Friday, March 31, 2017

Cursive mounts a comeback!

Cursive writing is mounting a comeback???  Could it be that the fountain pen is not far behind.  There is hope in the eyes of this old curmudgeon.  Two of the best things I learned in school -- cursive handwriting (the old Palmer method) and how to type (no, not keyboarding but typing on a manual typewriter with a minimum of 70 words per minute for an "A" -- which this guy earned).  I cannot think of two things I use more -- daily writing in cursive and actually typing on my computer keyboard without looking at the keys, quickly and accurately.

When I would write on the board in catechism classes, the kids would often complain that they could not read what I wrote.  Sad.  Then when I would watch them "write" in big block letters, usually all capitals, with hand gripping the pencil or pen in a manner not conducive to comfort or penmanship, I would complain.  Maybe others have been complaining and somebody has been listening.
Cursive writing is looping back into style in schools across the country after a generation of students who know only keyboarding, texting and printing out their words longhand.  Alabama and Louisiana passed laws in 2016 mandating cursive proficiency in public schools, the latest of 14 states that require cursive. And last fall, the 1.1 million-student New York City schools, the nation’s largest public school system, encouraged the teaching of cursive to students, generally in the third grade. . . .

Penmanship proponents say writing words in an unbroken line of swooshing l’s and three-humped m’s is just a faster, easier way of taking notes. Others say students should be able to understand documents written in cursive, such as, say, a letter from Grandma. And still more say it’s just a good life skill to have, especially when it comes to signing your name.  That was where New York state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis drew the line on the cursive generation gap, when she encountered an 18-year-old at a voter registration event who printed out his name in block letters.
“I said to him, ‘No, you have to sign here,’” Malliotakis said. “And he said, ‘That is my signature. I never learned script.’”

Malliotakis, a Republican from the New York City borough of Staten Island, took her concerns to city education officials and found a receptive audience.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Some thoughts about modern music. . .

As some of you may know, I am a supporter of classical music -- not in theory but in practice.  I belong to the Nashville Symphony.  The occasions when my wife and I attend the symphony are like mini vacations -- days of refuge and rejoicing amid the mundane of our ordinary lives.  Nearly every time we go, we come home refreshed and our hearts are as filled as our ears.  But not always.

Symphonies spend a portion of their time introducing our ears to new music.  A month or so ago, we sat through 35 minutes of the most tedius, boring, and nonsensical music I have ever heard.  I thought it was just me but my wife also admitted to have stopped listening a few minutes into the piece.  The program notes indicated that the composer was inspired by a night spent with the Disney Concert Hall pipe organ in LA -- exploring the sounds he could create from the stoplist.  Cearly, the extensive resources of the symphony strings, winds, and percussion sections were added to the organ in pursuit of sound.  Not music.  Sound.  It was one of the very few occasions I wish I had chosen another concert to attend. 

It occurs to me how much modern music so perfectly reflects our modern thinking.  It is not ordered nor does it proceed toward a goal.  It appears to have no road map and so it seems like a meandering journey without beginning or ending.  Much modern music seems intent upon rejecting the past and presuming that atonal and non-melodic sounds are more eloquent or noble than the classic forms that once accompanied great occasions and childhood cartoons -- with equal success! 

Our lack of clear thinking has shown up in the minds of composers who like to hear things more than compose musical forms.  I am happy that in a hundred years, Deo volente, we will still be hearing Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms but not this tedius and forgettable piece by a composer whose name I have already forgotten.  Music that lives on is music that lives by the strength of its ideas -- just like great literature!

We do not teach grammar well, so our people struggle to speak and to communicate what they think.  We do not teach debate or composition well, so our people do not think clearly or develop linear arguments that lead somewhere.  We do not teach great literature well (preferring diversity over eloquence) and so our people are not well versed in the literature that has shaped and formed our past (but seems destined to remain silent as make our way around our murky future).

Much modern music is but a mirror of our own cultural wasteland in which greatness is less important that other values we have esteemed higher.  So we go into art museums and wonder what it was that we saw (since it looked like what a child might do on a canvas floor with a whole parcel of paint).  We go into libraries more intent upon borrowing a movie or cheap and trashy novels than the dusty great works of yesterday and wonder why it is all so dull and forgettable.  And I go to the symphony hall more thankful for a few minutes of a transcription of a Buxtehude organ piece for orchestra than the rest of the program which was but noise in our ears.  I guess I really have become a curmudgeon!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Rejecting and despising our roots. . .

There was a time in which age was honored and history was our first teacher.  This was not always good as age does not always bestow wisdom nor is history always the domain of our greatest virtue.  We, however, live in a time in which age makes a person and his or her judgment suspect and history is rejected almost out of hand.  I see not much danger that youth will defer automatically to age or that history will define what we think or esteem today.  What I do find is a great danger for the wisdom of age to be lost in a fool's quest to be ever young and for our past to be despised and rejected out of hand.  Don't believe me?  Spend some time on almost any university campus.  Then tell me I am wrong.

I am not at all suggesting that everything in our past is worthy of praise.  Examples abound of our shame over our past and these ought to be challenged and rejected.  That said, we do not spend much time sifting through our past to distinguish the good from the bad.  We have chosen instead to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  History has become itself our shame and embarrassment.  So instead of spending our time looking carefully at the past and discerning what is good and worthy and what is not, we worry about renaming old institutions once dedicated to the memory of people who turned out to be flawed.  Are we surprised by this?  Is it impossible for us to believe that individuals of great wisdom, intellect, and accomplishment also owned slaves?  Does one sin render them ineligible as teachers from whom we might learn?  Note I am not at all suggesting that slavery was anything but a blight upon our national conscience then and now.  That said, however, how does it advance the cause of learning and make us wise to smear these giants of our past and silence their wisdom to hear only their foolishness, folly, and faults?

We have decided with Henry Ford that history is bunk.  So we spend our days distancing ourselves from our past.  Instead of growing in wisdom or becoming greater intellects, instead we have become snobs who insist that we know best about everything, far better than those who lived before us.  We do this by insisting that the constitution must be a living document into which we read our own values and by ignoring what the words actually mean or the founders intended.  We do this by standing as the skeptic over history wondering whether Lincoln was really the larger than life president who began our rescue from slavery's shame or whether the Jesus of history was anything like the Jesus of Scripture.  It is the same presumption that we know better today and can judge more clearly the past (a judgement which seems designed to do little more than raise questions and doubts).

We have become as a nation and a culture (perhaps a world) like those who received the financial legacy of our forbearers, whose first priority in spending the money we inherited was to taint that money by rejecting those who made it.  Or perhaps we are like the nouveau riche who spend our money trying to forget that we were once Rednecks.  Think here how those who disagreed or still disagree with certain political viewpoints are routinely disdained as ignorant, bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic, religious fools.  Again, I am not at all suggesting that there none of these folks around us but challenging the ideas is different than smearing the proponents of those ideas.

As I write this, our nation stands ever divided between the elite class who believe they know better than anyone else and others who feel they have no voice.  At the same time, the religious truths and values that were mainstream in our nation and culture only a generation or two ago have now become a pariah in the same land.  As you read this, we have not only redefined marriage and family, we find marriage not only less attractive but less successful and families weaker than ever before.  We laud desire and insist that self-control is either impossible or evil -- then we wonder why people give into baser desires and whose exploits fill the news.

The sad truth is that for all the money we have poured into schools and for all the new teaching methods we have invented, our children know less in university than they once know in junior high (as it was once called).  For all the books that have been published, we read throw away literature that is a splash in the pan while we have no idea what the great books of the past actually say.  For all that technology and the internet has provided, we ended up with social media, porn, and fake news as the shining achievements of our time.

I suggest that this has happened because we have glorified youth and all things new and disdain age and the wisdom of the past.  I suggest that this has happened because we are less literate than those who went before us and have forgotten grammar, how to think, and how to really debate ideas.  I suggest that this is become we have made the individual so sacred that we don't know how to have community (at least one larger than those who think like us).  I suggest that this has happened because we no longer value the pursuit of history or spend time invested in carefully sifting through that history.  I suggest that this is because we no longer believe in objective truth and therefore reject any Christianity which presumes the Word yesterday, today, and forever the same.  If we want to change the future, we must deal with these flawed choices.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Opened eyes of faith. . .

Sermon for Lent 4A preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, March 26, 2017.

Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (Jn 9:39).

News today is driven by headlines. It’s all about catching the reader’s attention. The miracle in today’s Gospel reading is an attention grabbing headline: MAN BORN BLIND SEES FOR FIRST TIME! We’d read that story; it’s a heartfelt, feel good story. But the greater miracle in this story isn’t the once blind eyes of a man opened to see the world around him, it’s the once blind eyes of faith opened to see the light of the Savior.

The man in our Gospel reading was born blind, he never had the ability to see. He didn’t know what the world around him looked like. He had no clue what his parents and friends looked like. He’d never seen the light of the sun or the beauty of the moon and the stars.

When Jesus’ disciples saw this man they asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn 9:2). The disciples expressed the popular idea that suffering is a result of God punishing a specific sin. Many of us still think this way. We talk about Karma assuming that bad things happen to those who are bad and good to the good. Whenever there’s a natural disaster someone always says it’s God punishing the people for their sin. The disciples thought this man was being punished, and they wanted to know who sinned, him or mom and dad.

Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (Jn 9:3). The reason this man was born blind wasn’t because he or his parents sinned, although they were sinners, but so God could display His work in him. This man was born blind so that he could be healed at that very moment, so that God’s saving grace could be seen. This is why all suffering is allowed, so that in times of trouble and need, we’d turn to God.

God doesn’t delight in suffering, but He allows it to happen so that we’d come back to Him, repenting of our sin and relying on His grace and mercy, relying on His care and love. Of course, all suffering is a result of sin; and yes, there are painful consequences to specific sins, but God doesn’t punish His faithful children. The blind man wasn’t being punished. God allowed him to be born blind so that through the healing of his physical eyes Jesus could open his spiritual eyes, giving him eyes of faith to see his Savior.

Even though we were born with the physical ability to see, all of us are born spiritually blind. Every single one of us was born with original sin, and this sin blinds us. It keeps us from seeing God our Father and it prevents us from seeing our Savior. Because of our original sin we don’t fear, love, or trust in God above all things; rather we fear, love, and trust in ourselves. We make ourselves our own gods, doing whatever we want whenever we want, fulfilling our sinful desires. And because of this, we live in the darkness of our sin.

This darkness isn’t like the darkness of early evening as the sun begins to set. It’s not even the darkness of midnight. We can still see at these times. With the help of the moon and stars, we can make out shapes and shadows. With the help of lights we can illuminate enough of the world to function just as if the sun was up. But there’s no light in the darkness of our sin. We can’t shine a light through it.

This darkness chokes out any light. It’s heavy and paralyzing. It leaves us totally blind, unable to see shapes or shadows. There’s nothing we can do to navigate this darkness. Only the light of Christ can overcome it, and we can only see this light with the eyes of faith, eyes of faith opened by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word.

Our eyes of faith have been opened by God’s Word, just like the man in the Gospel reading. It was truly an amazing thing what Jesus did, giving sight to a man born blind. No one else could do this. Only the Son of God could perform this miracle.

When the Pharisees questioned the man about Jesus, he called Him a prophet. He knew that Jesus was from God because only God could’ve healed him, but the Pharisees disagreed. They said Jesus was a sinner because He healed this man on the Sabbath, and it’s a sin to do any work on the Sabbath, even if that work benefited others. The Pharisees pressured this man to deny Jesus and His miracle; but he couldn’t. He stayed true to his confession. He knew Jesus was from God.

Jesus asked this man, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (Jn 9:35). The formerly blind man didn’t know who the Son of Man was, so he asked Jesus to identify Him, not simply for identification purposes, but so that he could believe in Him. Jesus answered, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you” (Jn 9:37). The man, who had been blind from birth, with eyes opened by Christ was now physically looking at the Messiah. And after hearing Jesus’ words, with eyes of faith he saw the Savior.

And this man did the only thing he could do...he confessed his faith. “Lord, I believe” (Jn 9:38). He fell down at Jesus’ feet and worshiped Him. With eyes of faith opened by God’s Word Incarnate, he saw his Savior and trusted in Him for salvation. This faith was a miraculous gift from God...and so is yours.

God didn’t leave this man in the darkness of blindness, and He doesn’t leave you in the darkness of your sin either. Our Father in heaven sent His only begotten Son into our dark sin-filled world to open your eyes. The Word of God Incarnate, overcame the darkness of your sin, so “that those who do not see may see” (Jn 9:39). Jesus came into this world for sinners, to heal sinners, to heal you and me. He’s the Light that overcomes the sin that blinds you. He’s the Light of the world (Jn 9:5) that has overcome sin and death with His death on the cross. With His shed blood He paid for your sin, for that original sin that’s blinded you from birth. He’s opened your eyes so that you can see your Savior and trust in Him for salvation; so that you can walk as a child of light.

With eyes of faith we focus on our Savior, we see the light of everlasting life, and seeing this light, we don’t worry about the future. We don’t fear the punishment of God on our sins because we see the Son of Man who’s received that punishment for us. We don’t aren’t scared or troubled by the sufferings of this life, sufferings that are a result of sin because we know what our Lord has done for us. With eyes of faith, we know our sins our forgiven. With eyes of faith we see the Son of Man and His salvation. With eyes of faith, we speak the same words of the once blind man…”Lord, I believe.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Doing the right thing. . .

Archbishop Charles Chaput, a well known author and spokesman for Biblical marriage, morality, doctrine, and worship, has influence well beyond his diocese.  One such example lies in his book, Strangers in a Strange Land.  In an interview he remarked that it is never difficult to do the right thing, merely very exhausting.  I was intrigued by his words and the more I thought about them, the more I saw the truth in them.

Even though we know and have full confidence in the promise of God that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church, nonetheless, we who belong to the household of God know that without rigorous catechesis, defense of Biblical doctrine, and advocacy for the Christian ethic, the faith is but a generation away from extinction.  To say this does not in anyway diminish from the promise of God but admits that God keeps His promise not in some magical way but through the witness, faithfulness, and instruction to the world by the Church (and each individual Christian).

It may not be difficult to do what is right and make the faithful confession before the world, but it is certainly exhausting.  We reach not plateau or safe haven where the Church and the baptized may rest from the ongoing and diligent work of witness to the Word, instruction in the Word, struggle to maintain faithfulness against enemies of the Word, and catechesis in the Word for those within the household of the faith.  Such work happens not merely within the Church's formal engagement with the world but humbly and yet profoundly within the home, within the circles of friendship and acquaintance, and toward co-workers and neighbors.  It happens directly within the home as husband and wife speak the faith to each other and as they instruct their children in the knowledge of the Lord through His Son.

We may grow weary and tire of the constant grind but we cannot afford to relax our efforts nor can we ignore the serious responsibility placed upon us to know Christ and make Him known.  It is not difficult in the sense that only a few well-trained and knowledgeable individuals can or should engage in this apology for the faith -- far from this, it is incumbent upon all who wear the name of Christ by baptism and faith to give answer to the hope within.  But it does not relent and especially in the face of a world so distant from God and from the values of His Kingdom -- must less the message of His Son!  Our children are under constant assault from values and so-called truths that compete with Christ and His Word.  Our doctrine is increasingly under threat from those who would silence our voices or label us hatemongers.  Our liberty to freely live and confess Christ must be defended in every age and generation against those who would constrain the free expression of Christian faith and life within our greater society.  Our understanding of life and its sacredness from conception to death is ever threatened by those who would treat life as a commodity to be valued, the right of those who give birth,  and to be defined or discarded as individuals or society as a whole sees fit.

I fear that many of us have grown weary -- too weary.  We no longer speak up when Christian faith is challenged and we no longer answer the questions that come from those more interested in their challenge than in our answers.  Yet, as Archbishop Chaput has put it, we cannot afford to be silent or passive in the face of a strangeness which threatens the security and place of Christianity within our nation -- something we once took for granted.

Pastors must be ever diligent in teaching the faith and equipping the saints to be voices for Christ and Him crucified wherever they find themselves.  Parents must be rigorous in their instruction of their children and in speaking the Word of God to each other.  Husband and wife must be conscious of their witness to the world and address each other with the forgiveness which enables them to keep their marital vows and promises.  Children must be given the tools to evaluate the competing claims for their minds and hearts found so often in school, in media, and among their peers.  It may not be difficult but it is surely exhausting.  So do not grow weary in this well-doing for this is one of the most profound and significant things we do as Christian people individual and together as the Church of Christ.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Another Bible translation?

Holman some time ago published the Holman Christian Standard Bible.  They now believe the time has come to update the HCSB and in doing so have created a whole new version (as is we were short of versions).  They insist that this Christian Standard Bible translation reflects advances in biblical scholarship, has received both input and direction from a diverse group of Bible scholars, pastors, and readers, and offers an improvement not found in existing translations. In relation to the HCSB, the claim is made that all the changes incorporate both their strong commitment to the  faithfulness to the original text as well as a desire to create a text with the clarity needed for a modern audience.

The list of  biblical scholars who participated in the CSB comes from 17 denominations -- a variety of conservative, evangelical denominations, including Southern Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, conservative Anglican and non-denominational Bible churches.  Lutherans include Andrew Das (ELS) and Andrew Steinmann (LCMS).  Holman itself is a division of Lifeway, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

According to their own PR, the translation uses the method Optimal Equivalence, which balances contemporary English readability with linguistic precision to the original languages. This process assures that both the words and thoughts contained in the original text are conveyed as accurately as possible for today’s readers.  You can read some verse comparisons here.

You have already heard of the Lutheran translation project begun by the Wisconsin Synod.  I must admit that while I understand the desire for a new translation (I have often thought that the Peters Perfect Paraphrase would solve all the problems!), I am not sure that anyone needs or wants a new translation.  Further, I am not at all sure that another translation would add anything to the versions already available.  In fact, I fear it would only further divide the readers of the Bible and contribute even more to the idea that a translation is a denominational effort or one guided by presuppositions that determine the outcome -- both of which undermine the idea of objective truth.  In addition, I have often spent a goodly portion of our Bible study time discussing the differences in the translations used by the people there -- time that could have been spent more directly addressing the text and what it means.  I am not at all sure having one more translation in the hands of the people will help and fear it would only further distract us.  That said, I am not ready to condemn something before I have had a chance to review it.

I would love to hear your own opinions.  Tell me if you have looked over the CSB and what you think of this addition to the marketplace.  Unfortunately, that is what it is.  A marketplace.  Not a small measure of the decision to produce a new translation is the desire to make money.  Given the number of editions which accompany every translation, I expect we will see some stir from all of this.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Blessed are those who are not offended by Me. . .

In England, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. . . no one comes to the Father except through Me..." is not protected speech but criminal.
Two street preachers, Michael Overd and Michael Stockwell, have been embroiled in a legal battle since July last year, when they were arrested and charged with a Public Order Offence after preaching in Bristol city centre.  The two men say they were merely preaching the gospel and answering questions on the difference between Islam and Christianity.  Their lawyer, Michael Phillips, told Bristol Magistrates Court that the prosecution was a “modern-day heresy trial – dressed up under the public order act”.

While in court, the defence argued that Overd and Stockwell have a legal and democratic right to preach and quote from the King James Bible in a public place.  In response, prosecutor Ian Jackson reportedly said: “Whilst it is right that if things are said in the Bible, they can be said to be an expression of religious belief – to use words translated in 1611 in a very different context, in the context of modern British society, must be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter.”

He is later recorded saying: “To say to someone that Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth. To the extent that they are saying that the only way to God is through Jesus, that cannot be a truth.”. . . Michael Overd and Michael Stockwell have been ordered to pay £2,016 each, in fines and costs. They will appeal the conviction.
It remains to be seen if the same standard applies to Muslims who insist that Allah is the only God and Mohammed is his prophet.  But then again, we will see.

It is clear that the path of religious freedom is ever more a path to mere protected thoughts and beliefs and not necessarily anything more.  It may include freedom to worship but even in this context there have been challenges to the freedom of the preacher to preach and the teacher to teach contrary to the so-called protected speech of diversity and to the idea that no truth is objectively true.

It is cutting edge, however, to find such speech criminal.  That may be the path that liberalism in Europe is moving but it remains to be seen if such is on the radar for the US anytime soon.

Some interesting thoughts as we  head down the path to the Cross during Holy Week. . .

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mark your calendar. . .

Mark your calendar.

It comes only every 3 years.

It is coming in July of 2017.

See you there!!

Christmas in March?

Today is March 25 so Merry Christmas!?  Don't get it?  Well, today is the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary.  Nine months from today, Jesus' birth will be celebrated.  Oh, sure, you probably have been sold the bill of goods that says that Christmas is some sort of pagan holiday that was taken over the Church to shut down the heathen and fill the gap with something more spiritual.  There are those who continue to spew the old saw that Christ is little more than a baptized version of a Roman, pagan winter solstice celebration. The false history, long ago debunked, is that the Church did not know what to do with this pagan celebration of the "sun" god and so it “christianized” the celebration to given the recently converted pagans their day back but with its focus on Jesus instead of Saturn or Sol or whatever other pagan deity was associated with the switch from shortening days to longer ones.

The early Church did not celebrate Christmas much -- this is true -- but that was because the focus was centrally on the resurrection of Christ from the dead (Read what Paul wrote to the Corinthians).  This was the big deal -- dying and rising.  Easter remains the Queen of Seasons even though the marketplace has not done to Easter what it did to Christmas.  The date of Christmas was fixed not by pagan celebrations but by the passion and death of Christ.  In the West the date calculated was March 25 (in the East they used and still use a different calendar system).  March 25 was the first date fixed because at the time of Christ it was commonly held that prophets died on their birth or conception date. It’s the idea of “integral age,” as scholar William J. Tighe has noted in such detail. The Annunciation of our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary is liturgically celebrated on March 25, the date of Christ’s conception through the Word spoken by Gabriel and enacted by the Spirit.   In addition, you can read of the theologically-important connection between the womb and tomb in the work of  John Behr in The Mystery of Christ.  So because Christ died on the same date of the Annunciation (his conception), then Christmas Day has to be exactly nine months later OR March 25.

But this is not the only reason to interrupt Lent with this wonderful day of rejoicing.  For Blessed Mary is the first Christian (pondering all these things in her heart after consenting to the will of the Lord).  She is our own best example of faith under fire, of trust where eyes and experience say "no".  She is our mother in the faith and from her we learn what it means to believe the Word of the Lord (which came to her with more than an inconvenient message and one that challenged everything she had come to know and believe of life).  On this day we rejoice to stand with her before her Lord and ours, in whom we have forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Let me close this day with a little paragraph from Augustine from On The Trinity:
For He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also He suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which He was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which He was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before nor since. But He was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Like a candy bar. . .

I recently heard an interesting defense and description of the manifold twists of this person's church membership.  According to this fellow, his faith is like a candy bar -- not so much about the wrapper on the outside but more about the content in the middle.  It's no wonder folks warm up to such a statement.  After all, it sounds so deep and it seems so true.  Faith is not a matter of mere membership affiliation and membership affiliation is no mere matter of a name written on a list somewhere.  We all get that.  And it is true.  Denominations are remarkably diverse and there are people who believe more like Lutherans than some Lutherans -- you know what I mean.  But is this all its cracked up to be?

The wrapper DOES count.  When I want a Snickers, I want the content -- nougat topped with caramel and peanuts, covered in milk chocolate.  But the only way I am going to find that delicious nougat topped with caramel and peanuts all covered in milk chocolate is by looking for the Snickers wrapper.  The wrapper tells us what is inside.  The wrapper is the guarantor of consistency.  I have never opened a Hershey bar only to find a Mr. Goodbar or a Mounds or a Salted Nut Roll.  Nope, it has never happened.  When I feel like toffee covered in milk chocolate, I go for a Heath Bar -- I do not open wrapper after wrapper in search of my craving.  The wrapper tells me where I will find it.

The truth is the wrapper counts.  It counts more than we admit.  With candy bars and with denominations.  The Lutheran wrapper tells you what you should be able to find inside -- a Lutheran faith sourced from Scripture, consistent with the catholic tradition, bound by the Confessions, framed by the Law and Gospel distinction, creedal, liturgical, sacramental, etc...  Just like if you open up a Baptist wrapper you can bet the doctrine will be fundamentalist, oriented toward decision theology, and non-sacramental, non-liturgical, and non-creedal.  In the Roman Catholic wrapper you will find a pope, a cardinal or two, a bishop or many, priests, and deacons.  I am not trying to be definitive but to suggest that we count on wrappers to tell us what is inside.  We do not open wrapper after wrapper in search of something -- the wrapper guides us and tells us what we can expect to find therein.  It is a good thing for candy but even better for churches.  Nothing is more problematic that the kind of diversity which makes the wrapper a lie or deception. 

So no, it is not more about the content than the wrapper.  They are both important and should not compete.  They ought to reflect a consistency that informs us and comforts us when it delivers what it promises.  I do not like Mounds and I do not like Almond Joy.  I really don't want to open a Babe Ruth and find coconut.  I really don't want to open the doors to a Lutheran Church and find something different inside.  Neither do you.

BTW that is why even Whitman's Sampler and other boxes of chocolates have a diagram to tell you where to find what you want.  Is there any one of us who has not selected a chocolate from one of those mixed boxes, thought and hoped we were getting one thing, and then bit down only to be disappointed?  Some of us like to play the game of hide and seek.  Some of us don't.  But you should not have to be surprised when you bite down on a church.  The wrapper has a purpose -- and a good and salutary one.  The wrapper tells you what is on the inside. 

Now. . . if only that were uniformly true people would not enter a Lutheran congregation only to leave disappointed because they did not find one there!  The best ecumenism is to be who you are and then to let who you are be shaped by Scripture and tradition (best sense of that word).  If every church strives for this, we would not have so many different wrappers and churches would not be sold for taste but for truth!  Oh, well, that is a topic for another post.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Two Sermons from Our Seminarian, Coleman Geraci. . .

I am sorry that a glitch with the graphic I choose kept these from posting.  These are two Thursday sermons from the beginning of Lent preached by Sem. Coleman Geraci. . .   Sorry they are late. . .

Hebrews 4:14-16 + Matthew 4:1-11

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

You might think preaching on the temptation of our Lord would be easy. Looking at the text in Greek we could comment on the interpretation of certain phrases and word uses, not to mention the connection with Old Testament verses cited in each temptation –could build a nice sermon around those nuances and relationships.

Or perhaps make the sermon about Christian piety. How should we react when faced with temptation? Seems pretty clear. Don't be controlled by your appetites. Don’t let the Word of God get perverted and used wrongly i.e. don’t tempt God. And don’t worship anything other than God, something we know from the Catechism. 

Perhaps, the sermon could be set against the background of the Small Catechism, especially in regards to the First, Second, and Third Commandments as well as the First, Third and Sixth petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. This would couple nicely with our Lenten Devotional from this year.

Now, none of those things are bad, and in fact I would encourage you to go back and read this text while considering those parts of the Small Catechism. Considering the richness of the text in the original language is also a wonderful task – as Luther believed, “If you lose the original language, you lose the Gospel.” There is nothing wrong with doing all these things. But to preach a sermon in these formats leaves one huge hanging question: What about Jesus? More specifically, what does this text tell us about Jesus for you?

Today’s account begins directly following the baptism of Our Lord, an event that cannot be overlooked as the background for the temptation.  The Holy Spirit has descended on Jesus. The voice from heaven declares, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” This word of the Lord and this anointing by the Spirit are the last things Jesus is given before being led out to the wilderness.

Then the tempter arrives. The stage is set for the cosmic showdown, with everything of us hanging in the balance. This is the Jesus who has just identified himself with sinners through His baptism, who has been declared the beloved Son of God, going to meet Satan – the accuser, the enemy from the Garden – on his ground.  How it goes with Jesus is how it will go with us.

And Satan knows where to go. “You’re the Son of God? You’re the one in whom God delights? You are His Servant? Let’s put that to the test. I know you’re hungry. You’ve been out here forty days and nights. Look, as the Son of God, you can do miracles. You have that power. Here, command these stones to become bread. Feed yourself.“ But Jesus responds. “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”  Bread is good, but it is not the ultimate thing. Miracles are good, but they are not the ultimate thing. The ultimate thing is “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Satan moves on, upping the ante. “So you’re the Son of God, and you trust God, and you trust every word from His mouth. What about these words? For did He not say, “He will command his angels concerning you,’ And “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone?” Why don’t you get your Father to do something for you? Have Him use His power to show you how much He loves you?” But again Jesus responds, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

 Satan continues, “Fine, you’re the Son of God, you trust your Father, you won’t let the Scriptures be twisted against you. But what about this: “I control all these kingdoms, all these glories, all these people, and I will give them to you.  You don’t have to do anything else, just fall down and worship me.  You don't have to suffer for them; you can avoid giving yourself up for them, especially those bits from the prophet about being “pierced for transgressions, crushed for iniquities,” and “with his wounds we are healed.” Just worship me. It’s an easy trade, you worship me, and I will give them to you.”

Satan knows what type of Son, Servant, Jesus will be. He has tempted Jesus to misuse his own power, but failed. Satan tested Jesus relationship’ with His Father, to force His Father to misuse his power, but failed. But now, now the temptation has come concerning Jesus’ power for us. Satan knows the suffering Servant who is Jesus, who will go to suffer to bring back those under Satan’s control to the Father. Everything hangs on this temptation. So much so that Satan appears again later in the words of Peter trying to get Jesus not to go to suffer and die. So much so that even on the Cross, the temptation echoes from the people, “If you are the Son of God, come down from Cross.”

How often do we fall to this same trap? How often do we turn from the suffering way of the Cross, to the Cross less way of Satan? How often do we shirk the Jesus who tells us to pick up our cross and follow Him? How often do we not want to love our neighbor, much less our enemy, or pray for those who persecute us? How often do we give in to temptation? But Jesus doesn’t.

Jesus doesn't give in. Jesus tells Satan, “Be gone Satan! For it is written you shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.” In the same way He tells Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are hindrance for me. For you are not setting you mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” And in the same way, on the Cross, He carries out to fulfillment the name placed on Him at His Baptism, the Son of God, the Servant of God, in perfect righteousness and obedience. He carries this out to its fullest, by staying on the Cross  - by staying there for you.

What hangs on Jesus in His temptation is the temptation for Jesus to be another Messiah. To be only a miracle worker; to be only one who shows power; to be a political or social Messiah; to be a Messiah other than the beloved Son of God. But Jesus says no to this temptation. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, that came to seek and save the lost, that came to give His life a ransom for many,  that came to suffer and die. He carries on as the beloved Son of God, doing the Father’s will -perfectly righteous in His obedience to His Father, tempted in everyway, yet without sin. He was obedient, to the point of death, even to death on a Cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on Him the Name that is above every name.  

And that Name, the name of the beloved Son, He has given that Name to you in your baptism. As he fully gave himself in obedience to that Father, sinless, righteous, He gives Himself fully to you. He gives that body and blood shed on that Cross. And He gives it to you again today, even after we have failed the temptations in our life –in spite of our failures at the temptations in our life. He does this for you. And He does this for you that you may live as the beloved sons and daughters of God; as those whom He has won from Satan’s dominion. That you would draw near to the throne of grace, with confidence, that you would receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 13 + Luke 18:31-43

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today’s gospel reading is conflicting in nature. It's as if those who decided the pericope, the slice, for the Gospel reading wanted to force us into bind, forcing us to ask the question, who is this Jesus?

The opening portion of the Gospel sounds all too familiar. In fact, though we don't use the words of Jesus explicitly, we confess this first portion of the text every week in the Creed. “Crucified under Pontius Pilate. Suffered died and was buried. On the third day rose from the dead.” Reading of Jesus’ prediction about Himself today seems almost a foregone conclusion. I guess I could just forget about that portion and focus on the latter portion of the reading, maybe to make my job easy. We aren’t like the disciples here. We understand all of these things. These sayings are not hidden from us. We grasp what He is saying.

And it’s always easy to pick on the disciples. It seems account after account from the Gospels, the disciples are just not getting it. They seem never to understand what Jesus is doing or saying. But we, unlike the disciples at that moment, have the advantage of looking at this text from this side of the Resurrection. What the disciples didn’t understand, didn't grasp back then, well, of course, we do. We comprehend what Jesus is saying and doing, don’t we?

From this scene of Jesus’ prediction about His own suffering, death, and resurrection, we are then brought along to a blind man who won’t stop calling out for Jesus. Even as the crowds try to silence him, he becomes all the more insistent. “Son of David, HAVE MERCY ON ME.” And, maybe to surprise of everyone, Jesus gives in to the man’s insistence. Jesus asks “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man wants to receive his sight. So, Jesus heals him, but accredits the man’s faith for doing so. Interestingly enough though, the Greek here does not say that the man’s faith has made him well but in fact literally says, “Your faith has saved you.”

So which Jesus is it? Is it the Jesus who is going to be handed over to the Gentiles, shamefully treated, spit upon, mocked, and then killed and on the third day rise? Is it the Jesus whose words are incomprehensible, even hidden from His disciples? Or is it the Jesus who stops His movement to Jerusalem to heal this blind man? Is it the Jesus who puts on hold what He is to fulfill from the Prophets, what is written about Him, in order to fulfill the desire of this man?  Which Jesus is it?


This Jesus is both the one who heals the physical ills in the blind man but is also the one who gives himself over to physical abuse even to death. This is the Jesus who mercifully looks up on those who trust him, who mercifully answers to this man’s faith. But this is also the Jesus who is beyond comprehension; whose sayings trouble us, challenge us, convict us. The conflict is not in Jesus, but in our disposition toward him. We are often certainly the disciples who are puzzled and unable to grasp what Jesus says. “Love my neighbor? Love my enemy? Pray for those who persecute me?” But, by His mercy, we are also the blind man who has faith in His Word for salvation.

We are the disciples that hear the words of Savior and stumble, this is most certainly true. But we are simultaneously the ones whom He has granted faith in order to carry out His Words. We are the disciples who may not fully comprehend Jesus, but we are the ones to whom He gives Himself fully. Week in and week out, amidst the struggles of this life –our struggles to live out our vocation as baptized saints – He is still here giving Himself fully to us – His Word of forgiveness; His Body and Blood.

We are called to follow him, even when we don’t grasp what He is doing –especially when we don’t grasp what He is doing. We are called to carry out our lives in accordance to His Word. Even when His Word is tough. And as tough as His Word is, His Word does not change nor make any room for excuse. But His Word that does not change is also the promise that does not change. You are baptized. You are His own.

And as His own, as ones to whom He has given faith, we are to love as He has loved us  -to love as Paul describes to us in 1 Corinthians. We are to be patient, kind; not boasting; not being arrogant or insisting in our own way; not rejoicing in wrong doing but rejoicing in the truth. We bear all things, believe all things; hope all things; endure all things. But we don’t do this alone. We do it as the saints, together; as the ones called, gathered, and enlightened by His Holy Spirit.

This calling is the calling put upon you. This is the faith given to you. This is the gift to you. This calling, this faith, this gift is all Jesus – all of Jesus for you. The one given into death who rises from dead, for you; the one who heals the blind and forgives sins – for you. The one who puts His name upon you, gives you His Holy Spirit that you might have hope; that you might have faith; that you might love.

These gifts are His gifts which He gives to you as He gives Himself into your ears by His Word and your mouth by His body and blood. But the gift does not stop there – He gives that you might give to others. Jesus is the gift to you through His Word that you might love your neighbor; that you might live in the incomprehensible love He has given you.

Which Jesus is it? It is the Lord and Savior Jesus – the Jesus who gives of Himself incomprehensibly, yet fully for you.  Amen.