Monday, June 30, 2014

Productivity Tips. . .

These were forwarded to me by someone. . . At first I ignored them but as I thought about them, they are not bad...   You can follow the link and tell me what you think...

6 Tips to Being More Productive:

    Manage Your Mood
    Don’t Check Email in The Morning
    Before You Try To Do It Faster, Ask Whether It Should Be Done At All
    Focus Is Nothing More Than Eliminating Distractions
    Have A Personal System
    Define Your Goals The Night Before

Manage your mood.  It is easy for me.  I tend to be a morning person -- waking up each day about 4:50 am.  I like to start quietly -- a few chores on my way to the kitchen and Greek yogurt, Honey Nut Cheerios, and coffee.  Most days I am pretty content to begin the day.  It is not necessarily something I do to prepare myself but there is something to the idea that you choose your mood more than events and people choose or change it for you.

Once I had my email constantly going on a second monitor of my office computer system.  I have five email accounts.  Now I check the one that gets "subscription" kinds of stuff once a month or maybe twice.  And progressing up to twice a day for the account I use the most.  I agree.  Email can be a terrible slave and it is a great opportunity to be a jerk.  Take it easy here (a lesson I learned the hard way).

Faster is not quicker.  I have learned to do things when I can and am moved to do them.  I cannot schedule creativity and I cannot tackle heavy reading when I am weary.  So it means that I do things when I am ready to do them but I do give myself time to make sure I am ahead of the deadline. 

Distractions -- remember the movie UP and the dog and squirrels?  We are easily distracted -- especially when we don't want to do what we think we must.  Distractions are unavoidable for a Pastor -- but there comes a time when you realize that distractions are a problem because you really do not want to do what is on your schedule -- that is the time to deal with them.  By the way, I am alone in the office from 6 am to 8 am and this is generally the most productive time of my day -- minimal distractions and a fresh mindset!  Works wonders -- really, it does.

Have a system.  For years I struggled to adapt to personal systems created by others.  It ever worked.  I kept up with them for a while and then not only ditched them but got lost in what I had done, needed to do, and did not need to do.  I have a system -- sometimes no more than a schedule -- for tackling the things that I must do regularly so that I get them done and am ready when the surprise of life happens in the middle of my well planned out day.

Define your goals -- ahead of time!  One of the first things I do about 6:30 am, after my devotions and prayer, is figure out what is on my plate, what must be done, what must be done right now, and what can be delayed.  For example, Mondays I NEVER schedule appointments -- it is my day to deal with all the messes of the weekend, the tidbits of information found out on Sunday, and the aftermath of many meetings (most often held on Sundays after worship in this congregation).

I will tell you what helps me most of all is experience.  The reason I find this aspect of my life and ministry easier is that I have come to know and expect -- sometimes anticipate -- the things that normally govern a Pastor's week and it helps when you know what is or might come up.  I am NOT saying I am on top of everything but I have minimized the number of immobilizing crises to a few.  For this reason, I would not want to start all over again at ordination and try to figure out for the first time what I have learned over repeated experiences over many years.  The sage part of wisdom is often that you have been through it before -- not something the wise can take credit for at all but the Spirit at work in our lives teaching us.  I thank God for that aspect of age even as I sometimes lament that it took so long to learn the easy stuff.

Let me add one more point to the author's -- take your ministry seriously but not yourself.  In other words, do not treat lightly the calling to preach, teach, baptize, absolve, commune, visit, counsel, advise, and pray.  Do take yourself lightly -- it is always of great comfort that God could use Balaam's ass and so He can use me, in spite of my faults, foibles, and failings.  I do not worry much about people not honoring me but I am jealous for the office of the ministry.  I do not worry much about what people say about me but I take very seriously what they say about God's work in us, among us, and through us.  The Church is not mine and I do not own it.  I steward it for a while and, God willing, I will pass it on to another after having been as faithful as human frailty allows during my own tenure as undershepherd.  I am content about that and know that the greatest hindrance to my work for the Lord may be my own uninhibited self.  Therefore any good Pastor knows the value of self-control --- at little self-deprecating humor does not hurt either.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Buyer's Market

Stanley Hauerwas wrote:  in most places because [religion is] basically a buyers’ market, that very description, reproduces the presumption that you live in a demand economy that says that the buyer is supreme and they get to buy what they want...

Albert Mohler commented:  When Stanley Hauerwas talks about the buyer’s market for religion in America, he’s onto something that evangelicals ought to notice and notice very carefully. And that is in fact that that is indeed an apt metaphor for our society at large, but it also, if we’re not very careful, a dynamic that is experienced by many churches and denominations, not only in the Protestant mainline, where he mentions all those brand-named denominations jockeying to retain their membership and a declining membership base, but it’s also the case that there are many in American evangelicalism who basically think of the gospel as something to be packaged and sold.  

Larry Peters says spot on!!  We live in the age of consumer choice and consumer happiness.  Religion in American society (but not limited to America) has become a competitive market where the Gospel has become one of many products, the church staff the marketers, and the bottom line driven by results (earthly success).  Joel Osteen is king of this market but for how long.  You see that is the challenge -- for the purveyors of the religious goods to stay ahead of the market and keep their produce new and fresh and their marketing hungry and well targeted.

The mainline denominations came and went because they presumed their brand names were enough to keep them ahead of the game.  In the end, these big box religions got caught behind the curve and the next Wal-Mart of the religious world came up with a better product, better marketing, and a better price to lure away the itchy consumer so devoid of any real loyalty except to self and desire.

Religious distinctives (like doctrine) were pulled from the marketing plan to promote a generic religious ideal (nominally Christian) that was designed to appeal not to the God of the Scriptures but to the primal deity of desire, choice, and personal preference.  Even those denominations not normally identified as mainline (the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) have been infected with the bug, succumbing to the idea that you do what you need to do to sell the product first and then worry about the character of what is sold or integrity lost to how it is sold.

Again, Hauerwas:   I think evangelicalism is destined to die of its own success and it will go the way of mainstream Protestantism because there’s just—it depends far too much on charismatic pastors, and charisma will only take you so far. Evangelicalism is constantly under the burden of re-inventing the wheel and you just get tired.

Larry Peters comments.  Buried under the weight of its own success, evangelicalism has created a monster that cannot be satisfied.  Religion that is consumer driven means that sooner or later you will have to be reborn, rebadged, and recreated as the taste of the marketplace shift and change.  The post-Christian age is not simply the time in which society becomes openly unfriendly to religion (Christianity in particular) but is the age when the product no longer needs to be true to its source and ends up being defined as need, want, and circumstance direct.  Most Evangelicals are already post-Christian.  They are not only non-creedal but do not recognize the God of the creeds, faithful to the Scriptures and tradition.  And they don't want to.  Listening to Joel Osteen talk to Fox News about his Night of Hope stadium appearance in NYC, I noted that everytime the reporter ventured something about Christ, Osteen responded by talking about God.  In other words, he was distancing himself from the Trinity and its nomenclature and choosing to speak in the generic language of a deity.

Right now evangelicalism is as much fueled by the cult of personality, the charisma of the purveyors, and the culture of celebrity as it is the consumer idea.  As soon as one or the other cools, one version will fade and another will be reborn to take its place.  Is that all the Church is?  For Lutherans, it is time to get off the merry go round, to stop drinking the koolaid, and to give up the fight to be king of the hill.  The only sure and certain way to survival is to be faithful to the Word, faithful to the truth, and faithful to the worship of Spirit and truth centered on the means of grace.

If you are one of those Lutherans tired of rewriting the liturgy every Sunday, of finding the next worship diva and pop gospel song to hit it big, of inspiring people to come back next week, come home... to the liturgy, to the Confessions, to the Scriptures, and to the tradition once delivered to the saints.  It is freedom -- the only freedom that counts -- the freedom of the Gospel!  Today we commemorate two dinosaurs of Christianity -- oh that we were more like them!!  Happy Sts. Peter and Paul Day!!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Chaste Life and Contraception. . .

If gay and lesbian marriage is one crisis well known to Christians, many have predicted that the issue of contraception will be the next crisis to face.  We already heard Pope Francis warn against marital decisions against having children.  I listened to one radio talk show in which both the pro and con on Francis' words began by admitting that people who choose not to have children are just as "good" as those who choose to have them.  So great is the shibboleth of our modern idea that children are so small a part of marriage that we must begin any discussion with the politically correct idea that there is not a darn thing wrong with couples choosing not to have children.  Indeed, this defender of Francis suggested that children are an added extra, a little bonus of you will, for the husband and wife -- further trivializing the whole discussion.  If that is all children are, then who needs them?

The issue is modern.  Contraception is very modern.  Condoms were mainstreamed after World War II when the Army decided that soldiers were going to do it so at least we must make doing it as disease free as possible and prevent conception along the way.  Move ahead a couple of decades and the pill made contraception safe, easy, and cheap (or so it seemed at the time).  What began as exceptional became normal within a generation or two.  This framed the argument for homosexuality and the whole gay marriage debate.

Christians easily lost their way in this whole debate.  Jesus' words were taken to mean that women did not have to be any more chaste than men did (according to the prevailing societal norm of first century Judaism) when He was saying the opposite -- men should be as chaste as honest women were expected to be!  Contraception gave permission and license for women to be as free from restraint as men were expected to be (not much restraint at all) and it has left us with the ridiculous position that for Christians only gay sex is bad.  We have been so silent on fornication and cohabitation that Christians presume it is perfectly fine and expected that the unmarried should not have to go without sex, except that conservative churches think gays should always go without it.

If there is nothing intrinsically wrong with contraceptive intercourse and sex that allows for conception is the exception to the rule, why would heterosexual people get a pass and gay people get a condemnation?  But that is the point.  There is something wrong with the view that contraceptive sex is the norm, that sex is not primarily for procreation, and that marriage is not the divinely intended place for this.  There is something wrong with the idea that inside or outside of marriage sex is sex and procreation is something different altogether.  There is something wrong with the idea that sexual union should be deliberately and totally divorced from fertility.  Why does there need to be a marital union at all if a sexual union is already presumed as an inherent right of life?  Is marriage just a little extra on top of the sex -- the way children are a little bonus on top of marriage?  That is where we are at functionally.  We have managed to scrape the whole nature of Christian morality over sex and marriage and procreation and adopt the view of the world as normal even virtuous.  That being the case, it seems hardly fair that gays or lesbians would be singled out by another set of rules, rules straight people are free from!

As one author has put it:
If contraceptive intercourse is permissible, then what objection could there be after all to mutual masturbation, or copulation in vase indebito, sodomy, buggery (I should perhaps remark that I am using a legal term here - not indulging in bad language), when normal copulation is impossible or inadvisable (or in any case, according to taste)? It can't be the mere pattern of bodily behaviour in which the stimulation is procured that makes all the difference! But if such things are all right, it becomes perfectly impossible to see anything wrong with homosexual intercourse, for example. I am not saying: if you think contraception all right you will do these other things; not at all. The habit of respectability persists and old prejudices die hard. But I am saying: you will have no solid reason against these things. You will have no answer to someone who proclaims as many do that they are good too. 

There is nothing wrong or evil or bad about sex.  No one is saying that.  But unhinged from procreation (or its potential), it is unhinged from marriage and, unhinged from marriage, any restriction or law becomes arbitrary and unfair.  That is what the Church needs to recognize.  We cannot adopt the world's view of contraception and somehow or other hold on to the Scriptural word against homosexual behavior without becoming the ultimate of hypocrites.  So the sins of the heterosexual are justified simply because of who they are and their own sinful behavior becomes acceptable or tolerable while the homosexual are banned only because of whom they desireContraception and fornication and gay and lesbian lifestyles and marriage are all tied together.  We cannot sort out one mess without also sorting out the other.  So it will be time for us Lutherans to rethink our position on contraception or we will be patching together a leaking boat of arguments against gays and lesbians.  Whether or not that will happen, I cannot predict.  What I can predict is that our position of silence against the full use of contraception will make it more and more untenable to retain the Biblical admonition against those men who lie with men as women and women who lie with women as with men.

Real humility. . .

It's hard to be humble when you are so good.... right?  I fear that humility is perhaps a lost virtue.  To be sure, we have people trying to be humble but I wonder if the humility that they seek is but an illusion.  How easy it is when complimented to dismiss the compliment -- aw shucks, t'warn't nuthin at all.  That is not humility.  Humility does not diminish the self but does not think of self -- not first, not second, not at all.

Jesus is humble not because He dismisses who He is (the Son of God incarnate) nor what He has the power to do (compelling all things).  Our Lord is humble because His focus is not on self but upon those for whom He lived in holiness, died for sin, and rose to give eternal life.  As St. Paul reminds us, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross and scorned its shame...  Humility always tempts us to think that it means diminishing self when it really means not focusing upon self.

C. S. Lewis once said Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less...  This is the humility that is so difficult in an age of personal preference which dominates nearly everything in life.  We listen only to our music thanks to ear buds, smart phones, and I-pods.  We do only what we want, eat only what we eat, and like only what we like or we think we have betrayed ourselves.  We define all truth by our reason and desire and care little if it has any real staying power or whether it speaks to more than one.  Our morality is one person wide and one person deep.  ME is the most important word in our vocabulary and we make sure that our kids learn it at the youngest of ages.  We would not dare to make our children do what they do not want to do (including go to church).  We are suspicious of humility because it implies that there might be something wrong with our preoccupation with me, with our happiness, with our desire to find pleasure at all times and in all things.

We get angry too easily.  We become frustrated with others too quickly.  We dismiss out of hand what we do not like or want.  We are offended and take it personally when someone challenges what we think or believe.  We are consumed with ourselves and so real humility is foreign to us and alien to our way of life.  The great gift of God in Christ is the appeal to love the Lord first and to love neighbor as He has loved us and gave Himself for us -- but you will find little appeal in the Gospel to self, to the me through whom we have come to see all things of life.

Yes, Christians speak of sin, of original sin that taints the heart and life beyond our control and of the actual sins born of evil desires and wicked pleasures as well as wrongful thoughts, words, and deeds.  This is not said to put our ego in place (although it does) but in honesty only the Spirit can inspire.  The point of Christianity is not to feel bad about "me" but to see the "me" honestly and truthfully.  The sinner redeemed by grace is led by the Spirit to the true humility in which "me" seems lost in the face of the love of the cross that is our joy and treasure and the new life of loving God above all things and our neighbor as Christ has loved us.  Yet this is precisely the problem.

The reason churches like Lakewood Church and preachers like Joel Osteen are so popular is that they give us permission to think about me.  They allow the "me" to be center stage and still call it religion.  My wants and desires can still rule the day and I don't have to feel badly about it all.  This is great danger precisely because it masks the true Gospel and silences the accusing finger of the Law.  Humility is still spoken about but it becomes merely a pass off on the recognition we know we deserve instead of the manner of life under the cross, the walk of faith on the narrow way.  Self does not get out of the way in order for me to be saved but it leaves center stage as a fruit of Christ's saving work and Spirit in us. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Moving the Ancient landmarks...

Proverbs says Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.... (Proverbs 22:28).

Boundaries are established for good reason.  Landmarks direct these boundaries.  They represent the inviolability of the sacred order established by God.  In ancient times the removal of these landmarks was a double transgression, a sin against the present and the future – those who depended upon them today and those who would mark their way tomorrow.

This is no less true when it comes to the liturgical year and the liturgy itself.  These are the ancient markers set by our fathers.  We did not invent the way.  It was passed to us.  The markers, the boundaries, and the path itself.  They are not ours to possess but to preserve, to use and then to pass on to those who come after us.

We face an itch to reform, to change, to make new what was passed down to us.  The reform bug bite large during the 1960s and 1970s.  The heritage of the past was judged passe and its forms became like weights upon the neck of church leaders longing to have something new.  Whether or not it was worthy was secondary to an infatuation for newness and relevancy.  The eloquence of another age gave way to common forms and language was almost vulgar in the way it spoke of God, of men, and of worship.

Freedom was the battle cry of an age determined to rid itself of the ancient landmarks and treat worship, like life, as a great adventure.  But no one realized that the freedom so esteemed was bondage, the cruelest and worst bondage of all.  It stole the past from the Church and it rendered uncertain the future God had prepared.  The people were left only with the moment and with nothing to guide them through.

Those who would seek to steal away the landmarks and replace them with temporary signs should be warned.  The generous individualism that has replaced the fixed forms has left us subject to the rule of the personal, the spontaneous, and the entertaining.  In place of the landmarks of the past, we have a constantly changing reality, ever adjusting to what people want, to what people desire, and to what culture expects.  Where the liturgy once served God by preserving and promoting the truth, it now became captive to the eyes of the moment and to the deity of personal preference.  The worship leader has become the controller of what is said and, at least in desire, of what is heard.

One of the chief architects of this removal of the ancient landmarks, Annibale Bugnini wrote with regret of the need to “alter venerable texts that for centuries have effectively nourished Christian devotion and have about them the spiritual fragrance of the heroic age of the Church’s beginnings” but insisted that it was “necessary lest anyone find reason for spiritual discomfort” in the liturgical prayer of the Church. [The Reform of the Liturgy]

Of course not everything believed will be presented at each liturgy in text or song or lection.  However, the fullness of the liturgical year, the various specific rites reflective of that year, and the richness of the lectionary will shape the liturgy and provide exposure to the fullest expression of what we believe, confess, and teach, indeed, what we have always believed, confessed, and taught.  The doctrine in the liturgy is a delicate web – a balance of the personal and the communal, of doctrine and piety, of the historic and the present, of sorrow and joy, of law and Gospel, of earth and heaven.

It is impossible to proclaim rescue from evil, forgiveness from sin, joy in suffering, etc., without in some way referring to these things.  The modern discomfort with the subject of man’s weakness or sin, his suffering and death, makes the hope expressed within the liturgy a weak hope and a shallow imitation of the brave and profound hope born of the cross and the empty tomb.  It is like an Easter minus the Good Friday.  The ancient landmarks spoke honestly of the reality of sin and its consequences for us.  These texts were dismissed out of the fear that they might offend those not convinced of their reality.

The goal of the modern liturgy is less the means of grace delivering the promise of God but the pursuit of the full and balanced self, the full and balanced life.  Rejected as a negative spirituality, they sought to shape the liturgy in exclusively positive terms.  Man’s ultimate sin is his failure to be true to self, to fail to realize the full measure of his opportunity, and the failure to know constant happiness. 

Tertullian’s sarcasm against the Marcionites is worthy of the fruits of modern liturgical reform: A better god has been discovered, one who is never offended, angered, or takes vengeance, with whom no fire boils in Gehenna, with whom there is no gnashing of teeth or shuddering in the outer darkness: he is simply good... Of course he prohibits wrongdoing but only in letter.  It is up to you if you wish to register your obedience to him, that you may be seen to have given honor to God; for fear he does not want.... [Against Marcion]

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Aaaaaannnnnd... another one bites the dust. . .

Okay, it is a pea sized denomination of some 50,000 members but it has followed the lead of those who listen to culture instead of the Lord and who value toeing the line of political correctness more than heeding the unchanging witness of Scripture and tradition... but... they bit from the poisoned fruit of the poisoned tree... so I will report on it.

The 2014 Synod of the Moravian Church, Northern Province has approved a proposal to allow the ordination of gay and lesbian individuals, whether single, married or in covenanted relationships.

By a vote of 181-62, synod delegates approved the proposal, which also includes provisions to revise the Book of Order of the Moravian Church Northern Province to reflect this change, and a call to create a rite for solemnizing covenanted relationships for use in the Northern Province.

The Synod is the highest judicatory of the Moravian Church Northern Province.

I like how one blogger put it:

It’s amazing how similar the language is among gay advocates regardless of denomination. I’m sure (because I know the way Moravians think) that Dr. Miller thinks she is somehow being very “Moravian” in talking about “welcoming all people” and “acknowledging our differences” and “walking together in love.” In fact, she’s completely interchangeable with Gradye Parsons of the PCUSA, Katherine Jefforts-Schori of the Episcopal Church, Mark Hanson of the ELCA, or any other mainline leader.

Interesting their motto:    “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, love” . . .

Another trophy is lost. . .

Two Rivers Baptist Church once sat directly across from the Opryland Hotel as if it were the religious mirror of the mega hotel's success.  Back in the day, thousands attended Two Rivers and its chief minister (Jerry Sutton) was considered a superstar among Baptist clergy and on the road to becoming president of the entire denomination.

The Southern Baptists have fallen on harder times.  They have dropped a million members, baptisms (their single common indicator of success) have dropped by 25% annually, and the whole denomination is suffering.  When scandal and conflict dropped the worshipers at Two Rivers to less than 25% of its former glory, a banner was draped across the once imposing sign calling the congregation now "The Fellowship at Two Rivers".  The new name did little to repair the damage done and the congregation decided it had too much building and the facility had to go.  For a couple of years it was on the market until the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville purchased the property for about $12M.  They got 220,000 square feet and 37.5 acres of prime and easily accessible real estate.  The Fellowship will vacate the property in June 2015, looking for humbler digs locally.  It is all reminiscent of the Crystal Cathedral's demise amid scandal and conflict and the Orange County Roman Catholic's purchase of that evangelical icon property for some $57M.

What is interesting is that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville is one of the fastest growing in Roman Catholicism and, indeed, among all branches of Christianity.  In Nashville, home of the Grand Ole Opry and all things Southern, Rome is quietly and effectively picking up converts.  It makes sense for the Diocese to consolidate operations spread all over the city, to sell off some of its properties, and centralize.  It also is a strategic decision since the growth shows little sign of slowing down.  The building is mall like in appearance with little architectural detail to mark it as a church building so they will not need to change much to move in.

What is also interesting is that the Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant group in America since overtaking the Methodists around 1960, seem to have lost their focus. What began as a south of the Mason Dixon line group rode the wave of the post-World War II evangelical boom to become resident in all fifty states and the locomotive of American conservative Protestantism.  The train is losing steam, however. Led today by its first ever Black President, the Reverend Fred Luter, they are both the most ethnically diverse and multilingual denomination in the country.  But conflict and scandal and diversity have not fueled the kind of growth they counted on in the 1950s-1970s.  Last year they experienced the smallest number of baptisms since 1948 when Baptist president Harry Truman was President.  They are looking at what went wrong and trying to stop bleeding off people and start halting the decline... but who knows.  How many other icons of evangelical and fundamentalistic success may have a for sale sign out front?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How much as you worth?

Sermon preached for Pentecost 2, Proper 7A, on Sunday, June 22, 2014.

    We are oh so good at manipulating numbers.  Before the IRS are poor like Hilary Clinton, before the rest of the world we are rich.  Which is the truth?  How much are we worth is a truly haunting question too often defined simply by wealth and money.  Are we worth what we can afford?  What can we afford? Do we have enough to be comfortable now or to retire?  How much is enough?
    The Scriptures tell us that we are worth more than many sparrows.  That ought to comfort you.  But really it should!  The God who made, sees, and knows all creatures as His own does not value lightly what He made.  We heard last week from the creation story of Genesis and how God judged all He had made as "very good."  So you are at least worth that.
    God made, sees, and knows YOU as part of His creation.  You are His very own, fearfully and wonderfully made.  He made You the crown of His creation.  To mankind God gave dominion over all other creatures and the charge to exercise His Lordship as stewards over all that God made.  You are at least worth that.
    God deems you to be worth more than everything else in all creation.  As comforting as this is, our anxiety is because of sin.  Sin changed it all.  The sin and rebellion of Eden exchanged God's value for a lie and death.  We whom God claimed as His best, became His enemies because of sin.  In theory we had great value to the Lord but in practice we had exchanged God's gift for the cheap trinket of a moment of self-expression that led us to death.  Like the prodigal son, we were left to our regrets and our dreams of what might have been if we had not exchanged our birth right for a pot of porridge.
    So how much is "worth more than many sparrows" in real terms?  My dad always said that nothing has a value until some one is ready to pay for it.  In other words, what someone is willing to pay for it determines its worth.  We think our homes are valuable until we find out how hard it is to find someone to buy it for the price we think it is worth.  Ask any realtor.
    How much are we worth?  The truth is sin had devalued us.  We were not worth much until God decided to pay for us. Now our life is valued not by our estimate or the esteem of others but by the actual value of the holy and precious body and blood Jesus expended on the cross to save us from our sin and restore us to the Father.  So how much are you worth?  You have been deemed by God to be worth the price of the holy body of Christ in suffering upon the cross to redeem you, a lost and condemned sinner.
    God has decided you are worth to Him nothing less than the precious blood of Christ expended upon the cross for you and in which you were washed clean from your sins in your baptism.  God has made you worth the price of Christ's life which was given in your place to the death of the cross that you might be redeemed, bought back, and restored.
    Self-esteem can be a terrible lie and curse.  I warn you even as I warn myself against judging our worth on the basis of how much money we have, what we have been able to accomplish, how many people honor or respect us, or any other pure and unadulterated vanity.  Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, says the preacher of Ecclesiastes.  So don't listen to Clairol or L'Oreal. Your worth is not in you.  It is in the value God has placed on you. 
    You remain a wretched sinner wearing an expiration date.  The ground waits to reclaim you.  BUT. . . God has esteemed you priceless.  He has bought you with a price and paid for you with something worth far more than silver or gold.  He has purchased and won you with the holy and precious body and blood of Christ.  Nothing has any value until somebody is willing to pay you for it.  Christ paid for you with His very life.  That defines how much you are worth.
    Don't let it go to your head.  This great value God has placed upon you is part of the paradox in which we live – sinners worth His wrath and saints whom He has redeemed all that the same time.  Apart from this, self-esteem is a trap and a lie.  That is, except the self-esteem that wells up from the cross of Christ.  This is why we Christians cling to the cross.  There we see our value to the Lord.  There we learn how to live this new life given to us freely but at the great cost of Jesus' death and resurrection.  There we learn that God has not purchased our life from sin and the grave only so that we can squander it on ourselves, on self-indulgence, and the vain pursuit of personal pleasure and happiness.  God has redeemed us from something more noble than the freedom to pursue desire to its dead end.
    If our lives have any value at all, that value is expressed by taking up the cross and following Jesus, serving God by serving our neighbor in love, learning self-control over our passions, and from Jesus to love others before ourselves.  You are worth more than sparrows.  You have been purchased and won by Christ's holy and precious blood, the same food you will soon eat and drink here.  Don't waste the value God has placed on your life.  Make it as noble as the price Christ paid to set you free.  Amen.

Jesus Christ Is Lord. . . Not the same as Allah

The story:

An ecumenical concert in Speyer was to held at a Lutheran Church built in honor of the Reformation father.  An Imam raised his voice in prayer and a German woman rose from the balcony to insist that Jesus Christ is not the same as Allah and that Jesus Christ is Lord of Germany.  She rose in protest to the equality of place this concert gave to the god of Islam and Jesus Christ.  She is an activist against the Islamization of Germany (and of Europe in general).  She is not looking to restore a heritage but a living faith in the homeland of the Great Reformation.

The video and interview:

Click here to see more. . .

HT:  Gottesdienst Online

Deliberated posted here on the Commemoration of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. . .

Then Fell the Lord's Fire

The great Swedish Bishop and theologian Bo Giertz has a great chapter on how the Seelsorger (German for one who cares for the soul or Pastor) cares for his own soul.  I find the words compelling.

He begins with a statement that is as hidden as it is obvious.  The priest is just another man...  Surely it is painfully true to any Pastor that he is just a man – a man with a host of weaknesses, desires, strengths, and, yes, sins.  But as we are reminded.  The priest is not just a man...  He is a common sinner in an uncommon vocation – called to be a proclaimer of the Word of the Lord, His herald, and shepherd of His people.  As Scripture reminds us, if the shepherd is struck, the flock scatter.  If for this reason alone, the priest must be concerned with his own soul as well as the souls in his charge.

Even the Seelsorger has an Old Adam...  Look at the common caricatures of a priest – old, fat, pompous, self-indulgent, demanding, and cowardly all at once.  If the Old Adam can afflict the baptized after baptism, he can survive ordination to taunt the priest as well.  Unless he is controled, he will control everything.  The devil leaves the worldly alone and spends great energy upon those who presume to be servants of the Lord.  Anger, jealousy, envy, bitterness, impatience, and self-importance all portend against the identity and work of the priest.  Yes, every priest has an Old Adam and either he must be crucified daily or he will rule over the priest and destroy the flock of God.

Even the Seelsorger needs God’s Word...  Who does not know this?  Yet how easy it is to live as those it were not true.  The great temptation of the priest is to apply the Word of God to others without ever hearing the Word in His own heart, mind, and soul.  Remember how St. Paul warns Timothy to hold fast to the Scriptures he has known since childhood. 

Even a Seelsorger needs to be converted...  It is often true that a priest will be sent to a congregation whose needs will often prey upon the priest’s weaknesses.  In other words, it will tempt him to trust in himself and not hear the convicting power of the Law and the sweet voice of the Gospel.  How easy it is let the words of his confession be only words and to substitute the real sins he denies with the made up sins that are lies.

Even a Seelsorger needs the support of an external order...  Order is often seen as an enemy of true spirituality and prayer.  The press of time, the press of duties, and the press of professionalism often distract the priest from his devotional life.  Eventually it is easy to believe that one can get along without such devotional life and prayer.  Order is a friend of true devotion and a profound aid.

Even a Seelsorger needs Holy Communion...  I can recall when Lutheran Pastors did not commune with the congregation (albeit that the congregation was offered the Sacrament only four times a year or so).  The Pastor communed at the winkel or circuit meeting.  Lutheran Pastors are still guided by kind of humility which suggests that self-communion during the Divine Service is prideful and that he does not need the Sacrament as deeply that he offers to others.  The expectation until modern times was that the Pastor communed as often as he distributed it to others.  Even the Seelsorger has need of confession...  Just as the folks in the pew need to speak out loud the sins that afflict the conscience and hear in their ears the voice of absolution, so does the priest need this care of the soul.  It can be, no, it generally is difficult to find someone to hear his confession and absolve him but it is definitely worth the effort for the priest to have a father confessor.

Even a Seelsorger has a Merciful Savior who never fails to forgive...  It is too easy to believe that the demands so great, the responsibility so big, and the duty so heavy that the sins of the priest will not be forgiven.  As true as it is that of those to whom much has been given, much will be expected, it is also true that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  Only the mercy of God can give the priest the means to carry out his service in the joy of the Lord who does not fail to forgive and who makes every morning new. 

1 Corinthians 15:58:  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Thinking too much. . .

A while back I read a question from a Roman Catholic to a well known priest and blogger.  The gist of the question was this -- how do I treat my parents since they were not married in the [Roman Catholic] Church and their marriage is invalid...  Here is the entire quote:

I’m a convert to Catholicism, with a Lutheran mother and baptized and confirmed Catholic father. My dad fell away from the Church after college, as he married outside of the Church and all us children were nominally Lutheran. Given how his entire family hasn’t practiced their faith since before my birth, it’s something I struggle to internalize. But, it finally dawned on me that my parents’ marriage is invalid in the eyes of the Church. Now, I’m struggling with various questions I know will arise down the line: Do I acknowledge their wedding anniversaries? Should I let my parents share a room when they visit? What should my husband and I tell our children in the future, if anything? Any guidance would be appreciated.

Validity is a term strange to Eastern Orthodoxy and one which Lutherans also find uncomfortable but it is one which is very much a part of the theology of Roman Catholicism.  I do not like the preoccupation with validity and find this question strange to my ears.  How should I treat my parents since their marriage is invalid?  Well, what about the fourth commandment?  Honor your father and mother?  Whether or not your parents marriage is valid in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church (to which, it seems, they do not belong, if I read between the lines), they remain married before the law, they continue to be your parents, and you owe them the honor and respect due them as your parents.  The commandment came before Tu es Petrus.

The answer given by the blogger was marginally acceptable in my eyes (reminding them that only the RC Church decides what is valid and not) but the answer failed in one central way -- it implied that it was exceptional for this daughter to continue to honor her parents, send a card on their anniversary, or allow them to share a bedroom when they visited in her home.  Really?  Marriage is sacramental -- even Lutherans see this though we do not call it a sacrament -- but marriage was God's gift in creation prior to all other things.  I find it more than a bit confusing and confounding how this could become such a question and such an issue -- so much so that it would bring into question the mere acknowledgement of her parents marriage, anniversaries, or their sleeping arrangements upon visits to her home.  It is a muddle to me and one that makes Roman theology and practice on this subject a conundrum and an impediment to my consideration of their larger point in calling marriage a sacrament.

Sadly, there is little that confuses the world or makes the world ridicule Roman teaching on marriage and divorce more than such a question like this and its muddled answer.  I had hoped that this might be a moment of clarity in which the Scripture and reason for such teaching might shine but what I got was only more darkness, shadow, and confusion....

Yes, her parents may have failed in their most important duty to raise their children in the faith (Lutherans and Roman Catholics agree here).  But the ordered relationship of parent and child does not depend upon the faithfulness of the parent or the success and appreciation of the child.  By all means, raise the question to mom and dad why they did not more deliberately pass on the faith to their children (especially as a daughter raising her own children and, perhaps, learning from her parent's mistakes).  But it is the ultimate strangeness to preoccupy oneself with the question of validity, whether to remember an anniversary, or to allow mom and dad to share the same bedroom in her home.  Goofy.  Really goofy.  Can someone else explain it to me better than Fr. Z?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Heresy is itself an act of schism. . .

"One of the respondents to Not Your Smallest Lutheran Church, Russell Saltzman’s report on the recent creation of a new Lutheran body [NALC], objected to the conservatives leaving the mainline body to form another one. '[ I]t’s not a good thing to be willing to splinter' over 'dogma and religious practices,' he wrote. Divisions between Christians seriously damage our ability to speak to world effectively.

"Back when I was an Episcopal activist, both liberals who were busy gutting the Episcopal Church of its traditional beliefs and conservatives who didn’t want to challenge them were fond of intoning 'Schism is worse than heresy.' It was a little odd to hear this from members of a tradition that began in a break with the Church of which it had been a part over what its leaders thought to be heresies.

"But the real problem with the claim was theological: that heresy is itself an act of schism."

You can read the whole thing from the 2010 First Things article by David Mills...

There is no shortage of those wringing their hands over the sad divisions of Christianity (and there are many and they are sad and regrettable -- make no mistake about that).  Yet the mystery is that many, dare I say most of those who wring their hands and sound the lament of so many different Christian church bodies (it seems there are  more each year) seem to have no such angst or regret over the fact that many of these divisions are the necessary actions of those who leave heretical church bodies and those who have allowed apostasy to contaminate the church's confession without challenge.  Mills is spot on.  Heresy IS schism, it is the worst kind of schism, and it is the schism that compromises the church's witness most of all -- more than even the scandal of many denominations!

Only when we take doctrine and confession seriously can the ecumenical endeavor begin to address the sad and regrettable divisions among us Christians.  Compromise over truth and unity in diversity represent their own affront to the true Biblical unity of faith for which Jesus prays in His high priestly prayer.  No, discounting doctrine does nothing to foster unity and we are not reaping the reward of those who have traded in the doctrinal certainty of Scripture and the catholic tradition for the vague and clouded unity of churches standing for little except unity.

We must call out those who occasion schism by their heresy.  There is no triumphal glory in this for we speak the truth in love to those within and without the boundaries of Christendom but speak the truth we must.  Fuzzy truth and diluted confession give no glory to God nor do they foster unity or serve the faithful witness God intends for the church.  While I know that there can certainly be a preoccupation with pure doctrine as if it were an end in and of itself (and not the worship, witness, and service that pure doctrine serves) but we are far more likely in this day and age to round the sharp edges of our confessions so that they end up saying nothing and doing nothing.  This has allowed heresy to spread to the point that it is impossible to remain in some of these churches and there is no choice for faithfulness except to walk.  That said, there are choices before beginning a new church body and too often, it is true, that those who leave do not give honest consideration to the existing bodies.  Nevertheless there would be no need if the theology were orthodox and the confession faithful in the first place.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

My sheep hear My voice and they know Me. . .

Would that we sheep all responded to the sound of the voice of our Good Shepherd and followed.  Though it is not enough simply to recognize the sound of the Good Shepherd's voice, but also to repudiate and refuse to listen to and follow the false voices of those who seek us harm.

Well, it is Sunday and the Good Shepherd is calling... do you hear?  Will you follow the sound of His voice (His Word) to the rich green pastures of His Table and the still quiet waters of baptism????

It is okay, I guess.... but

Many years ago I had a friend who came to my parish and watched me as a Pastor lead the Divine Service and preach the Divine Word.  I tried very hard to be extra good.  I wanted him to think I was good. I wanted him to be impressed.  I wanted him to be converted by my stewardship of the mysteries of God.  (There I said it...)

At the end of the liturgy I asked him what he thought.  "It was okay, I guess.... but it was kind of, well, flat..."  He went on to talk about the abundance of words and the seeming lack of feeling in the Divine Service.  I was like a balloon in which all the air had rushed out.  His words cut me to the core.  He said it was okay but he expected more and was disappointed that he was not pumped up by either the liturgy or the sermon.  But he was honest.  At least I should have thanked him for that.  In the end he never saw me lead the Divine Service or preach again.  At the time I was relieved.  I did not want to disappoint him and was afraid that it might end my friendship.  In the end, time and geography led the friendship to its own slow death.  We went our own ways.  That was that.  But his criticism of the liturgy, my presiding of it,  and my preaching in it, has continued to haunt me.

Ratchet forward about thirty years and I made a mad rush to visit Flannery O'Connor in preparation for a funeral sermon for an erudite and learned man and lo and behold I come across this quote. 

“When I ask myself how I know I believe, I have no satisfactory answer at all, no assurance at all, no feeling at all. I can only say with Peter, Lord I believe, help my unbelief. And all I can say about my love of God, is, Lord help me in my lack of it. I distrust pious phrases, particularly when they issue from my mouth. I try militantly never to be affected by the pious language of the faithful but it is always coming out when you least expect it. In contrast to the pious language of the faithful, the liturgy is beautifully flat.” [The Habit of Being:  Letters of Flannery O'Connor]

I had a number of quotes from this somewhat local author but did not use this one in the funeral sermon.  I kept it on my desk for a couple of months and then, lo and behold, I read it in the blog of a friend (Outer Rim Territories).   Without comment and just these words of O'Connor, I decided to tackle them again even though it has taken another month or so of brooding over them.

Perhaps I am going through a rough patch.  Perhaps I am more conscious of the constant emptiness within.  Perhaps I am in a dark place and need rescue.  All of them are probably true.  But I know the truth of her words.  I wonder all the time how I know I believe.  My life is not holy.  I am not the husband I should be nor the father, either.  I am not the son I should be nor the brother either.  It is pretty obvious to all that I am not the Pastor I should be.  Under it all, I am not the Christian I should be.  My hope is grounded in little in my life and everything in the Word and promise of God.  

Some folks might be surprised at this admission.  They may think that my faith has a mission proofs, that my life of faith is easy, and that my righteousness quota is nearly filled.  It is an oft made assumption about Pastors -- they have it easy, their marriages and families are perfect, and their lives are better than most.  The truth is that clergy are neither immune from the temptations of all Christians nor are they aloof from the doubts of all Christians.  I will say one thing.  Though I have many temptations (and many failures) and many doubts about myself, what keeps me going is the certain promise of the only one who died and rose again.  That promise made to me in my baptism 60 years ago has been the lifeline of our hope and the sure ground of my being ever since.

Like O'Connor, I keep going back to Peter's words.  He has looked around at all the options.  Jesus wonders if Peter will leave.  In desperation, Peter laments that he has looked other places, for other Messiahs, for other promises, for other hopes... but, almost like a lament, he comes back always to Jesus.  Lord, to whom shall I go?  You alone have the words of eternal life. . . Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.   Like O'Connor I am wary of my love for God or my pious words and deeds.  They are never good enough under the scrutiny of the righteous God who came in flesh for me.  When Christians talk about themselves, about their faith, about their wonderful lives, about the great things they do for God and God does for them, I grow instantly suspicious (or perhaps envious?).  

My friend found the liturgy and my preaching strangely flat (to use O'Connor's words).  In contrast to the heady words and emotional tone of so much that goes on in the Church, the liturgy is remarkably flat and the preaching of the Church so often fails to pump us up and leave us prepared to conquer the world in Jesus' name... but that is okay...  No, it is more than okay.  It is how it should be.  The Gospel is not about feeling and it does not hit us primarily in our feelings. It is not meant to avoid them but the Gospel cannot reside as one desire among many in a heart prone to infatuations, impulse, and spontaneity.  I learned that the liturgy is flat in the sense that it does not impact us in feeling only but it is certainly not flat in the sense of its words being hollow.  The liturgy (and every good sermon) is really the Word of God, woven into a fabric to clothe us with hope through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is the powerful, performative Word that delivers what it says -- not because we believe it or are excited about it but because it is the promise of God.  Once we make this realization, the Divine Service is more than animated, it animates -- it  bestows upon us the life of God through the means of grace, forgiving our sins, rescuing us from our despair, leading us through death to life, and imparting to us the promise of a new flesh and blood no longer lived under the constraints of this mortal life (wherein evil and desire always try to steal our hearts).

There are those who think the liturgy could and should be improved upon -- in part to frame it in modern words and context but largely to make it more exciting, more fun, seemingly more relevant.  As soon as this happens, the Divine Service loses and so do the people who come to it.  The great danger to us since Eden is to trade in truth for feeling, the promise for the moment, and God for a benevolent grandpa.  Like a sugar high it feels good but when you fall there is nothing there to pick up the pieces. . . except the Word of the Lord that endures forever -- the same Word that seemed rather flat and empty when we were too full of ourselves to have room for it...  No, I know what O'Connor was writing about... and I expect many of you know it also.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

His strength made perfect in our weakness. . .

A bell tower thought to be the weakest part of Saint John's Lutheran Church in Pilger was all that remained of the structure after Monday's tornado ripped through the village.

"We were worried about the bell tower being the weak part of the church," said said Cal Wiechman of Pilger.

Some who attended the church during the 55-years it stood on what is now a concrete slab say they're amazed the the lonely structure stands.

"Holy cow look at what stays is the bell tower of the church," said Wiechman.

Wiechman, who's been going to Saint John's for more than 50 years, says it will be rebuilt in the same location, but that the church is about people rather than the building.

Saint John's will hold this Sunday's service at 9 a.m. at First Trinity Church in Altona.

The pastor had a meeting with other members of the congregation on Thursday to discuss the exact plans for a new church building and future church services.

Watch more here. . .  stories of courage and faith!

Best Comment Overheard. . .

The government that just lost two years worth of emails wants to take care of your medical records and to manage health care for you.  Aren't you glad? Don't you feel better now? 

Ah.... breathe.... no, really... you have to breathe!


Call uh 911, or just pick up the phone and tell the NSA listening into your calls to dial it for you.

Thank you, Paul. . .

Back in the day when blogs were an unknown quantity, the Rev. Paul McCain invented something called Cyberbrethren.  It began as an emailed sort of electronic newsletter of his thoughts.  It evolved into a mighty blog that passionately promoted Confessional Lutheranism, the offerings of Concordia Publishing House (the chief publishing arm of Confessional Lutheranism), and a perspective on events in the news (slanted, as you might expect, to the right).  Paul has retired his blog and gone on to other pursuits but Lutheranism cannot forget his good efforts and the way he brought the internet to bear for the cause of Lutheranism.  Whether you loved him or loved to hate him or somewhere in between, Paul's blog was a must read for many years. 

I have known Paul for many years and I thought it might be time to say a public thank you to him.  I know I would not have this blog were it not for Paul's example.  He is not retired.  He remains a powerful force within Concordia Publishing House (the premier Lutheran publishing house in the world today) and will probably be on the forefront of something else down the road.  So, Paul, here's to you.  Thank you!!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Another one bites the dust. . .

In a monumental move, the nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination voted Thursday to change its definition of marriage and allow its pastors to officiate same-sex ceremonies in states where gay marriage is legal.  By a vote of 429-175, leaders of the 1.76 million-member Presbyterian Church (USA) voted during the biennial General Assembly in Detroit to change the denomination’s Book of Order to describe marriage as being between “two people.”

The decision opens a path toward gay marriage across the denomination’s 10,000 churches.
A majority of the church’s 173 regional bodies, called Presbyteries, must now approve the decision before it’s official, a process that can take up to a year. But after years of failed efforts to get the church to approve gay marriages, LGBT activists and pastors said they were optimistic.

“This is a glorious day for the church and for LGBT people who have been seeking full inclusion here for decades,” Pittsburgh-based Rev. Randy Bush, the co-moderator of the board for pro-LGBT church group Covenant Network, said in a statement.
In a separate vote, 371 to 238, the church assembly also approved a measure to allow pastors in the 

19 states where same-sex marriage is legal to officiate those weddings. That move is final and doesn’t need further approval.

Many smaller, more conservative Presbyterian denominations, including the Presbyterian Church in America and Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, don’t ordain gay people or official same-sex marriages.  But the decisions for the USA group, which came after hours of tense debate, follow years of discussions on the meaning of marriage in the church and a rapidly changing tide of support for religious and civil same-sex marriage. The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted in May 2011 to allow the ordination of openly gay men and women in same-sex relationships, and other Christian denominations have also increasingly ordained openly gay clergy.

There you have it.  Another one bites the dust.  Those on the winning side will no doubt triumph the prophetic nature of the vote and action done.  But how prophetic is it when you are merely following the beat of culture?  No, it seems to me that if you desire to be prophetic, the stance to take is not a mirror of what is going on all around you.

But nobody is listening to me... they are, however, listening.  The Presbyterians have had 4 splits in the last hundred years and they are bleeding off members and dollars like Julia Child hacking away at a chicken only to hit her own artery!  What comfort there is in taking a stance that had been rejected time and time again before until either the opposition grew tired or left is mystifying to me.  In a few years we will be singing about the PCUSA, ELCA, and other mainline liberal Protestants who have disappeared or simply exchanged their once robust and confident identity for a whisp of smoke blown in the wind.  Like Abraham, Martin, and John, a host of church bodies are gone, their memories remain but the churches that use those names now bear little resemblance to their predecessors... and that, my friends, is a loss that will not be regained.

Dollars for Disobedience. . .

This was passed on to me.  It concerns the start of the agitation for recognition of gay and lesbians among Lutherans.  Turns out we can point to 1975, to the somewhat conservative American Lutheran Church (sometime fellowship partner with the Missouri Synod, for the real start of the movement now bearing so much fruit (though poisoned) within the ELCA...

You can read it all here...

Here is a sampling. . .

It took years for the nation's leading Lutheran denomination to welcome openly gay members and clergy. Here is a glimpse of the early process... In 1975, the nation was attempting to get over the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Nixon the previous August. Within Lutheran circles, conservatives successfully whipped up the folks in the pews by hyping their own sense of scandal.

"Dollars for Disobedience" was the headline and the response to Pastor Siefkes’ successful advocacy for a small appropriation for startup of a tiny, fledgling group of Lutheran gays and lesbians. Conservative Lutheran publications were ablaze with criticism of the group and the American Lutheran Church (ALC): “For a major board of one of the country’s major denominations to identify through its budget an organization promoting the blatant transgression of the revealed word of God is a sign of sinking back to the level of official immorality that prevailed when Christianity emerged. Concerned members of the ALC will know how to express their outrage …”

Indeed, at the October 1974 National Conference of the ALC in Detroit, some had expressed themselves by repeatedly tearing down the banner directing delegates to “Gay Headquarters," the small booth staffed by a few LGBT Lutherans. Others were sympathetic to those staffers, including several who received emotional support for their own conflicts of sexual identity.

My words...

In other words, in about one generation the organizers of the GLBT movement have engineered a rather stunning turn around in popular opinion and have take captive one major Lutheran body in the US... Who would have thought it?!?  What was the fringe of Lutheranism in 1975 is now front and center -- either the dominant movement and power in some Lutheran bodies or one of the things that frustrates and nags at the leadership and public proclamation of those not overcome by the GLBT agenda...  And it all began rather innocuously....

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Casting Your Vote. . .

Every once in a while I look out at the congregation and wonder where everyone is.  Perhaps it is graduation weekend or the convergence of vacation plans or whatever but there are Sundays where it seems everyone else got the message to take a break from church -- every one but me.

Inevitably someone will ask "what did I miss?"  I have already addressed the answer to this in another blog post.  This time another focus is worthy of our attention.  It sounds law oriented (well, because it is, in part) but it was put to me this way, "every Christian votes every Sunday; everyone who decides to stay home casts a ballot against the witness and life of the Church; everyone who attends casts a vote for the witness and life of the Church."  There is a great deal of truth in this.

We have been taught to attend for ourselves, for our own needs, or because of our likes (preferences).  Such folly!  Even if we as Christians felt no need to hear the Word of the Lord or to be fed at His Table (as if this was conceivable), we have a duty and responsibility to attend for the sake of others within the Body of Christ and for the sake of the witness our attendance makes to the world.

When we stay home for anything but the greatest necessity, we are effectively telling our brothers and sisters in Christ that they are less important to us than we are and we are telling the world not to pay much attention to Christianity because it is not of great consequence.  That is the hard but honest truth.  Our willingness to let anything and everything come first on Sunday morning means we are casting a vote to close the Church and against any witness the assembly of God's people makes in the world.

On the other hand, our attendance is at least as much for the sake of others as it is for ourselves.  We live in a covenant of love with those who share with us the baptismal life God has given us.  If not for ourselves, we come for them, for those with whom we share the baptismal new life and vocation as the people of God.  And if not for them, then for the sake of those who have not yet heard or paid much attention to the faith.  We make our way to the Lord's House on the Lord's Day and the world sees and hears in this a witness to the Word of the Lord and a testament to the blessings of our life together fed and nourished upon the flesh and blood our Lord graciously gives to us in the Eucharist.

Everything else proceeds from this.  Without this, Christianity degenerates into an individualized, self-centered and self-defined faith.  As Lutherans we should hear the echo of Luther's Small Catechism in our ears when we choose to stay home for anything but the most urgent necessity.  For around the Word and Table of the Lord God is at work calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying His Church.  How can this be anything but the highest priority in the life of the Christian?

We are well into the vacation season.  Some will go away and others will have a "staycation" at home.  There is no rest apart from the Word and Sacraments, no peace apart from the peace Christ gives, and no benefit to time off unless it begin with the rest for the souls and peace that passes understanding of all the Lord's people gathered around the Lord's Word and Table on the Lord's Day.

So.... how will YOU be voting this Sunday?!?!?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Holy Trinity

Sermon preached for the Holy Trinity A, on Sunday, June 15, 2014.

    If you ever catch one of those silly so-called reality shows on TV, don't miss "Say Yes to the Dress."  The point of the show is to get the bride into the wedding dress of her dreams and spend a few thousand dollars along the way.  Over and over the hosts remind you it is all about the bride, but, like another reality show, "Bridezilla," there is no bride who needs to be reminded.
    If original sin is being oriented toward self – what we might call self-absorbed or self-obsessed or narcissistic – then actual sin is talking about ourselves and loving ourselves, and trusting ourselves to death – literally.
    They say the best advice to those dating is to get the other person to talk about himself or herself because there is nothing we like to talk about more than ourselves.  They will love you for it.  We even pay people to listen to us talk about our favorite subjects – ourselves.  Is it no wonder that we have made God into our image – a God who is as self-obsessed as we are?!?
    Today is the Sunday of the Holy Trinity.  All our focus is on the God who has made Himself known to us through His Son, Jesus, who reveals the mystery of the Trinity by revealing the Father and sending the Spirit.  Jesus gives us God's name, the gift of an identity, an end to an old life, and the start of a new life.  In all things God is revealed not as selfish ogre but as generous Giver.
    Jesus says "All authority in heaven and on earth is mine..." Who would not want to be able to say that?  Jesus does not claim this authority but won it.  It is His by the gift of the Father to the Son who earned it by His righteousness of life, His suffering for our sin, and His death that gives us life.  The authority of Jesus is the reward of His faithfulness but note how Jesus uses that authority.  God gives our Lord this gift of authority and Jesus gives that authority to His Church.
    "Go, make disciples of all..."  His authority is to be used for the sake of the sinners captive to death.  He does not use this gift of authority for Himself but for you and me – for all who would be saved by what His holy life, suffering, death, and rising won.  He is jealous not for Himself but for us, for whom He died and for whom He now lives, never to die again.
    As the Father has given this authority to Jesus, Jesus gives it to us.  His name is our gift in baptism and with it the vocation of new life born from the font.  It is an authority not for self but for the sake of the world.  It is the authority to wear the name of God before the world.  We bear to the world our new life in baptism, by which the sinners are forgiven, the dead raised, and eternal life bestowed.
    He gives us the authority of His name, His water, and His Word.  We are called to teach the Word of the Lord, faithfully and in all its fullness.  We dare not pick and choose from this Word nor does He allow us to alter the Word to fit the times.  Note here teaching is primarily verbal.  We forget that until modern times people did not read the Word on the page but heard it in their ears.  We are the voices whom the Lord sends forth with His Word on our lips.  The Word of the Lord is heard in the ear; hearing the Word, the Spirit works faith in the hearer.
    He gives us the authority of His presence.  We are not left to our own devices.  We are not orphans.  Our blessed Lord does not start the ball rolling and then turn it all over to us.  No, He is jealous about this authority.  He does not abandon His Church but bestows upon us the Spirit, the helper, who enables us to hear and believe, to believe and to live obediently to the Word.  We are not left to screw it up because His Word, His Name, and His Sacraments remain His own domain.  Our voices, but His Word.  Our hands, but His work.
    "Lo, I am with you always. . ."   This is not some generic promise.  It is the promise that has a shape.  It looks like the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments.  These are His means by which He is always here, bestowing His gifts and grace.  He delivers us from our past but He also promises a future.  At the end of time, when time gives way to eternity, this world to the new world to come, and when this flesh to the glorious flesh our Lord already wears, we will still be His.
    We are tempted to see these words as marching orders.  Jesus did His bit and now it is up to us.  How much damage has been done to the kingdom of God by such foolishness!   Jesus does not turn operational control of His Church over to us.  Instead He does something greater.  He invites us into His work, using our voices to speak His Word, our hands to pour the water of baptism, and our hands to make and give the bread and cup of His meal.  He takes us into Himself and His saving Work so that all we do in faithfulness to Him is Him working in us.
    God made all things as an act of selfless love.  He redeems us and all His creation as an act of selfless love.  His authority acts in love – even when the answer to us is "no."
This is not our Church but His.  He extends to us the privilege of being His partners.  He gives us His name, His Word, and His Spirit that we might know Him by faith and serve Him.
    The miracle here is that the very name of God IS the saving Word of the Lord, applied in water to a sinful people living in captivity to death that they might rise, forgiven, free, and new.  The miracle here is that God continues to use our voices and our hands for what remains His work.  His authority is use to save and He works His saving grace through us.  What privilege!
    On this Sunday of the Holy Trinity we also celebrate Father's Day.  How appropriate.  The spiritual headship of the home is in terrible shape.  We earthly fathers have abused the authority given to us and used it for privilege instead of responsibility.  Jesus shows us that the only real authority acts to seek, save, and sanctify a people to be His own sons and daughters.  Earthly fathers take note.  The spiritual headship of the home is lived out by teaching Jesus, bringing your sons and daughters to Jesus, and living the sacrificial life of Jesus toward your wife and your family.  Indeed, the only lasting gift we give to our children is to teach them the name that saves, the love that forgives, the name of the Trinity.
    Sin lies to us and says that all authority is really about "ME" but the work of God is just the opposite.  Our Lord casts aside all right to serve the Father by saving us.  He sends forth the Spirit so that we might believe and be saved.  Though we are perfectly free, this freedom is lived out in service to God by serving others in His name – bringing the good news of the Kingdom to bear where the Name, the water, and the Word of the Lord deliver that Kingdom to us.  The tyranny of "ME" can only be defeated by the Name that saves and the new lives lived out in and under that name... today, tomorrow, and forever.
    Blessed be the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The cover of congregationalism. . .

As a union of churches in covenant together we will respect the differences on this issue which both enrich us and potentially could divide as we seek to live in fellowship under the direction of our Declaration of Principle ‘That our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and that each church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His Laws.’

Upholding the liberty of a local church to determine its own mind on this matter, in accordance with our Declaration of Principle, we also recognise the freedom of a minister to respond to the wishes of their church, where their conscience permits, without breach of disciplinary guidelines.

We affirm the traditionally accepted Biblical understanding of Christian marriage, as a union between a man and a woman, as the continuing foundation of belief in our Baptist Churches.

A Baptist minister is required to live and work within the guidelines adopted by the Baptist Union of Great Britain regarding sexuality and the ministry that include ‘a sexual relationship outside of Christian marriage (as defined between a man and a woman) is deemed conduct unbecoming for a minister’.


The above statement by the British Baptists effectively says that while the Baptist Union has at its foundation a commitment to marriage between a man and a woman, British Baptist pastors and congregations are freed to act according to their own mind and conscience with respect to gay marriage and everyone in the Baptist Union will be happy no matter what choice is made.   Now here is true unity in diversity -- we can agree to disagree and still be Baptists...  One wonders how long it will be before others use the same excuse of congregationalism to undercut their commitment to one man and one woman marriage and accept the freedom of others within the same "denomination" to disagree....  Could this portend the same kind of unity in diversity among evangelicals who do and who don't agree to gay marriage?  Who else???

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The sad fruits of modern day youth ministry. . .

I have posted before of the dismal fruits of youth ministry designed to prevent our youth from being bored as opposed to the kind of youth ministry that raises up children and youth in the faith, to know the Word of the Lord, to be catechized in the faith, and to confront the hard questions of living as a Christian in a world unfriendly to the faith.

Here are some great programs on this topic from the White Horse Inn.

Listen here to part of the programing  and you can listen here to another program on this topic.

Our greatest fear is that our children will not have fun at church but the real danger is that we will disappoint them with a faith we treat as less than real, answers less than authoritative, and truth less than eternal.  It seems that the youth who drop out of the church from early college on are not hard core atheists who refuse to believe but those who wanted to believe but were disappointed in the faith the church offered them and severely lacking in the basic knowledge of who God is, what His Word says, and what it means to be saved by grace thought faith.  They have tasted the koolaid of moralism that masquerades as Christianity and knew enough to reject it but did not know what else to look for or where to find another, more authentic, Christianity.

Kids today need to hear more than the usual fare of "youth Bible studies" on drugs, sex, dating, and the internet.  Kids need to interact more with adults and adults more with youth in the church.  Kids segregated in a room full of old couches taught by some adult trying to be cool is not what kids want or need.  I do not fault the youth workers who have tried their best but we as the church have given them a flawed program and false goals.  We have tasked them with baby sitting our youth to keep them out of our hair when we should have been teaching our youth how to engage adults and adults how to engage youth in matters of faith and life in Christ.  Perhaps the adults are afraid and the youth tempted to choose fluff over real stuff but the end result of what we have been doing is that somewhere between 60-90 percent of non Roman Catholic youth leave the church sometime between high school and college.

It is enough. . . another satis est. . .

Over the years I have watched as Roman Catholics observe the great and the ordinary of church and life with a Mass.  In some cases, it is an extraordinary occasion marked by a great choir, many priests, a full compliment of minor clergy, and all the, well, smells and bells.  In other cases it is a much more ordinary event without the festive elements of the liturgy but with the same Mass.  It is enough.  The Word preached, the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, and the faithful gathered to respond by communing and adding their own joyful voice to the song of faith gone on so long.

I have also watched as Lutherans have observed the great and ordinary fare of our life together and found that we are not content simply with the Mass -- whether festively adorned with choir and plenty of people in albs, cassocks and surplices, etc... or not.  More often than not we try to may the Mass even more special by the use of strange gimmicks and inventive tricks that are certainly testament to the creativity of the planner but seem to distract and detract from the Word and Table of the Lord.  We complain about the multiplicity of Masses from Rome for every occasion or event but our practice reveals a disconcerting lack of confidence in the Mass and a disordered desire to spice it up a bit with things of our own creation.

The sad truth is that on the greatest of occasions in the church's life we Lutherans often exhibit the worst of liturgical practice.  We cut and paste together all sorts of stuff because it is neat or cool or we like it or, worst of all, we want to make things even more special.  When we should show forth the best of liturgical practice because the light is shining on us during those occasions, we put forward our worst, our most trite, banal, and trendy practices.  Christmas, Easter, church anniversaries, church conventions and conferences, pastoral conferences, etc... end up not the places where the Mass is central focus but where we are.

This is strange for a people who confess that the Mass is observed among us more faithfully than among our opponents.  It is strange for a church body that confesses not only the sufficiency of the means of grace but insists that the regular vehicle of the Spirit and His work is not our own additions but the Word and Sacraments.  I am thoroughly sympathetic of this to make things special and have perhaps been a participant in what I complain about.  But I also understand that it proceeds from a problem of piety -- for most Lutherans the Mass is not enough, not nearly enough, and certainly not the source and summit of their own lives in the Spirit.

That is a painful and difficult admission for us Lutherans to make.  We have drifted far enough away from our Confessions that we are not merely content with the means of grace as the sources of, the nourishment for, and the objects of our lives of faith as the baptized people of God.  We find it very hard to resist the temptation to substitute what we think, feel, or do for the Word and Sacraments.  Whether in the area of justification or sanctification, our weakness is to steal away the energy of our lives of faith from the impetus of the Spirit and the means of grace and put in their place our own creative energies.

The whole goal of the liturgical movement (at least among Lutherans) was not about recovery of an early church ideal, the restoration of a pristine form from a bygone era, the vestments worn, the ritual actions of priest or people, or the like.  No, the real focus and goal of the Lutheran liturgical movement was the restoration of the Word and Sacraments as the Sunday norm for "ordinary" occasions and the festive norm for the special events in the life of the Church precisely because it is the core and center of the piety of the people.  The Mass as both source of our piety and lives of faith as well as the summit to which that piety and those lives of faith are focused was part of the cause of the Reformation.  It brought forth the best of human gift and responsive expression (think of Bach and the liturgical life of Leipzig during his lifetime) and it led to the most vibrant and vital shape for Lutheran faith and identity.  We recover what was lost not by reinventing Leipzig or any other place nor by picking one moment from the snapshot of our history.  No, we do so by remembering when the Word and Sacraments of the Lord were enough, were sufficient for us and for our lives of faith and piety as the baptized children of God.

The sad truth is that the ordinary Sundays of the church's life are often the places where we exhibit our most faithful liturgical practice, allowing the Word and Table of the Lord their central place as the focus of our liturgical life.  One thing I have to admit is that Rome believes the Mass is enough.  You can add choirs and legions of minor clergy or it can be simple, spoken, and "plain" but it is always the Mass -- the means of grace through which the Spirit works and the Lord bestows His gifts upon His people.  Once we Lutherans had the hubris to say "even more among us!"  Perhaps we choose not to say those words today or perhaps we know that they are not true among us as they once were.  This is where liturgical renewal begins.  Unless we can recover our faith in the means of grace as sufficient for us, the Word and Table of the Lord will have to compete with our petty and pathetic efforts to make the worship life of God's people more special than God can do Himself through His Word and Sacraments.