Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Living Lutheran -- what is NOT included. . .

THE Lutheran magazine received a name change a while ago.  It is now LIVING Lutheran.  At first I thought it was merely an attempt to refresh a denominational magazine with declining circulation and readership (most are in that same boat).  But I am becoming more and more convinced that it is instead an attempt to focus on what Lutherans do instead of what Lutherans believe.

The November issue has an editor's note on cultivating the habit of being grateful.  Pr Tim Brown recounts his experience in a Lutheran grade school memorizing Bible verses and Luther's Catechism and then shifts effortlessly to the theology of Rob Bell (hardly known as Lutheran friendly).  After some news, retired two star general Howard Stendahl describes how he sees being Lutheran in terms of help to returning vets, racial justice, and the diverse nature of military chaplaincy.  There is a big article on seeing Jesus in the face of refugees (with study guide).  Vets are asked about their stories.  There is a two page spread on a little free food pantry, senior care, interfaith work (Lutheran and Pentecostal congregations sharing space and more), making communion bread, world peace and the Nobel peace forum, what tomorrow's church leaders did on their summer vacation, ecumenical and interfaith campus ministry, dialogue and social justice, giving to the Fund for Leaders, an article on how the Lutheran Confessions unite us (that ends inexplicably with women's ordination), a film review, etc...

What you will NOT find in the Living Lutheran magazine is anything substantive about what Lutherans believe.  It was not always this way for the ELCA denominational journal.  But it is surely what this publication has become.  Perhaps it is a tacit admission that even within the ELCA there is not much agreement on what is believed, confessed, and taught.  Perhaps it is that the ELCA stands further and further from the pale of what Lutherans have always believed, confessed, and taught.  Perhaps it is that the editors see doctrine as bad and service as good.  Perhaps it is that the journal has been directed to make its thrust in human interest stories.  Whatever the reason(s), sinister or benign, this journal is about just about anything but believing as a Lutheran.  Even when there are a few words on Lutheran theological identity, you end up reading about Rob Bell or the ordination of women (neither of which, unless I am greatly mistaken, are addressed in the Lutheran Confessions.

I write this not to condemn the ELCA magazine.  It is well laid out, has good pictures and graphics, and is winsome.  My point is to suggest that what is precisely under fire today is not what Lutherans do but what Lutherans believe.  We are at a severe juncture in history in which the name Lutheran has a confused and general meaning that is further and further distant from our Confessions.  We face a culture less and less aware of Lutheran identity or Reformation history.  We have folks in the pews who know less and believe less like the folks who sat in those same pews a generation or two or three ago.  We need journals that appeal to us but we need even more magazines that will teach the faith, confront us with the tension between what we believe and what the world and our culture affirms, and how to sustain this doctrine and practice in a world increasingly unfriendly to the faith.  We need to use every venue to rebuild a fractured unity and this will not happen by focusing on what we do -- it will only happen by focusing on what we believe, confess, and teach.

There is surely a place for such fodder but no church worth its salt can afford to substitute photo ops and inspirational stories about what Lutherans do for what Lutherans believe.  Lutheran identity will not survive by diverting attention from doctrine to deeds.  Just the opposite.  The Lutheran distinctives that emphasize vocation, spiritual priesthood, and good deeds (ordinarily good works and mercy service to our neighbor) are the fruit of a vigorous and vital confession that is substantive, changeless, and authoritative.  Without this, all the good deeds on earth are window dressing on a collapsing structure of hopelessness.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!

Sermon for Advent 1A, preached on Sunday, November 27, 2016.

St. Paul tells us salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. Do you believe it?  After all we have been here before.  Advent gives way to Christmas then to Epiphany and then Lent and Easter and then summer and fall and here we go again.  It is easy to become complacent.  We are too easily oblivious to the passage of time.  But look in the mirror and we see where time is headed.  None of us is getting younger.  Either Christ will come sooner or we will die.  Either way, Paul is right.  And this is the sober realization for Advent.  It is time to cast off the works of darkness, put on the armor of God, and walk in the Light of Christ.

So today we come to renew our hosannas.  We are here to be reminded that Christ came, that He still comes among us full of grace and truth, and that He will come again to bring all things to their consummation.  Unless we are ready to meet Him, His coming signals death and destruction.  But to those who are ready to receive Him, it is the dawn of everlasting life.

Renewal and repentance are the keys to a life of faith.  Without them we become complacent, lazy, and blind to what is going on.  Recall the example of King David.  David was old and tired.  He had begun to spend his days in bed.  The people around him grew complacent as well.  All except his enemies.  His own son Adonijah chose to carpe diem - to seize the day - and make himself King in place of his brother Solomon.  So he invited his other brothers, Abiathar the High Priest, and Joab the General of the armies, and they became his co-conspirators in a plot to steal the throne.

Nathan the prophet got wind of it.  He told Bathsheba (yes, you got it right, the same Bathsheba whom David killed to know).  She was the mother of Solomon and devoted wife of David.  She got Zadok the priest and Benaiah, bodyguard of David, to come together to protect feeble old David and his line.  But who were they against so many!  They had no army.  All they had was the Word and promise of God. Like us, they wondered if it was enough.

They carried out old David and took Solomon out of the city of Jerusalem, into the Kidron Valley,  They washed him clean in Gehon spring.  They anointed him with oil to proclaim him king and stuck him on David’s mule.  And then they headed back to Jerusalem.  Along the way they shouted to make way for the king.  The people along the way heard the commotion and rejoiced for the new king.  “Hosanna!” they cried.  “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”  The crowd became larger and larger and the voices shouted ever louder.  “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

They grew closer and closer to Jerusalem and their voices louder and louder.  Soon Adonijah and those conspiring with him also heard the noise. They thought it was an army coming to end their rebellion and the people partying turned into a mob on the run.  They ran because the legitimate King was coming.  And what happened?  David died and Solomon the wise brought glory to Israel even greater than  his father David.

Now do you get it?  Satan had tried to steal God’s throne.  He told us God was old and weak and we could become gods. And we listened and believed him. We went to his party and drank the koolaid of his lies until we forgot the truth and lived the lie. But God was not old or weak or distracted.  He revealed Himself and His plan of salvation.  He sent forth a prophet named John who washed the anointed One in the Jordan and proclaimed Him the Messiah King long promised.  And our Lord came, humble, mounted on David’s donkey riding into Jerusalem.

And the people heard the prophet and went out to see who was coming.  They shouted and laid down palms.  They called Jesus the Son of David.  They cried out “Hosanna to the Son of David.”  They knew then that their time of waiting was close to an end.  They ran to the King.  Do we run to Him?

Today, as Advent begins, we add our own voices to the crowd.  Our today belongs to the Lord so that His tomorrow may belong to us.  We do not choose the King.  God has.  We do not define the Kingdom.  The King who suffers and dies for that kingdom does.  The call to us is to repent, to cast off the works of darkness, to put on the armor of God, to walk in the Light of Christ, to wear Christ’s righteousness boldly as the baptized who believe in Him, and to walk not gratifying the desires of the flesh but seeking to walk in the way of God’s commandments.

This is how Advent begins.  God is not dead.  He does not sleep.  He is at work.  Satan has not won and cannot win.  Our hosannas acknowledge the Savior has come, that He still comes to us where He has promised,  and He is coming again to bring to completion all that He began. Like the Israelites of old, we cast off all distractions and run to the King.  We welcome Him who comes in the Name of the Lord.  He who fulfills the Word and promise of the Father is in our midst.  We are not lost.  We are not alone.  We are not doomed to suffer sin and its death forever.  Christ is here!

Our Advent hosannas acknowledge that Christmas has already come.  We wait no more for a manger in Bethlehem to be filled.  We wait for this bread and this wine to be filled with Christ’s body and blood.  We wait for this foretaste for the eternal feast which is coming.  We wait for the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting that Jesus, God’s anointed, has provided for us with His own death and resurrection.

Like the people so long ago, we are moved to hope by the sound of hosannas and announcement of the Kingdom.  Salvation has come.  It has come in Christ born of the Holy Spirit by the Virgin and in the Word and Sacraments that deliver Him to us today.  The night is far gone.  The eternal day is soon to dawn.  Wake up! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. . . once to Bethlehem of old, still to us every Sunday in Word and Sacrament, and soon as King to rule over all things forever.  The people long ago ran to their legitimate King.  Do we run to Him today?

Wear the clothing of His righteousness.  Put on the armor of God.  Fight the good fight.  Live holy lives.  Love the commandments and do them.  Salvation is nearer today than when we first believed.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen

A priesthood never envisioned as an individual possession. . .

Curiously, the term in Scripture is a royal priesthood and not individual royal priests.  It is a nuance surely lost in world swept up in an individualism that sees faith in solitary terms.  Today it is most common to frame this spiritual priesthood of the baptized in exclusively individual terms.  In his Address to the Nobility of the German Nation (1520), Luther challenged the typical distinction between the “temporal” and “spiritual” orders (lay vs clergy) and reintroduced the concept of spiritual vocation that belongs to all who are baptized into Christ.  Every person through faith, baptism, and the Gospel entered “truly to the spiritual estate” and shared in Christ's priesthood.  Of course, Luther was careful to distinguish this "spiritual priesthood" from the special or sacramental priesthood of the pastoral office.  Luther never derived the pastoral office from this spiritual priesthood nor confused it but insisted that the spiritual priesthood is fulfilled when a pastor is called, ordained, and serves the spiritual priesthood of all with the particular means of grace, the authority of which is conferred upon him only.

Rome also rediscovered and reiterated the common spiritual priesthood of the baptized at Vatican II, specifically, Lumen Gentium:  “The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light” (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-10).   Understandably, they were even more jealous of the distinction between this spiritual priesthood and the sacramental priesthood, insisting that this was a distinction not simply in degree but in essence.

Luther translator and interpreter Paul Althaus put it this way:  Luther never understands the priesthood of all believers merely in the sense of the Christian’s freedom to stand in a direct relationship to God without a human mediator. Rather, he constantly emphasizes the Christian’s evangelical authority to come before God on behalf of the brethren and also of the world. The universal priesthood expresses not religious individualism but its exact opposite, the reality of the congregation as a community.  This is often lost upon Lutherans and others who claim to be heirs of the Reformation.  Instead it becomes a solitary and individual claim; I am a spiritual priest who needs no pastor or church or anything beyond my own self to be fully Christian and to live out fully my baptismal vocation.  Luther never countenanced such individualism or such arrogance.  Luther and the Lutherans held the pastoral office in highest regard.  What is often overlooked here is the focus of such priesthood.  The spiritual priesthood is directed not internally to the church in competition with the pastor but externally to the neighbor and in the world.

Perhaps it is this to which Pope Francis is trying to draw our attention; if so, it is a noble cause although he has surely done a poor job of communicating it.  That said, this aspect of Luther's teaching remains a bud and has not yet flowered fully for the church.  Too many have tried to pit spiritual priesthood against pastoral office and too many have presumed that this is some sort of egalitarian focus in which everyone gets to be pastor for a Sunday or take their turn in the chancel -- thus fulfilling their spiritual vocation and priesthood.  Missouri had our "Everyone a Minister" faze that still has not died out and given way to the cause of Luther -- who was adamant that God did not need our good works but our neighbor surely does.  Surely this is the genesis of the ordination of women, of women's Sundays in which LWML ladies took over the service, or youth Sundays in which youth led worship or a hundred other variations on the theme.  In confusing the spiritual priesthood that belongs to all with the particular priestly service of the pastoral office, no one should be denied to "take their turn" in the chancel.  In equating the spiritual office with what happens on Sunday morning, it is clericalism to stand in the way of each fulfilling their purpose and preaching or teaching or presiding for a day.  This is not the clericalism that Luther fought against and this is not the spiritual priesthood of which Luther spoke.

We live in a me'n'Jesus against the world kind of popular Christianity in which the church is optional, the ministry is merely a function, and the goal of true spirituality is to play pastor for a day.  In the meantime the world is in crying need of Good Samaritans and there are neighbors in need all around us -- a people and their cause we too quickly assign to the government and some welfare program.  What was once the mark of the church's presence in the world has become the responsibility of the government and the once great arenas of service to the widow, the orphan, the sick, the elderly, the refugee, the hungry, and the homeless have become government services which may or may not be carried out by churches using the government dollar (and playing by the government's rules).  Maybe the unfriendliness of the culture and the government to the cause of church and religion may just be the spark that renews the fire of love that our spiritual priesthood is truly about -- within the venues of home, work, neighborhood, city, nation, and world.  The last thing the church (and God) needs are spiritual loners who believe they have a cause and a right to act like pastors and who are confident that this is the face of I Peter 2:4-10.  What the church needs and the world needs are those who belong to the true spiritual priesthood of the baptized, who live their lives in worship, witness, intercession, and service doing mercy's work at home, in the village, and in the world.  Perhaps what we need to do more often is to read the Table of Duties in the Catechism.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The practices that change the doctrine. . .

According to reports, Pope Francis has chosen to replace all of the members of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, the larger deliberative body that assists the prefect of that congregation which has in its purview liturgical questions.  Everyone expects a pope to appoint a few new members to every Vatican congregation (a department of the Vatican) but October 28 Pope Francis took the unusual move of appointing 27 new members to the Congregation for Divine Worship -- in effect transforming the entire body into one that appears to reflect his own more liberal bent, certainly one more friendly to Novus Ordo and less supported of Cardinal Sarah, the prefect of that congregation.  While certainly giving the congregation a more international flavor, the new members seem destined to undermine the work of Cardinal Robert Sarah,  a leading proponent of more reverent liturgy and Benedict XVI and his “the reform of the reform.”

While I do not have a horse in this race, it does show a significant pattern for Lutherans as well.  Tinkering with worship is the real means to effecting lasting change in doctrine as well as its practice.  It is reform by the back door but it is a reform (deform) no less effective.  Change what happens on Sunday morning and you change what people believe.  That is lex orandi les credendi at work.  It is both positive, changing for good, and negative, changing for bad.

It has happened in evangelicalism and it has happened among Lutherans.  Evangelicalism has been transformed by the invention of seeker worship, entertainment worship, and personality cults.  The roots once securely attached to Calvinism and Arminianism have evolved into churches unrecognizable by their theological forefathers.  In effect, the transformation of Sunday morning has become the transformation of what is believed.  The same thing has happened among Lutherans.  The borrowing from Protestantism and evangelicals has effectively changed what typical Lutherans believe, confess, and teach.  What no convention would pass has become normative among the many Lutheran congregations who emulate what happens in evangelicalism -- all in search of a methodology that works while insisting that style does not affect substances.

Francis is no fool.  He is determined to transform Rome.  He knows what has no chance of happening officially (remember amoris laetitia) can work when viewed as a simple practice that has been adjusted while affirming in theory the doctrine (which no one can change).

Yet we should not be smugly watching from afar for the danger to any church and to Lutherans is the transformation of doctrine by the seemingly subtle change in practice.  Eventually, the doctrine will be changed and the change will seem perfectly normal and even seem as if it is what we have always believed.  This is how Lutherans became iconoclastic and how Lutheran worship began to be seen as a slightly more liturgical version of generic Protestantism to the point where the weekly Eucharist appeared foreign to Lutheranism, private confession seemed alien to this church, and the rich ceremonial life became a stranger to Lutherans.  While it is tempting to think of this as a stylistic evolution, when happened was not style at all.  Instead Lutheran piety shifted from the means of grace to feelings and the profoundly sacramental shape of the faith became a Word centered faith (almost in opposition to the Sacraments).  Lutherans began to substitute an inerrant Word for an efficacious one, satisfied that if Scripture was preserved it was not so important what kind of Scripture was preserved.  That is not to say that inerrancy is foreign to Lutheranism but to ask what benefit is it to keep a Scripture without error if it is primarily a book of information, rules, and history and not the living voice of God addressing His people with His gracious favor in Christ?

What we do on Sunday morning will affect what we believe on Monday morning.  Francis knows this and this is the tack he is using to reshape Roman Catholicism.  We Lutherans may be a little slow to catch on but we had better wake up.  The ELCA has already reconciled the ordination of women to the Lutheran faith so deeply that even former ELCA folks who disdain the CWA 2009 changes in sexuality refuse to open women's ordination to review.  In the same way, those who remain within the pale of the ELCA have now grow accustomed to same sex marriage and the full GLBTQ agenda and are shocked that Lutherans might object.  In Missouri we refuse to address the diversity of what happens on Sunday morning to what the Augustana insists and in failing to hold each other accountable have laid the groundwork for a Lutheranism that will end up believing like the evangelicalism it mimics on Sunday morning.  Close(d) communion that continues to be affirmed in convention has become a dirty word to some parishes and some regions of our church body and this is ample demonstration that a doctrine which fails to inform practice will become a forgotten doctrine no longer believed.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Trash Talking for Jesus. . .

Let me begin by saying I am not a prude nor do I presume to be the vocabulary police for anyone.  That said, it has become fashionable -- trendy -- to talk with all the richness that vulgarity can summon and to package it all up in the name of God, religion, and faithfulness.  You can search my columns for the name Nadia Bolz-Weber, who is the poster child for trendy, edgy, tattooed, pierced, and gutter talking Lutheran preachers who, it is said, appeal to a generation that is not enticed by the language of the Authorized Version.  She has many followers.  If you wish, read one of them here (but note the language!). 

It is certainly fashionable but it is faithful to exploit vulgarity in order to either fit in with the generation or culture you seek to reach or to shock the intended audience in order to gain their attention?  Bolz-Weber is actually somewhat Lutheran if you can get past the shock value of her demeanor and appearance.  It is not that she has tattoos or that she occasionally curses.  It is that she flaunts these.  She is out there and right in your face with her edginess and revels in the fact that she does not fit the presumptive cookie cutter approached to ministry.  She has been paraded by the ELCA as the way to reach a generation somewhat unreached, a target audience that has not been breaking down the doors to hear the Queen's speech in all its proper and polite vocabulary.  Perhaps she does reach them but does she leave them where vulgarity substitutes for wisdom and where shock value is its own value?  I wonder.

Certainly one who is following in Bolz-Weber's mold, Tuhina Verma Rasche, Pastoring Lutheran-style in Silicon Valley. (Un)Intended disruptor. Loves/ freaked out by Jesus. Indian-American living life in the hyphen has taken up the cause.  But is this helpful to the Gospel or even a valid means of approaching those for whom this vocabulary is everyday speech?  Is the cause of the Kingdom helped by vulgarity?  Or, does vulgarity become its own competing end for the Kingdom of Christ?  You tell me.

I do not have any presumptions about what people know or think of me.  They know full well I am a sinner.  They have not put me on a pedestal and no one salutes Herr Pastor anywhere around here.  But do they want a pastor who wallows in the gutter, who speaks vulgarity fluently, and who can match it all word for word with soldiers and sailors (and all those other stereotypical cursing vocations)?  Does this diminish the person to make way for the Gospel or does this draw attention to the person and away from the Gospel?  I think you know where I stand.  A word that may slip out when you stub your toe or slam your thumb with a hammer is not in the the tongues of men and angels.  No, the tongues of men and angels are not sufficient, love is the greatest of all of these, but there is no glory in speaking like a child when Christ has called you to grow up!

It must be Advent. . .

"Savior of the nations, come,
Virgin's Son, make here Your home!
Marvel now, O heav'n and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth/

Not by human flesh and blood,
By the Spirit of our God,
Was the Word of God made flesh--
Woman's offspring, pure and fresh.

Here a maid was found with child,
Yet remained a virgin mild.
In her womb this was shown:
God was there upon His throne.

Then stepped forth the Lord of all
From His pure and kingly hall;
God of God, yet fully man,
His heroic course began.

God the Father was His source,
Back to God He ran His course.
Into hell His road went down,
Back then to His throne and crown.

For You are the Father's Son
Who in flesh the vic'try won.
By Your mighty pow'r make whole
All our ills of flesh and soul.

From the manger newborn light
Shines in glory through the night.
Darkness there no more resides;
In this light faith now abides.

Glory to the Father sing,
Glory to the Son, our king,
Glory to the Spirit be
Now and through eternity."

Text: Ambrose of Milan, 340-397; German version, Martin Luther, 1483-1546; tr. William M. Reynolds, 1812-76, sts. 1-2; tr. Lutheran Service Book, 2006, sts. 3, 6; tr. F. Samuel Janzow, 1913-2001, sts. 4-5, 8; tr. Gifford A Grobien, b. 1973, st. 7

Tune: Nun Komm, Der Heiden Heiland; Geystliche gesangk Buchleyn, Wittenberg, 1524, ed. Johann Walter; setting: Lutheran Service Book, 2006 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Deja vu all over again. . . or maybe not

We all recall with great sadness what happened in Minnesota with University Lutheran Chapel and it is understandable that we would view another dramatic change in a very visible and historic Lutheran Campus Ministry with fear.  The more I find out, the more I am convinced the situation in West Lafayette, IN, is not the same. 

The University Lutheran Church in West Lafayette was built in 1951 and is several blocks from the edge of campus.  It stands on a hill overlooking State Street, the main thoroughfare through campus.  As you can see from the video,  the building is English Tudor in style and has beautiful stained-glass windows, as well as a snarly Schlicker pipe organ in the balcony.  It's a student congregation that has 125-150 young people joined by some "townies" from the city who meet in prayer and and song on Sunday mornings as they hear the Word and receive the Lord's Supper.  Now the building has been sold and the campus ministry is moving -- with only formal approvals awaiting this change begun over the summer.

I received a number of communications from concerned Purdue alums about the situation and it appears that many are understandably sorry to see this happen.  While some have charged that this is a change with a profound negative impact, others have suggested there is another side to the story.  In order to be fair to the Indiana District, I have added some responses to the issues raised -- information that may not have been known to those who feared for the Lutheran Campus Ministry and its Chapel.  [The responses are in brown and bracketed.]

During a recent capital campaign, the congregation raised close to 2 million dollars from alumni and others to make renovations and build an addition to the current building.  There was a ground breaking last November, but no actual construction began.  [The need for this addition was created by the limitations of the current building and the need for handicap access as well as more square footage.]  After the groundbreaking, a developer contacted the Indiana District and made a multi-million dollar offer for the property on which the church sits. [The District did not seek out the move and appears to have turned down possible offers until it became clear that the Lutheran presence at Purdue required them to consider these offers.  The current facility was also threatened by new construction on three sides of the current building, by the city acquiring some of the property for road construction, and by Purdue's own seeming insatiable appetite for space.]  The new building is a three story office building which currently houses the Exponent, Purdue's student newspaper.    The District has decided that a meeting room on the third floor of the building will become the congregation's new "worship space".  The Exponent property is only one-eight of an acre and is landlocked by apartment buildings and a parking garage, so there's no possibility of ever building a proper sanctuary at the site. [While all of these are true, they are not the whole truth and the District is convinced that this move will expand both the physical presence of the Lutheran campus ministry as well as the space available for that ministry, all the while locating it much closer to the center of the burgeoning Purdue campus.]

The issue then becomes whether the District's decision holds up when it's examined through the lens of faith.  

Let me say that I found Pres. May to be forthcoming on the issues and to be most supportive of the Lutheran presence on Purdue's campus.  He was pastor at St. James in Lafayette for some 25 years and has a personal investment in this ministry.  He and the whole Indiana District Board of Directors are convinced that they did not have much choice about retaining the current location and have acted in good faith to see that the Campus Ministry continues to fulfill its directives of serving the Lutheran population on campus, encouraging church vocations, and spreading the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus.   While it is certainly true that those who feared for the future have both an investment in that ministry and some cause (due to recent events elsewhere) to be concerned, Pres. May believes that the next couple of months will allow the full scope of decisions and plans to be known in such way that the legitimate and understandable concern for the loss of a wonderful chapel and church home will give way to hope for the expansion both of the presence and scope of the Lutheran campus ministry at Purdue for a long time to come.  He does encourage all those with concerns to contact him directly and he has promised to listen to their concerns and answer them as best he can.

So what do we say?  The Districts and Synod as a whole are often asset rich and cash poor and through the short sighted lens of the moment it appears to be a quick and easy decision to sell an asset (remember the Synod's Classical radio station and University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis).  What can I say?  But the goal of everyone concerned here ought to lie with the campus ministry and at this point I am not convinced that the decisions made for its future will do anything but make the best of the situation thrust upon them.  My suggestion for those who think otherwise?  Email Pres. Dan May and the folks at University Lutheran and, at least for the University Lutheran folks, it would not hurt to include a check!

UPDATE. . . 

Another side to this story?  I am told by another source that there are some nuances of difference here worth reviewing.  It now appears this IS NOT the same situation as ULC in Minneapolis.  There may be other loyalties at work here, including those who love the building and have a different investment in the property.  True, the new property will not have the sanctuary that so many have come to know and love but there will be a place for worship; the new property will be more accessible to students, next to the busiest classrooms and there will be places for the pastor to have kids study, meet, Bible study, socialize. All renovations are paid for by the sale of the property and the district is not making money on this deal but investing it all back into the ministry. More importantly, I am told that all of the IN campus pastors are all for the move.  It's a really great deal that insures a LCMS presence ON Purdue's campus for a long time. They'll have totally unique access to students no other church will have. And it will be a confessional and liturgical presence. 

So. . . what to believe?  Undoubtedly there are folks on both sides who will not be satisfied no matter what the decision. Undoubtedly there legitimate reasons why some information has not been fully shared (negotiations?) and this has been viewed more out the experience of the past that leans toward the undervaluing of ministry over the value of physical assets. Given the reduction of Lutheran presence on campuses throughout the nation, this story cried out for more to be known.  I will admit with some sadness that buildings and property create more concern and strong feelings than our attachment to orthodox doctrine and practice!  Some say it is easier to change what it is we believe than what we do with the offering plates Grandma Shickenberg gave in memory of her grandparents in 1938! So we must wait and see and pray that this decision will allow a new chapter to be written for the confessional Lutheran presence on the Purdue Campus even as it seems an old chapter comes to a close.

Lux Aeterna. . .

As November closes, I am drawn to the remembrance of now two years ago when my wife and I abandoned our Thanksgiving plans and went to be with her father in his last hours on this earth.  And then only a few months later we made our way to be with my own father in his last days on this earth.  It was a blessed thing to be with them in their death even as I admit that death itself is cruel and mean, an enemy to be vanquished only by Him whose death kills death for all.  Only God could take something as ugly and dark as death and plant within it the hope of life!  His one and only Son entered our death and laid in the belly of the earth but it could not claim Him as it claimed us and now, because He is risen, we too hope for the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.

Listen.  If you are hurting, here is comfort.  If you despair, here is hope.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Unconscious dogmatism. . .

Chesterton once observed, “There are two kinds of people in the world, the conscious dogmatists and the unconscious dogmatists. I have always found myself that the unconscious dogmatists were by far the most dogmatic.”

The unconscious dogmatists are, of course, those who claim to be dogma free.  They have transcended the terrible curse of doctrine and truth and are able to see things much more clearly through the objective lens of their feelings and experience.  It is a variation on the age old theme that doctrine divides and service unites, no creeds just deeds, etc...  It is the claim of a false spirituality which appears to have elevated itself over the mundane of dogma to pursue raw holiness.  The problem being that such unconscious dogmatists are rarely holy and use holiness as a ruse to further the dogmatism they do not claim to have.

These are those who speak of being pastoral, of trusting the discretion of others (or should I say urging their peers to be more trusting of them).  For the unconscious dogmatists there are always higher claims and callings than truth.   In Chicago Archbishop Cupich (soon to be Cardinal) put it this way:  At the same time. . . doctrines are at the service of the pastoral mission.  Now, there you have it.  The mission comes first and, if necessary, doctrine must be adjusted or perhaps even jettisoned in order to accomplish the mission (however you might define it).

Roman Catholics are not the only ones to have their unconscious dogmatists.  Lutherans have them as well.  We have those folks who insist they love the liturgy more than anyone but Sunday morning piety must be sacrificed for the sake of the seeker who does not understand the liturgy and for the sake of the preferences of the sought who do not like it.  Lutherans are wrestling still with the great division of substance from style promoted in the name of freedom, authenticity, and relevance.  Not to mention the old missional vs confessional debate that pits the unconscious dogmatists against the the conscious ones.

The most strident rules to be enforced are the unwritten rules.  The written ones are generally much less strict.  Think here in the political realm of how politically correct speech changes but is the strident requirements remain the same.  The chains that bind us and the shackles that hold us captive are more likely the rules and requirements of the unconscious dogmatists than the clear and open claims of doctrine and truth.  Again Chesterton:  "Instead of the liberty of dogma, you have the tyranny of taste."

Though Lutherans claim we are in danger of being consumed by our rules (doctrines), the truth is what threatens to swallow up Lutheran identity are not our rules (doctrines) but our feigned liberty that is not freedom at all.  Our captivity to taste, preference, and desire is the most pernicious prison of all.  Blest be the chains that bind but the ones that bind best and for godly purpose are the chains with which God has bound us -- to His Word -- not the shackles of personal whim and taste.  If it is true that freedom leads us to choose whom we will serve (and not the illusion of serving no one), then let us serve the good of God's design, holding fast to the doctrine and truth that does not change and living this out in lives of faithfulness, holiness, and righteousness all our days.  Whether Roman or Lutheran, we cannot afford to trade pastoral mission for doctrinal integrity without suffering the loss of our very identity. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

An end to the whining. . .

There are those who claim American exceptionalism is a lie, a joke, or a problem to be fixed.  Once it seems Americans were gracious about the exceptional gifts that had been entrusted to us -- liberty, democracy, rich resources of land and water, a people who worked hard, and a people with a generous spirit.  Now, at least if you read the social media and follow the news, America has devolved into a nation of whiners, complainers, and victims who demand compensation.

Yes, it is true that the American dream has only been briefly touched by most Americans.  We are not a perfectly egalitarian society and our equal freedom has not dispense equal riches, status, or reward.  It has always been that hard working and honest folk do not necessarily prosper and that scoundrels seem to know how to take advantage of every right to promote wrong.  Yet underneath it all we are heirs of a great experiment of freedom in which we choose our leaders and take personal responsibility for what our nation becomes.  Underneath all the exceptional wrongs and faults that betray the American dream, there is the sober truth of a nation in which our access to the marketplace and to success is much more equal than anywhere else.  Underneath all our failings and problems, there is the reality of a nation in which freedom has given birth to invention, driven the economic engine for all classes, and provided opportunity for hard work, education, initiative, and a little luck to provide a good and decent life, free from the constraints of government and external threat.

Yes, slavery is an American shame but surely American virtue was in part vindicated by the millions whose blood was spilt to right that wrong.  Those who claim that racism still lives here are surely correct but they miss the bigger picture.  Ours is a land in which race, ethnicity, and class do not automatically disqualify anyone from political ambition, industrial success, or financial reward.

Yes, the inequities of pay for men and women, young and old, employers and employees remain a problem but at the same time we have more invested wealth across the spectrum of individual and families than ever before and it came without Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.  A rising tide lifts all boats and our American history has proven that -- even when, like now, it seems the middle class is being squeezed more than ever before.

Yes, our political system produced two candidates for President that made most of us wince in the ballot box but it is the same political system that produced heroic figures who radically changed our country for good (like Abraham Lincoln elected with less than 40% of the popular vote).  We get the political leaders we deserve since we are the ones who vet them and then elect one from among the rest left standing.

We have become a nation of whiners that our forefathers would not recognize.  From a civilian army that cast off the constraints of colonialism to the industry that produced the ships, tanks, aircraft, and arsenal that won World War II, we have proven that we can do it.  What might happen today if we spent less time complaining, less energy whining, less attention to perceived personal slights, and went to work on the problems than remain?  I believe that we are squandering the moment by giving the spotlight to the small wrongs that remain instead of giving thanks for the great accomplishments that have brought us to this day, the rich blessing of God that remains underappreciated, and the commitment to personal responsibility that seems just plain old fashioned.

It is Thanksgiving Day.  Stop the whining, give up complaining, and don't be a victim today (at least).  Sit down with family and friends and perhaps a stranger or two.  Eat and give thank to the God whose mercies are new every morning and beyond measure to our nation and people.  Speak in positive terms of what we have been given, the pause to give thanks, and what we can do to pass on an improved nation to our children and grandchildren.  Think what we just might accomplish if we spent half the energy wasted self-serving words and put them into neighbor serving works!

I know America is not perfect.  I know that there are great tests before us and great problems to solve.  I know that there are people suffering.  But every day I am confronted with so much to be thankful for and the rich privilege of living as a citizen of this land is near the top of that list.  I am the product of a middle class family who valued hard work, who sought to be honest and do good, and who went to church on Sunday morning.  This is the freedom that they cherished.  Look around you.  You have something to cherish as well.  Take a day, Thanksgiving Day, to do a little more cherishing and a little less whining, complaining, and groaning. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The fallacy of the new. . .

For many, even Lutherans, every Sunday celebration has become, in a sense, a new endeavor.  It is a creative writing and music project that looks at the ingredients and assembles them toward a predisposed purpose.  It is essentially a new compilation; though it may be guided by elements of the past, it is not the passing on of what went before but a new construct even when it assembles elements of the old.  It is designed to be not only a new construct of the human ingenuity but a local creation reflective of local intent, local resources, and local need. Even if those who create this "new" Sunday celebration utilize the “traditional” options, they are chosen not because they are traditional but because they "work" according to the design and goal for that particular gathering and this may not have much influence over the next clean sheet when next week's creation is set upon.

Tradition, in this sense, is a topic to be mastered and not the sacred deposit or the faithful handing off from one generation to another.  When every Sunday is a celebration to be created, tradition may be one of the component groups that one should cover but it is not definitive or even, necessarily, informative. This new idea of liturgy sees the form as malleable at its core and not set in any real way.  This, combined with the weight given to local adaptation, means that worship undergoes a continuous evolution -- always becoming and never there.

The responsibility for this creation is given to the worship minister or pastor or parish musician(s) or a combination who must craft something new, relevant, authentic to the place, and effective to accomplish the purpose set out for that particular Sunday.  It is a process that may somewhat be set but it is design to re-invent the outcome week by week by week.  The factors used to measure what is created have less to do with faithfulness than they have the specific, measurable, and relevant goals set for the gathering and the success in achieving them.  After it is over, the principals sit down to assess what happened and unpack the event with a goal to discovering what worked and what did not, what was good and what was not, what to keep and what to discard -- not all that much different than an evaluation of a conference which asks attendees to rate the food, accommodations, speakers, etc..

The fallacy of reverence presumes that as long as reverence is preserved, what actually happens on Sunday morning does not have to be traditional or uniform or even consistent with tradition.  These are, as Lutherans are wont to say, adiaphora.  They are externals and we all know from Jesus that externals do not count, right?  It is the heart, right?  That is what matters.  Do what you do decently and in good order (reverently) and it does not matter so much what you do.  So be sincere in what you do, serious minded, prayerful, and reverent and nothing else matters so much -- not the actual language of worship, not the type of music, not the vestments of the pastor, not the way communion is distributed, not whether or not the lectionary is used, and not if the hymnal is used.  These things are externals, adiaphora, and incidental to worship.

The problem is that tradition is treated as a series of isolated and unrelated facts and not the living faith of the dead.  The problem lies in the way that we treat tradition as if it were a subject to be mastered and not the sacred deposit of the faith prayed (and confessed).  The problem lies in the way that we presume our superiority over those who have gone before and cast aside the witness of the saints as something done then or even perhaps superstition -- things we have gladly outgrown and can now have fully inculturated, relevant, and locally adapted worship that is more authentic than the form of the tradition once handed down.  It is an attitude of impossible arrogance yet it is the presumption of many who figure out what is going to happen when people gather on Sunday morning ostensibly for worship.

We prefer to be the grand editors of God rather than those who pass on what He has said and done.  We can edit out hard passages from the lectionary or omit parts of the historic mass that we find outmoded or rewrite things to fit a modern world view or effectively remove those things that attack or offend our modern day mindset.  Tradition is not the master of Scripture but Scripture is what informs our tradition (or it is hardly worth calling it tradition).  Tradition deposed leaves us only with the present, the moment.  In that moment, we submit not to the tyranny of the Spirit or the Word but the preferences and whims of the day, our constant quest for instant inculturation, the transient instability of our emotional mood, the self-proclamation of the individual or even the group. It may be a perfect stepchild of the Enlightenment --  ahistorical, sociable, accessible, efficient, unthreatening -- but it is hardly true to God, to His work in time and over time, and to the Word that endures forever.  It may very well be pleasant, convenient, free of superstition, devoid of ancient myth, and powerless to menace us with something we find distasteful, but it is surely not of God or from God.   If good things happen it is due to the felicitous inconsistency of a God who actually works through His Word even when we do everything in our power to isolate it or control it.  The people of God deserve better.  Given the choice between the sterile dogmatic void of emotional appeal, personal reference, and relevance, I will choose the hard and truthful character of the Divine Service and its gift of mercy in the means of grace.  Tradition lives.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The cross equals life in paradise. . .

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, Series C, preached by the Rev. Daniel Ulrich on Sunday, November 20, 2016.

    When we hear about Christ's crucifixion, there's one thing that can't go unnoticed...our Savior was mocked.  Jesus not only died the most inhumane form of capital punishment ever invented, He also had to endure verbal attacks during it.  Listening to this abuse can make us sick to our stomachs.  But no matter how sickening we find the cross, we can't turn from it, because Christ on the cross is the reason we're given everlasting life, the reason we're promised life in paradise.
    Jesus heard mocking from all around Him.  The Jewish leaders in the crowd jeered saying, "He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" (Lk 23:35).  Ironically, with these words, they confessed they knew about Jesus' miracles.  They knew He healed paralytics, cleansed lepers, exercised demons, and even raised the dead.  All these miracles showed that He was God's Chosen One, and yet they stubbornly refused to believe.  They mocked Him, requiring one more miracle before they would believe. 
    Verbal assaults came from Roman soldiers at the foot of the cross.  With laughing voices they said, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" (Lk 23:37).  When Jesus was brought before Pilate, He was falsely accused of inciting the people against the Roman government.  In response, Pilate bluntly asked, "Are you the King of the Jews?" (Lk 23:3).  Jesus answered, "You have said so" (Lk 23:3), affirming His kingship.  Hearing this the Roman soldiers laughed in disbelief.  In vindictive jest they called Jesus king and placed royal robes on Him...only then to beat Him.  They gave Him His very own crown made of thorns that pierced His head.  On the cross they offered Him cheap sour wine that no royalty would ever drink.  They cast lots for His clothes, leaving Him naked and exposed.  Even the placard that hung above Jesus' head that rightly identified Him as the King of the Jews was placed there to mock Him. 
    Jesus was also railed against by a man suffering the same fate as Him.  The unrepentant criminal said, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" (Lk 23:39).  This criminal was putting Jesus to the test, telling Him to prove that He was the Christ by saving Himself and also the two next to Him. 
    All of this mocking came from unbelief.  The Jewish leaders, the Roman soldiers, and the unrepentant criminal didn't believe Jesus was God's Chosen One, the King of the Jews, the Christ, because Jesus wasn't what they expected and wanted.  One would expect the Savior to be strong and mighty, victorious on the battlefield.  No one wants a Savior who dies the humiliating death of a criminal.  And this is still true today.
    Christ on the cross is still mocked.  This message is a joke.  Unbelievers scoff and laugh at the cross.  It's ridiculous to believe that Jesus saves people from death with His death.  Unbelievers don't understand how Jesus' sacrifice is worth anything.  For them, all that matters is being a good person.
    This type of mockery is easy for us in the Church to see.  What's hard for us to see is how we mock Christ on the cross right here inside His Church. 
    We do this is by ignoring the cross completely.  The image of Jesus beaten and bloodied, dying on the cross is a hard image for us to see.  It's a gruesome sight, so we look away.  We look away because we see the death we justly deserve.  No one likes to admit they're a sinner, that sin is at our core.  No one likes to hear that we're responsible for what Jesus endured.  So we ignore the cross, pretending it isn't there.  Instead we focus on ourselves.  We look for ways to make ourselves feel better.  We look for ways to explain away or hide our sins.  And the easiest way to do this is by doing good to make up for them. 
    We selectively look at the good we do and ignore our sin.  We focus on the positives comforting ourselves with them.  Over time, we completely forget about sin and forget about Christ who hung on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  Once we do this that's when we mock Him.  Ignoring Christ on the cross is the same as jeering at Him, it's the same thing as saying, "Your death is useless.  I don't need it, and I don't need you!"  But we do need Christ and we do need His death, because that's how He saves us.  Our good works count for nothing.  Only Jesus' death pays for our sins.   
    All of the mockery Jesus endured could've easily been avoided if Jesus would've just saved Himself.  Being fully God He could've easily come down from the cross...but He didn't because He knew the Father's plan for salvation required His death to pay for our sins.  Three times Jesus predicted His death (Lk 9:21-22; 9:43-45; 18:31-34).   
    God's plan of salvation required Jesus' death.  By not saving Himself Jesus saved you and me.  He saved you from eternal death and damnation.  With the shedding of His blood, you're forgiven.  He paid the price, the cross was the final sacrifice. 
    Paul tells us in Colossians that through the sacrifice of His Son, God the Father delivers "us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Col 1:13-14).  This kingdom the second criminal speaks of in his repentant plea to Jesus. 
    Hearing the mocking of the first criminal, the second one rebuked him.  "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving our due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong" (Lk 23:41).  This criminal recognized he was getting what he deserved, and in faith he repented from his sin.  He looked to Christ and said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Lk 24:42).  Full of faith, trusting Jesus was the Christ, God's Chosen One, he asked for forgiveness. Christ absolved this repentant sinner and told him where he'd be.  "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk 24:43).  In Paradise this man would be free from all pain and suffering and would never have need again.  In Paradise he would be before Christ the King on His throne forever. 
    This everlasting life in Paradise awaits you too.  You too will experience all that this repentant criminal is experiencing now.  Because of Jesus redeeming blood, you're not called a criminal, a sinner.  Instead you're saints, God's adopted children through Baptism.  Right now you experience the pain and suffering of life here on earth.  Right now sin plagues you.  But all of this will pass and when our Lord calls you home to be with Him in Paradise.  There you'll feel no more pain, you won't need or desire anything, and you'll be completely free from all sin because you'll be with your King, face to face, forever. 
    The message of Christ crucified is a difficult message to hear.  The picture of Jesus dying is hard to look at, but we do look at it.  We gaze out our Savior on the cross just as the repentant criminal did.  We turn to Him with repentant hearts and faith, trusting in His death for our salvation.  With His innocent suffering and death He won for us forgiveness, life, and salvation.  When all the world mocks God on the cross we hold fast to Him; repenting of our sins, trusting in His promises, and looking forward to life in paradise.  Amen

What the Pope cannot do. . .

Francis is good at the photo op, gives all sorts of interesting answers off the cuff, and likes to use symbolism.  While Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the future Pope Francis knelt to receive the blessing of a Protestant minister.  Last year, he seemed to give hope to an Italian Lutheran woman that if her conscience permitted it, she should commune with her Roman Catholic husband at a Roman altar.   He presented a crozier (staff to the uninformed) to the Archbishop of Canterbury.  He has told Lutherans to be better Lutherans and that it would be best if we all overlooked doctrine and worked to make the world a better pace.  He went to Sweden to join Swedish Lutherans remembering the Reformation.  In an article Bishop Kenney, one of the chief movers and shakers in the dialogs Rome has had with Lutherans, suggests that this Pope may indeed be contemplating a gesture towards sharing communion.

All of these in part signal a shift in the way Rome has viewed Lutheranism (and some other Reformation churches).  At least that is the imagery.  No one would say Francis is the model of clarity (least not those who have watched the unfolding drama of divorced Roman Catholics and the Synod that tried to figure out what accommodation might be done with them), but those who think his words, gestures, and symbolism is moving Rome toward a recognition of Lutheran orders and some sort of sharing of communion are way ahead of themselves.

Rome cannot and Pope Francis knows that Rome cannot recognize Lutheran sacraments or begin some sort of Eucharistic sharing.  The Mass is the bulwark of Roman exclusivity.  The claims of the papacy have not changed and to change them is to make Rome, in effect, one among many legitimate communions and this neither Francis nor Rome can do.  Clearly since the medieval times and perhaps sometime before, papal claims have been:
  • The Pope is the chief bishop, primate, and leader of the whole Church of Christ on earth;
  • He has episcopal jurisdiction over all members of that Church;
  • To be a member of the Church is then to be in communion with the Pope;
  • God has providentially promised that the papacy shall guarantee truth and prevent error (in theory at first and established by the First Vatican Council as dogma).
 As Luther rightly noted, the Mass is the place where these claims meet the road, so to speak, for the daily life of Roman Catholics.  The whole system of purgatory, the sacrifice of the Mass, the treasury of merits, and the authority of the Pope to issue indulgencies (not a Reformation antiquity but something modern Popes continue to do) are all tied together.  To let go of one is to let go of them all.  As much as the current Pope likes to provide photos, rambling remarks, symbolic gestures, etc..., he cannot and will not give legitimacy to Lutheran sacraments nor will he open the Roman altars to Lutheran communicants unless and until Lutherans agree to the papal claims.  For to open the altars to Lutherans or to give validity to Lutheran orders and sacraments is to empty the papal claims that constitute Roman identity.

As one who would rejoice at the healing of the 16th century breach, neither Lutherans nor Roman Catholics can simply photoshop nor wish away the great divisions that remain.  At the core and center is what to do with the papacy.  The truth is that both Lutherans and Roman Catholics have accumulated things along the way that both communions would best shed to be more authentic to their tradition and to their claims.  Such internal reformations must precede the external embrace of these churches and both should start with Scripture and the Creeds and then proceed to councils and confessions.  Bad Lutherans do not make good Roman Catholics and bad Roman Catholics do not make good Lutherans.  The key to any future hopes of reconciliation lie not in being less than who we claim to be but fully who we claim to be -- on both sides.  Such real ecumenism cannot be satisfied by an occasional place at the rail or even interim Eucharistic sharing.  The ELCA has proven that these do not strengthen anything but only confirm and expose the weakness in both sides.

For all the water over the bridge since 1517, the Great Reformation deserves more than Lutherans being willing to be thrown a bone by Rome and Rome giving the appearance of being able to live with the legitimacy of some of the Lutheran claims.  This division is significant but in length of life it is a child half as old as the great schism of East and West and this division remains in place to this present day.  My point is this.  Honor the past by confronting the divisions honestly and not by glossing them over or providing a photo op.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Quisling. . .

Anthony Esolen has written a penetrating article in Crisis magazine well describing four perspectives of the Church.  He writes, of course, from the perspective of a Roman Catholic but his insights describe what we all face in other denominations as we strive to be faithful.  Of all his characterizations, I was most intrigued by the quisling.

The Quisling
Second, the Quislings. The Quisling does not hate the Church, but he does not love her, either. He is a worldling and craves the approval of the world. He believes in “the future,” and that means he is easy prey for the peddlers of ideological fads: a field mouse against the Great Horned Owl. He is embarrassed by tradition. He is seldom brave enough to express formal heresy, just as he is seldom brave enough to defend the Church with any clarity or confidence. He seems pleasant enough, is perfectly lamb-like when it comes to wining and dining with the powerful, but will turn with a pent-up frustration against the ordinary churchgoer who dares to question his prudence. If he is a bishop, he is secretly happy to close churches and sell off their property, comforting himself with the thought that he is doing what is only necessary in hard times, and blaming the parishioners themselves for failing to bring up their children in the faith—when in point of fact he and the chancery have given them no help at all in doing so, and have usually checked them at every pass.

The Quisling wants the state to bring the Church into “the modern world,” whatever that may be; it depends upon the times and the place. Oh, he does not want the compulsion to be violent, and he can intone pontifically about the sanctity of individual conscience; so long as the individual with the tender conscience keeps it to himself, where it will remain ineffectual and inert, like a seed on concrete. The Quisling, with a sad and knowing shake of his head, pleases himself by meditating upon the many sins of his Holy Mother the Church, and will magnify them, or even invent sins that she never committed, the better to prove to himself how open-minded and pious he is.
Of all our enemies, I wonder if the quisling is not our greatest.  Under the guise of not hating but neither loving the Church, the quisling wants to befriend the Church, to save her from herself, to restore her to relevance, to rescue her from her past, and to reconnect her to the modern world.  The quisling is happen enough when the traditionalists fall into trouble because the quisling believes that the Church is too mired in the past to be effective in the present and future.  The quisling is always telling the Church that she must to do this or that to survive.  The quisling runs neither hot nor cold about the Church but the passion in this one burns not for the embrace of a new world and desires to bring the Church into this new world with its own estimations of truth and dogma.

It is easy enough to identify those who are true enemies and who work without guile against the Church.  It is much harder to identify those who damn with faint praise, who destroy by helping, and who blame truth for the mess the Church is in.  Those of us who desire to be faithful to the catholic and apostolic faith are gravely tempted every day to abandon truth for what works, to set aside doctrine in the name of modernity, and to give people what they think they want in order to preserve the illusion of success foisted upon us by the world.  But the quisling is harder to see, more difficult to identity, and most effective in parading as friend and not foe.

For Rome, the quislings are those who say that in the name of saving the Church, they must change it.  Divorce is not going away.  Embrace it.  Abortion is not going away.  Get over it.  Doctrine does not save but good works do (especially social advocacy even more than feeding the hungry, tending the sick, or giving YOUR resources to the poor.  We are told constantly that doctrine divides and works unite.  Francis said it to the Lutherans didn't he?  Why not believe it?  The things that once divided us are old news and these things do not matter in the new world order of a social gospel.

Lutherans are not far behind.  Once a group took the things once condemned by Scripture and well outside the Lutheran ethos and made them the rallying points of faith -- justice, equity, judge not lest ye be judged, God is doing a new thing.  The end result was a Lutheranism in name only that kept the form but not the substance of the faith in creed and in liturgy.  Once a group took the things that seemed to be working to fill the houses of worship owned by the evangelical crowd and insisted that substance and form can be different, that we can act one way on Sunday morning and believe another way, that it was no big deal to switch masks and save face.

Our enemies outside the faith are easy enough though not pleasant to confront.  Those inside the faith are more difficult to mark.  But those who come as friends who are trying to tell the Church the hard truth "change or die" often are the ones who do the most damage.  Yes, changes need to be made.  Yes, the Church cannot be an orphan in the next generation.  But neither can we be faithful without connecting truth and doctrine to practice and liturgy.  Neither can we be effective without being the same yesterday, today, and forever in the Christ we confess and the kerygma we proclaim.  Neither can we trade away one identity for a new one that fits the times without becoming a widow in the next generation, whose children have abandoned her and whose memory has faded too much to remember what it was that was so important to believe and confess anyway.

Esolen has it right enough.  Are we listening?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Little Things. . .

When I sit down with parents to talk about the baptism of their children, I spend a few moments talking to them about the little things.  As parents we worry over the big things and stress over the stuff that may or may not come but any child will tell you that parenting is about the small stuff.  Praying even before the child is aware of the prayer... holding and watching while the baby sleeps away in your arms... fussing with the fussy child during the times when life is uncomfortable and painful... taking a child to church when no child even knows what church is...  It is not the choice of a college or major or career or spouse but it is that which makes children into believers and keeps them in the company of the faithful when so many things would entice them away.

Parenting is not the only arena where the little things matter.  Our Christian lives are seldom lived out on the fields of martyrdom or in far off corners of the world or in the midst of great crowds.  They are lived as husband to wife and wife to husband in the daily grind of work and home and a little play.  They are lived out in the joy and burden of parenting in the ordinary routines of bath and bedtimes, school and homework, dinner and a snack, packaging toys and then picking them up...  the prayers prayed when eyes are closing and the faith displayed when life is falling... 

“It is a hidden glory in the Christian life to practice faithfulness in little things, that is, in one’s vocation; yet it is more difficult and more glorious than martyrdom. Martyrdom is aided by an agitated time, an emotional disposition, and it is often quickly won; it only takes a brief moment. But being faithful in little things involves bearing patiently the quiet tedium of a monotonous, elapsing life to the praise of the Lord.” (p. 81,  The Word Remains: Selected Writings on the Church Year and the Christian Life by Wilhelm Löhe)

Yes, Löhe has it right.  Quiet tedium. . . monotonous life. . . that become the occasions of praise and the domain of faith.  We spend too much time trying to figure out what to do with the major events and giant issues and too little time trying to live out our faith right where we are.  God has destined few of us for the kind of greatness that the world notices but He has given us all a place and a purpose in which the true greatness of the Kingdom is displayed.  The glory of the Kingdom does not wait for grand moments or mountain top experiences but finds its way into the ordinary, the mundane, and the routine.  If we look through eyes of faith we see it and it is our privilege to be part of it.

Friday, November 18, 2016

How decidedly Middle Class of you. . .

The Lutherans are spread over middle and upper middle class with Missouri leaning decidedly middle class -- or at least so says a Pew Research study.  It probably comes as no surprise that Jews and Episcopalians are on the top, perhaps a mild surprise that Presbyterians are there.  It comes as a shock to no one that Roman Catholics are dead in the middle, perhaps the most of all reflective of the American average.  What may be new is that the "nothings in particular" are right next to Roman Catholics.  As Gene Veith noted, those most susceptible to the prosperity gospel tend to the lower income regions of the graph.

That said, the graph is a solid reminder that while we are not among the richest of religious groups, God has well supplied us with all the resources needed to do His work locally, nationally, and globally.

We all too often lament what we do not have.  I recall a woman in my first parish who insisted that what our small congregation needed was more millionaires -- this is the same Italian wife married to a German husband who would say that Germans had deep pockets but short arms.  In my retort I would say that God had already given us all the resources we needed.  It was an allocation problem and not a resource issue.

After listening to various groups in the church and at large throughout the church complain about the financial situation they faced, I am well reminded again that it is not a resource issue but a problem of allocation.  That is always what stewardship is and what teaching vocation is all about.  About some things it may well be as the Lord has said -- you do not have because you do not ask -- but about money it is often a problem of not having because faith has not affected the allocation process of the various and manifold resources God has so richly supplied.

My point is that God has given us more than enough.  If faith hits the wallet, then the church will have enough as well.  If faith does not hit the wallet, then it does not matter how much God gives, it will not be enough.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Triumph of Taste. . .

We have found ourselves with candidates who are among the most well known figures in American politics and yet universally disliked and distrusted.  No matter who won, we wonder if we did not all lose.  We live in a culture in which there is more fire in the belly for the invented bathroom rights of the transgendered than there is for the protection of the legitimate constitutional right to freedom of religion.  We appear to have lost nearly every battle on the front of same sex marriage because opposition was assigned to the deplorables who should have no right to their politically incorrect opinion.  Yet we are also reminded that progress has been made against the pro-choice stance and the battle against abortion has been fought back from defeat to a growing consensus against abortion, especially late term abortions.  How is it possible?

Carl Trueman, Rusty Reno, Robert George, and Archbishop Chaput have been talking about this and Trueman may be right in assigning the difference to the aesthetic of the argument.  Could it be that the resurrection of the pro-life cause has come not on the basis of intellectual or moral argument but simply as a fruit of the aesthetic of baby parts, perfectly formed fetuses ripped from the womb, and the ghastly image of an aborted baby left to die or killed because the procedure did not do the job?

I will admit to wondering why the apparent success of the pro-life cause has not translated into the arenas of same-sex marriage or transgender rights.  Could it be that the success has been largely because of the grisly images that accompany the right to abort and not because of the triumph of the sanctity of life arguments?  It makes you think.

The imagery of same-sex marriage is driven by smiling faces of people who have been underdogs in the political arena and who demand for themselves the same rights long accorded to male grooms and female brides.  They are the images of sons and daughters, grandchildren, and grandparents, middle aged and thirty-somethings who have been forced to hide their identity, denied the right to be who they are, and prevented from living "normally" in their affection for another of the same sex.  How can morality argue against such a picture?  How can family order and thousands of years of Judeo-Christian practice stand up against such an earnest picture crying out for justice.  Could it be that these are correct and we have lost the moral argument simply on the basis of the graphic?  How else could it be so easy to declare opposition to same-sex marriage untenable and the opponents deplorable?

The imagery of transgender rights is shaped by children who insist God got their gender wrong (at least for now), of a fashion trend in which Covergirl can have a Coverboy to display and sell its makeup, and of the faces of the genderless picture of so many around us who walk with us on the streets, wait on us in restaurants, and sit with us at the concert hall who eschew the ordinary marks of male or female identity.  They are just people, we are told, and do not threaten anything.  Live and let live?  How else could explain how quickly we went from transgender being outside the mainstream to being perfectly normal -- so to speak?

But taste does account for so many differences.  Preference is king over everything else.  Even conservative churches appeal to preference and taste for worship styles, music, arts, and doctrine.  Why not let preference and taste define what is moral, what is right, what is wrong, and what is normal?  We adjust our phones, our tablet and laptops, our social media pages, and everything else to preference and taste?  Why not shape morality, virtue, and vice by the same criteria?

The media have done an excellent job of mainstreaming those who once lived on the fringes or shadows and it seems we have lost the battle for traditional marriage and family largely through the aesthetic of it all.  How will we gain the upper hand without such access to the media?  Without the moral high ground (since traditional marriages fail and traditional families are just as screwed up as same-sex ones)?  How will we reshape the aesthetic of this argument to rescue our cause as we have done in the area of abortion?  I wish I knew.  What I do know is that we better begin by acknowledging at least that the aesthetics are against us on every moral cause before us except perhaps abortion.  Whether we can ever speak again in terms of morality, truth, and right and wrong I do not know.  These are the areas where we might win the argument -- if only anyone were listening.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A symbol of oppression and hate. . .

How long did you think it would take?  How long before someone would deem a crucifix to be an offensive symbol, a symbol filled with hate that cannot be tolerated in public?  

This article tells about the University of Wisconsin/La Crosse which has instituted a “bias/hate” reporting system on campus.  Students may anonymously report things they find offensive. Some of the things reported have been as serious as a professor wearing a sombrero using a fake Mexican accent.  Another was as offensive as a student blog piece about life on campus as a white student.  Other incidents reported such things as faculty “laughing inappropriately” at a college meeting.  Small stuff, right?  But there was more.  One reported a crucifix because the cross was “a symbol of oppression and hate of the LBGT+ community.”  A college ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ was reported for a poster which featured a cross that the student deemed a symbol of oppression and hate toward the LBGT+ community.

What is disturbing is not simply that someone found a crucifix offensive.  It is offensive to those who do not believe in sin.  At least the people reporting knew what the crucifix meant.  The crucifix testifies to sin and its seriousness, to death sin's consequence, and to the only One who has the righteousness to satisfy the law for all, the blood to cleanse the sins of the world, and the death strong enough to kill death once for all.  No, what is most disturbing is when a campus community becomes a police community in which everyone sees the rules through the lens of their own feelings and is empowered to report the offense and offender to enforce the righteousness of those those feelings.

All of this happens in an area long considered the homeland of Lutheranism.  LaCrosse is an area
once called home by many of the folks in my own congregation.  I would expect that many of those students came from Lutheran and Roman Catholic homes where the crucifix should be no stranger.  Finally, the ultimate irony is that the crucifix is a symbol of resentment and hate not from God but from those who rejected His creative and moral will and purpose and the Son whom He sent to save us all.  Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

I wish that all of this was simple silliness.  But it is not.  It will not go away unless confronted.  We are in for a rough ride, to be sure.  Make sure our witness does not fade and our courage does not falter.  We are in but not of the world.  We belong to the Lord.  We are destined for eternity.  Until then, we cannot give in and allow the real forces of hate and oppression to silence our witness or empty our hope.