Sunday, June 30, 2013

In case you don't get blogging. . .

HT to otherwise known as John Atkinson...

Too many words. . .

I plead guilty to the charge.  There are too many words in the Divine Service.  I sometimes feel overwhelmed with words on Sunday morning.  I know I am guilty but I also am not sure what penance to do for my sin.  I have tried to introduce silence.  It grows difficult after about 30 seconds and people begin to fidget and the whole thing goes south pretty quickly after that.  The noise of the discomfort is even worse than the noise of too many words.  On Sunday mornings I feel like St. Paul -- the good that I should, I do not and the evil I should not, I do.  The liturgy is supposed to reign in the abundance of words on Sunday morning and keep them to those ordered by the rite and the calendar.  Even then, I fear that we have made it all far too wordy.

The whole of worship has become a didactic activity and words have become the primary currency of the teaching enterprise.  We have too many words and too much noise.  Though it seems agonizing to the modern psyche, I think perhaps we move too quickly from piece to piece in the liturgy.  The sequence is far too rushed and it is as if we were all ADHD and unable to sit still or focus for more than the briefest of moments.

One of the dangers of our wordiness is that we think we can explain and comprehend the mystery of God instead of encounter God's mystery and receive from it His purpose and gift.  We have become addicted to our technology so that every word is sounded forth by public address system as if it were all equal merit and all addressed primarily to us.  The greatest of all sins has become the sin of not being heard.  I wonder instead of we do not hear too much.

I have known several folks either hearing impaired or blind and asked each of them how it affected their participation in the Divine Service.  The shock to me was that it affected them surprisingly little.  Now, let it be known up front that both attend where the Divine Service is pretty much lock, stock, and barrel from the book.  Neither of them attend where the liturgy du jour can run the gamut from pentecostal wannabe to the group grope of a touchy feely setting.  They have the Divine Service firmly implanted in their minds and hearts and are hardly distracted by the lack of print resources in their hands or hearing assistance device in their ears.  In fact, the one thing I heard from both that their only complaint was that there were generally too many words.  The blind could hear too much in the ear and the deaf was aware of too much going on that was not getting to them. 

No, the Sunday morning experience of most Christians definitely does not suffer a paucity of words.  It is a far too rich a diet of words that masks that some are vitally important and others are not.  The worship of most parishes has become an egalitarian enterprise in which all words are equal and therefore no words stand apart.  The creed is just words as are the prayers and since they all hit the same ears, the only way to distinguish them is to make the words heard either shocking or extravagant.  The prayers have become pep talks for the people instead of the prayerful address of the church to the Father in the name of Jesus.  Our short attention spans are fed by what happens in too much worship instead of challenged to pause, reflect, and consider.  It does not have to be that way but we, make that I, sin more on the side of too many than too few.

I sin too much in this area.  Too many words.  Too much of the impression that the liturgy is primarily a teaching moment (not that teaching does not take place).  Too few silences or simple pauses to reflect and consider what has been said and heard.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa....  It is no wonder that we are confused by what worship is and what it is not...

Who communes... what does it matter?

Good words from St. Thomas Aquinas: 

Sumunt boni, sumunt mali:
sorte tamen inaequali,
vitae vel interitus.

Both the wicked and the good
Eat of this celestial food,
But with ends how opposite.

Mors est malis, vita bonis:
vide paris sumptionis
quam sit dispar exitus.

Here is life and there is death
The same yet issuing to each
In a difference infinite.

Bone pastor, panis vere,
Jesu, nostri miserére:
Tu nos pasce, nos tuére:
Tu nos bona fac vidére
In terra vivéntium.

Jesu, shepherd of the sheep
Thou thy flock in safety keep,
Living bread, thy life supply:
Strengthen us, or else we die,
Fill us with celestial grace.

Tu, qui cuncta scis et vales:
Qui nos pascis hic mortales:
Tuos ibi commensáles,
Cohærédes et sodales
Fac sanctórum cívium.
Amen. Allelúja.

Thou, who feedest us below:
Source of all we have or know:
Grant that with Thy Saints above,
Sitting at the feast of love,
We may see Thee face to face.
Amen. Alleluia.

Close(d) communion is often treated as if it were an invention, particularly among Lutherans of the Missouri Synod stripe.  While listening to a setting of Lauda Sion playing from Corpus Christi, I looked up the words to make sure.  Here St. Thomas Aquinas, about 1260 or so, writes of the every thing that close(d) communion is about.  Hardly about whether or not one is worthy of the Lord and His table, at least in the sense that this term means today, the concern of the Pastor is who receives this for their benefit and who receives the Supper for their condemnation, due either to ignorance/inability, unrepented sin, or lack of faith. 

Rome also holds to close(d) communion, though with different terminology.  In fact I have read some things about the need for priests to preach about this.  Unworthy reception (unrepentant, ignorance of what the Sacrament is, lack of faith, failure to discern the Body of Christ, etc...) is not merely the lack of benefit from such eating and drinking but the potential for great harm to the one communing unworthily.  Pastors have the duty first to instruct in a general sort of way that the faithful ought not approach the Sacrament of Holy Communion if they are aware of serious (mortal) sin (what we Lutherans would call lacking repentance), or are in grave disunity with the teachings of the Church. It is usually helpful to instruct them based on the Scriptural admonition of St. Paul in First Corinthians 11:27-32.

The point being that those admitted to the Supper are not being judged better people than others but, given the boundaries of human frailty and judgment, they are those whom the Pastor knows to have been instructed, not to have unrepented sin, and are therefore prepared to receive to their benefit the communion on the body and blood of Christ.  Naturally, it was easier in days gone by.  We knew who would commune by knowing who had come to private confession prior to the Divine Service.  The waters became muddied not only with the advent of so many churches of so many confessions (even within a tradition, say Lutheran) but with the demise of private confession, its replacement with the general confession that precedes the communion only by minutes and not by hours or days, and the general mobility we take for granted today.

Indeed, we should all be held more accountable.  A perfunctory recitation of the general confession, even with its specific and pointed absolution, does not mean we have reflected upon our life, repented of our sin, made a good confession, and, absolved, intend with the aid of the Spirit to amend our sinful lives. Again, the Pastor is not the judge here but the one who is charged with making sure, to the best of his ability, that those who commune are well catechized, confess the true faith (think Nicene Creed), have repented of their sins, believe the Word of Absolution, desire by the aid of the Spirit to amend their sinful lives, and, of course, recognize the body of Christ in the bread and the blood of Christ in the wine according to Christ's own testament.  As difficult as this is for Pastors to fulfill for their own congregations and the people they know, it is a mine field of misunderstandings, offense, compromise, and lost integrity to administer for those whom we meet at the rail and do not know from Adam.  So it is hardly too much to ask folks to speak with the Pastor before the service.

Finally one last thing.  Pastoral discretion has more to do with the urgency of a situation in which exception is made.  Frankly, no one is in mortal danger of eternal condemnation because they do not commune on this Sunday or that.  So in the past the folks in the pews would not even think of asking of they knew they had not fully prepared and arrived early enough to speak with the Pastor.  Now folks show up after the service has begun, come to commune, and insist that if they are not communed (for whatever reason) the Church and the Pastor in that circumstance have committed the gravest offense.  Balderdash.  The real offense is not against the person who might not be welcomed at the rail but against the faith and the communion fellowship of the Church which is considered a virtual right owed to anyone and everyone who happens to be there.

I do make exceptions, too many for the taste of some in my church body, not enough for those of other church bodies.  But the whole thing might just disappear if vigorous private confession were practiced.  Then we could deal with this where it should be dealt with -- in the confessional instead of at the rail.  Nevertheless, I am often encouraged when I read such lines as these by St. Thomas Aquinas.  My practice, as well as my dilemma, is not new or exclusive to me.  It is the common affliction of the Church through the ages, except where those churches have chosen to embrace a novel practice inconsistent with their past.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

At least the NY Times is supportive. . .

My own comments on the easy target the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church notwithstanding, everyone agrees that Bishop Schori has taken quite a few hits, both deserved and those that came because, whatever happened, happened on her watch.  She has, however, at least one sympathetic supporter -- none other than the NY Times.  Read it all here. . .

What mystifies me, however, is how the NY Times and other liberal media can skip over the wasting of millions of dollars in lawyers, court costs, etc... ONLY to pursue buildings.  Liberal media always complain that the churches do not spend enough on people so how can they justify, excuse, or ignore the deep hole that a fading Episcopal Church has poured millions of dollars down with little to show for it?

In addition, I have been assured by those on various sides of the Episcopal theological divide that the Episcopal Church is not some stuffy church that worships a prayerbook, buildings, or old ceremonies.  Yet that is exactly the image that Bishop Schori's pursuit of buildings has fostered.  Her relentless seeking after buildings and punishing those who dissent enough to leave seems to imply that the things the Episcopal Church values most are buildings, heritage, and ritual.  The impression which Bishop Schori and her like have created for the Episcopal Church is that you can believe what you will (except orthodox Christian theology), you can take the Bible anyway you want (except factually), you can be anything you want (except those who foster a Biblical concept of marriage and family and heterosexuality), and you can do anything you want (except resist liberalism and leave with your facility).

My complaint about Missouri has been that inerrancy is the shibboleth that seems to determine whom we count as friend or foe.  We have not pursued with equal vigor the efficacy of that Word, its sacramental nature as that which delivers what it says.  My complaint about the ELCA is that diversity has become the shibboleth of their ecumenical choices, in which more is always better.  In the same way, cultural diversity and social advocacy are a part of that weakness.  My complaint with the NALC and LCMC (groups that broke with the ELCA) is that it seems to have been all about sex -- particularly the decisions of the 2009 CWA of the ELCA.  With the Episcopal Church,  the shibboleth seems to be traditionalism, ceremony, and facilities.  Everything is negotiable within the Episcopal Church except our commitment to claiming our past, putting on a good service, and keeping the building when folks leave us.  None of these characterizations is meant to be definitive but illustrative.  Missouri tends to say "Okay, you believe the Bible is without error so you are like us..."  ELCA seems to say "we do not need to agree on much of anything as long as we agree advocate for social change and you are like us..."  The NALC and LCMC seem to say "if you are like the ELCA prior to 2009, you are like us..."  The Episcopal Church seems to say, "if you like ceremony, appreciate history, are a social liberal, and like historic buildings, you are like us..."

As far as I know Missouri gets very little good press.  I am not sure anyone even knows about the NALC or LCMC.  But the grey lady and most of the media can always be counted upon to give a nod to a church liberal enough to tolerate those who do not believe much of anything and suspicious of those who believe in Scripture and tradition.

Dark is a relative term...

As one who loves history, I have long been frustrated by the shallow characterization of the period after the fall of the Roman Empire as the Dark Ages.  Dark is a relative term.  A perfectly well lit room seems dark when you enter from the bright sun.  So it is with the period leading up to the bright light of the Renaissance and after the bright light of the Roman Empire.

Here is a little video that might perk up some discussion on the subject.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A victory or a bump in the road. . . and for whom?

The SCOTUS decision to void part of the Defense of Marriage Act and to derail California's Prop 8 on technical grounds is hardly ground breaking.  In fact, it was largely expected and represents the difficulty facing the Supreme Court.

Leery of legislating from the bench on this issue after their foray into legislation provided a permanent rift in America (abortion), they basically said, "Well, if you are going to do it (gay marriage in states), the federal government cannot have another definition of marriage at work for federal employees who follow the state's rules..."  While there were strange things in the opinion (that the Congress was motivated by animus against gay and lesbians), I expected this.  What I cannot predict is how such a concept may impact all kinds of legislative review by the courts.  That is kind of scary.  As much as I dislike gay marriage (and I am not too fond of the way straight marriage is going either - temporary legal cohabitation for as long as it is fun, children optional and probably not beneficial), I understand the reasoning behind the decision with respect to DOMA.  That said, it still puts the court at loggerheads with legislation, but, to be fair, that legislation would not pass today anyhow (in Congress or in California).  The gay and lesbian debate was not won by the SCOTUS decision but the wind is definitely behind their sails.

My point is that if we were waiting for SCOTUS to bail us out of this mess, we were waiting for the wrong bus.  That bus has come and gone and it ain't coming back.  The only way we can hope to make an impact on the state of marriage and the increase in states approving gay marriage is to make a case -- cogently, concisely, convincingly, without simply saying "no" and without appealing to a Biblical authority no longer relevant except to those already convinced.  We have to review and renew the whole idea of family as the key structure to the health of any society, review and renew what marriage is and is not, and review and renew the importance of children to family and marriage and to a nation.  We can certainly cite and use Scripture to support this but the real reason why we have failed is that we have counted on an authority which is not universally recognized anymore (the Bible) and a moral compass which is not universally acknowledged and accepted anymore (Judea Christian tradition).

Once we begin speaking positively of what marriage is and less negatively about what it is not, we might make some inroads into the independent minds of the nominally spiritual but not very religious crowd that is the big middle -- still not sure what to think.  On the one hand they do not want to be intolerant but neither do they want to discard everything that has been passed down to them.  These folks need to be convinced that to fence marriage is not to exclude some but to benefit all.  Ours is a time in which children are more at risk than every before -- at risk of living mostly without parents, without clear guidance, with great temptation of sex, drugs, social media, and a valueless culture, and with great opportunity to harm themselves before any realizes what is going on.  They go to school more as babysitting than to learn, they graduate with skewed perspectives on work and pleasure, they remain adolescents far too long for their own good, and they have come to believe that consumption is the goal of capitalism rather than production.  They did not do this -- we have done it to them.  Only by seeing our children at risk can we begin to pull back the reins of a world in which everyone doing whatever seems right in their own eyes seems to be the glorious pinnacle of democracy, liberty, and happiness.

The Prop 8 decision has, in my mind, less impact on gay and lesbian marriage than it does legal precedent.  The Court did not rule on the merits of the case.  Instead, it established an odd and potentially terrible precedent.  The court effectively said that citizens who pass an initiative have no the legal right or judicial standing to defend what is the law of the state when their elected state officials refuse to do their job and defend what is the duly enacted law in court and then enforce it.  Well, members of the court, if the people who passed it have no standing, who does?  At what point can democracy continue to function if elected, appointed, and employed officials of the government can choose to ignore the law of the land legally enacted.  While this has Prop 8 as its trigger, the bullet in the gun may turn into a deadly weapon for a whole host of issues.

You cannot pay me enough to justify. . .

You naughty old narrow minded hateful coot... gimme what I want!  You have one job.  To do what I say.  So shut up and get outta my way...  *{:-)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A demon is overcome by holiness and mercy...

Sermon for Pentecost 5, Proper 7C, preached on Sunday, Jun3 23, 2013.

    The Gospels are studies in contrast – contrasts between good and evil, light and dark, expectation and surprise, sin and grace.  Today is no different.  Jesus meets a man with demons.  You and I would try to avoid such an encounter but not Jesus.  He comes to confront the demon, demonstrate His power over them, and to own the demon so that the man may be free.  Jesus does not display the raw and brutal power of evil.  Instead He shows forth the power of holiness over evil and the result is nothing short of amazing.
    The demoniac is the epitome of unclean.  He is naked, with no cover for his body, no modesty, no shame.  But he is also naked in the sense that everyone knows the evil that lives in him.  There is no hiding or escaping it.  He lives in the unclean place of death, a cemetery. He wears the death of evil and He lives among death and evil.
    The demon is immediately fearful of Jesus.  He falls down before Jesus.  He calls Jesus who He is – Son of the Most High God.  The demon begs for mercy from Jesus.  Imagine that.  "Do not torment me," he cries.  Evil cannot be overcome by evil.  Jesus is all that is clean, pure, and holy and it is this the demon fears most of all.
    The demon fears Jesus and the abyss, the emptiness of eternal death.  So the demon chooses unclean pigs.  They rush to enter the unclean animals forbidden to the Jews and immediately the pigs rush off a cliff are drowned in a lake.  Jesus confronts the demons with no power except His holiness and His mercy.  There is nothing brutal in Jesus.  He allows the demons to enter the herd of pigs.  Even the unclean pigs cannot stand the unclean and evil spirits that had entered them and they rush to their own death.
    Dear friends, this is no yesterday story, it is about us.  We live in an unclean world.  Just as the demon cast off all modesty and shame, so do we live in a world without shame.  Just as the demon lived in a cemetery, comfortable with death, so do we live in a world too friendly with death.  We no longer have funerals; we celebrate lives.  We dress up the dead to look nice and we describe death as a natural end to life.  Of course we hate it when it comes too early or in pain but we have grown friendly with death so that we think it kind when it comes at the end of a long life, well lived by earthly standards.  We have made peace with our enemy – awkward peace but still peace.
    Jesus has every right to condemn our world for its peace with death, its comfort with evil, and its lack of shame.  Sometimes you and I lament the holiness and mercy seem ill equipped to quickly dispatch evil and wrong.  We are severely tempted to be as brutal as the evil we face, to treat evil as evil treats us.  But Jesus will not.  He is of all things the God of holiness and mercy – He does not tolerate evil or accept sin and make peace with death.  Neither does He lash out with the power of anger.  No, Jesus wins with mercy and a pure heart.
    The demoniac is rendered clean and takes his place at the side of Jesus.  As shocking as this is, what is even more shocking is that the people were just as fearful of evil overcome as they were accustomed to evil itself.  Where there should have been joy and thanksgiving, there was fear.  In their fear, they did not want Jesus around them anymore. They asked Him to leave and go away.
    But not the man whose life Jesus has delivered.  He was not afraid. For once in His life he was at peace.  He refused to leave Jesus because Jesus was His Savior.    The demoniac wants to follow Jesus but Jesus directs him elsewhere.  He has a new calling.  His job is to declare what God had done for him.  And that is exactly what He did, proclaiming through out the city how much Jesus had done for him.
    You and I were once claimed by evil, as we say at the beginning of the baptismal rite.   God has not made peace with our demons.  He has cast them, forgiven our sins, and made us whole and clean.  The great temptation is always to make peace with evil or diminish what is wrong as if it is livable.  That is our temptation but that is not our calling.  We are in Christ new creation.  We have been brought forth in mercy to wear Christ’s holiness.
    We have been set apart to declare what God has done.  We have no story apart from the story of what God has done for us.  We have no life but the life that was given us in baptism.  We have no future except the future prepared for us in Christ.  Yet we find ourselves afraid – like the people who watched how Jesus has overcome evil but whose fears told Jesus to leave them alone.  We cannot afford to live by fear.
    God has called us to live by faith.  That is exactly what we fear.  We find it easier to make peace with evil than to trust in the Lord who has triumphed over evil.  Our calling is to faith... to receive what He bestows with a grateful heart, and live the new life that is our calling by baptism.  This is what the Spirit is given to do – to lead us to this faith, to impart this faith, and to guide our walk in faith, declaring the wonderful deeds of Him who has called us from darkness into His marvelous light and to show forth the Kingdom of God not by might but by mercy.  Christ has done no less for us.  Can we do any less for him than did this demon possessed man?!

A glimpse into Vatican II Roman Catholic "hymnody"...

This is an excerpt from The Bad Catholic's Guide to Wine, Whiskey, and Song.

Theologians of divine providence such as Jean-Pierre de Caussade have speculated that the permissive will of God allows great evils to occur to plant the seeds of some greater good. To further that end, we’d like to propose some wholesome uses for some of these musical productions of the post-conciliar liturgical renewal and the Oregon Catholic Press:
  • “Be Not Afraid.” This nasal, repetitive drone is too simplistic to accompany the Teletubbies, much less the Eucharist. While its message is apparently intended to be reassuring, NIMH clinical trials have shown that it reduces serotonin levels in the brain’s frontal cortex, mimicking the short-term effects of cocaine withdrawal or clinical depression. For this reason, we suggest its use is indicated on patients suffering from the manic phase of bipolar disorder, to normalize mood swings and render them compliant with hospital staff.
  • “Glory and Praise.” Another sing-songy brain-punisher, this tune is chipper in precisely the manner of a chatty, middle-aged Chicagoan chirping loudly about her grandchildren’s potty training on her cell phone in the next booth at a diner as you try to read your newspaper. But its melody and cadence are perfectly calculated to repel invasive deer which gather outside suburban homes in search of food. (Those concerned about animal rights should use a hunting rifle instead.)
  • “Here I am, Lord.” This hymn depicts a human soul responding to the call of Christ—but the music is whiny and grim, evoking in most people’s minds a can of rancid potted meat, being slowly spread by windshield wipers across a plate of dirty auto glass. You hear Christ calling, all right—but you feel like He’s some hobo who’s tapping at your window at 4 a.m. to wake you from a sound sleep so He can ask you directions to Dunkin’ Donuts. You don’t so much want to answer Him as clock him with a slipper. Sung in a sleepwalking, zombie rhythm, its use at Communion time produces a strikingly cinematic effect, which film critics have dubbed “The Church of the Living Dead.” Here again, we have a chance to bring good out of evil: In preliminary tests, use of this song by military interrogators has proved a successful, slightly more humane replacement for water-boarding.
  • “Hosea.” A bland, saccharine adaptation of a stirring Old Testament story—a prophetic humdinger in which the relationship of God and His people is presented as a marriage, and human unfaithfulness compared to prostitution. Stern stuff—here reduced by banal lyrics and anile music to a warbling monologue from a straight to video chick-flick starring Patrick Swayze. What is more, one of the song’s lines is unintentionally obscene. When the cantor drones “Long… have I… waited for your… coming,” it’s impossible for any Catholic above age 11 to avoid conceiving of certain conjugal—difficulties. If you’re experiencing such problems, you surely hear about them often enough; they shouldn’t assault you in church. Being helpful souls, we have searched out a positive use for this terrible, evil song: Many Catholic husbands who love their wives have attended closely to the injunction of Pope John Paul II, who noted in Love and Responsibility that “the woman’s excitement grows more slowly than that of the man. The man must take this difference between male and female reactions into account.” If you’re one of those husbands trying to take that difference into account, this song is for you. Hum it slowly to yourself, at crucial moments. There’s no more potent buzz-kill known to man.

Wheeewwwwwwww...  Makes me giddy when I compare the above to Lutheran Service Book....  Hope you have also learned some new appreciation for our solid hymnal and service book!!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Concordia St. Louis takes issue with the SMP task force recommendations...

You can check an earlier post for the SMP task force recommendations and my comments.  Apparently, CSL is not in much agreement with that report or its suggestions.

In the preliminary sections, the Concordia Seminary response takes us through a little history lesson.  One glaring omission from the section on the New Testament is the lack of any clear statement that the pastoral office is not established by the Church but by the Lord and is not optional for the Church.  Second is the implication (either accidental or intentional) that the primary focus of this office is to preach Christ (absent any equal weight given to the Sacraments) as if the function were divinely initiated but not the office.  I may be reading too much into what is missing but it seems to me that this omission may be telling.

In the section of the Reformation, the seminary that once was home to Dr. Arthur Carl Piepkorn has now decided the rite vocatus includes no reference at all to ordination.  Hmmmm....  That's different (as they say in Minnesota when they disagree).  It would seem absolutely incredible to focus on "call" as we understand it today to be the definition of the Latin, especially considering that Rome in the Confutation seems to have had little concern about Augustana XIV as a clear statement of catholic teaching and practice.

We read from the Seminary:
Ordination is not mentioned, probably because Melanchthon wanted to avoid the sacramental implications associated with it, even if he could admit, by changing the definition of “sacrament,” that Lutherans approved ordination as they understood it (Apology XIII). “Properly called” (in Latin, rite vocatus; in German ordentlichen Beruf) meant, in 1530, “decently and in order” according to the expectations of the Roman Catholic party within the German Empire.

It seems highly speculative that Melancthon was so concerned since the whole nature of the first twenty or so articles of the Augustana was to establish those areas largely in agreement with Rome. It seems to me that the authors of the Seminary document are slanting history a bit to justify their own conclusions (read further).

In the end the Concordia Seminary response says:
  • There is no need to narrow the specificity of the SMP program.  Here the claim is made that there is no Biblical or theological warrant for such narrowing.  In effect the Seminary response admits the glaring weakness of the SMP program when it asks why would smaller congregations need a pastor with “lesser training” than a congregation with several pastors on staff?   In essence the Seminary is admitting the flaw within the SMP program, namely that it provides clergy with equal responsibility but lesser training.
  • The Seminary does not believe study is needed by others; they insist that they are doing all the studying necessary for the integrity of the program.  Personally, I find this a big disingenuous.
  • The Seminary thinks Greek is nice, good if you have it, but unnecessary.  I might ask (as one who had Greek for all of Junior College and Senior College) why is it necessary for any if it is not necessary for all?  It seems a stretch to justify this at the residential seminary level and insist it is burdensome and unnecessary at the distance learning level.  Many find Greek burdensome.  If it is optional for some, should it not be optional for all?  I am being a devil's advocate here since I think Greek IS beneficial.
  • The Seminary is not worried about the effect of the SMP program on residential seminary education.  If I were on staff at the Seminary, I would be concerned.  Sure, the SMP people so far might not have enrolled in the residential program but the greater issue is whether over time we will be able to justify the high cost of residential seminary training when a cheaper route exists which does not require you to leave your home, job, and "ministry location."  That pricey real estate in St. Louis is not cheap to maintain and the faculty is not free.  Perhaps we could sell it all off, train everyone by SMP program rules with parish pastors serving as part-time instructors.  Well, we could.  Then what would Concordia Seminary say???
  • Concordia Seminary seems to think that the idea of an ordained diaconate is problematic at best and downright unLutheran at worst.  Interestingly, the sem folks seem to undermine their whole position earlier when they say:  the Lutheran Confessions do not regard “ordination” as that which qualifies one for the office; rather, it is that the candidate be “rightly called,” of which ordination may be viewed as a recognition by the wider church of this man’s training and call. However, by no means is ordination a necessary element.  Here it seems the Seminary is trying to distance itself both from the licensed deacon programs of the Districts (which I also regard as suspect) and lump the whole thing together to say not now and not ever.  Personally, I think that if we need to assist the pastoral office, a permanent diaconate could be just the thing -- and it is thoroughly consistent with the catholic and evangelical tradition our Confessions claim.
Well, again, you can read it all for yourself.

In the end I am less impressed with the Concordia Seminary response than I had hoped.  It seems to say, keep what we have, don't worry be happy, and we will make sure everything is okay.  None of those can I agree to without a great deal of anxiety -- especially given the track record of our Synod in convention and the direction of the Seminary in St. Louis over the past several years.
 Here are the resolutions offered to the Convention in the wake of both reports.

A tale of two pictures. . .

Read recently:

From the MailOnline comes an article about what is going on with the demographics of religion in the UK.
One country, two religions and three very telling pictures: The empty pews at churches just yards from an overcrowded mosque
Two photos show Sunday morning services in churches in East London
The third shows worshippers gathered for Friday midday prayers outside a nearby mosque
The difference in numbers could hardly be more dramatic
Read the article there, but the photos on the left say it all...

What I find incredible is that the emptying of the churches has come as the result of dedicated and deliberate efforts on the part of Christians to reduce what Christians believe and relax the piety that accompanies such belief.

Clearly, Islam is not effective because it is religion lite.  It has high and demanding requirements of those who adhere to the faith.  Perhaps we Christians could learn a bit from them.  The world is neither impressed with nor attracted to a faith that is so casual about what is believed and so relaxed about how that faith is practiced.  Let me be clear here.  I am not holding up Islam as any example for Christians to follow but pointing out from their practice the fallacy that has become so popular among Christians:  a God who cares little about doctrine and piety but who wants us to be, in the words of the Army ad, "all that we can be (or want to be)." 

The hollow shell of liberal Christianity has left the Church wounded but not defeated.  Our future lies not with faith lite or piety lite but with the reverent and serious minded pursuit of the Scriptures which uniquely speak life and hope to a world captive to death and despair.  Repentance is still the preaching of the Church, a repentance encouraged not by fear of the consequences but by the pervasive and powerful allure of forgiveness in the shape of a cross, stained by the blood of the incarnate Son of God.

The pictures say nothing of the power of the one true God versus the gods of the nations.  The pictures do speak powerfully of the difference between those who take this God seriously and those who think Him of little consequence or relevance to their life and desires.  As with every age and time, reformation and renewal need to come not from the Church and her dogma but from the people and their repentance.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Moving into parallel orbits. . .

The Mekane Yesus, 6.1M member Ethiopian Evangelical Church, has severed ties with the Church of Sweden and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and is working to solidify ties with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  The recent sexuality decisions are triggers for this decision.    Not a bad bit of news for the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession day... today... as we see a church body renew its Lutheran identity and its commitment to the Scriptural pattern for us and our families....

Here is the first step and a sign of more to come:

Obama on the value of parochial schools...

Speaking in Belfast, Northern Ireland,  on June 17, President Obama has weighed in on the value, or apparently, as he sees it, the lack of value and, indeed, the destructive character of parochial schools.

“If towns remain divided—if Catholics have their schools and buildings and Protestants have theirs, if we can’t see ourselves in one another and fear or resentment are allowed to harden—that too encourages division and discourages cooperation,” the US president said.

Bold as brass, Obama has decided that parochial schools are an impediment to national unity and breed suspicion, fear, and resentment among the students and the general populace.  So if this is the esteemed opinion of the US President about the state of education in Northern Ireland, does he feel the same about religious schools at home in America?

This would explain why the Obama administration was a friend of the court against the church in Hosanna-Tabor vs EEOC and why the administration's health care regulations have taken away the religious rights of employers (sacred and secular) and why his administration seems to view the anti-abortion stance of churches as an intrusion into the free realm of the right of a woman (even small girl) to her own body... and the list goes on.

The shock is not that President Obama may think this way.  Many liberals do.  The shock is that he is almost blind to the first amendment rights that guarantee freedom of religious expression.  Whatever he thinks or does not think, the rule of law in this land is constitutional right and not presidential opinion.  I hope that someone in his administration reminds him of this from time to time.  He may have his opinion and give voice to it but unless he wishes to change the foundational documents on which the laws of this nation are based, it remains only a personal opinion and not an operating agenda for the government.

More amazement and more fear...

Mark 10:32:  And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him...

Amazed and afraid...  Over the years there has been a deliberate effort to remove all fear from God.  We have learned to treat Him rather casually and made Him an impotent God who can do little but acknowledge and affirm our own willfulness and desire.  His Church has become a mirror of what is trendy, popular, and entertaining.  We all know this.

But Mark's Gospel speaks of the rightful place of fear -- not simple fright but honest fear which is hardly the enemy of faith (the amazement or astonishment also hinted at in this verse) but the accompaniment to fear which grounds faith.

Worship is an arena of amazement and yet fear.  We come bidden but bidden by God to stand on the holy ground of His presence.  We come condemned by the Law for our sin and yet graciously received with arms of mercy and grace through Christ.  We come by the power of the Holy Spirit who makes faith possible and  yet as people whose own wills and desires have been transformed by the Spirit to seek and love that which is holy and pure.  Worship includes the amazement of faith's delight at the gracious God who loves to forgive and forgives whom He loves as pure and unadulterated grace.  But it is never casual and always we are reminded that the Lord who loves us is also the Lord whose is rightfully and righteously indignant over sin and well within His right to condemn us and every sinner.  We approach not as an act of our own will and volition but at His bidding, to meet Him where He has chosen to be present, with repentant hearts who believe and trust in His Word and promise.

Perhaps the greatest danger to us and to the Church today is the fact that mercy no longer amazes or astonishes us (we believe we have earned it) and we no longer have any fear of the Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal God.  With fear and amazement absent, we are left fully and finally to ourselves, to the pleasure deity of our creation and to the sacraments of indulgence and entertainment.

Part of the function of Sunday morning is to call us to amazement and fear, to restore the healthy balance within us, and to lead us upon the narrow path that Christ has marked for us to eternal life.  Perhaps the Church was too somber in the past but somberness is no synonym for reverence and the casualness so much a part of Christian worship today is not the cause for our joy and peace.  We have taken and trivialized, diminished, and rendered impotent the things of God that alone are eternal and all powerful.  In doing so, we have not rendered God powerless (no one can) but we have blinded ourselves to His power so that we are victims of our own delusions while at the same time still under God's judgment for our refusal to acknowledge Him as Lord and God.

Real amazement and fear are not the things that put us off but invite us.  We do not make God more accessible by coming to Him on our terms.  No, we do just the opposite.  We make Him inaccessible.  The call of God is to seek the Lord.  But the sentence does not end there.  We seek the Lord where and while He may be found.  Surely this is the very thing that moved Luther so often to begin an explanation in the catechism:  We are to fear, love, and trust...  Each word is not an enemy of the other but together the three frame the very nature of the God who has revealed Himself to us and how we are to approach Him (at His bidding)...

Monday, June 24, 2013

Suffering the suffrage. . .

I have often quipped that the problem in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is not women's suffrage, it is suffrage at all.  Before you get upset and think I am dissing the laity, let me calm you down.  I do not vote.  I do not have a vote in my parish.  I vote once every couple of years in District Convention (mostly on God, apple pie, and country type motions that are little more than window dressing).  Every 8-10 years I might vote in Synodical Convention (where I am headed in 2013).  Voting has its place but I think we posit too much importance upon voting.

My problem with voting is that we say we do not vote on matters of doctrine (recall the old joke about the parliamentarian who insisted that according to the rules the Word of God can only be overruled by a two thirds majority vote!).  That is what we say... but we vote all the time on God's Word and doctrine.  We vote to announce it, to affirm it, and to reaffirm it.  Why?  Have we voted down things that purported to be God's Word and doctrine?  If we say we cannot vote on matters of faith and doctrine, then why do we?  No church has ever voted that the Bible was not the Word of God (even though some act like this is their stance) so why do we consistently take up time at conventions voting on things that are true whether we vote on them or not?

My second problem with voting is that if something wins by a narrow margin it loses in my book.  In other words, as a Pastor I have often worked to withhold from a vote anything that runs the risk of significant opposition -- at least until we could work for unanimity on how we should proceed.  Would we vote to call a Pastor if the guy got 50.5% of the vote?  Would we vote to build a building or sell property with 50.5% saying aye?  Maybe you would.  I wouldn't.  The only things that we regularly vote upon here are things that have already garnered deep and broad support in the parish following careful and considered teaching and information.

My third problem with voting is that it seems like great power but the power is in upholding what we have voted for -- it does not take much to get a show of hands for something.  It does take something to get the people who vote in favor of something to follow through on it.  We vote for budgets that we do not fully support with our dollars.  We almost always pass resolutions on stewardship and yet Synod, some Districts, and many parishes are running behind in their budgets.  We voted for it and that was easy but the hard part in everything is in upholding what it is we vote to affirm.

My fourth problem with voting is that it seems as if democracy were a God given right when it is no such thing.  Now, don't get me wrong.  Democracy is about as messy a form of government as you can find but it is also about the best (save a good, pious, and benevolent monarch like, say, Frederick the Wise!).  But democracy is not the New Testament replacement for the Old Testament theocratic form of government.  The right to vote often ends up as merely the right to expression opposition, to complain, and to throw a monkey wrench in the works every now and then.  Synod passed a sweeping structural reform at the same convention we elected as Synod President a guy who was not in favor of them.  How about that for consistency!

My fifth problem is that often the people who should be voting are absent and the people who should not be voting are present to cast their vote.  What I mean is that the folks who are most supportive of the work of the Kingdom are not necessarily those who are there in the church basements or convention halls to put a mark on paper (or, in this day and age, press a button).  Oftentimes there is a big disconnect between the people assembled for the vote and those who are in the pews on Sunday morning, who do the work of the kingdom, who faithfully steward the gifts and resources the Lord has entrusted to them, etc...   So how do we live with this conflict?  I don't know.  I do know I have been to conventions in which the delegates hardly reflected the church as a whole (for good or for ill).

So I will tell you what I think about women's suffrage... or men's for that matter.  We should vote less and pray more... cast less votes and pay more attention to the outcomes and consequences... work through catechesis to be more of one mind so that we do not have to pass God and country motions just to make ourselves feel better.  So... maybe it is a cop out and some of you will be angry but I say we should study more and vote less.  On every level of Church!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The State of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany?

It gives you pause... a flash mob in church...

No, it did not happen yesterday.  Yes, it has happened before.  Note the priest doing most of the dancing... I believe that he is the one responsible...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Not a good trend...

News is that more women are primary wage earners for their families than ever before and more women are in the workforce than ever before.

     Mothers are the primary breadwinners in four out of 10 U.S. households with minor children, a record number driven up by growing populations of single moms and married women who make more than their husbands, according to a report released Wednesday from the Pew Research Center.  …
     Disparities between the two groups are sharp. The married moms are more likely to be white, educated and older, making a median income of $50,000. While the unmarried mothers are frequently younger, either black or Hispanic, and bringing in a median income of $20,000.
     “The growth of both groups of mothers is tied to women’s increasing presence in the workplace,” the study states, pointing out that women make up 47 percent of the labor force and that more mothers work outside the home today: 65 percent according to 2011 census data, compared with 37 percent in 1968.
 So we have a combination of things.  More single moms with children and more moms earning more money than dads/husbands.  What is the great concern is the disparity between the married and unmarried.  The unmarried tend to earn less than half the married women, barely above the poverty line, and suffer the extra burden of being the only adult in the household and therefore carrying the full burden of the household responsibilities alone.  Who said marriage is bad for women?  It seems just the opposite according to these statistics.

One concern, however, is that men are increasingly marginalized.  Not only are there a great many more households managed by single women, but even in households where the husband is present he is often the less significant wage earner.  The fact that 65% of moms work outside the home and constitute nearly half the work force indicates that children are consigned to day care or home alone.  This is not a good sign for our children.  Add to this the stress of dealing the all or most of the household responsibilities on top of working and being the parent and we have more tired, worn out, and on the edge moms than ever before.  Which goes to my main point.  The stats tell us that the family is in trouble and when the family is in trouble we feel it in the Church, in the neighborhood, in the community, and in the society as a whole.  This is something you do not have to say to those who try to find Sunday school teachers, lead youth groups, hold Bible studies, etc...  We have been seeing the disappearance of women from these roles for a long time.  Again, my point here is not to place one more burden or guilt trip upon women but to acknowledge that this has been going on for a very long time.  The stress in the Church is not merely or even primarily to find people to fill those roles ordinarily held by women; the stress in the Church is providing care and support for increasingly stressed women and families.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Ordination unnecessary?

I recently made a cursory review of both the SMP Task Force recommendations and the response of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, to the report of the task force.  Interesting reading, indeed.  The task force has some serious concerns about the proportion of the SMP program as it currently exits in Missouri.  They include:
  1. Retain the Specific Ministry Program
  2. Narrow the specificity of the Program
  3. Conduct a Study of the Various Alternative Routes to Ordained Ministry (currently there are 2 residential routes and 6 distance routes)
  4. Add Greek to the curriculum
  5. Maintain an SMP enrollment that protects residential routes
  6. Continue the various alternative routes already in place
  7. Conduct a feasibility study for an ordained diaconate (specifically in reference to additional staff on larger parishes that might have been filled by an SMP individual)
All of these seem reasonable, actually quite cautious, considering the eruption of numbers in the SMP program,  Many will question the relationship of the ordained diaconate to the SMP issue but everyone who recalls the scenarios raised to justify such a short circuiting of the regular route to ordination know that this is not unrelated and is also not a new idea even among Lutherans.  It will end up being hashed out by the Convention but clearly there is an elephant in the room when nearly 30% of all those training for the ordained ministry in the LCMS are in the SMP program and more than that when all the alternative routes are included.

The down side in all of this is that many will push for delay and more study before making any recommendations.  Absent an urgency, this may sit well with uncertain delegates.  My point is that this IS far too urgent to delay and any delay will only further entrench the position of the status quo AND erode the position of residential seminary education as the primary path to ordination.  Nobody that I know of predicted the rapid rise in SMP numbers.  Everyone I know is concerned about the future of residential seminary education (if for no other reason than cost).  It seems to me the most foolish thing we could do is the retain the status quo and study things more.  We need to act before the numbers of those in residential seminary programs becomes a minority of those on the path to ordination.

Some see the SMP program as the solution, even though a band aid, to the problem of licensed deacons (regularly performing the full compliment of duties of a Pastor but without ordination).  The two programs (SMP and the licensed deacon programs operating apart from the seminaries) in the Districts) are not unrelated.  In fact, these are connected from infancy.  Others want to see the options further expanded (both lay service and non-residential seminary routes).  So what is your pleasure -- non-ordained deacons doing Word and Sacrament ministry, short circuit pastoral training programs sending out ordained but largely untrained pastors, or an even more radical definition of training, call, and ordination?  According to Concordia, St. Louis' response to the SMP task force, it may be solved by doing away with ordination since it is "by no means a necessary element."  Stay tuned for more...   

You can read it all here.

Or it is available here:

I get to be in on the discussion because I will be there as a voting delegate in St. Louis in July.  I bet you wish YOU were me...

So this is what all the fuss was about???

I seldom delve within the realm of the political but this one struck me as something worth considering...

According to what I understand, states or the federal government (depends upon the states choice) will put together different levels of health care plans, affordable, but tailored to the particular needs and choices of the individual or family.  Platinum will offer the highest coverage and lowest co-pays and has the biggest price tag.  Gold will tilt slightly more to a lower price tag with higher than average coverage and lower than average co-pays.  Silver will be an average plan with higher co-pays, deductibles, and a lower than average cost.  Bronze will offer the highest out of pocket cost with the lowest monthly premium.  I think you get it.

Anyway, I read where California has detailed the "silver" plan.  Now this is one step above basic and two steps away from Cadillac coverage. This would probably prove to be a popular choice for those who did not have health insurance before Obamacare.  The only problem is the plan.

In other words, we moved heaven and earth (in terms of congressional propensity not to act and the unpopularity of the plan as a whole) in order to offer a moderate to low income family a health care plan which costs $3852 in premiums, co-pays nearly double the usual plan offered prior to Obamacare, a high generic co-pay for prescriptions than what most pharmacies offer without insurance ($4 monthly and $10 for 90 day generic coverages), and the potential for an out of pocket of an additional $6400 for the family.  Add it all together and it is more than what most folks would pay for a comparable plan prior to Obamacare.  I know.  I obtained coverage in Nebraska for one son (prior to Obamacare) with better coverage than the silver plan detailed above for $139 per month.  I also helped a Tennessee family obtain coverage (again prior to Obamacare) for $271 per month and better co-pays and a $500 lower annual deductible than cited in the California offering.

My only question is this.  If the California plan offers a glimpse of what the fruits of all the controversy, conflict, and Machiavellian manipulated of Congress has wrought, what have we gained?  If I were that family in California with limited financial resources, the silver plan (one step from the bottom) is not a great bargain.  It occurs to me that we may not have solved the great health care equation... at least not yet.  I feel for the family choosing the silver option.  I feel for my own parish and the high cost of health care premiums paid for what is good but not spectacular health care coverage.  I feel for family members who are young and healthy and do not have health insurance.  I feel for the infirm not yet Medicare age and the high hurdle they face for health care coverage.  But I am not yet ready to say the great dilemma has been fixed.

Semper Idem (Always the Same)

It has become fashionable to reinvent ourselves.  We look in the mirror and attempt to remake us into a new person and leave behind the old person we do not like.  We look at our lives and decide that we need to remake our lives -- especially when reaching a magic age that seems to kindle such desires for newness and change.  We grow tired of our things and buy new ones in an attempt to make new what has become ordinary, routine, and predictable.  We elect people to bring change and make new what has become old and unworkable.  Yet at the very same time we retreat to that which is familiar when trouble, trial, adversity, or tragedy strikes.  We are funny people -- caught up in our quest for that which is ever new and our love for that which is familiar.

So often the Church gets caught up in this same tension and tilts in one direction or another.  The 1970s were certainly the time of things new and experimental and the result was that the Church that people new was replaced with one that they did not know.  It may have satisfied the desires for things new but then that has never been the real attraction of the Church in the world.  In masking our continuity with the past, we lost the voice that has echoed through the ages and that which made the Church the place and the means of comfort in time of change and chance.  This is no more profoundly revealed than in the way the liturgy was made new -- so new, in fact, that people had to look around and make sure that they were actually in the Church.  For Rome and for Lutherans this abrupt change was not without its impact upon the people in the pews as well as those who fall away and come home again from time to time.

Semper Idem (always the same) is a Latin phrase, motto perhaps, that well expresses one of the chief characteristics of the faith, the Church, and the liturgy.  It is not that change does not take place or should not take place.  It is that this change is incremental.  It is a slow evolution and not a radical departure.  When we forget this, we run the risk of becoming, as Dean Inge once said, a widow in the next generation.  Marrying the spirit of this or attempting to see through the crystal ball to wed the spirit of the next age has always been our great temptation and our great weakness.  We have certainly abused a ton of Scriptural texts in our justification for the new song, new approach, new paradigm, and new way we believe will save us from our failings in the past and the danger of our irrelevance in the future.  But Scripture has never not been abused by those who proof text it to support their own predetermined conclusion.

It seems to me that the genius of the Church has been its slowness to change -- precisely at those moments when change is rapidly occurring all around her and voices are clamoring for the Church to jump on the train or be left at the station.  In art and architecture, in music and liturgy, in theology and practice, we remain the Church of yesterday.  Not as those who wish to repristinate what was but as those who know that as Jesus Christ is yesterday, today, and tomorrow the same, so must the Church never distance herself from the familiar resemblance to Him who changes not.  For what is our demise is not the judgment of the world or those outside that we are not current enough.  No, what is our demise is when we no longer are found to have faithfully kept the Gospel and practice that Christ has charge us to keep, whole and undefiled by sinful and unclean people.  What mystery and what majesty that the God who remains forever the same is the same Lord whom we know as the merciful Savior who has redeemed His people with His own precious blood!

Semper Idem is hardly the worst thing that could be said of the Church, her doctrine, and her liturgy.   It might even be the best. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Anything but beige

When we built on to our building, the problem of what to paint the walls inside became a much bigger issue than any imagined.  In the end, the choice was beige.  Okay, so the actual color sample had some fancy name to it but it is a shade of beige.  Why beige?  Well, no one is offended by beige.  We don't want someone to say they don't like the color we chose so we chose a color no one dislikes... but hardly anybody likes.

Such is the problem of Christianity, and, more narrowly, Lutheranism.  We have become bland and beige.  We make our buildings look like generic public buildings (malls, etc...).  We have adopted the muzak of the radio that everyone hears.  We have transformed the Gospel into any good word instead of the Word of the Cross.  We have made morality a generic term for doing what seems right in your own eyes.  We strive to offend none and so the world honestly wonders "why bother?"

It was not always that way.  Once we were distinctive.  Once we stood out -- so much so that we attracted the attention of most, offended some, but gained a hearing because the word we preached was nothing the world had ever heard before.  Once our buildings inspired as they manifested a God bigger than we are and moved our vision upward (in sense if not in physical elevation).  Once we inspired great artists and artisans who employed their gifts for the purpose of Christ and His glory.  Once we entered cultures and continents confident that those there needed to hear the Gospel meant for and which saves all people.  Once our church workers dressed distinctively to stand out and draw attention to the church they represented.  Once we paraded the Gospel and its scandalous cross in public places through public media as if this was the very purpose of the public square.  Once we spoke of right, virtue, goodness, beauty, and truth in compelling ways so that failure engendered a guilt which must be salved with forgiveness and success was accorded not to the person but to the God who worked in and through them.  And the Church grew...

But we have become a church of apologists -- not the kind who defend but the kind of express sorrow and regret over the scandal of the cross.  A beige church in which our music and our gospel is no longer distinctive and compelling but ordinary and, well, boring.  We act as if fervor was a bad thing and a bland and ordinary moderation the highest virtue of all.  We no longer see life in the perspective of God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier but have made ourselves the center of our own little universe.  Pleasure has replaced virtue and succe$$ has become enough to do whatever we choose to do.  We lament the loss of loyalty but we lift high our individualism as people, pastors, and parishes -- flaunting our individuality as birthright higher than faith itself.

I long for a Christianity and a Lutheranism painted with deep tones, almost shocking colors, that demand the attention of those within and without.  We are not in danger of being too Christian or too Lutheran.  Just the opposite.  We are in danger of a diluted and bland Christianity and Lutheranism that no longer excites anyone inside any more than it compels those outside to pay any attention to us or to the kerygma we proclaim.  That is why we are losing people and failing to gain converts.  Who chooses beige?  Only those afraid of standing out or standing for something... could that be what we have become???

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

If you cannot be happy... be cheerful...

In his own inimitable way Garrison Keillor manages to mix humor, sarcasm, truth, and wisdom in the stories he tells.  Having been at one of his monologues recently, I can attest to the ability of his words and character to touch the soul.  As I have oft reminded, Keillor pokes fun at most of us, Lutherans in particular, but at the same time lauds some of the more common Lutheran characteristics as hidden virtues.  He said that it is unrealistic to think that one will always be happy.  Suffering and struggle are too common to shoot for such an ideal.  But he told us that this should not prevent us from being cheerful.

There is wisdom in his words.  I fear that we have lost our cheerfulness, a casualty of too much disappointment, perhaps, but more likely a victim of our incessant need to dwell upon bad news.  Even in the Church, this affliction is rampant.  Naysayers are not so much those who disagree as much as they are disagreeable.  Whispers of discontent, misery which loves company, and pessimism out of control pervades the Church.  The folks outside the boundaries of the Church see this and, I believe, this awareness is one of the reasons why we are less effective in sharing the good news of the Gospel.

We can be cheerful.  It is this St. Paul urges when he bids us rejoice in the Lord even in the midst of sufferings.  The character of faith is not shaped by happiness, which is largely self-centered and which is as much a choice as it is the fruit of pleasant circumstances.  The character of faith is the holy joy of God's presence, His peace which surpasses understanding, and His grace which defies all reason.

We can be cheerful.  I fear that often Pastors, church leaders, and the whole company of those in the pews tend to forget this.  It is too easy and the instinct of our sinful natures to discount hope and postpone joy.  That means that too often the Church is seen less as a place where this holy joy is both given and cultivated by the Spirit than a place where we can let all our disappointment, frustration, and bitterness spill out.  It does not take much to note when and where this happens.  The occasional visitor or the new person checking out a congregation can readily sense such contentment with misery and it warns off people -- even when the Word that is read and proclaimed speaks a different message.

We can be cheerful.  Though we are often instruments of our own misery and we can confound the work of the Spirit by our cynicism, skepticism, and doubt, the Lord of the Church is in charge of the Church.  We are neither responsible for the success of God's work nor are the only causes for its failure.  The Spirit works in us repentant joy -- the acknowledgement that we boast in nothing except Jesus Christ is our joy even while we confess that we are sinful and unclean, offending against the Lord and one another in thought, word, and deed. 

We can be cheerful.  We ought to be cheerful.  If God is good to us, He will place in our midst those who will rebuke our lack of cheer and remind us of our cause for joy.  God has highly placed some folks like that in my life.  Not in the least of which were my grandparents.  Their own lives lived amid adversity, struggle, pain, and loss nevertheless were characterized by a joyful and cheerful demeanor that was not a personality trait but the fruit of a vigorous and deliberate faith.  Their giving natures, formed by the giving nature of our Lord, both fed their cheerful countenance and enabled them to pass on their holy joy in Christ to others.  Though they have been long gone, their witness to me remains one of joyful faith and cheerful heart.  I cannot name all those whom the Lord has sent through my life as calls to and reminders of this cheerful and joyful faith in Christ.  I remain ever in awe of the laughter and joy that inhabits my own home and family.  It is not the stuff of naivete or cruelty but of faith, amid struggle, but not overcome.  Gladness is gift even when it comes to us from those who mark that it is missing in our lives.

Keillor has spoken well of the lack of and need for a cheerful heart.  I have so often said that I really do not believe the world holds our lack of holiness against us (unless we are self-righteous) nor do I believe the world expects us be happy, healthy, and successful.  But the world does expect us to be joyful and it is right to complain when lack a cheerful countenance.  Faith imparts many things and bestows many gifts but one of its chief blessings is that we have learned cheerfulness and joy even while sufferings and struggles touch our lives.  This is hardly ever testament to us but always the work of the Lord and the fruit of the Spirit.  If you cannot be happy, the least you can be, as a Christian, is cheerful...


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Love little or love much...

Sermon for Pentecost 4, Proper 6C, on Sunday, June 16, 2013.

    The Gospel for today presents us with an interesting setting.  Simon, not the Simon we call Peter, but Simon the Pharisee, has set up a meal to snub Jesus.  Simon has invited Jesus not as one who seeks His mercy but in order to display Simon’s own righteousness.  The whole plan goes sour when a sinful woman (Bible speak for prostitute) shows up (how did she get in).  Her presence turns the snub into an amazing display of the mercy of the Kingdom of God.
    From His walk in the door, Jesus felt the snub of Simon.  He offers Jesus no water to wash His feet.  Since all transportation was by foot and the feet wore open sandals, this was not merely a symbolic act.  Simon betrayed the common courtesy of a host for his guests and left Jesus unclean for the meal.
    Simon offered no kiss at the door.  This too is a marked snub.  The kiss was the customary greeting of a host to those close enough to be invited into his home for fellowship.  First, no water and then no welcome.  This kiss is not unlike our own greeting of peace that follows the confession and absolution – not a hi, howarya time but the extension of fellowship made possible by grace.
    The final snub were the whispers under Simon's breath.  He whispered contempt for the sinful woman but even more so for Jesus – suggesting that if Jesus were whom He claimed to be He would know the sins of this woman. But Jesus knew Simon's heart and heard the words that Simon thought as if they had been shouted out loud.
    In contrast to Simon the Pharisee, there is the sinful woman, the prostitute.  She came with an expensive alabaster flask of scented anointing oil.  She came prepared.  When she saw Jesus’ feet were dirty, she wept in sorrow both from her repentance and for the shabby treatment accorded Jesus at the hand of the Pharisee.  She wept as a sinner overwhelmed to be in the presence of the righteous and holy Lord.  She wept as one who was overcome by the humility of the Lord who accepted the service of a woman with such a past.  Her tears washed the Lord's dirty feet and her hair wiped them dry.  This was an act of genuine  repentance and faith.
    She anointed His feet with the expensive healing balm she had brought with her.  As expensive as it was, she believed that Jesus was worth every drop.  It did not matter what it cost her, only that even this ointment was unworthy of the Lord.  So she showed her absolute trust in Jesus.  She gave Him her all, her best, nothing less would do.  This was an act of sacrificial worship.
    Kissing the feet of Jesus showed her repentance and faith in the most profound way she knew.  Unworthy of His mercy, she asked not with words but with service.  The surprise of the Kingdom is when Jesus forgives her sins and sends her forth with her past erased and a brand new future written for her.  Her service to Jesus would speak from generation to generation just as Jesus' mercy speaks from generation to generation to welcome sinners and forgive them.
    Every week the same thing happens right here at Grace Lutheran Church.  Some of us are more like Simon.  We come with thoughts only of ourselves.  Preoccupied with self, we focus on  our worries, our distractions, feeling hot, feeling cold, feeling thirsty, all of these things sit front and center on our mind.  We come to Church thinking what God will do for us.  Our prayers are like demands of God waiting for answers to come.  We have problems waiting for God to fix.  Too often we display a lack of repentance and so we show forth few of the fruits of repentance in our lives.  We trust ourselves more than Jesus.  We bring offerings more in fear than in love.  We serve Him when it is convenient so our worship is the half-hearted worship of distracted hearts and minds.  We give the Lord more leftovers of our attention and our time and our money than the first fruits.
    Stewardship sermons often make it seem like money is the issue but it never is.  It is always about repentance.  He who has been forgiven much, loves much.  Jesus showed Simon his sin and his lack of repentance by pointing out the lack of love in Simon's heart.  At the same time, Jesus shows the greater love in the heart of the sinful woman – a love fueled by honest repentance and confession and shaped by the mercy of God.
    So whom do we look like.  Does our worship suffer from the poverty of our spirits so preoccupied by self?  Or is our worship filled with the richness of God’s mercy in Christ for sinners weeping the regret of sin, loving Jesus in every act of devotion, and giving Him all we have while acknowledging it is not all the Lord deserves?  Are we like Simon with fake righteousness or are we like the sinful woman whose only righteousness is the one Jesus gives her?
    In the end words count little.  On this Father's Day it is tempting to make fatherly love a matter of words.  It is not .  The actions of love tell the true story of a dad.  Fatherly love is shown in deeds that mirror the love God has for us and teach our children to call God Father and rejoice in what His fatherly love has done for us.
    Just as Jesus speaks not through words only but in actions of love and mercy that reach their culmination on the cross, so does our faith show itself in actions of repentance, love and devotion.  In the end this is not about the sinful woman or the stubborn self-righteous Pharisee.  It is about Jesus who gives His all to us and for us.  He dies that we might live.  He pays for our sins with His holy and precious body and blood.  He lives to impart to us the life death can no more steal.  He washes us clean in our baptism.  He sets this table with His very flesh and blood as our food of immortality.  He picks us up when we fall to temptation.  He seeks us when we wander from His grace.  He stands with us in our every need, bearing the burden as His own.  He leads us through life and death into life everlasting.  This is our peace.  This is the motivation for our love for Him and for one another.  This is what moves us to give to Him our all, as an act of trust that mirrors the good words we say.  Forgiveness leads us to faith, faith leads us to repentance, and repentance is show by the sacrificial acts of love that show we get it.  And I pray we do.  Amen

Holy Moly... Those French are just plain... well, you know

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Ordering of Disorder. . .

I have long lamented the way that we answer disorder with a diagnosis and then treat it with drugs or therapy, treating the symptoms instead of the cause.  This has become the standard way we deal with all sorts of things -- including sin.  For one thing, when we classify something as a disorder, we take the stigma away.  After all, what is natural must be normal.  For another, when we make it a disorder, we take away all responsibility from the person who manifests the disorder.  If it is not your fault, you are relieved of any need to correct it.  Finally, when we order disorders, we put the burden upon the others rather upon the disordered and it becomes the responsibility of the others to adapt to and live with the disorder.  This shift of responsibility also places the moral context upon those who accept, adapt, and deal with the disordered and not upon the disordered themselves.

I was reading an article on why American children have such high rates of ADHD and why French children do not.  It typifies the way we as Americans deal with disorderly people.

In an article entitled “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD,” Marilyn Wedge says, “In the United States, at least 9% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications.” In France she says the number is less than half a percent. Why don’t French kids have ADHD?
Is ADHD a biological-neurological disorder? Surprisingly, the answer to this question depends on whether you live in France or in the United States. In the United States, child psychiatrists consider ADHD to be a biological disorder with biological causes. The preferred treatment is also biological­–psycho stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.

French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children’s focusing and behavioral problems with drugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context. They then choose to treat the underlying social context problem with psychotherapy or family counseling. This is a very different way of seeing things from the American tendency to attribute all symptoms to a biological dysfunction such as a chemical imbalance in the child’s brain.
The real question is not “Why don’t French kids have ADHD?” The real question is “Why do American kids have it?” After all, we’re the ones who are abnormal.

You can read the entire article here...

As the author so clearly states, the children are not the problem we are.  To extend that, the problem with disorders is the way we define them, make them natural and normal, and force others to change for them rather than the person adapting.  We are the problem.  We do not want to change.  We want to be who we are with it all hanging out.  We want to be accepted for who we are -- warts and all.  What is true in terms of things like ADHD is magnified in the way we make everything natural and therefore God's fault.  In this we are not much different than Eden in which Eve blamed the serpent and therefore by implication God since God was the creator of all that is.

Behavior and disorder are not the same thing and yet we have chosen to define them as the same.  In this way the misbehaving are as "normal" as those who behave.  It is the T-Ball mentality in which everyone gets as many chances as bat as they need, no one keeps score, and there are no winners or losers.  In essence, when we eliminate the wrong, we have also removed virtue from the equation. 

The author begins his piece with a quote from Chesterton. G. K. Chesterton wrote, “Science in the modern world has many uses; its chief use, however, is to provide long words to cover the errors of the rich.” A rich man cannot be a thief. He must be a kleptomaniac. America, the richest society in the history of the world, applies this use of science with diligence...We apply it most diligently on behalf of our children. No red-blooded American child would misbehave. Our children have disorders.

May it is our riches.  Maybe it is our arrogance.  Maybe it is sin, if not all, at least in part.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Father's Day Muse

I must admit that I am not at all sure about the genderless nature of parenting today.  Even in homes in which there is both father and mother present, the roles have diverged so that the distinctives of either parent are often lost.  Both mom and dad have become nurturers.  I learned many things from my dad but nurturing was not one of them.

My dad taught the value of work -- honest work designed not to obtain a paycheck but the labor that is both the purpose for which we were created and the burden we bear because of sin.  Even if our work is harder and less satisfying because of the Fall of Adam, it does not erase the fact that man was designed for work by God.  The nature of work has changed not but not our calling to labor.

It seems that we live in an age in which labor and work are often derided.  We expect that what we do for a living will be entertaining, exciting, and stimulating as well as profitable but even under those circumstances we expect only to work for a portion of our lives and then be financially and time free to do as we please.  It is a strange notion, modern and not ancient and more a reflection of our self-absorption than our moral progress.  My dad taught me that work is good, not as a god, but the domain in which we rightly honor the Lord who made us for labor.  I hope I have taught this to my own children.

My dad taught me the value of rest.  Above all, Sundays in my childhood home were (and still are) about rest.  Early rise for church, home for a late breakfast, time to read the paper and take a nap, and then, perhaps, a visit with family.  It is a rather typical Sabbath keeping idea that makes sense only if work is there as the thing from which we rest.  If labor has become a tool of our pleasure, so has leisure.  We play at our work and work at our play and there is no time for rest.  My dad taught me the value of rest -- rest that centers around church and family.  My brother and I knew that unless our parents found a cold blue dead body in our bed on Sunday morning we were going to church.  A church going dad makes for church going kids.  I watched each morning how my dad practiced his daily devotional routine and I saw how seriously he took worship and the church.  I hope I have taught this to my children.

My dad taught me that money is not as important as it is thought to be.  Actually he learned it from his dad.  My grandpa held about every volunteer job in my hometown as well as nominally paid jobs like postmaster and justice of the peace.  His business partner became rich while my grandpa died leaving a broken down house and a Studebaker.  But the crowd at his funeral attested to the good will he left in the wake of his long life.  I expect when that day comes, my dad will be so honored.  He gives and gives.  I did not understand it as a child and it amazes me still.  He keeps no record but if record were kept, it would show little return in comparison to his giving spirit.  He will not leave a great estate but a huge legacy of good will and love.  My brother carries on this family tradition of service in my hometown.  I hope I have taught this to my children.

My dad taught me to tell stories and laugh.  Most of the humor in our house was self-deprecating unless you took yourself too seriously and then you were the butt of the jokes.  I was pretty pompous and full of myself so a great deal of the humor ended up being directed at me.  I earned it.  Family gatherings were all about stories and those stories always seemed to include a punch line.  We laugh still around the kitchen table -- making fun of ourselves and each other.  I hope I have taught this to my children.

No, my dad is no doting, nurturing father.  My mom is but he is not.  That is not a problem.  It is a good thing.  Families do not need a mom and a dad who are the same.  We need the differences that we are designed for as well as learn.  That's okay.  I learned from my dad what I did not learn from my mom and vice versa.  My wife and I are not the same people.  Sometimes that causes friction.  That's okay.  But our children have gotten distinctly different things from each of us, just as I have from my mom and my dad.  I do not lament the person my dad wasn't but I am ever grateful for the man he was and still is.

BTW at age 86 he still goes to work at 7 am and gets home at 6 pm.  Some folks find that awful.  Part of me finds that awesome.  Go Dad!