Monday, July 31, 2017

Remembering death. . .

The seeming goal of this life is to forget our mortality.  We live dangerously to show we do not fear death. We treat death as something normal and natural and acceptable if we get in enough living beforehand.  We trivialize death by treating grief with a few funny stories, some laughter, and a drink or two.  At the same time we keep our children from knowing about death.  We do not bring them to funerals and we even change our childhood prayers to omit "if I should die before I wake."  It is all a vain attempt to control death, to make death meet us on our terms, or to make it go away by ignoring it.

In the Rule of St. Benedict, there instruction in chapter 4 simply says, “Keep death daily before your eyes”.   It might seem a morbid request but it is not.  It is the simple acknowledgement that our mortality must be kept before our eyes and upon our minds in order for us to know and appreciate the miracle of Christ's redemption.  It is part of our daily repentance to remember that we are dust and unto dust we shall return.  Though we are accustomed to hearing those words at the start of Lent, they are not only for Ash Wednesday. 

We remember that we must be redeemed from death and the grave and we remind ourselves that this is exactly what Christ has done.  Far from encouraging us to hold onto this life tightly, the miracle of the cross and empty tomb leads us to hold onto this life lightly -- not out of fear but in awesome appreciation of what Christ has done.

In the compline liturgy (evening prayers), there canticle that is sung, the Canticle of Simeon, is all about death and all about the power of Christ's life.  Simeon was so overcome with the joy of God's promised Savior, he was ready to depart and be with God.  The arms that held the infant Jesus could not hold onto life in fear any longer.  “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.  For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”  Luther's most distinctive remodeling of the Divine Service was the obvious addition of this as the Post-Communion Canticle which the people sing as they leave the Table of the Lord and head out into the world in His name.

The Benedictine wisdom to “keep death daily before our eyes”might seem dark, depressing, or morbid. After all, Jesus said He had come so that we might have life and life in the fullest (John 10:10)?  What, then, is gained by being mindful of your own mortality?  What about the Psalmist who teaches us to pray "Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom."  Is it not precisely our appreciation of our mortality that allows us to live the abundant life of Christ's promise? Perhaps our awareness of death is key to living the new and abundant life of Christ's promise.  After all ordinary wisdom suggested “He who has nothing to die for has nothing to live for”.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.” What did Christ say in Mark 8:34-35, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the Gospel will save it.”

I have long suggested to my people that it is not morbid nor a denial of the goodness that is present even in this fallen life for us to acknowledge death and its awful reality.  Death is never good even when it is merciful.  Death is last enemy to be destroyed.  It was for Jesus and it is for those who live in Christ by baptism and faith.  But it will die, too.  Death will not simply go away or surrender but it will be killed, erased from the memory of the redeemed in Christ, and replace with the abundance of a life that God will not allow to end.  In the end it is good wisdom and good faith to "keep death always before your eyes."

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Where have I been?

If you want to see where I have been this past week, tune in and watch the preaching, teaching, and singing that has been a mountain top experience and I was privileged to have served in the pulpit, in the chancel, and in the classroom many, many times over the week. . .

Click here to watch the recorded services.  I preached for Confession and Absolution and wrote the meditations and led the Hymn Festival.

Juice du jour for Holy Communion???

HOLY COMMUNION – is offered during our worship.  A statement about what we, as Lutheran Christians, believe about ‘Receiving the Lord’s Supper’ is printed inside the front of the hymnals in the pews.  If you believe as we believe, please join us.  White grape or apple juice is available at the center of each tray for those who do not desire to receive red wine.

The issues our Synod faces with respect to the Lord's Supper are manifold.  On the one hand, some practice an open invitation to whomever feels good communing.  Thankfully, the number of these congregations tends to be small.  On the other hand, we have congregations where you practically have to give a pint of blood to receive the Lord's blood.  Thankfully, the number of these congregations is also relatively small.  In the middle we have congregations who try to be welcoming while still leaving it to the judgment of the individual about whether or not to commune and those who try to be welcoming but ask the difficult questions to prevent someone from taking the Lord's body and blood to their harm.  I probably should have changed congregations to pastors since the pastor makes the judgment although it is probably true that on either end the congregation has thoroughly bought into the pastor's practice.  In the middle, well, it all depends.  Some are embarrassed that their pastors ask at all and others are embarrassed that people they know do not believe what Lutherans believe seem to have a clear conscience about receiving at our altar.  We have spoken about that before.  But there is more.

Apparently it has become so common to use grape juice (or in the case above, apple juice?!?!) that no one really pays much attention to that.  I have to admit that I try to be welcoming to the Lord's Table and yet are more than clear about what we believe, teach, and confess and when that requires me to say no.  But I am growing ever more concerned about the growing tendency to fiddle with the elements of the Lord's institution.  It does not seem to concern pastor or parish that we substitute rice or another non-gluten host to anyone who happens to follow the current health craze against gluten and that we give people who don't like wine an opt out to fit their preference.  Note, that there are other ways of dealing with people with legitimate health issues that make gluten hosts and wine problematic.  I am speaking of those who simply have decided they don't like it or it is bad for people.  Do we allow any preference to govern what is used?  Is there a line to draw here?  Or am I being picky for even bringing it up?

Our concern for the Lord's own chosen elements is not our personal preference but goes to the heart of the Sacrament and our confidence that we are receiving what the Lord promised.  You can play with the words all you want but from the beginning of Christianity, bread (wheat) and wine (grape wine) have been the elements which accompany the Lord's Word and promise.  Now all of a sudden we feel free to tinker with it.  Can we also tinker with the Lord's Word?  We determined that Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier were not fit substitutes for the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in baptism.  Is it too much to say that certain things are not fit substitutes for wheat bread and grape wine?  If we can pick and choose substitutes, where does it stop?  Is grape juice acceptable but not apple juice or all juices from fruits of the vine?  If we agree with rice cakes, could we not also use potato chips?  I personally am more tempted by chips and beer than rice cakes and apple juice but isn't that the problem?  The Supper is not defined by our preference and taste but by the Lord's Word and example.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

What shall we say?

It has happened about a dozen times in the past few months.  Some regarding locales far away from this parish and this state and others within a drive of an hour or two.  They come from Lutherans looking for a real Lutheran parish.  They were members of Grace and had to move due to employment.  Now they have a few choices from congregations that are Lutheran in name but not so much in practice or from congregation so tiny that the trade off of good doctrine and acceptable practice comes at the cost of music, programs, etc...

I repeat.  Grace Lutheran Church is NOT an exceptional parish in terms of overall Lutheran identity, doctrine, and practice.  We have the weekly Divine Service, sung liturgy, a very good choir, a very good parish musician, and a solidly entrenched tradition of faithful teaching and preaching.  That should not be exceptional.  It should be normal.  Every congregation who claims to be Lutheran should have the Divine Service (not with Holy Communion since the Divine Service implies Holy Communion), sung liturgy, a decent cantor or choir, capable organist, and solid Lutheran preaching and teaching.  It is not out of reach.  It is not easy but it is not impossible in nearly every location.  And one ought to be able to expect that this is reflective of solid programs of education (Sunday school for lack of a better name), catechesis for young and old, and Bible study (that deals with the meat of the Word and not simply how you feel about it).  This is NOT exceptional but normal for those who claim the Augsburg Confession and who claim the legacy of Lutheranism born from that faithful witness.

Yet. . . I continue to get complaints that when folks move they cannot find a Lutheran congregation that mirrors these values.  Either worship is a smorgasbord of tastes, styles, and preferences (of which the Divine Service may or may not be one) or it can be painful experience in which canned music or incapable parish musicians lead from one bench or another.  Either the doctrine is light and the Lutheran identity is tenuous or it may be reflected in anger and resentment against one or the other Synods (lacking a salutary and healthful spirit of truth that encourages, equips, and ennobles).   Either the congregation is so small there is no real Sunday school or catechesis going on or it is large enough to offer choices not worthy of a congregation who claims the Augsburg Confession (having turned Bible study into self-help groups).

My point is not to complain about the aberrations (okay, maybe it is) but to remind us that congregational expressions of Lutheran identity should be more the same than different.  I served a far smaller parish in upstate NY and we had a very faithful and gifted parish musician, a decent choir, sung Divine Service, weekly Eucharist, and a faithful and Lutheran catechetical and Biblical educational program.  These ought not to be the exceptions but the norm (no matter how small or how large the parish).  This is our Lutheran problem.  We have inconsistency that goes to the core of our identity.  How would it be if you visited an outlet of a restaurant chain and found that this logicality had changed the menu, the recipes, or theme to the point where you did not recognize it as an Olive Garden or Cheddars or Logans?  Yet this is what our people report to me (whether on vacation or if forced to find a new parish home due to move).  Brothers, it should not be so.

Our people are our parishes are suffering not because our creativity has failed but because our consistency has failed.  We do not know who we are.  Lutherans cannot survive if they are only one parish deep and wide.  I plead not for myself but for those who are in your neighborhoods and communities and who wonder where they will find a Lutheran congregation.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Why didn't I see you there?

Today is the final day of the 2017 Institute of Liturgy, Preaching, and Church Music put on by the LCMS Worship through its Office of National Mission and was directed by the Office of Chaplain, namely the Rev. William Weedon.  It has been a wonderful week and a marvelous opportunity to grow in knowledge and craft, refreshed by Word and Sacrament, and fellowship with friends (new and old).  If you were not here, you missed it.  You really did miss the boat.  You should have been here!  That said, do not miss it when it comes around again in 3 years.  And find out who went and what they thought about the week.  I hope all of this will encourage you.  We had about 400 here this week.  Wisconsin has over 1,000 (from a church body one sixth the size of Missouri).  Next time lets try to top the WELS and not for competitive reason but because what happens there is too good to miss.

Today is the commemoration of Johann Sebastian Bach.  We are the Church from which such faith, craft, talent, skill, and genius came.  It was formed in faith, shaped by the life of the baptized around the Word and Table of the Lord, led by the Spirit through the Word, and dedicated to the cause of preaching the Gospel through music.  At the Institute we honored Carl Schalk and Henry Gerike, two of among so many giants who have followed in their steps.  And with them so many more whose names are not as well know but whose faith, dedication, and labor is no less.

I cannot say enough about the welcome we received from Pres. Dan Gard and the Concordia University Chicago family. . . or about Chaplain Will Weedon and all his crew. . . or about the presenters and speakers. . . or about the musicians and the volunteers. . . It was a high privilege for me to be a part of the planning work and to be among those who presented, preached, and led worship.  And to those who head home, Godspeed, my friends!

Modern Art. . .

Why do we work so hard to improve upon the crucifix?  Why does modern art delight in the oblique rather than the concrete?  The Pope has a new crozier and it is is a prime example of something new, modern, strange, and unintelligible.  What does it mean?  (I will admit, a Lutheran question for a Roman pontiff but a worthy one.)

For my part, I like good clean lines when they are used to highlight the crucifix and the sufferings of Christ that have paid sin's debt and given us new life death cannot steal.  But not this one.  I just don't know what to make of it and the entire purpose of church art is to give a visual image to the faith.  Here is a clean fail in that department.  Maybe you like it.  Me, not so much.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

God is merciful. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 7, Proper 11A, preached on Sunday, July 23, 2017.

    Last week we heard the Word called a seed God plants. This week we look around and wonder where all the weeds came from?  Indeed, where do we lay the blame for things that go wrong?  In the Gospel for today, the disciples turned to their master.  “Did you not sow good seed?”  Is it God’s fault! 
    It comes as no surprise to Jesus that His people blame Him and His Word when the pews are not full, when the Church appears weak before the world, when there are conflicts and disagreements among the faithful, and, especially when we as Christians try to do right only to find trouble at home, at work, and in our neighborhood.  Not a few pastors have turned to Jesus and wondered, “Why are there weeds in my Church and in my life?” 
    The short answer is this.  God is merciful.  There is only one explanation when we survey the weeds all around us.  That is a hard explanation but it is the truth.  God is merciful.  Unlike the Muslim god, the Lord does not work by threat nor does He give His people authority to judge in His name.  We are not given the chance nor the choice to eradicate evil in the Lord’s name.  This remains the Lord’s dominion and He will not be rushed.  We want to focus on the weeds, God wants us to focus on the seed.
    Remember when the Lord sent Jonah to convert, not to judge; to call the erring to repentance and not to write them off?  In the same way Jesus extends forgiveness from the cross to the most unlikely of people – the very people who put Him on the cross.  Ours is a God of mercy, of radical and unreasonable mercy, but wonderful and forgiving mercy in which we sinners find relief and hope.  The Lord's mercy is not selective but full and complete, not merely for the moment but for eternity.       God is merciful.  You and I are tempted to quickly judge the weeds and to tear them out wherever we find them.  But God is merciful.  All things await their own time, God’s own time.  All we have in the meantime is His mercy.  And as ever, faith wrestles daily with the question, “Is His mercy enough?” 
    We live in the tension of already but not yet.  God’s time is not our own.  But the patience of God is His kindness.  And His kindness is what we have when life is surrounded by weeds. When it seems nothing is going as it should, God’s mercy never wavers.  God holds back the reaper angels back not because He is weak or foolish – only because He is merciful. Until His Word is proclaimed as He wills it and all the elect have been gathered from the ends of the earth.  Do not doubt His mercy.
         Only when the time is right will God pluck up the weeds and throw them into the fiery furnace of their eternal destruction.  Only when God’s mercy has accomplished His purpose will the day of salvation finds its sun setting and the dawn of judgement begin.  Until then, God acts in mercy and in kindness.
    We presume God is weak because He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  We ache for a vindictive God who will tolerate no more.  But God’s mercy is His strength.  He sent Jesus not to condemn the world but that world might be saved through Him.  God is merciful and patient and we are neither.  That is why we are here.  God forgives even our arrogant judgements, our pride, our fake righteousness, and our anger too easily aroused.  God is merciful.
    God does not need your help but He asks for Your trust. Leave the weeds.  Believe His Word.  Repent of your sins. You are not the savior of the world.  God is.  Love Him and love your neighbor.  That is enough.  The Lord has borne your sin and died your death and give you His life.  God does not need our advice nor our consent – only our trust.  He will save us from our sins, deliver the new and everlasting life to us, and reshape our hearts in His love.  There is nothing wrong with the seed.  But for now the wheat and the weeds live together.  Not because God is weak.  But because God is merciful.  Amen.

I have done all things well. . . except humility. . .

Stories have been told of how an insistent Pope John Paul II, though he was dying, weak, and in great pain, made sure that he received Holy Communion on his knees -- no matter how painful or difficult. Story is also told of King Henry VIII who suffered great pain of chronic leg ulcers and who, though being advised that he need not kneel for Communion, insisted upon kneeling. I can personally recall an elderly woman who sat in the front pew, lectern side, at Redeemer Lutheran Church in the 1970s.  She came early because it took her so long to get to her pew.  Despite the pain and difficulty, she knelt for confession, the prayers, and the consecration.  I recall telling her at one point (I was serving Redeemer as a deacon) that she did not need to kneel.  After all, by the time she got down, that part of the liturgy was nearly finished anyway.  My presumption was not appreciated and she was still kneeling there, with even greater difficulty and pain, after I left on vicarage.

So what is my point?  There is something to be said for those whose devotion and piety required them to kneel, for example, for the sake of the Lord and as an outward sign of the inward faith, even though it cost them pain and was very difficult.  We live in an age when it is far more likely we would reason ourselves out of such pain and difficulty.  For we just know the Lord would not want us to be uncomfortable.  And therein lies the problem.  Our comfort (perhaps we should translate that into our preference) becomes the important thing.  Now, to be sure, no one would hold kneeling up to a ritual requirement.  Not me.  No one, and let me make it clear before you start commenting, this is not about requiring a certain bodily posture in order to receive Holy Communion.  Indeed, standing for the Sacrament is the customary posture of the Eastern Church, after all.  But kneeling carries with it a particular character of humility that has kept it consistently among the most sacred practices of Western Christianity (regardless of the denomination).  I feel for those who find it difficult and painful to kneel but I am constantly impressed by their willingness to endure that pain and to go through the difficulty in order to be practice their piety consistent not only with others and the past but their own history prior to onset of age, frailty, or illness. 

We live at a time when our comfort and our personal preferences seem to dictate nearly everything.  From the church where we go (which we chose after trying on several to find a good fit) to the "style of worship" (from casual to formal, contemporary to traditional) to the individual actions of that piety (kneeling among them).  I have had people tell me over and over again that they do not kneel or cross themselves or fold their hands or bow or anyone of a hundred other things because that is just not me.  Lord knows, He would not want us to do anything that was not comfortable or authentic to who we were or are!  Or would He?  That is the dominion of personal preference.  It individualizes everything -- including those things that foster a sense of community!  It would seem to me that the value in some of these rituals is precisely that they are not natural or easy or comfortable.  The posture of confession (both in mind/heart and body) should not be casual or comfortable or easy.  Neither should the posture of our reception of the Lord's body and blood be dictated by or defined in any way by personal preference.

Any pastor hears this all the time.  I don't like the taste of wine.  I am trying out a gluten free diet.  I prefer red or white or amber or non-alcoholic wine.  I don't like to kneel.  I prefer to stand.  I receive in the pew.  I don't sing.  I like a different genre of music.  I prefer spoken liturgy.  I think...  I feel...  I believe...  How wonderful that you are so in touch with your wants/needs/desire/opinions!  How wonderful it is that you are assertive enough to express them to your pastor so freely!  Since you have obviously mastered this aspect so well, why not try humility next!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I wish it were a bad joke or fake news. . .

You can read the whole article in Elle here.  I will only give you the first few lines so that you get the gist of what the article is about. . . 
"Jesus had a penis. And wet dreams." This was the philosophy that inspired Heidi Johnson to found the Pussy Club, a sex-positive group at Duke Divinity School where Christian female students would discuss, among other things, masturbation as a spiritual practice, in 2014. They also gathered to buy sex toys to explore this newfound sexuality. And so, Johnson earned herself the nickname the "Pussy Pastor."

Johnson, who, after graduating from Duke with a Master in Divinity, is getting ordained with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, will start as an intern pastor at a church in Bend, Oregon this September.
While there is an idea that Missouri is nitpicking and that the differences between Missouri and the ELCA are not that great, the reality is that the distance is growing ever greater.  While official ELCA may not make such outrageous statements as this woman, the fact that this is tolerated only indicates how deep the great divide is.  And it is not simply about sex.  It is about the abiding character of God's Word to address us, about whether that Word truly is forever or whether it becomes dated and can be ignored, and about whether that Word is the powerful means by which God the Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the Church.  It is about the boundaries this Word places to define what is faithful and what is not, what is the faith and what is not.  It is about the message that we call the Gospel and whether Christ and Him crucified can ever be displaced as that Gospel.  It is about the unity of the faith and of the Church and whether this unity can abide such flagrant transgressions of doctrine, truth, and practice.

When the gospel becomes a cause, when Scripture can be ignored in the face of "love", and when the "spirit of the age" defines the Church more than the Word, catholic creed, and historic confession, there is no gospel at all.  The cross is not incidental to the Gospel -- it is the Gospel.  The freedom of this Gospel is not license to allow desire free reign but the self-control and discipline to rein in desire and that is the fruit of our new life in Christ.

Even if the furor created by Ms. Johnson's comments precludes her ordination, you still have to wonder whether the view of Ms. Johnson would have been enough for the ELCA to say "no" or whether such a decision is based solely on the negative publicity.  We have already seen shocking things (everything from the use of non-Christian religious traditions in worship to Her Church in San Francisco) tolerated at first and then embraced as mainstream for the ELCA.  It has created a flood of people and several new churches who left precisely because there did not seem to be legitimate boundaries and the decisions of the national church made their church a stranger to them.

Of course, there are well meaning congregations and individuals within the ELCA who insist that this is not what is happening within their parishes and they would not stand for such.  But the defense "not in my back yard" cannot endure.  Not only are all ELCA folks being painted with the broad brush of the strange fringe such as Ms. Johnson, all Lutherans are identified with her by those who do not know the ins and outs of the maze of Lutheran acronyms.  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Wisdom does not grow out of style. . . even after 50 years!

In a 1969 German radio broadcast, then Father Joseph Ratzinger and later Benedict XVI would offer his thoughtfully considered answer. His concluding remarks,

“The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; nor will it issue from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves. To put this more positively: The future of the Church, once again as always, will be reshaped by saints, by men, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality. Unselfishness, which makes men free, is attained only through the patience of small daily acts of self-denial. By this daily passion, which alone reveals to a man in how many ways he is enslaved by his own ego, by this daily passion and by it alone, a man’s eyes are slowly opened. He sees only to the extent that he has lived and suffered. If today we are scarcely able any longer to become aware of God, that is because we find it so easy to evade ourselves, to flee from the depths of our being by means of the narcotic of some pleasure or other. Thus our own interior depths remain closed to us. If it is true that a man can see only with his heart, then how blind we are! 

“How does all this affect the problem we are examining? It means that the big talk of those who prophesy a Church without God and without faith is all empty chatter. We have no need of a Church that celebrates the cult of action in political prayers. It is utterly superfluous. Therefore, it will destroy itself. What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death. The kind of priest who is no more than a social worker can be replaced by the psychotherapist and other specialists; but the priest who is no specialist, who does not stand on the [sidelines], watching the game, giving official advice, but in the name of God places himself at the disposal of man, who is beside them in their sorrows, in their joys, in their hope and in their fear, such a priest will certainly be needed in the future. 

“Let us go a step farther. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly it will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

“The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain — to the renewal of the nineteenth century. But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

“And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. It may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but it will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

The Church will survive in spite of men and women, not necessarily because of them. And yet, we still have our part to do. We must pray for and cultivate unselfishness lives,  a willingness for self-denial, faithfulness to the Word of God, Sacramental devotion, and a life centered on Christ alone.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The problem with marriages. . .

The current practice of middle-class American marriage, with its atomized nuclear families, sparse and carefully spaced offspring, and long empty-nesting period before grandchildren arrive, is a recipe for dissatisfaction.  In case you were thinking that this statement was written by someone who is not in favor of marriage or perhaps in favor of an open marriage against a more traditional shape of marriage, you would be wrong.  Those lines we
re written by Alexi Sargeant of First Things and in favor of supplementing marriage with extended and deep friendships and adding to the number of children usually deemed acceptable by modern society (in other words, more than 1 or 2).

Yes, marriage is vast becoming a luxury or a preference either for those who can afford it or those who desire it while the rest of America is content either with singleness that is not so chaste or a more open version of marriage in which the spouse does not have to shoulder the full burden of friendship and love.  But the problem does not lie in marriage become economically inaccessible or socially unattainable.  The problem lies with the shackles that we have placed upon marriage itself.  Marriage has labored under the impossible burden of meeting and choosing a soulmate who fulfills any and all aspects of friendship among its many other responsibilities.  Truly this is a problem.  Friendship is suffering greatly in American culture.  When we can replace real friendship with the social media kind, we should recognize that we are in trouble.  The sad reality is that many among us are genuinely lonely -- whether married or single.  When we deposit the whole burden of our social lives upon our spouse alone or when await the special magic of a soulmate before we enjoy the non-erotic intimacy of friendship, we create a recipe for disappointment.

Add to this the narrowing of the family down to the barest bones of the nuclear family, without the association and support of extended family, and we place marriage on an even more precarious spot.  But if this were not enough, we have reduced children to the one child who may or may not be supplemented with a brother or sister, all because we find children too taxing upon our wallets and our self-interests.  Families were once large entities.  Perhaps it was out of economic need but in any case children once counted their several or more siblings as their primary playmates and friends.  Now it is likely that they encounter more adults than children and preschools and day cares have arisen to fill in the socialization gaps living as a single child.  I wonder if some of this is not displayed in the temper tantrums, rants, and lack of civility displayed on the social media outlets.  We don't know how to do things together (except perhaps at work) and this solitary nature of life has cost us something -- the ability to get along with people we may not like or have much in common with and yet are connected together by blood.  Lets face it, most family reunions today could take place around a single table and would probably be served with fast food so that everyone could get back to doing what they really wanted to do!

Friendship is a crucial part of a flourishing life, but we make friendships harder to form, sustain, or even imagine, when all intimacy is eroticized.  The best benefits of friendship are not enjoyed in the bedroom and the lack of such deep, abiding, and changing patterns of friendship has left us with relationships that are nearly always defined in sexual terms.  I have often opined about the difference between the friends my parents knew throughout their entire lives and the ones I have enjoyed.  Because of our mobility, it is less likely than ever that our childhood friends remain with us throughout our lives.  Yet that does not diminish the need to find friendships where are.  I am not unfriendly with the children of my youth but I now have other friendships to add to those.  And this is from someone who does not believe he has enough friends! 

The problems with marriage are many, to be true, but many of them are created by our own attempts to insulate ourselves and to create an impossible expectation of those whom we wed, coupled with the mistaken idea that the fewer children the better.  In the end, we have more money to spend on ourselves and more time to spend by ourselves but our hearts are emptier and our joys fewer.  Perhaps we are our own worst enemies.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Consumer oriented religion. . .

The marketplace is a buzz with words on what the Church is doing wrong, how we are failing as a welcoming community for all people and not simply for the traditional family, and what we can do to improve the lot of our people.  Underneath it all is a betrayal of the very raison'd'etre of Christianity and the Church.  The Church has become a sort of social enterprise whose goal is the accumulation of people from the desired demographics and the tool to reach them has become a marketing technique.  The Church has become its programs instead of the body of Christ and success is gauged more by the happiness of its people than by its faithfulness to Christ.  We all know this.  I am not herald of unknown wisdom.  It has been the history of evangelicalism and of their wannabes for a long time, perhaps generations, but it is even more the domain of a consumeristic religion that fits our American ideals of a free marketplace and of individual choice.   Even Rome is being influenced by those who want it to be the Church for gay Catholics and for others who do not fit the traditional family mold.

A Christian community is not recognized for the way it deliberately and effectively reaches out to all people to reflect their wants, values, preferences, and desires.  No, indeed.  A Christian community is oriented not to people and their desires or preferences but to Christ and His Word.  Perhaps it is true that the Church has shaped itself toward a desired market but that is not something we should be celebrating or lauding.  Our goal cannot be to make people feel at home.  Our goal must be to address them with the means of grace through which Christ works and through which the Spirit plants faith.  Our goal cannot be to satisfy a market niche or even every market.  Our goal must be to create a place where the Word of God is preached in all its truth and purity, where people receive the Sacraments through which Christ delivers Himself and all the fruits of His atoning work, and where they are called to the new vocation of life as the baptized children of God.

The Church will not succeed with new programing or different programing or even with any programing (that exists for any goal except knowing Christ and making Him known).   We were not established to be an effective community organization or to promote relevant and effective programs or to satisfy the desires or wants or preferences of any and all target groups.  Christ has established His Church, His bride, to be faithful to Him.  This faithfulness is identified by fealty to the Word.  For whatever reason, perhaps most because we simply do not trust Christ to do what He has promised, we in the Church feel compelled to supplement the Word or even displace it with something more welcoming, more relevant, and more akin to the expressed wants and needs of the people we are trying to reach. 

Even when trying to be faithful to Christ it is easy to be sucked into the idea that programs are the goal, effective programs and even faithful ones.  Even faithful goals and purposes like catechesis can become the kind of programs whose appeal is designed more for the satisfaction of the participant than faithfulness to the Word.  Even worship, perhaps especially worship, has become a tool, a program, and means toward another end -- something different from being the arena of the Word and Sacraments through which Christ sends forth His Spirit and calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies His Church.  Some churches are programing geniuses and the rest of us live in envy and jealousy of the grand and glorious way they appeal to people, answer their wants, make them feel at home, and supply them with whatever it is they think they need at this moment.  But under it all their success is the failure of the Church to be the Church.  Marketing the Gospel or the congregation is hardly what we need to be about.  As if the Lord depended upon our marketing expertise to bring His product to market and make it a sales success!  What the Lord asks of us seems to be the thing we find it hardest to give -- trust, faithfulness, and obedience.  But if that is what the Church will give Him, He will accomplish what He desires and we will have had a part to play in it all.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

8 Modern Errors to Know and Avoid. . .

Some time ago, Msgr Charles Pope, always well spoken, wrote in the National Catholic Reporter of 8 errors of the modern age that have crept into the Church.  It is not a list for Roman Catholics only.  We can find enough evidence that Lutherans suffer from the same errors.

It is a list worth sharing (I have shortened the original post but you can read it all here):

8 Modern Errors Every Catholic Should Know and Avoid

These are only eight. I am just getting started. I hope you will add to the list and define carefully what you identify. But for now, consider this eightfold list of modern errors that are common even in the Church.

1. Mercy without reference to repentance – For too many today, “mercy” has come to mean, “God is fine with what I am doing.” But true mercy does not overlook sin, it presupposes it, sees it as a serious problem, and offers a way out of sin. God’s mercy is his way of extending a hand to draw us out of the mire of sin.

One of the chief errors today is the proclamation of mercy without reference to repentance. Sadly, this is common, even in the Church. It is far too common to hear sermons on mercy with no reference
This error of mercy without reference to repentance is widespread in the Church today and leads to the sin of presumption, a sin against hope.

2. Staurophobia – The term staurophobia comes from Greek roots and refers to a fear of the Cross (stauros = cross + phobia = fear). Within the Church this error emerges from reticence by Catholics to frankly discuss the demands of discipleship. It reveals a strong hesitation to insist that even hard things are often the best the proper thing to do.

Many Catholics, including priests and bishops, are downright fearful when pointing to the demands of the cross. When the world protests and says, “Are you saying that those with same-sex attraction cannot get married or be sexually intimate but must live a kind of celibacy?!” The honest answer is, “Yes, that is what we are saying.” But since that answer is hard and rooted in the Cross, many Catholics are dreadfully afraid of a straight-forward, honest answer. The same is true for other difficult moral situations such as Euthanasia (in spite of suffering, we are still not free to take our life or that of another), abortion (despite difficulties and even in cases of rape and incest we are still not free to kill a child in the womb), and divorce and remarriage (in spite of unfortunate developments in a marriage, this does not mean that one is free to leave one marriage to enter another).

Staurophobia also makes many hesitant to issue correction within the Church and in families. There is almost a cringing fear of insisting on any demands or requirements or of even issuing the mildest of punishments or corrective measures. Things like this might upset people and that is one of the worst outcomes for a staurophobic who fears any sort of suffering, for themselves or others. They fail to see a redemptive quality in insisting on the demands of the cross.

3. Universalism – Universalism is the belief that most, if not all people are going to be saved in the end. This is directly contrary to our Lord’s own words wherein he sadly attests that “many” are on the road that leads to destruction and “few” are on the narrow and difficult road that leads to salvation (See Matthew 7:14, Luke 13:23-30). Dozens of parables and other warnings also come from our Lord in this regard and the straight-forward teaching of the Lord makes it clear that we must soberly accept that many, and not a few are going to be lost unless we, by God’s grace urgently summon them to Christ and to authentic discipleship.

4. Deformed Dialogue – The term “dialogue” has come to mean an almost endless conversation. As such it lacks a clear goal to convince the other. It usually just means “talk.” In our culture merely talking is given a lot of credit.

While talking is not bad per se, it can substitute mere action for a true goal. In the New Testament is it used more often in the context of giving testimony and of trying to convince others the Gospel (e.g. Acts 17:2, 17 and 18:4).  But, as noted, in our times dialogue can actually stall conversion and given the impression that all sides have valid stances and that merely “understanding” the position of the other is praise-worthy. Understanding may have value, but mostly is of value to lay a foundation for conversion to the truth of the Gospel.

Dialogue is a tool, not a goal, it is a method, not a destination. And as a method, dialogue (in its original meaning) is a vigorous, dynamic and joyful setting forth of the Gospel, not a chatty and (seemingly) endless conversation.

5. Equating Love with Kindness – Kindness is an aspect of love. But so is rebuke; so is punishment; as is praise. Yet today many, even in the Church, think of love only as kindness, affirmation, approval, encouragement, and other positive attributes. But true love is, at times, willing to punish, to insist on change, and to rebuke error.

Yet the modern age, equating love with mere kindness says, “If you really love me you will affirm, even celebrate, what I do.” In this sort of climate, when Church teaching does not conform with modern notions of sexuality, for example, the Church is accused of “hate” simply because we do not “affirm” what people demand we affirm. Identity politics (where people hinge their whole identity and dignity on a narrow range of behaviors or attributes) intensifies the perception of a personal affront.

But instead of standing our ground and insisting that setting love and truth in opposition is a false dichotomy, most Catholics cave and many also come to believe that love can be reduced to mere kindness. Many of them take up the view of the world that the Church is unkind and therefore mean or even hateful. Never mind that Jesus said things that were, by this standard, unkind, and that he often spoke quite frankly about sin (beyond mere social justice and pharisaical attitudes to include things such as sexual sin, adultery, divorce, unbelief and so forth). No, forget all that, because God is love, and love is kindness and kindness is always pleasant and affirming. Therefore they conclude that Jesus couldn’t really have said many of the things attributed to him. This error reduces Jesus to a harmless hippie and misconstrues love by equating it with mere kindness and unconditional affirmation.

6. Misconstruing the nature of tolerance – Most people today equate tolerance with approval. Therefore, when many demand or ask for “tolerance” what they really demand is approval.
But tolerance is from the Latin tolerare: to put up with, countenance, or suffer. As such it refers to the conditional endurance of, or at least non-interference with beliefs, actions, or practices that one considers to be wrong. One might tolerate them to some degree to prevent, for example, severe enforcements or draconian penalties, unnecessary intrusion into privacy, etc. But if the objection component is missing, we are not speaking of “toleration” but of “indifference” or “affirmation.”

It does not properly reverence God’s moral vision. Instead of joyfully and zealously announcing the truth as revealed by God, many adopt a false tolerance that is indifferent to truth or even affirms error. And then, to top it off they congratulate themselves for the “moral superiority” of their tolerance. In fact, it is more likely sloth that is at work. Sloth in this case is an aversion to undertake the arduous task of speaking the truth to a doubting scoffing world.

Catholics also need to sober up a bit and realize that when many today demand tolerance from us, they have no intention of extending it to us. Many of the same interest groups that demand tolerance are working to erode religious liberty and are increasingly unwilling to tolerate religious views in the public square. Our consistent caving to demands for false tolerance have only help to usher in a great darkness and pressure to conform to or approve of serious sin.

7. Anthropocentrism – This term refers to the modern tendency to have man at the center and not God. It has been a long tendency in the world ever since the Renaissance. Sadly, though it has deeply infected the Church in recent decades.

This is especially evident in the Liturgy, not intrinsically, but as practically and widely celebrated. Our architecture, songs and gestures, incessant announcements, and congratulatory rituals are self-referential and inwardly focused. The liturgy, as commonly celebrated seems more about us than God.  It is never good, especially in the Church, to consign God to the margins. This marginalization of God is evident not only in the liturgy, but in parish life which is often top-heavy with activism rooted in the corporal works of mercy, but little attention to the spiritual works of mercy. Social organizations predominate, but it hard to find interest in Bible Study and other spiritual works devoted to God.

Announcing God through vigorous evangelization work is also rare and the parish seems more a clubhouse than a lighthouse. Human beings are important, Christian humanism is a virtue, but anthropocentrism is a common modern error rooted in excess. The worship of God and the spread of his kingdom is too little in evidence in many parishes. Parents too seem more focused on the temporal wellbeing of children, on their academic standing and so forth, but less concerned overall with the spiritual knowledge or wellbeing of them.  God must be central if man is to be truly elevated.

8. Role reversal – Jesus said that the Holy Spirit whom he would send to us would convict the world (see John 16:8). And thus, the proper relationship of a Catholic to the world is to have the world on trial. St. Paul says, Test all things. Hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thess 5:21-22). So, again, the world is to be on trial based on the light of the Gospel.

But too often Catholics have things reversed and put the Word of God and the teachings of the Church on trial, judging them by the perspective of the world. We should judge all things by the light of God. And yet it is common to hear Catholics scoff at teachings that challenge worldly thinking or offend against worldly priorities. Many Catholics have tucked their faith under their political views, worldviews, preferences and thoughts. If the faith conflicts with any of these worldly categories, guess which usually gives way.

Jesus says, If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels. (Mk 8:38). But many are ashamed of the Lord’s teachings that do not conform to worldly and popular notions.

All of this amounts to a tragic role reversal wherein the world and its notions overrule the gospel. It should be the world that is convicted by the Holy Spirit. Instead we put very God himself in the role of defendant. It should not be so. Do not be deceived: God will not be mocked. Whatever a man sows, he will reap in return. The one who sows to please his flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; but the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Gal 6:7-8)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Pro LBGTQ Priest Appointed Bishop

Fr. John Dolan, a pro LGBT priest, has been appointed by the Vatican to be an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of San Diego.

In the announcement of Dolan’s appointment, his pastoral work with the LBGT community was repeatedly mentioned.  Dolan has been the diocesan vicar for clergy and pastored two churches, including the welcoming St. John the Evangelist parish in the Hillcrest neighborhood where many of San Diego’s LGBT residents live. Bishop Robert McElroy last year acknowledged the parish as a place where LGBT people have said they “feel particularly welcome” and, according to McElroy, “that’s a very good thing.”

Dolan has described his experiences with LGBT communities at St. John the Evangelist as “an eye-opening experience. . .but also a joyful experience.” These experiences led him to suggest LGBT issues were the “elephant in the room” at San Diego’s 2016 diocesan synod. Highlighting problems in how the church approaches younger Catholics, Dolan commented:

” ‘There are two different forms of doing church. . .One is very dialogical, from a dialogical sense, and the other is from a monological sense. And we have dealt with that monological world: Things come from on high, they get shelved in some pastor’s corner, then there’s some thought that comes down, but ultimately it’s all ‘We’re going to tell you what to think.’ . . .  "‘Young adults have an acceptance of the LGBT experience. It is simply a part of their world, and they look at us, and say, “What is the problem?” ‘ “

Notably, Bishop McElroy also affirmed the need to address such issues; McElroy is himself a Francis appointee.  The pope’s influence on the U.S. episcopate is continuing to grow. Among the “Francis Bishops,” Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky offered scriptural reflections at New Ways Ministry’s national Symposium, and Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich has made repeated positive comments about LGBT people. There are presently eight vacant dioceses, and several dozen bishops approaching the age of mandatory retirement.

Sooooo. . . does anyone have any real doubts about the intentions of Pope Francis?  It seems that he is moving to change the way the Roman Catholic Church deals with gay Roman Catholics and their families but it is not only a matter of a change in practice.  Furthermore, the LBGT community is not  about to be contented with images and wants concrete change -- from the regular communion of gay Roman Catholics who are married according to secular rules to the outright approval of same-sex marriages within the Church.  Wait and see. . .

Thursday, July 20, 2017

I scream at screens. . .

Technology begs us to follow and, too often, we do.  We rush down the untrod path of what is possible without a thought to what the cost might be down the road.  I love screens -- the bigger the better!  At least at home when I am watching Netflix or TV.  Who wants to watch a big screen intended movie on a handheld device?!  Or try to follow sports on a small screen where a bug or spot on the screen ends up being bigger than the player?! But not at church.  Give your people a break from their technology.  Don't clutter up a 19th century gothic chancel with some slick screens above or on either side (perhaps both?).  But this is not about aesthetics.  This is about the cost you pay when the hymnal is cast aside in favor of a big screen.  Far from freeing us from anything, the screen holds us captive to our technology and steals from us a corporate memory and witness handed down on the pages of the hymnal.  The cost of screens is greater than you might imagine.

You lose touch with those who went before you.  A hymnal embodies the witness in song of the saints who went before you.  The hymns collected through the ages are generally the best of the best.  They have been vetted for content and proven by usage so that they represent the best of the past.  No one is suggesting that we not add to the body of hymns we have received from those who went before us but great hymns are not revealed by their popularity in the moment.  The hymnal adds to the body of our hymnody carefully and only after a hymn has been judged worthy both in the faith it sings and its ability to be sung. A new hymnal is produced every generation or so and this prevents the songs of the people from becoming captive to one generation.  Do you want to be judged by one snapshot moment of your life?  Should we judge the faith and worship by such a moment captured in time?  It is good thing to learn the songs of the saints before you put pen to paper to write your own.  Ditch the hymnal and it is much more likely (almost universal) that you will exchange the witness of the saints before for the newest and most popular in the moment.

You lose the ability to memorize the songs.  The screen has no memory.  Those who are captive to the screen have the memory of the screen.  We know plenty of new songs through the screen -- songs that have not yet made it into print and published into a book -- but we lose our familiarity with the songs of faith we know.  Remember those movies when people were lost on some desert island?  They tried to remember the sacred texts of old and kept repeating them as they thought they went but without books they were left with a mishmash of things remembered.  Our memories are corrupted and emptied unless we refresh our memories and nothing does that more powerfully than reading (singing) from a book. How many of us can keep the great hymns in our memory without regularly singing them or reading them from the pages of a hymnal?  PowerPoint screens are great for a visual image but hard on our ability to know and recall the hymns of old and the songs of the moment.

You lose the ability to sing and the desire to sing.  Contemporary Christian music is sung best by the band and its song leader.  Unlike the metrical hymns of old, CCM is filled with accidentals and suspended rhythms and begs us to listen more than it compels us to sing.  Add to this the fact that schools do not teach us to sing as they once did and we find ourselves as people in the pew without the ability and lacking the desire to add our voices to those bellowing at us through the giant speakers that accompany those giant screens.  Volume has become the substitute for knowing the lyrics and melody.  We hear the background more than we hear the voices.  We feel the beat more than we sing the words.  The use of screens in combination with CCM begs the congregation not to join in but to clap along or sway to the rhythm of the song.  Churches have become concert halls and the music of those churches has become entertainment.

You lose the ability to carry the songs of faith with you.  Without WiFi or music on our phones, the songs of our faith are absent from where we are throughout the week.  Perhaps that is why it is so gosh darned important that we have data on those smarphones and free WiFi wherever we sip our Starbucks or eat our scones.  Though hymnals tend to be found in neat little racks on the back of pews, books are portable and do not require much technology.  Plus we do not need bluetooth speakers to share them.  Hymnals are made to be shared.  At home, in the classroom, in the hospital room, and wherever else we do.  Perhaps the greatest loss we suffer due to screens is that the hymnal no longer informs or shapes the common devotional life of the family.  Whether Lutheran or Pentecostal, the home was once a place where the faith was sung together and one of the most profound means to passing on the faith to our children was singing from a hymnal at home.

Argue with me if you want but the sad truth is that Lutheran screens are dominated not with the great hymns of old but with the newest of worship songs.  The ability and desire to sing has waned as music in worship has become more for a spectator group than a participating congregation.  The faith that once shaped us through our hymnals and informed our devotional lives at home is now informed and defined by the popular Christian artists of the sound track or radio.  Like the tendency for contemporary worship to abandon the rich and deep body of Scripture that surrounds us in liturgy, readings, and sermon and replace it with a theme text, CCM in worship has become a theme song that feeds us with little samples while the 20 course meals of the hymns with that many stanzas fed us for a lifetime.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Prayer for Growth. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 5, Proper 10A, preached on Sunday, July 16, 2017, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich

          Today’s prayer is a memorable because it’s a vivid prayer.  In the Collect of the Word we pray that God would grant us to hear, read, mark, and learn His Word.  We vividly pray that we’d inwardly digest His Word, that we’d eat it, taking it into our bodies for nourishment.  Like our table prayers where we thank God for our food and ask that it nourish our bodies, in today’s prayer we ask God to grow and nourish us in His Word, giving us a faith that overcomes, a strong faith that holds on to Christ.
          The basic necessities of life are pretty simple: food, water, and shelter.  Amazingly at the root of all these necessities are seed and water.  We get our food from seeds.  We eat plants and we eat animals that eat plants.  Of course water is needed to grow seed and keep us hydrated.  Our shelter even comes from seed, homes built from the wood of trees.  Seed and water are needed for life on earth, and they’re also needed for our lives of faith in the kingdom of heaven, and today’s parable illustrates this. 
Jesus used parables, illustrative stories, to teach the truth concerning God’s kingdom.  In the Parable of the Sower Jesus tells the story of a man who went out to plant seed, but he didn’t plant seeds like we do.  We spend time precisely planting seed in perfectly tilled fields and gardens.  This man didn’t do that.  He simply went out and threw seed everywhere, letting it land where it may.
Some of the seed fell along the path was immediately eaten by the birds.  Other seed fell on the rocks.  It sprang up quickly, but it also died quickly.  Because it had no depth of soil it was scorched by the burning sun.  Other seed fell among thorns and the thorns choked it out.  Finally, some seed fell on good soil.  This grew and produced grain. 
After speaking this parable, Jesus explained to the disciples its meaning.  The seed is the Word of God, which is to be sown everywhere for all people to hear.  The seed that fell on the path are those who hear the Word of God and don’t understand it, and Satan snatches it away.  The seed on the rocks are those who hear the Word and joyfully receive it, but when troubles and persecution happen, they fall away from the faith.  The seed choked out by the thorns are those whose faith is choked out by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches.  Finally, the seed that fell on the good soil represents those who hear the Word of God, believe it, and bear fruit that shows faith. 
With this parable Jesus explains that God’s Word is the seed of faith.  Like all seed this seed needs water to grow, and this water is also God’s Word.  The Lord said, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but is shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it (Is 55:10-11).  God promises His Word will produce faith.  His Word is the seed and water of faith.  And after hearing this promise and parable, we pray that God would produce faith in us, faith that overcomes. 
          We pray for faith that overcomes Satan as he tries to snatch God’s Word away from us.  The devil doesn’t want us to hear God’s Word.  He’d prefer us to be like the Pharisees who heard Jesus but rejected Him.  Satan wants God’s Word to go in one ear and right out the other.  He wants us to question God’s Word.  This was the foundation of his temptation in the Garden; “Did God really say?”  The devil twists God’s Word and takes it from us.  He delights when it isn’t spoken truthfully and when people are prevented from hearing it.
Because of this evil, we pray that God would keep us in His Word.  We pray we’d continually hear the truth of His Word, spoken and preached faithfully.  We pray we’d be able to read His Word, over and over again.  Because Satan never lets up in his attacks, we ask God to continually plant the seed of His Word in us. 
We pray for faith that overcomes our flesh, which wants an easy life.  We want to enjoy life.  We don’t want to suffer.  Hearing God’s Word promising us life and salvation, we joyfully receive it, thinking life will be great.  And then the rocky troubles of life come: stress, cancer, loss of job, divorce, death.  We start to experience persecution because of the faith.  Life’s not easy and because of that our sinful flesh tells us to give up the faith.  With shallow faith we quickly turn from God and His Word seeking out something else to satisfy our flesh. 
And because of this weakness in us, because of our sin, we pray.  We pray God would grant us to mark His Word.  We want to study it deeply so that the roots of our faith would grow deep.  We pray for the strength of faith to trust in Christ no matter what troubles of life we’re going through, even persecution for the faith, persecution that will come and is already here. 
We pray for faith that overcomes the world with all its cares and deceitful riches.  This world is filled with a lot of cares.  We all have responsibilities: family, friends, work.  There’s a lot to do and there’s only so many hours in the day.  All these cares wear on us.  And to add to it, there’s the promises of riches that will make life easy.  So we work extra hard to earn these riches to get rid of our stress, but it only creates more.  These cares and deceitful promises of riches quickly overgrow our faith.  They’re all we think about and the Word and our faith is choked out.
So we pray that the Lord will protect us from this.  We desire to continue to learning God’s Word so our faith and trust wouldn’t be in the things of this world but in Christ.  We pray that our faith would be nourished as we look to the everlasting life in God’s kingdom, the life Christ has won for us with His death and resurrection. 
          These are pleasing prayers to God, and He answers them.  He gives you faith that overcomes Satan, faith in Jesus who defeated Satan.  Fulfilling His promise in the Garden, Christ crushed the devil’s head on the cross.  With His death and resurrection, Jesus undid the sin and death that Satan brought into this world.  Satan can’t win, Christ already won the victory.  And with faith in Him, you resist the devil when he tries to steal God’s Word away.  With faith, you continually hear the Good News of Jesus who defeated Satan for you. 
          God gives you the faith that overcomes our flesh as He gives you His Spirit.  Having received this Spirit of adoption in your Baptism, as a child of God, you put to death the deeds of your flesh.  No longer do you seek to fulfill your sinful desires, seeking only the easy life.  Instead, continually hearing Good News of everlasting life in Christ, you willing suffer all, even persecution, because you know nothing compares to the glory of everlasting life in God’s kingdom. 
God gives you the faith that overcomes the world, giving you the hope of everlasting life.  This hope isn’t wishful thinking, it’s the confident trust in Christ’s salvation.  This hope looks to Jesus and desires His true riches: forgiveness and life.  This faith resists the thorns of this world that try to choke faith and God’s Word out. 
God’s Word is the seed and water of faith.  It’s the seed from which our faith grows and it’s the water that nourishes it.  Without the continual hearing and reading of God’s Word, our faith will be weak.  Without study, without marking and learning God’s Word, our faith will be shallow and wither.  Without inwardly digesting God’s Word our faith will starve and die, and so will we.  Therefore we pray for growth.  We pray that God will continue to send His Word to us and we thank Him for His answering of this prayer.  God has given you faith in Christ and through His Word, He grows that faith.  In Jesus name...Amen.