Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What Genesis rest might mean

Could this be the meaning of rest?  For surely this is the rest that we need and, under the Spirit's guidance, seek?

Thanks to a reader who sent me this picture. . .  I wish I had put it up on Holy Saturday. . .

Provocative or Faithful. . .

The Roman Catholic Church is poised to canonized John XXIII, elected in 1958 as Pope and the one who called for the Vatican Council.  Some saw him then and some still see him as the one who opened the door of the Roman Catholic Church to modernity (for good or for ill, depending upon your perspective).  In reality he was nothing but a compassionate conservative.  Unlike his philosophically adventurous and intellectually curious predecessor (Pius XII) and successor (Paul VI), the man born Angelo Roncalli was was about as traditional a Roman Catholic as you could get in 1958. 

Provocative and interesting people are not always healthy for the faith or for the church.  We love to listen to those who will surely leave us stimulated, laughing, and crying at the same time but they generally do not make for great leaders.  Under the best of circumstances they often give rise to movements that sell out the faith and the church to modernity.  Under the worst of circumstances they can foster a cult of personality unhealthy for the larger community of faith.

Those interested in John XXIII may wish to read his personal diary, later published as Journal of a Soul and still in print.  There they will find the simple, sturdy, and thoroughly traditional Catholic piety that sustained this man the whole of his life.  I believe it is safe to say that Rome would not be in such a state today had this Pope lived long enough to prevent the exaggerations of Paul VI from transforming the Roman Catholic Church and its worship. 

John XXIII was convinced that the Church possessed of a greater vitality of life than ever before and that this would fuel a renewed missionary effort throughout the world.  It is for this reason he convened a council determined to renewed commitment to the holy life of the faithful and the religious, a more powerful proclamation of doctrinal truth, a refreshed appeal to live the Gospel, and a renewed priesthood in both commitment and numbers to serve the faithful and the church in its mission to the world.

As a Lutheran I am reminded how easily noble intentions can be undone by those who have concluded that the way we have always done things is the primary roadblock to the church's future and how irresistible the power of provocative and radical words can be to shake the church from her doctrinal and confessional moorings.  We live in the same kind of age today.  Lutherans who would never look to Rome are looking to the trendy and edgy voices of people like Tim Keller, Andy Stanley, Craig Groeschel, Mike Breen, and Ken Hunter and those who went before them (Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, etc...).  Provocative people, to be sure, but those who hold neither our confession nor our values.  I am not suggesting that we do not need to be shaken up every now and then but not by those who would lead us away from our Confessions or who would insist that to grow and endure the Church must change (and leave behind her tradition).

The Church is always in better hands when those who lead her are convinced of her truth, of the vitality of her life by the Spirit from the means of grace, of the profound character of her mission to speak faithfully Christ to the world, and who believe the Word will do what it has promised.  Provocative folks are certainly interesting and offer us compelling (though not always objective criticism) yet they too often begin with the rejection of the past instead of building upon it.  We are best served by incremental change than by radical rebirth.  Look at the Reformation and the ruins of mainline Protestantism and touchy feely evangelicalism from those who believed Luther too conservative and who insisted in order to make the church alive we must kill her.  The Church of every age dances with a host of suitors who tempt her and seek to woo her heart but she is best served by her faithfulness to Him who created her, washed her in His blood, and called her to be His bride.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The marks of the cross. . .

Sermon preached for Easter 2A, on Sunday, April 27, 2014.

    I doubt there is a parent alive today who has not feared what a doctor or hospital might think of all the bumps and bruises on your child.  Will they think I abuse my child?  Or will they chalk it all up to kids just being kids?  We have all heard the crack of a head or looked at a wound thinking "That is going to leave a mark..."  And it usually does.  Life is a messy and dangerous business that leaves few folks unscathed.
    The disciples did not know what to think of Jesus after the resurrection.  If there is a resurrection and death is overcome, it is easy to presume that all the marks of the cross and the scars of His suffering would disappear.  But they did not.  Jesus wore the marks of His cross and the scars of His sufferings as the very badges of honor and medals of victory.
    We often idealize the resurrection – no gray hair, no wrinkles, no weight problems, etc... We so often hope that we will wear perfect bodies, a utopian existence and an idealized life in which all the men are handsome, the women beautiful, and the children above average.  Better even than Lake Woebegone.  But there is Jesus with the marks of the nails and the spear.
    Our Lord is in His glory, wearing the glorious flesh of Easter and the resurrection from the dead, but the scars are part of that glory.  They do not detract from the glory of Easter – the marks of the cross and of His suffering are part of Easter's glory.  Our Lord is not ashamed of them but shows them for what they are – the wounds of His victory and our redemption.  Indeed He shows them off.
    Thomas comes with his doubts and fears, having been absent from the rest of the twelve when Jesus first showed Himself to them.  Thomas rightly gets condemned on this Sunday but he got one thing right.  The only Jesus he knew was the one who wore the scars of His suffering and the marks of His cross.  The only Jesus he wants to see is the Jesus whose marks of the nails and scars of the spear he can see and touch.  For this is how He knows it is Jesus.
    Our Lord does not scold Thomas or condemn him though He could have.  Instead our Lord holds out His hands and lifts the fabric to show His side.  The marks of the cross are not hidden nor are they untouchable.  The marks of the cross do not fade away into memory but are the scars of His triumph by whom He is know and His victory is assured.  Jesus will be known only by His cross, by the scars of that suffering that won our salvation and the marks He bore in payment for our sins.  He is risen from the dead but He is the crucified One who is risen.
    As Jesus wears the marks of the cross, so do you and I wear them.  Ours are not the scars of life’s disappointments or marks of the nails but the marks of suffering for belonging to Christ, the scars of testifying to Jesus in a world unfriendly to the cross.  Living the Easter faith is not simplistic nor is it easy.  Life under the cross leaves marks.  Nowhere does Jesus promise us immunity from persecution for the faith or from the hard choices of faithfulness.
    Jesus promises that those who bear His cross will also wear its scars.  There is no way out.  These scars do not fade away.  Jesus and those who follow Him wear the marks of the cross eternally.  Because they are the marks of Christ’s victory for us and the marks of our redemption as the people of God who have been forgiven and reborn by the miracle of His death and resurrection.
    The great temptation is to think that in order for us to witness to the world we need to live a perfect life, an idealized dream of life in which we are perfect and we have all we want.  That is not our witness. When we stand before the world, we stand as the wounded who have been made whole, the sinners forgiven, and the dead given everlasting life.  But the scars and wounds are still with us.  We are not embarrassed by the marks of Christ and His cross upon us.  We are not ashamed of the Gospel.  In fact, like Jesus we gladly show off the marks of suffering we have endured for the Kingdom and the scars that mark us as the people of Christ, who, like Him, bear the cross.
    Our wounds are not the reason we are saved but they do mark us as Christ's own.  By His wounds we have healing yet we wear the wounds of the cross as the marks of our identity.  We belong to Christ.  Do not be ashamed of those marks.  They are the consequence of following Jesus.  Look at how the lessons frame this.  Those in Acts who endured beating rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ.  St. Peter describes Christian life in which now for a little while we endure suffering, trials, and temptations which God uses to test the genuineness of our faith and to purify us in that faith and trust.
    Every baptism leaves a mark, living in but no longer of the world.  Every time we choose between faithfulness to Jesus and fitting into the world, it leaves a mark.  Every time we open our mouths to speak the Gospel to an unfriendly world, it leaves a mark.  Every time we practice godly self-control and do not give in to our desires, it leaves a mark.  Every time someone judges us falsely on Christ's account, it leaves a mark.  Every time we admit, confess, and repent of our sins, it leaves a mark.  But we do not hide these scars.  We wear the battle scars of our faith not with shame but with pride.  They are also the marks of God’s Spirit working on us and in us.
    Do not fear the marks of the cross upon your life.  They are not your shame, they are your glory.  Just as our Lord wore the marks of His own suffering as His glory, we wear the marks of the cross on our lives as the glorious marks of the people of God, redeemed in Christ, forgiven of their sins, and prepared for life everlasting.
    The worst thing we can try to do is to sell the Gospel to the world by saying it is easy, it will cost you nothing, it does not hurt.  Every kid in a doctor's office knows that lie when they hear it.  Christ’s wounds won us salvation.  We who are saved in Christ wear the wounds of faithfulness in a world that chooses easy before good, the whim of the moment before self-denial, the current lie in fashion over the hard but honest truth, and the myth of utopia and perfection over the pain of being made into the people God has already declared us to be. 
    At least Thomas was honest.  Let me see the wounds before I believe... Let me touch them before I wear them.  Thomas at least knew that there was no Jesus worth knowing except the one who bore the marks of His suffering and death for us.  Thomas also knew that if he was to follow Jesus, he must wear the marks of His cross in the high calling of his daily life in faith and faithfulness.  Come, my people.  You have the gifts of Christ paid for with His own body in suffering and His blood shed.  Come, wear the marks of Christ.  For this pain of the moment is forgotten in eternity.  I will not deceive you.  Faithfulness is not easy but it is the only path to eternity.  The marks we wear for Christ are not our shame but His glory and they prove the genuineness of our faith as we struggle to remain faithful in a faithless world.  Amen.

No rest for the weary. . .

Some, perhaps many, who disagreed with the ELCA decision to regularize gay and lesbian clergy and to recognize gay marriage thought that they might be insulated from the implications of this decision, that it might be possible for a parish to keep from calling a GLBT candidate.  Think again. . .

According to reports from the recent meeting of the ELCA bishops, the placement of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer candidates for ministry was one topic of discussion. The discussion was not merely among the bishops; guests who are part of Proclaim and the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries joined the bishops for conversations about how placement is going across this church and to share best practices as well as concerns.  In other words, how to expand the range of openings available to GLBT candidates.  More than one bishop of the ELCA has nearly threatened resistant congregations in an effort to make the placement of such candidates wide open.  The goal here is clearly to put GLBT candidates on equal par with all other candidates in every congregation and ministry of the ELCA.

While I feel sorry for those who stayed in the ELCA and who will find themselves subject to the forced integration of GLBT candidates into the full specter of ministries and congregations of that church body, I believe they were naive in thinking that this would not happen or that it would be forestalled long enough for them to not have to deal with it all.   The GLBT lobby has shown itself to be well organized, highly effective, extremely intolerant of opposition, and very impatient in its effort to have nothing less than the full acceptance and approval of its agenda.  That has surely been the case in the ELCA until now and it will not change.  All that talk about bound conscience was just that - talk.  Though from a practical perspective, who did not see this coming?  How can a church body exist with a fractured ministerium of candidates some would consider and others would not?  (Wake up Missouri when it comes to SMP and licensed lay deacons!!  We cannot have a fractured ministerium either!)

So it is no surprise that if you are in the ELCA, a GLBTQueer candidate may be ascending the steps to your pulpit soon. . . (Though unless the ELCA is radically different, the percentage of actual GLBTQueer candidates will remain well below 10% as with the general population.  If that is not the case, then the ELCA is actually showing deference to and encouraging GLBTQueer candidates as the norm for their clergy.)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Over sensitized is desensitized. . .

Everywhere we read about the increase of ADD and ADHD, the explosion of medicines prescribed for these (and abused), and the itchy fingers on our technology that keep feeding our pursuit of excitement and our run from boredom.  Little do we realize that the end result of our over stimulated brains is that they are also desensitized in the process.  We require more and more stimulation in order to satisfy our quest for excitement.  This is certainly the modus operandi of the video game culture in which the pursuit is as much the attraction as the end result.  This is also the means of addiction to pornography in which the image itself means less than the pursuit of new and different images.  I have written before about how this prevents us from have normal and healthy personal relationships apart from the technology that is the middle man between us.

How this affects worship is another area that has not been fully pursued.  We already know that new churches and churches whose worship practices are on the cutting edge of change tend to attract more existing Christians (at least they claim to be) than those outside the pale of Christianity.  In part, what attracts people to the churches is the prospect of excitement that feeds into the desire for new, newer, and newest.  Often times mega churches wax and wane in size due to the movement of people in and out as they search for that which satisfies their need for new, different, and more.  This also means that those congregations in search of these people are constantly re-inventing themselves and what they do on Sunday morning.  Their pattern is to have no pattern and the appeal is to those who come on Sunday morning expecting to find something new and satisfied by that which is new and different.

An honest question here is whether we should be feeding people's over stimulated lives or not.  I have honestly wondered in my own parish about the constant quest to fill the building with activity, the calendar with events, and provide so many different places for our people to connect.  Yes, there is something good in this but there is also something not so good.  When the church becomes one of the agents feeding the desensitization of people, it does not matter the good in the content.  It will not grow deep but will remain a seed only shallowly planted and subject to every wind, rain, pest, and predator that keeps the seed from growing.  Honestly sometimes I wonder if we should not do away with everything on our calendar but worship, catechesis, and Bible study.  I would be shocked if other pastors do not have the same uneasiness about the way the church contributes to the over scheduled, over stimulated, and over stressed lives of our Christian adults, children, and families.

One of the great benefits of liturgical worship is that it is predictable, it is not exciting (in the sense of created excitement), and it has a deliberately slower pace to it.  This is the worship that is counter culture -- not the screaming bands with loud music and the pastoral monologues like a religious talk show host.  The real counter culture on Sunday morning is exactly the Divine Service, the Word breaking into the world and revealing a Gospel to spoken in the world but which is definitely not of the world and its boredom, despair, sin, and death.  Silence is key to this.  The technological toys of big screen TVs and projection systems work against this very aim.  The music designed for personal preference and mainstream appeal mitigates against the content of the church's music in service to that radical Word.  Even the pews that connect us with others (vs the individual theater seating which tends to mark our divisions from one another) is counter culture.

What good are we doing Christ and what service are we providing the Kingdom when we simply repackage the over sensitized culture and put a Christian bow on it?  What good are we doing those whom we are called to serve by creating the very kind of worship and church that desensitizes them to the Word of God, the Sacraments of life and worship, and the community created for us by our common life as the baptized around the Word and Table of the Lord?

It really makes you think. . . and take stock of what we are doing and why we are doing it. . .  I cannot help but think of Chesterton again:  The effect of this staleness (boredom) is the same everywhere; it is seen in all the drug taking and drinking and every form of the tendency to increase the dose. Men seek stranger sins or more startling obscenities as stimulants to their jaded sense….They try to stab their nerves to life… They are walking in their sleep and trying to wake themselves up with nightmares. (The Everlasting Man, p. 291)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

What we want to deny more than what we want to affirm. . .

One of the marks of growth of a separate Lutheran identity is the shift from being comfortable affirming what Rome had right to being most comfortable denying the what Rome had wrong.  In doing so we have often found ourselves painted into a box, making much of minute distinctions, in order to preserve our credentials as protesters.  Even the greats of Lutheran orthodoxy are not immune from the foible of seemingly disputing what our Confessions affirm in order to make sure we distinguish ourselves from Rome.

It is always the great tendency of those against to shout "no" to the things they deny more than affirm with the "yes" what they believe. This is most certainly true of Lutheranism today.  We are so very quick to distinguish ourselves from Rome and so at ease with our protests that we have fashioned a Lutheranism which is at times uncomfortable with our own Confessions.  This is not the Lutheranism of our first fathers nor of our Confessions.

For example, we are not comfortable talking about the Mass.  We easily use the terms of Protestants and evangelicals (Communion, Lord's Supper, etc...) and there is nothing wrong with those terms except that they are also filled with meaning at odds with what we Lutherans believe, confess, and teach.  The term Mass is our confessional terminology.  So we find ourselves at a point when communion is more frequently offered and a strange seeker style worship (definitely not like the ante-communion service of page 5) has become the norm for many of the larger congregations practicing contemporary worship.  In other words, we are so comfortable arguing against the Mass of Rome that we Lutherans find ourselves, in practice at least, without the Mass of our first confessors.

We have successfully done the same thing with private confession.  We have so successfully argued against the abuse of Rome that we no longer affirm the sacramental character of private confession and we so seldom practice it that it has become an anachronism to our Lutheran identity.  Never mind that our first fathers affirmed the sacramental character of confession and absolution before the Pastor, the discipline of the Sacrament of the Altar and the consolation of the baptized.  No, we cannot even mention private confession today without rushing to insist "oh, no, it is not mandatory but sort of like extra medicine for the [implied here weak and broken] who require something more than the general and generic words of the preparation for the Divine Service on Sunday morning.  As if that were not far enough from our first Lutheran piety and practice, those same Lutherans practicing contemporary worship without a center in the Sacrament of the Altar, have even bypassed the general confession so that even this generic form is outside regular practice and absent from the piety of the modern folk they serve.

Lutheranism cannot survive being comfortable only being against Rome's abuses.  In order for a robust and vibrant church to practice what we confess in words, we must also learn to be comfortable with catholic faith and practice (read that small c) that Rome may also speak of and observe.  We are so quick to suggest that not everything Protestantism and evangelicalism say and do are wrong.  Let us be just as quick to affirm that not everything we inherited from Rome is also wrong.  Our Confessions were that comfortable.  If Lutheranism is to be Lutheran, we must recapture our comfort level with the catholic shape of our identity and this means learning not to run instinctively from words like the Mass or from the sacramental practice of our baptismal life in private confession.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A gem from Lutheran Satire. . .

Best line:  Right.  Let's do the first one.

Creative Lego Building

 Lego Kramer Chapel - A few months back I sat down to play Legos with my kids. It was a blast! Three days later they had long since grown tired of the plastic bricks while I was still tirelessly designing a multicolored sculpture (you can’t be picky when you’re working with a bucket of random bricks) of Eero Saarinen’s Kramer Chapel, the center of campus at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN. The goal was to create a desktop piece in the Lego Architecture style. This past week the proper bricks arrived, enabling me to complete a color correct version for my office.

HT to Tyrel Bramwell 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Shooting for historical accuracy. . .

Scholars often debate the role should historical "accuracy" and other scholarly musicological work should have on current performances.  You can purchase, for example, Handel's Messiah using historically accurate instruments and size of choir or Bach's Brandenburg Concerti using historically accurate instruments for the time.  They are interesting but I am not at all sure that musical practice should be to recreate an exact replica of the original setting for such music.  I am no expert on what is or isn't known or what should and should not be considered accurate historical performance.  What is a concern, however, is when we insist upon recreating the true sound of the historical setting as the real or intended sound by the composer.  Who knows what composers of a previous era would do if they had modern instruments and resources available?  Is that truly our concern?

Now let me translate the discussion into the realm of church architecture and liturgy.  Some believe the past represents a pristine model and the goal of the present is to recreate that perfect moment in time when church architecture, church music, and the liturgy of the church were in their apex (perhaps the baroque era?).  I am not one of those.  Although I joke about no good music being composed after the 18th or 19th centuries, the truth is that not all that is contemporary or modern is terrible or inauthentic. 

The goal of good church architecture is that it serves its purpose well -- that is, to serve the purpose of worship and provide for the assembly a space authentic to the liturgy, singing, choral, and instrumental music in support of the liturgy.  Our goal ought not to be the recreation of another building (much as it pains me to say this when I am confronted with such poor church architecture all around me).  We can do no worse than the past but it is not without trying to do better.

The music of the church need not isolate one era or one composer and seek simply to recreate that moment in time.  Church music should do no worse than the best of the past but it can seek to do better.  If this principle is used, what is modern will represent a clear continuity with the past while expressing in fresh ways the church's song, choral music, and service music.

The same goes with the liturgy.  Our goal is not to pick a time when we think the liturgy was most pure and its use most faithful and then recreate that moment.  Our goal is to live in continuity with our past while adding to the liturgy the best we can offer, an organic development and not one of radical disconnect with the legacy of the saints.  Liturgy is meant to evolve slowly and this is a good thing.  The Lutheran reformers were slow to integrate obvious changes and not because they feared leaving behind the lay people or desired to deceive folks about their true agenda.  Their concern was not only pastoral but catholic.  The catholic principle requires that who we are be consistent from age to age and Sunday morning is no place for spontaneity.  That said, neither is Sunday morning the place where we disdain anything new or different simply because it is new or different.  We Lutherans have particularly shown that modern composers and performers can bring to the moment something thoroughly in tune with our history while thoroughly faithful to our gifts for today.  Think of folks like Carl Schalk when I say this.  I could add a few dozen names here but for now think of how Carl Schalk has done a superb job of marrying our past to the contemporary moment and provided the church good hymn tunes, great anthems, and good liturgical music.

We do not shoot for historical accuracy and the recreation of a past moment.  We receive the living heritage of the past and add to it the best of the present and thus the living tradition of the Church's life of faith and worship expands.  If it is worthy, it will endure.  If it is not, the Church will cast it aside.  I have confidence in the endurance of the catholic tradition without feeling the need to recreate a specific moment in time.  The greatest damage done to the Church and the faith is often by those whose seemingly good intention is to find such a moment and break with the received tradition in order to encapsulate that moment rubrically and liturgically.  The liturgical innovation following Vatican II is one such example of the danger of discontinuity but, strangely enough, it was foisted upon the faithful in the name of something more authentic to the early church.  Even more strange is the way Lutheran liturgical innovation has mirrored the post-Vatican II Roman cue.  Slow, plodding, and deliberate liturgical change is always the most faithful, the best for the kingdom, and the most enduring.  The Church should not be captive to pendulum swings of piety.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Incredible Mollie Z. . .

Mollie Zieglar Hemingway is many things.  A 2004 recipient of a Phillips Foundation Journalism Fellowship, Hemingway spent nine years at GetReligion, where she was the media critic. She has written for the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Washington Post, National Review, and worked for the popular blog Ricochet until she signed on at The Federalist.  She is also a Missouri Synod Lutheran.

Recently a story about her was published by The Independent Women's Forum.  Read it here. . .

Kudos Mollie for the real kind of feminism -- pro-life, pro-family, pro-marriage, pro-children, AND utilizing all God's gifts and talents for His glory!!
A 2004 recipient of a Phillips Foundation Journalism Fellowship, Hemingway spent nine years at GetReligion, where she was the media critic. She has written for the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Washington Post, National Review, and worked for the popular blog Ricochet until she signed on at The Federalist.  - See more at:

Diluting the faith by exceptionalism. . .

The other day I did a stupid thing.  My coffee was cold and I filled up the cup with hot coffee.  What I ended up with was lukewarm coffee.  I ended up tossing away the whole cup -- and, wouldn't you know it, it was the last cup in the pot.  When you dilute things, you end up with less than you began.

I read with interest the story of communion in the hand.  The story goes like this.  Pope Paul VI rejected the appeal of a very few bishops for permission to give communion in the hand.  This goes way back to the late 1960s.  These bishops kept pressing so that Paul VI ended up allowing a special, shall we say, dispensation from the rules for those dioceses where communion in the hand was already introduced (technically an indult).  What happened later is that for the US dioceses Joseph Cardinal Bernardin wanted to introduce it.  He could not unless the majority (2/3 I believe) of bishops agreed that it was already in practice in their dioceses.  Which it was not.  Eventually with some parliamentary maneuvering and some help with bishops no longer active, Bernardin eventually prevailed.  A practice that was not sanctioned by the Pope but which had been allowed under exceptional circumstance eventually became the norm (for Lutherans as well as Roman Catholics, by the way).

Some might say "what is the big deal?"  Communion in the hand is not my issue here (though mark me as one opposed to it and if you are going to do it, don't stick out two fingers as if you were grasping a fly from the air but hold one hand over another to signify that you are receiving something of value, a treasure).  What I am referring to is how easily it is to dilute something until it becomes the normal.  Okay, you want a Lutheran example?  Martin Luther insisted that unless you receive Holy Communion a minimum of four times a year you were to be considered someone who despised the sacrament and no Christian.  This minimalism was in contract to the practice of the church of Luther's day where communion for the laity was often an annual event.  Luther raised the bar, in other words.  That eventually became the norm so that when I grew up the Sacrament was only offered four times a year (absolutely contrary to the Lutheran Confessions and Lutheran practice the first few centuries after the Reformation).  The dilution of the practice led to a Lutheranism in which the Sacrament of the Altar had little or no part in the ordinary piety of the faithful (except in theory).

I could cite many more examples (private confession, chanting, the liturgy, fasting, etc. . .) but I want to spend my time focusing upon how diluting something leads to the exception becoming the norm.  The exception becomes the norm and so exceptionalism rules the day.  Look at the way we have treated who may exercise the authority of the pastoral office.  Wichita's recension of the Augsburg Confession (Article XIV anyway) effectively took a practice which was exceptional (unusual, against teaching, tolerated under very extreme circumstances) and made that the norm.  In the process we have diluted the whole matter of church and office (some say ministry) and ended up almost funtionalists in our practice (if not our teaching).

Think how the Confessions speak highly of church usages, ceremonies, ritual, and liturgical practices as highly valued, richly symbolic, useful for teaching, and commended to us by the ancient church.  There was one caveat, of course, none of these could bind the conscience of the faithful and become conditions for salvation (which no one but an idiot has ever done in Lutheran history and practice).  The exception (binding of the conscience) became the means to dilute the worship practices of Lutherans to the point where both pastors and congregations flaunt their right to do whatever they please with impunity.  In other words, the practice has become so diluted (lukewarm and worthless) among many that it has become the norm.

This kind of baloney has got to stop.  Baptismal practice is not defined by what happens if a two headed baby is presented at the font.  Private confession cannot be defined by the unfaithful practice of penance which (if not intentional then accidental) paid for the absolution.  The Sacrament of the Altar is not defined by the occasional celiac or one allergic to alcohol who shows up at the altar or by those who do not think they need or do not desire it.  Vestments, chanting, lectionary, bowing, kneeling, frequency of the Eucharist, etc... cannot be voted upon as if these were merely an expression of local desire or history.  Diluted faith is still harmful even it if is not the same as heresy or apostasy.  Exceptional circumstances may define the need to depart from the norm but they cannot be used to establish that norm.

BTW I find it curious that those Lutherans who are the most rabidly anti-Roman Catholic about what happens in worship have flagrantly followed the poor Roman leadership and practice in terms of communion in the hand and now think of it as one of the sacred rights owed to them.  But that is another matter for another blog post. . .

A foundation on which others have built. . .

The legacy of the Missouri unpleasantness is at best a sour one.  Those who remained are still living out, some still fighting, and others trying to live down what happened in the 1970s.  Those outside of Missouri seem to have failed to entirely leave behind the fight and some have transformed the Missouri war into merely the first battle of a new kind of Lutheranism in which the view of the Scriptures, worship, morality, and truth have become almost unrecognizable to the categories and positions of both the accusers and the accused in Synod.  I make no attempt to resolve anything here except to observe one anniversary that seems to me a rather pathetic remembrance of Missouri's dispute over the Bible, ecclesiology, authority, and truth.

You can watch it all here.

A rather small number of gray haired folks, less than boisterous singing, some strange liturgy, a rather irritatingly animated lector, and a somewhat melancholy reflection upon the walk out of 1974 stand in marked contrast to the things I lived through.  Tietjen was, if anything, a powerful speaker and presence who did not lack for eloquent words to persuade and who looked the part of a visionary leader.  The folks who I knew at Concordia Seminary before the split and Seminex afterward were churchly people who saw themselves as true believers in a righteous cause.  They were the folks who cared about worship and the decorum of the Mass and who were smooth in a good sense about their leadership from ambo and altar.  What ever happened to them?  Surely the strumming guitar and modern liturgical sensibility is not all that is left from the people who stood in collar with convictions and sang with gusto the strong hymns of Lutheranism?  But, I am afraid, there is not much more that is left of them.

Carl Braaten blames at least some of the leftward drift of the ELCA to the remnant of Missouri's walk out that ended up there, both in terms of theologians and theology.  Whether he is correct or not, it is undisputed that those who walked out of Missouri ended up somewhere other than where they began, a Lutheranism that appears antinomian, Gospel reductionist, and outside the pale of the confessional identity and historic stance of Lutheranism through the ages.

All in all I find this anniversary sad.  I had once believed those who walked out to possess a more noble character of Lutheran faith and practice than the legacy of liberalism that has followed them.  Perhaps I was the fool in this but I was a fool in the sense that I expected more and not less of those who battled over Missouri's identity and future.  President Matthew Harrison noted this anniversary with the solemn reminder that if left unchecked such liberalism foreign to the liturgical, sacramental, Biblical, and confessional to Lutheran identity could have Missouri's fate as well as the ELCA's.  Bishop Jaech was clearly a part of this movement from the inside and now he sees that it was not simply about what was believed and confessed then but the whole direction of faith and the church, that women's ordination, unity in diversity ecumenism, and sexual liberation were part of Seminex's future.  Maybe it was not the case that those who left envisioned such a radical remaking of the Lutheranism they learned from Missouri.  May it was the case that the others who built on the foundation have built poorly.  Or, it is more likely that the foundation was faulty and nothing could be built on it that would be faithful.

The symbol of that movement forty years ago was a stump from which a shoot was growing.  It turned out that this branch did not produce good fruit.  The tree may very well have been corrupt in some ways but the branch that grew from Missouri has proven far more corrupt and the huge numbers that have bled from the ELCA are testament to its poisoned fruit.  If this was truly God's new thing, it would have born better fruit.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Choose a position most comfortable to you for prayer. . .

Stand as you are able. . . offered the voice from the chancel. . .

Choose a position most comfortable to you for prayer. . . said another before the biddings began. . .

Kneel if you find it meaningful. . . said another before the confession.

I will never forget the woman at Redeemer, Ft. Wayne, who would walk so slowly into the front pew on the left.  Her canes barely helped to make her mobility easier.  When it came time to kneel, she would kneel but not without great difficulty.  Sometimes it seemed she barely got down before it was time to get up.  When I approached her and asked if she would like to receive the sacrament in the pew or if it would be easier for her not to kneel, she returned my words with a look of stunned silence.  She would continue to kneel and make her way to the altar until it became impossible.  Her difficulty was not the issue.  I never raised it with her again.

I continue to have folks who might better be communed in the pew but who refuse to give up making their way to the altar rail to commune with the others there -- not all those with difficult walking choose this but many remain fighting their disability to the end.  We also have folks who kneel even though it is obvious their kneeling is not without some discomfort.

Yet more and more the pastors are cutting a break by offering folks the option of doing what is most comfortable to them.  I suppose it is okay.  Prayers are heard whether the one praying kneels, stands, or sits.  That is not the issue.  What is the issue is how easily it is to make all of these preferences a matter of personal choice and comfort.  God forbid that we should be uncomfortable!  Yet I cannot help but wonder if there will be anything we do together in worship if the road to personal preference continues to lead us to individual choice.  Again, my point here is not lock step uniformity but the way personal comfort and preference have become the defining factors of what we do together in worship.

People do not sing hymns they do not like.  Some do not open the book because they do not want to.  Others leave whenever they choose.  The individualism of personal preference or individual comfort has become the primary factor in what we do on Sunday morning.  If we don't like singing, we do not sing.  If we don't like kneeling, we don't kneel.  If we don't like signing the cross, we don't sign the cross.  This is not a matter of disability or rather inability but of choice.  If I don't like gluten, I want gluten free hosts.  If I don't like wine, I want grape juice.  If I don't like saying "catholic" in the creed, I say Christian.  If I don't like chanting, I want a spoken service option.  And the list goes on... and on...  I gotta be me.  Do it or die, I just gotta try and be me -- everywhere I am and in everything I do.  At least that is how it is beginning to look and sound on a typical Sunday morning in a typical Christian church.  We already have Majestic Praise traditional option at 7 am, Glorious Blend at 9 am, and Unleashed Contemporary at 11 am, how many more options will we provide in a vain attempt to cater to the whims of the people?  Is there nothing worth submitting our preference and comfort level?

Comfort, convenience, and preference have trumped all other factors about the practice of the faith.  We are individuals first and foremost and we have individual choices which no one dare abridge.  I understand it but I don't think it is right.  Worship is one setting where personal preference and comfort should not drive what we do. 

What denomination do you think this congregation is?

By all accounts this congregation does what they do very well.  It is the highest quality music and media.  My question is what does the appearance of Sunday morning tell you about this congregation?  Would you identify it as one of the larger and more influential congregations of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (in and around St. Louis)?  This happens to be St. John's in Ellisville (I do not use the name Lutheran in their title because they have decided that the name Lutheran is either not essential to or beneficial for their work).  My point in this post is not to denigrate the content but simply to ask the question:  Would you have identified this as a congregation of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod?  If not, and I presume most all of us would not, then something is wrong.  Sunday morning is the place where we show our colors to the world.  Regardless of whether you like or dislike what you watched, are these the colors of a confessional Lutheran congregation?

This is not about music or architecture (though certainly they flow from the identity expressed) but about who we intend to be.  We cannot have many faces before the world.  Missouri has had a split personality (maybe multiple personality) disorder for some time.  This cannot be sustained over time.  The day is rapidly coming when we will have to choose who we intend to be before the world and on Sunday morning.

In our Confessions we expect that people, if they confuse us at all, would mistake us for Roman Catholic.  There is no chance of that here.  But it would not be a stretch to identity what you watched with Saddleback, Willow Creek or Lakewood or anyone of a thousand other evangelical (or evangelical style) congregations.  The issue cannot simply be whether what they are doing is credible but whether or not what they are doing is authentic to Lutheran heritage and confessional identity.  The disconnect between this parish and, say, mine, is too great to ignore.  One or the other will have to give way over time and the face of Missouri will not be split any longer.  We have one face to show to the world.  The question for today is which one will it be?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Thoughts on Lutheranism on the occasion of a Lutheran leaving. . .

Another Lutheran has swum the Bosporus and, like most, he is a good guy, serious minded, frustrated by the great divide between theory and practice among Lutherans, and scandalized by what passes as Lutheran on Sunday morning.  Though some are quick to condemn those who leave, I am more circumspect.  They will be accountable for their own choices and that is enough for me.  That said, however, I find myself greatly sympathetic with many of their complaints while remaining unconvinced by some of justification for their decision to leave us.

It is a scandal of epidemic proportions that Lutherans, especially Confessional Lutherans, have no consistent face to their faith on Sunday morning.  The fact that in the LCMS we run the gamut from low church Protestantism to high church charistmatic to generic evangelicalism to broad church formalism to catholic liturgy on Sunday morning is nothing less than sinful.  Quite apart from the theology of it all (which I have reiterated over and over again on this blog), how can a "brand" have an inconsistent and contradictory identity -- even within the same community!  This is a dastardly diversity in which some of us are not man enough to admit we do not walk together and it is not the kind of diversity envisioned by our confessions and expected by our covenant of life together as parishes and pastors of the LCMS.  Think what it could do to McDonalds if they were like a Long John Silvers on one block, a Taco Bell on another, and a Hong Kong Wok on another?  It is ridiculous to assume that the vast spectrum of Sunday morning faces given to Lutheran doctrine is healthy for any of us (much less for a congregation which institutionalizes these preferences with an ordinary scheduled diversity for Sunday morning!).

I refuse to defend or tolerate such schizophrenia of Lutheran worship.  If it does not have the Ordo (the liturgical pattern inherent to and expected by our Confessions), it is not Lutheran.  I am not, like some, insisting upon a page number but, like pornography, you know it when you see it.  Saddleback style or Willow Creek wannabes or Joel Osteen lookalikes are not the same as any version of the Divine Service.  We all know that.  Hardly any of those using contemporary worship forms and music even pretend to have much in common with the liturgical Lutherans.  They know it.  We know it.  He is not one of us and I am not one of them.  Credible liturgical diversity of ceremony is acceptable without dividing the confession but a weekly Eucharist, the pattern of the historic mass, and music that confesses are all givens for Lutherans.

Liturgy may compensate for poor preaching and teaching but it should never be allowed to hold up the household of God without faithful confession.  In other words, the Divine Service is expected of ALL Lutherans who use the name, get money from jurisdictions, or come out of our seminaries... BUT the doctrine needs to match the practice and it is not a godly position to choose liturgy over doctrine or doctrine over liturgy.  Either they go together or the church is wounded, disabled, and hobbling along where she should be walking and running.

I love the ambiance of Orthodoxy (real smells and bells) and I love the authoritative structure of Rome (especially when faced with Lutheran supervisors who chose to hide, ignore, or condone liturgical and theological abuses).  But the liturgy (what some call the choice of a way of life over a doctrinal certainty) should not have to carry all the weight; doctrine and confession are also required.  In the same way, it is not fair to have to choose between doctrine and bishops -- the early church expected that both went together and would be shocked by those churches that today boast episcopal orders but cannot confess the creed without crossing their fingers.

Am I a dreamer?  I guess I am.  I dream of Lutherans who mean what they confess, who practice what they confess, and who refuse to allow the compromises of the past substitute for the pursuit of the fullness of all that can be.  I dream of Lutherans who walk into a Lutheran Church on Sunday morning and recognize the form, most of the words, and sing their faith in the solid text of music that confesses.  I dream of Lutheran Pastors who look like clergy all the time.  I dream of catechesis which is lifelong and flows from and back to our Confessions.  I dream of the best and brightest  being moved toward church work vocations.  I dream of people who refuse to settle for what is cheap and easy (from architecture to organs to ministry to missions) and who are relentless in their pursuit of excellence AND faithfulness.  I dream of a day when other Christian are envious of the doctrinal consistency and vibrant apologetic of Lutheran parishes, pastors, and people.  I dream of sermons that engage as well as faithfully speak Law and Gospel, rightly distinguishing them, of course.  I dream of Pastors who work so hard no one jokes about working only on Sundays and congregations who make it possible for their Pastors not to worry about having enough money to pay the bills.  I dream of a day when Lutherans tempted to leave are drawn back by the vigorous confession, the faithful doctrine, and the rich liturgical piety of parish and people.  Yeah, I am a dreamer and sometimes I live too much in my dreams but... wouldn't it be grand if that were the way all Lutherans dreamed????

Monday, April 21, 2014

A very modern version of the Passion Story. . .

Contrary to the singing priest, there was a way to use Cohen's tune to sing the Gospel.  See what you think...

How do I feel? Is that what is important?

Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny. -- Frank Outlaw

Those words were quoted in the movie Ironlady about Margaret Thatcher.  That is, in fact, where I first heard them.  I had trouble finding an author (internet search) but it seems safe to say many believe their source comes from Frank Outlaw.

They accord well with Jesus' warning about the desires of the heart being the problem in sin more than the temptations around us.  Scripture is replete with warnings about what comes from the filthy domain of sin that our hearts have become since the fall in Eden.  We confess such on Sunday mornings (miserable sinners, sinful by nature).  James laments that the tongue can speak so wonderfully the praise of Him who called us from darkness into His marvelous light and then speak lies, blasphemy, vulgarity, anger, and hate.  It is lamentable, to be sure, but hardly a surprise.  St. Paul insists that we are so sinful we cannot make ourselves do good any more than we can keep ourselves from doing evil.

Yet at the same time, St. Paul urges us to be renewed by the transformation of our minds under the Spirit's power and to live sober, holy, upright, and self-controlled lives.  The will has been reborn, though weak and frail.  The will is not without the resources and power of the Spirit to reign in sinful desire that threatens us.  We are, as St. Paul says, to take captive every thought and, by the Spirit's power, make it obedience to Christ.

We cannot stop the thoughts that come into our heads but we don't have to serve them tea. -- Rumi

We cannot stop the sinful thoughts that come into our minds but we do not have honor them or live in obedience to them or let them live without challenge inside of us.  Lent if it is anything is a time of re-dedication to the things of God, to the renewal of the thoughts of our hearts and mind, directed by our direction toward the cross and our orientation to the profound mystery of Christ our Savior in suffering, in death, and in resurrection.

I would simply suggest that our thoughts are not without a source.  What we read and watch, what we surround ourselves with, who we hang around with -- these all influence our thoughts.  One cannot hang around the kitchen long without developing a hunger.  So even before the thoughts become words, the words become actions, the actions become habits, the habits define our character, and that character determines our future, pay attention to that influences those thoughts.  Lent is all about paying attention to this.  For surely cannot exercise any self-control without a steadfast diet of the Word of the Lord.

Lent is done.  Holy Week, itself a mini-season of the church year, is complete.  Easter continues forty days.  You cannot stop the thoughts that come into your heads but you do not have to set a place for them at the table and engage in conversation with them.  If we carry nothing more than this from our time of Lent, then let us at least carry this.  The focus of the Christian upon the Word and works of the Lord cannot be a seasonal activity.  It is the shape and focus of our daily lives and piety.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Almighty God the Father, through Your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ You have overcome death and opened the gate of everlasting life to us.  Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of our Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by Your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

O God, in the paschal feast You restore all creation.  Continue to send Your heavenly gifts upon Your people that they may walk in perfect freedom and receive eternal life; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Almighty God, through Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, You overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life.  We humbly pray that we may live before You in righteousness and purity forever; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Almighty God, through the resurrection of Your Son You have secured peace for our troubled consciences.  Grant us this peace evermore that trusting in the merit of Your Son we may come at last to the perfect peace of heaven; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Almighty God, by the glorious resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ, You destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light.  Grant that we who have been raised with Him may abide in His presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Alleluia. Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

An earthquake event that transforms all of life!

Sermon for Easter late, preached on Sunday, April 20, 2014.

    Earthquakes happen all the time.  Most are just rumbles that shake us for a moment and life goes on.  Some cause great destruction and define an era.  In 526 AD an earthquake in Turkey killed a quarter of a million people.  Big but not the biggest.  In 1202 one in Syria killed an estimated million folks.  A few years ago 200,000 died in Haiti.  Earthquakes can be potent destructive forces . . . except for one.
    On Sunday, the first day of the week, some 2,000 years ago, an earthquake like the world had never seen struck in Israel.  It has transformed life for every person.  Its potent force signaled the destruction of death and ushered in a new way of life.  This was no natural occurrence or a manmade event.  An angel of the Lord caused it.  He descended from heaven, rolled back the stone from the one grave that affects all our lives.
    He sat down on that stone - not because he was weary but to sit upon death itself.  The best of the guards fell to the ground frozen in fear like dead men.  The fearful women who watched  heard a voice telling them not to be afraid.  Jesus was not there.  He is risen as He said, and will meet them in Galilee as He said. This was the earthquake that forever changed the world.  Here was life strong enough to take death prisoner.  Here was truth.
    The women had come expecting a body in a grave, death as the end, left to their tears and grief.  "I know why you have come," said the angel.  "Jesus is not here.  Look for yourself. He is risen.  See where He was.  Go to meet Him where He is."  Who among us could handle such a shock.  But there was more.  On their way they met the Lord Himself.  They touched Him.  He was no ghost.  Once more He encourage them.  "Do not be afraid."  And He bid them to go where He promised to be.  The earthquake moment of transformation takes sin and death and turns it all upside down because He paid our debt to sin and defeated the grave and death.
    We come like those women of old.  We carry with us our struggles, our scars, and our fears.  We might settle for a few answers or a little wisdom to ease life's uncertainties but what we get is an earthquake.  Christ is risen.  Death is done.  The deceiver is deceived.  The trickster has had his bag of tricks emptied.  Satan has now eaten the poisoned fruit.  He is done.
    Our good and gracious Lord has pointed all of history to the Friday where He died and the Sunday where He rose.  These have become the twin peaks on which all our sins and all our death have been overcome.  There was an earthquake on the day Jesus died for us on the cross and another one on the day He arose.  And there is another earthquake to come when we shall enter our graves only to rise with Christ to eternal life.
    Often we complain God is slow but His actions are decisive.  God is not easy; the devil bit hard but Jesus crushed him dead. The powers of sin, death, and fear have been broken once for all.   There is now no power over us except our own refusal to believe, our own refusal to repent, and our own refusal to meet the Lord where He has promised to be in Word and Sacrament. 
    So we come today to the grave that once held us captive to our fears, to our disappointments, to our sins, and to our death. There is nothing left in that grave.  Christ has emptied it.  The stone has been rolled away.  Our sins can no longer condemn us.  Our lives are no longer captive to the power of fear.  And the grave is no longer the end.  That is today’s earthquake event.
    But there is one more thing.  Go to meet Jesus where He has promised to be.  That was what the angel told them so long ago.   It is still the right word for the day.  Christ is more than a memory, not just a feeling, and not imagined.  He is as real as the splash of water in baptism, the taste of bread and wine in the Eucharist, and the voice that speaks absolution to our ears.
    Don't go looking for Jesus where you think He might be.  You go where He has promised to be.  In the means of grace, in the Word of the Lord and His Sacraments, there is Christ the crucified and risen one.  There is the end to your fears.  There is the end to your sins.  There is the end to the devil's power over you.  There is the end of your death.  What is Christ's is now yours but to get them you must go to where Christ is.
    Every earthquake in history has been a destructive force in some way.  We have learned to fear them.  But not the Easter earthquake.  Its destruction was focused not on us but on our enemies.  The angel sitting on the stone is laughing – not at you or your sins or your fears or your death.  No, he laughs at Satan.  The grave is empty and with it the power of sin, fear, and death.
    Today on Easter we come to laugh.  Those who sow in tears will reap in joy says the Scripture.  The saints who went before us are ahead of us in time but receive the same victory that is ours.  No earthquake has ever shown such power and this power has saved us.  We come today to meet the Lord where He has promised to be.  The good and the bad.  Greatest and least.  Come to the feast.   This day we raise the song of praise that in alien days had all but silenced and drowned the ancient true and eternal melody.  Today we sing with voice that no one can silence.  Today we blow the trumpet in Zion for all the world to hear.  Christ is Risen.  In Him we too shall rise.  Come to the Easter feast!  Amen!

Why are you here?

Sermon for Easter First Service, Sunday, April 20, 2014.

    A simple question.  Why are you here?  What do you want? Whom do you seek?  But the answers are complicated.  It is Easter.  We always go to church on Easter.  We are here seeking relief from our sorrows.  We are the lost seeking a way.  We are the sad seeking joy.  We are the fearful seeking peace.  Is Christ here for us?  Can He give us all we need?
    Mary Magdalene came like we come today.  She was trying to put the pieces of her life back together after the death of her friend Jesus.  She was searching for consolation after seeing her hopes and dreams go down to defeat (we thought He was the Christ).  She was there because every death only leaves us with the painful reminder of our loneliness and weakness – the death that stole Jesus would one day steal her own life.
    We are not so different.  We age.  We have health problems. We suffer the death of loved ones.  We stare into the face of our own mortality.  We face all sorts and kinds of uncertainties in our pursuit of the eternal.  We are the broken who come like Mary of old, seeking to be made whole.
    She found no answers.  There was no magic in the garden of the tomb.  There was no miracle pill to make troubles go away.  There was no fountain of youth to preserve this moment.
Mary did not find any of the answers she was looking for and I fear we will likewise go home empty handed.  But Mary did find Jesus.  And that is the one promise I can make to you.  Jesus Christ, our risen Lord, is here.
    Jesus is not a memory from the past seeking to be rekindled but the dawn of a bold and new future in which death is not what we think it and neither is life.  Jesus is not some ghost to haunt us with a future as real as a wisp of smoke disappears into the air but the triumphant Lord who will not be touched except on His terms.  Jesus is here.  Not the possibility of life after death but the fact of the resurrection from the dead, with our Lord as the first born of those who will follow Him.
    Mary did not recognize Jesus because she was so focused on her questions.  When she saw Jesus, when she heard the sound of His voice, and when she realized He was not dead but death was, her questions disappeared.  There was only Jesus left.  Not the answer she was expecting but the only real answer worth having to all the troubles, trials, questions, and doubts of this mortal life.
    We come to God with the pieces of our lives hoping He can fix them.  He refuses to paste together our broken hopes and dreams.  Christ will not bandaid our life into the same weakness and vulnerabilities.  He gives us a radical new life.
    He is risen so that we shall not die.  That is the shock of the empty tomb.  The past is not our consolation.  The present is not our glory.  But the future is our hope.  Christ has prepared a place for us and a time for us.  He has come to embrace the broken, the questioning, the sorrowful, and the fearful.  The life He lived and the death He died were for us.  But no less is the resurrection for us.  Here is our hope.
    So today we come like Mary of old.  We are so preoccupied with our wounds and worries that we often do not even recognize the sound of His voice speaking through His Word.  The answers we seek are not here but Christ is.  In Him, we find, like Mary, that nothing else matters.      Our witness to the world is not that all your doubts and fears will find answers but that Christ is here, crucified and risen, and that He is all we need.  Forgiveness for our sins, love that compels us, new birth in the waters of baptism, heaven's food in the Eucharist, and life stronger than death.  We have seen the Lord and that is the only thing that matters.  Amen.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A funeral to end all funerals. . .

Sermon for Good Friday evening, preached on Friday, April 18, 2014

    Funerals are always endings.  After the death, the family and friends conduct the final devotional acts of love in shutting the coffin and putting the body into the grave.  Once it was done only by the family.  Now we pay others to do it for us.  But it is our final devotional act of love for those who die.
    Jesus too is buried.  Scripture tells us.  We confess it every Sunday in the creed.  He died and He was buried.  The disciples did not know what to make of it all.  The death of Christ scattered them as the prophets foretold.  None of them was ready for the end.  They were not there at the burial.  Only Joseph of Arimathea and a few of the women who followed Jesus.  He did not even get His own grave but borrowed the tomb Joseph had cut out of stone for his own family's use.
    But this time the grave is not the end.  The story is not over.  The enemies of our Lord secure the grave because they knew the promise of Jesus to rise again.  They wanted to make sure that no hanky panky took place.  They did not expect our Lord to rise but they did not want a lie to steal the hearts of the people.  So they secured the grave with a stone and a guard.
    Jesus was buried alright.  But the story does not end with a body, a grave, and a burial.  Tonight is the funeral for Jesus.
But it is a funeral like no other.  We will go home this Good Friday expecting to be back here for Easter.  We will return to hear the rest of the story, knowing already the grave is not the end, death did not win, and the victory is the Lord's still.
    Holy Week does not re-enact what Jesus did.  We can never do that.  We know what happens at the end.  There is no surprise left for us.  We already know and even now anticipate the future that our Lord has for us when death must cough Him up and bow to the Lord of life and of death.
    The surprise for us is not whether or not Jesus will remain in the tomb.  The surprise for us is that we will not.  What we see on Good Friday and what we will come back for on Sunday is the pledge and promise of our own futures in which we shall not die but live.  Because of this funeral on Good Friday, all our funerals are also transformed from mournful memories of an end to the promise of a future in which death has no power.
    There is more to come.  Not only in the story of Jesus but in our own stories.   What does Paul say: Do not grieve as the ignorant who have no hope.  In other words, do not give up to death what does not belong to death.  And that is why this Friday is called Good.  Because Jesus died for you, you do not belong to death anymore.  You belong to life.  Your body will lay in the tomb but it will wait for the Easter God prepared for you.     Jesus was buried.  This is no small detail.  His death was not a fake.  Neither is His life a matter of wishful thinking.  Because He died for you, you will not die.  Because He lives for you, you will rise in Him to your own joyful resurrection.  Because He died and sanctified the grave, we cannot look at death or the grave in the same way again. 
    Funerals are endings.  Complete with pictures of the past, tears of loss, and hearts broken in love.  That is all they would be.  Except that Jesus died and was buried.  He has sanctified the graves of all the saints so that those who die in Christ, live in Him.  He has emptied the grave of its power.  It no longer holds for us the ending but the beginning.  To be sure, our bodies will wait in the grave but as a sleep from which Christ will awaken us to new flesh and new blood and new life forever.
    Because our Lord died and was buried, we cannot look at death and the grave in the same way again.  We watch.  We wait.  He is the first born of the dead, of those who sleep in the grave, but there is so very much more to come.  His death has ended the terror of sin and its reign of death.  Like Christ, we go to the grave not as the defeated but as the victorious.  He has already prepared the way.  He has marched into hell and stolen the keys of death from Satan.  Now He has the power to unlock sin and death for you and me and for the whole world.  Amen.

Light of Christ

Easter Vigil Candlelight Procession and Exultet from Cheryl on Vimeo.

O God, You made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord's resurrection. Preserve in us the spirit of adoption which You have given so that, made alive in body and soul, we may serve You purely; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Death does not take Him... He takes death!

Sermon for Good Friday Noon, preached on Friday, April 18, 2014.

    In John 10:17-18 Jesus insists that no one takes His life from Him but He lays it down.  In other words, Jesus is not some unwitting victim of forces and powers beyond His control.  He is in charge of His destiny.  Death did not take Him; He took death.  We come here today to marvel at the One who took on the enemy that we run from as fast and far as we can.
    Jesus died.  He died willingly – not as one who loves death but as one who loves us more than death.  Death was His choice.  Death was His mission.  Death was the purpose of His life.  Death was the goal of the mission He was incarnate to undertake.  He faces up to the death we run from and He bears the full burden of the weight of sin none of us wants to carry.
    Dying was His choice.  He died the death that was ours to die.  He chose to redeem us over preserving His life.  He chose to pay the full debt of our sin even when the price of that debt was His own life in suffering on the cross.  This was His choice. Death did not take Him.  He took down death.
    Jesus died and won.  He did not win some moral victory – like the hero who goes down to defeat for His principles.  No, this was not some moral victory over sin but a real victory.  He disarmed the powers of darkness. He silenced the great accuser.  He turned the weapons of the devil back on himself.  He won us from death, from sin, from captivity, from fear...  He did not win to prove something to Himself or to the Father but for us.  He died because we have no choice but to die.  He paid for our sin because we cannot pay the cost of our redemption.
    This was no temporary victory – not some momentary win only to be undone by something later.  His victory is eternal.  So our Lord steals from the devil the power of death by taking up residence in the grave.  He marches into hell itself in order to take from Satan the keys of death and the grave.
    Jesus begs no sympathy from us.  He does not ask from us that marvel at what He has done.  He does not want our pity for the pain He endured for us.  All He asks of us is faith – faith to believe in what He has done, in the power of His victory to set us free, and in the new life we live right now.  All He asks of us is that we believe in His death that gives us life and that we lay aside all attempts to add to or replace what He has done with our own flawed and failed efforts.  All He asks of us is that we trust in this mercy and in this redemption.  Death did not take Jesus.  Jesus took death.  There is no gospel so sweet, no gift so great...  Our Lord is no unwilling or unwitting victim but the Lord of life who became the Lord of death as well – all for us, all to forgive us, and all to give us life stronger than death.  Amen.

Wait for the Lord

Friday, April 18, 2014

Covenant blood. . .

Sermon for Holy Thursday evening, preached on April 17, 2014.

    Israel was a largely bloodless culture and the Jews had little contact with blood.  Contact with blood rendered you unclean.  A woman was unclean during her flow of blood.  Meat had to be well done so that no blood remained.  There was only one place where contact with blood was allowed – the covenant blood, the blood of sacrifice in the temple.
    All other blood rendered you unclean but the blood of the sacrifice had the power to make the sinner clean.  In this context Maundy Thursday is set.  The blood of the doorpost, the blood of the Passover lamb, was no longer the blood of a memory.  Jesus fulfilled the Passover as THE Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and whose blood is shed to pay the price of sin and cleanse the sinner from his death.  He fulfilled the covenant provisions and initiated a new covenant relationship sealed also in blood – His blood.
    The blood of the covenant, the blood of the Passover lamb and the blood of sacrifice in the temple were all fulfilled in the blood which Jesus gives as the new drink of the Kingdom of God in Holy Communion.  We hear this in Jesus' own words.  This is My Blood of the covenant.  At this point the ears of the disciples must have perked up.
    Behold the blood of the covenant, said Moses, to the blood spattered people.  He sealed them into a relationship with God by the Word of the Commandments and the sacrificial blood poured on the altar and on them.  From Hebrews we read that Jesus is both the fulfiller of this covenant and all its provisions as well as the mediator of a new covenant – this new covenant relationship is also sealed in blood.
    Under the Law everything is purified with blood and without the shedding of sacrificial blood there is no forgiveness of sins.  So the disciples had eyes wide open as they watched Jesus take the Passover cup and heard Him say: This is My blood of the covenant poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
    Covenant blood was not a price to be paid but the gift of the God who counted this blood for forgiveness.  It was not a mere symbol but the sacramental means by which the promise of God conveyed to His people.  It had the power to ward off the angel of death at the Passover and  satisfy the Law to deliver the people from their sins by the blood shed in the temple.  It made clean that which was unclean.
    Jesus' blood is covenant blood.  It is poured out for us on the cross.  There Jesus shows Himself the true Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  But the new covenant gives us not only the forgiveness won but the blood of Christ as our new cup and the new drink of the Kingdom of God.
    John says unless we eat of this bread and drink of this cup there is no life in us.  Jesus' blood is given for many as a ransom to redeem our lost lives.  It is no mere symbol or sign but actually bestows what it signs.  We eat Christ's body and drink His blood and we are forgiven.
    This meal is not some occasional thing to remember but the true and regular food of God's new covenant people.  In this way a bloodless people become a people of the blood in Christ.  Jesus insists His flesh is real food and His blood real drink – the drink of the Kingdom that imparts forgiveness to the sinner and life to those dead in their trespasses and sins.
    We come here weekly and even more often because of Jesus’ command (do this often) but even more because of what we receive in this eating and drinking.  We are the covenant people of God; our participation in the blood of Christ is the means by which we receive the benefits of this new covenant -- forgiveness, life, and salvation.
    John says to us the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.  This is not some theoretical statement but descriptive of our eating and drinking in this Sacrament.  His blood shed for us saves us.  Again this is not theoretical but practical as we come to eat and to drink the flesh and blood of Christ.  There is power in the blood.  No symbol has power to do what it signs – except this blood which Jesus commands us to drink in His remembrance.
    We come to eat and to drink at His command, because here is where the blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation are received and our life as the covenant people of God confirmed and nourished.  We come as the Psalmist compels us.  The goodness of the Lord is not some trait to be admired but tangible and concrete for us to eat and drink.  Taste and see that the Lord is good!  Our communion is no mental exercise but a real eating and drinking with our lips and tongues.  Tonight we remember how our Lord fulfilled both the Passover Lamb and the sacrifices of the Temple with His own flesh for the life of the world and His blood shed for our forgiveness.  More than that, we come to eat and drink the covenant meal as God’s people.
    We come as covenant people to the place where our life in the covenant is bestowed and renewed.  We eat and drink what the Lord has given because hidden there is the fulfillment of His very own promise.  Israel was a bloodless culture and blood was reserved only for the Lord.  Now the Lord has given us back the blood that won our salvation and it has become the new food of the Kingdom and the means by which we receive Christ and all the fruits of His death and resurrection.  We are a bloody people and we refuse anything but the real thing – Christ's flesh as our food and Christ's blood as our drink.  Here is where the mark of our identity is refreshed and here we receive what He has to give.  Come and eat the covenant meal of Christ.  Amen.

Footwashing and love. . .

Sermon for Holy Thursday morning, preached April 17, 2014.

There is far too much romance about foot washing.  In some churches they attempt to re-enact our Lord’s washing of His disciple’s feet.  I am not a fan.  Jesus did not wash the feet of His disciples as a sacrament to be repeated nor as great theater.  He was showing in graphic terms what it means to love – His love for us and the shape of our love for others.

We are not asked by Jesus to wash feet but we are called to love one another as He has loved us.  Truth to be told, I would prefer to wash feet once a year than the call to love friends and enemies alike all day long, every day, as our Lord has loved us.  I prefer an annual touch of stinky, misshapen, and ugly feet to loving those who do not love me back and doing good to those who only do me harm.  I bet you secretly feel the same way.

The love Christ has for us is sacrificial.  This is not the easy love for the lovable but the hard love for those hard to love.  He has to see us as we are, complete with sin, with rebellious hearts, and with arrogant pride.  He sees us as we are and still He loves us.  He does not love us for who we could be or might become.  He loves us in our sins and bears the curse of those sins upon His own shoulders.  He loves us even though we are dead and He enters our death to set us free.

I don’t want to sacrifice anything.  I want to give into my whims and desires.  I do not want to control them or kill them or bury them.  But that is the love we see in Jesus, the love which we have been bidden not only to receive but to give, not only to watch but to follow.

That is why I am here.  I must be in constant contact with the love of Christ or I will never love the stranger or enemy or even the friend and family.  My heart is rotten to the core.  Every day I pray the Lord to create in me a clean heart.  To plant in this new and clean heart the love that He is and the love He has come to display.  To teach me what I could never learn except from Him and never do unless I am born anew in Him by grace through faith.

Foot washing once a year would be easy if you could get away with it.  But Jesus has called us to a higher life and a noble calling.  We cannot afford a cheap faith anymore than we can benefit from cheap grace.  The love that loved us and lives in us by baptism and faith is love for the hard to love, who test the boundaries of that love.

We show this love not by washing a few smelling feet but by daily forgiving as we have been forgiven, by daily serving others as Christ has served us, by praying for others before we pray for our selves, by interceding before God’s throne of grace for our enemies as well as our friends, by giving to those who cannot repay, and by giving to others the good news of the Gospel that Christ has given to us – a prize so expensive none can afford it and yet one which He bestows without charge to us.

Foot washing is the easy way out.  Love is the cross we bear – the loved who love, the forgiven who forgive, the lost who find, the dead who live for Him who died for them.

Where do we find such love today?  It starts here in this wondrous sacrament which the Lord has bequeathed to us.  It is this feast of love that nurtures our hearts in love.  It starts here in the Word of love which our Lord speaks.  This Word directs our hearts from self to Christ and through Christ to neighbor.  It starts here, within the household of faith for if we cannot love our brothers and sisters in Christ, how can we hope to love others outside the Church?  Here where we meet Christ in His love, we are reborn in this love, to love one another.

If God gave me a choice, once a year with stinky feet is far easier than all my life loving others as He has loved me.  But there is no choice.  Love is no spectator activity.  Christ beckons us by His love to walk in His steps, toward His future... God help us, Amen.