do what it must do... to survive.  Even if that means being unfaithful to the catholic tradition....

Update:  PM Cameron said he was “very sad” about the result. “On a personal basis I’m a strong supporter of women bishops. I’m very sad about the way the vote went yesterday …. I think it’s important for the Church of England to be a modern church in touch with society as it is today and this was a key step it needed to take.”  WWCS.... What Would Chesterton Say?

Ours is not to win but to endure. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 25, Proper 28B, preached on Sunday, November 18, 2012.

    There will be blood, disaster, trouble, famine, devastation, war, and false prophets who lead you astray...  Wow, that is just what I need to hear. Life was tough enough without hearing this on Sunday morning.  Do you give up yet?  You probably should.  We will not prevail.  We cannot vote sin out of office.  We cannot pass laws and police them to make people righteous.  We cannot legislate peace or an end to violence.  We cannot stop the storms and natural disasters that threaten.  We cannot keep prices from going up.  We cannot keep the economy so it is always strong.  So what is left for us?
    This is not exactly the pep talk we were hoping for from Jesus.  The kind of future we were hoping for is one where bad things go away and good things come to us.  We want a world that is improving.  We want our lives to improve.  We want to improve our world and improve our lives.  But that is not the promise of Jesus.  It does not matter what the TV preachers say about a better life now, earth will never become heavenly, a heaven, or the heaven.  So what is left for us?  If we cannot win against these enemies, what can we do?  Jesus tells us.  We can endure.  The goal of faith is not earthly triumph or fixing earth’s problems but endurance.  Endurance to the end.  He who perseveres to the end SHALL be saved.  That is Christ's promise.
    We have come to think that it is our job to fix this world of all its ills.  We stir one another to good works in the false idea that we can fix this world and that God has put us to fix this world.  But our good works are not meant to fix the world or even make it a better place.  Our good works are meant to show forth the faith that is in us, to mark us as eternal citizens of heaven who dwell on earth for a time.  I read of a caption on an antique photo that said, “this is my family for a time in the summer of ....”  That is exactly the perspective of faith.  We are here for a time.  While we are here, we work not to end the problems of this world but to show forth the eternal, the Word that endures forever, the love of Christ that was shown to us, that lives in us by baptism and faith, and that naturally spills out into our daily lives.  We are not do gooders making a bad situation better.  The good we do is Christ living in us and shining through us.
    What we do here on earth is the fruit of Christ in us.  It is not because we are focused on this world and its problems that we labor for the cause of the poor or feed the hungry or clothe the naked or care for the sick or protect the weak.  We do these things because we are focused upon Christ, because this is what Christ did for us and now this is what we do for Christ by serving our neighbors in His name.
    Do not get confused.  Our purpose is not to win the battle to fix this world.  Jesus says we will always have the poor with us – this is not to depress us but to remind us the opportunity to show forth the Kingdom in word and works will never go away.  Jesus insists that the wrongs will not decline as life improves but things will become progressively worse and this is itself the sign of the times.  But do not despair.  Our life is not fixing the world.  Our life is in Christ.  Christ has redeemed the world.  We live as the redeemed of the Lord, enduring the troubles and trials in confidence in what Christ has done and of His gifts to us.  Endurance is not defeat.  Endurance is victory.  He who endures to the end shall be saved. You can take it to the bank.
    Our names are written in the Book of Life.  The world cannot erase or steal from us that which Christ has written in the ink of His own blood.  We are His.  He is ours.  This is our confidence.  We have His trustworthy promise proven in the resurrection.  What we do here makes an eternal difference even if it does not end the world's ills or fix what is wrong.  We do not have to see improvement or headway on the problems of the world to be encouraged.  Our encouragement, our hope, and our life lies in the fact that we are the redeemed of the Lord.  Ours is to endure the temptation, to endure the trouble, to endure the trial without losing this sense of who we are as the redeemed of the Lord.
    In the midst of the world's darkness we shine like the stars we are in Christ.  We reflect Christ's light to the world not to fix what is wrong but so that those who live in darkness may see Christ's eternal light.  They will be consumed with today unless they, like us, can see an eternal tomorrow.  The world is passing away but Christ and His Kingdom are forever.  So we speak to them His eternal Gospel and we show forth this Gospel in works that have eternal consequence even though they may not appear to make a lasting difference in this moment.
    We hold fast to our hope because we know how things will end.  We endure because we already know that Christ has won and that it is His gift of grace to give us His victory.  So we look beyond today and its trials to the day of judgment.  For the Christian this is not the dreaded and fearful day when all our sin is exposed and punished.  Judgment is when the ransomed and redeemed of the Lord are delivered from every enemy to enter into the joy and delight of our Master forevermore.
    It is not to stave off judgment that we endure and do the good works of the Kingdom.  It is BECAUSE we know how Judgment Day ends that we are free in Christ to endure without fear and to act in holiness and righteousness, doing the good He has called us to do and forsaking the evil that is death.  Ours is not to win.  It never was.  Christ has already won.  So forget the constant need to keep score and find out where things stand.  Endure in faith.  Endure in hope.  Do not grow weary in well doing.  Endure in good works.  Christ has already given us the victory.
    This is not defeatism.  Evil will lose.  It cannot triumph.  It has already been dealt its mortal blow by the cross.  This is not because of us or our doing. This is because of Christ and only Christ.  Those who stand in Christ receive every benefit of His suffering, death, and resurrection.  The success we seek if faithfulness to Christ and endurance in the face of His enemies.  We are not here to repair the world's wrongs but to be the people of God by baptism and faith and to do the good works of faith.  This may or may not improve the world, but that is up to the Lord.  We do to others and for others what Christ has done for us.  All the rest is in Christ's hand; we are in Christ's hand.  So do not flag with zeal because your life is a constant struggle.  We know the outcome.  Do not grow weary in well doing because the world is not getting better. We know who has the victory.  All is Christ's; Christ is ours.  He who endures will be saved.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

woof woof woof

This just in from Cardinal Bertone:

The Code of Canon Law states that “clerics must wear decorous ecclesiastical vestments” in line with the laws that bind the various bishops’ conferences. The Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) established that “the clergy has to wear a cassock or dog collar,” meaning black or grey vestments and a white dog collar. 

Hmmm... dog collar?  Really?  That is the best we can do in "official" terminology?

After spending most of my ministry trying to stop lay folk (and too dang many Pastors) from calling them "robes" instead of vestments, now we find voices within the church calling the clerical collar the "dog collar"????

Kinda makes you want to, well, it's too early for a stiff drink...

Click here for the wiki history...

Whether fact or fiction, it is still true...

Who has not felt that the presence of the inevitable praise band down front with the trap set where the altar might have been and the soloists at their mics has not been the tail that wags the dog.

Yonkers, NY––Blake Jennings, lead guitarist at St. Therese Parish in Yonkers, New York is outraged over what he calls “years of concerts being interrupted by the Mass.” The 56-year-old accountant and father of three has played with his band at the 9:30 Folk Mass since 2009. “Our fans love us,” Jennings said, after Sunday Mass. “You can see it in their eyes…the way they droop down, lazily closing as we play…as if their entering into some kind of ecstasy. Or the way some in the parish are so moved they just can’t stand another moment of joy, and simply walk out…presumably to get some air.” But according to Jennings, many in the band have been becoming ever frustrated with the frequent interruptions to their concerts. “Father’s always interrupting…always trying to upstage us. First it’s a gospel, then a homily, eventually the words of consecration…there’s always something with this guy.” Jennings has recently begun a petition, and hopes to get 2,000 signatures to send to the diocese.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Is it crazy or just plain boorish... you decide...

Reader Janis has upped the ante on the strange and sent me this one... read it at your own peril.  At least we can take comfort from the fact that it does not appear that this is Lutheran related (no catechetical giveaways in the conversation or setting)....

Weird science gives way to weird baptismal etiquette...

How the majority are bullied into fear. . .

Lets face it.  The election was more PR game and the victory of an image over substance or issues.  Maybe Romney was not the right guy or maybe his campaign made some fatal mistakes in the way it communicated to the public.  Maybe Obama is, after all, the masterful manipulator, painting images that are so strong in our minds that we cannot shake them off even when confronted by the truth.  In any case, we have to face the fact that the majority opinions in America were bullied and pushed around as if we were a small minority.  What's done is done and the election is history.  But can we learn from it?  How did the positions pro-life, pro-family, and pro-compassion toward others get turned into the force of the dark side?

The majority were bullied by the classic methods of marginalizing, stereotyping, and discrediting the values and positions of an opponent.  We were stereotyped over and over again as haters, thieves plotting to steal away the rights of the many, and more anti things than for them.  Example:  Abortion.  When it became an argument about birth control, we lost the edge.  Pro-life became anti-abortion, anti-birth control, and anti-personal freedom and individual responsibility.  I do not believe we need to change the argument but we do need to break the stereotype and speak passionately of what we are for -- the pro in pro-life.  You cannot tell me that a majority of Roman Catholics and especially Hispanic Roman Catholics do not resonate with these values and positions but we let the stereotype steal away the upper hand of our moral position.

The majority were vilified and made to be evil and wicked folk.  Example:  Those who are pro-life and pro-family and pro-children were effectively painted as close-minded, harmful to human dignity and freedom, intolerant, hateful, bigoted, unfair, homophobic, reactionary, and just plain mean and evil people. Never mind that these are the folks who built religious hospitals, run huge charitable and social service organizations, care for those feel abortion is their only choice, give aid to the victims of natural disaster, settle the refugees, feed the hungry and provide the bulk of the service to the poor and homeless.  We somehow let our deeds get lost and we ended up sounding like the narrow minded and judgmental people who hate everyone who is not like us.  I believe that we are still the majority and we need to take back the argument as church folk who do mountains of good in our neighborhoods, communities, nation, and world.

The majority were painted into a corner in which we sounded like we were more interested in money than people, in protecting our backside instead of truth.  Example:  The HHS assault on religion with respect to the coverage of abortion, abortifacients, and mandatory birth control coverage.  The issue here is not only nor primarily abortion and its related points but the first of all guaranteed rights -- freedom of religion.  We failed to communicate to people that this was not an insurance argument for the cubicle and allowed them to forget they and their religion and values were under assault.  It ended up looking as if the religious were throwing a hissy fit over some little deal instead of religious freedom at stake.  I believe that the majority still want the government to get out of religion and to allow religious freedom to remain our first right.

The majority have been persecuted by selectively targeting what to defend and what to assault.  So, for example, the Hosanna - Tabor case became about the terrible treatment of this poor disabled teacher instead of a case for religious freedom.  We won in the courtroom but lost in the courtroom of opinion.  Those opposed, the minority, will continue to selectively persecute what is clearly the majority opinion held by a majority of people but, unless we change our image, it will appear to be something benign and bogus to the public.  When we are free to hold our religious dogmas and moral values only in the privacy of our heart or home they become meaningless and powerless.  It is only if we are allowed to stand on principle in the public square that our moral values and religious doctrines carry weight.  I believe the majority still believe that the government is stretching in its pursuit of religious institutions and the narrowing of their freedom of expression and practice to merely a freedom of worship  but we have to take back the argument or we will be cornered by our oppressors through the selective persecution of the vocal and vulnerable.

For pete's sake -- if only the vast majority of Roman Catholics and Lutherans and Protestants opposed to abortion had voted their conscience without the fear mongering of the liberal left, the election might have had a very different outcome.  But I write not for the sake of elections or candidates.  My passion is for the truth, for the protection of our guaranteed rights, for the high moral ground we have staked out, and for the majority, though often silent, that still believes this is good, right, and true.