Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The beating heart of the Reformation. . .

Sermon for Reformation Day, preached on Sunday, October 29, 2017.

    All it takes is for a 500th Anniversary to come along and you find out the Reformation is grossly misunderstood by people on all sides, from scholars to the folks in the pew. The Reformation was not about vestments or liturgy or egalitarianism or separation of church and state or democracy or giving voice to the people in the pews or personal conscience or individualism or a simpler church structure or simpler worship style or anything like that.  And if it was, we should be repenting of that history today rather than honoring it.
    The Reformation was about the quest for certainty, for security before the Lord.  It was about the medieval system Luther knew and how it kept the people of God from the certainty of God’s promise of salvation.  Nobody knew where they stood with God.  Dazed and confused by the demands laid on them and ignorant of His Word and the Gospel, people were left with only their works to comfort them and with the nagging doubt if those works were going to be enough to deliver them from their sins.
    Luther was a child of his age.  He was better than most because he cared deeply about what God thought.  He tried harder than most to win God’s favor by the good works he did.  He tried harder than most to avoid sin and went to private confession more than anyone.  But he found no peace, no comfort, and no confidence.  In the end, his revelation was not that the pope was bad or works were an uncertain foundation for your salvation.  Everybody knew that. Luther’s tower moment was that grace really was sufficient, that Christ’s death actually paid for all of our sins -- their guilt and their punishment, and that His resurrection provided the life that death cannot touch.
    Those who think Luther and the Reformation was a rejection of fancy churches or statues or crucifixes or reverence or such, are trivializing the Reformation and making Luther the fool and Lutherans stupid.  What 1517 was about was nothing less than the beating heart of the Gospel that gives live to the Church.  It was about how to know your sins were forgiven, to know that death was undone, and to know your hope and future was secure.  This was not a freedom from anything – not from clergy or ceremonies or good works that glorify God -- but the freedom to receive with joy the preaching of the Gospel, to honor the ritual that gives form to this faith, and to do the good works that flow from faith, under the power of the Spirit.
    Your salvation is not uncertain.  If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.  Baptism really does  wash clean and there is no dirt of sin that sticks to you that God has not forgiven.  You are clothed with Christ’s righteousness.
    Your works add nothing to what Christ has done but merely give evidence of the faith within you.  You past is drowned and dead and cannot condemn those are in Christ and your future is already prepared for you by Christ.  You can add nothing to this full and free gift of salvation.  Even confirmation does not fill in any gaps remaining or make up any lack.  Confirmation turns you to the certainty of God’s Word and promise.
    A Mighty Fortress is Your God.  Faith is not in what if’s but in the because of Christ and Him crucified.  The life of faith you live is not some tenuous and uncertain tiptoe around an angry God.  The life of faith you live is the Spirit bringing you to Christ and leading you to live the new life Christ has given you.  You belong to Him and no enemy can steal you away from God.  God has not declared you good enough but has revealed your secret sins and shame so that He might put Christ on you, cover you with His righteousness, and set you free to do the good the Law speaks about and your new heart can now desire.
    The point is this.  Christians don’t look back over their shoulders to see what dirt the devil might have on us.  God is with us.  Christians don’t wonder if their works are good enough or if they did them for the right reason.  We trust the work of Christ.  Christians don’t fear God might have a change of heart on judgement day.  His Word endures forever.  Christians don’t have to cram all their living into this one life.  We live forever.  Christians don’t have to live for themselves in fear not getting enough.  We live for neighbor because the love of Christ overflows us. 
    How foolish it is to think that Luther would stand for something that could divide Christendom over feelings or personal preferences or taste.  How foolish it is to think that we free to live how we want our own lives instead of living the holy life Christ has given us.  How foolish it is to think that Luther was fighting for individual liberty or separation of church and state when it was our eternal life and salvation at stake.
    The Reformation was and is about Christ.  About faith that apprehends His sufficient grace through the Word preached and the Sacraments administered.  About prayers prayed not in doubt but in confidence.  About good works that earn us nothing but display Christ and our life in Christ to the world.  About the eternal Gospel that no one can silence and that God will raise up before the world. 
    It is not about minimums but about the maximum of grace, known by faith, in Christ alone.  That we may know Christ and live under Him.  That is the Reformation Gospel.  Anything less is unworthy of God and shames Luther.  That is why this Reformation has endured and will.  It is about Christ alone!  Amen.

Some Luther Videos for Your Viewing Pleasure

Luther in a nutshell. . .

Monday, October 30, 2017

Not everyone in Rome is a fan. . .

Luther’s reform was ‘against the Holy Spirit’  by Gerhard L. MΓΌller

http://sspx.ca/sites/sspx/files/styles/news_big/public/news/luther.jpg?itok=HQ__wBx3There is great confusion today when we talk about Luther, and it needs to be said clearly that from the point of view of dogmatic theology, from the point of view of the doctrine of the Church, it wasn’t a reform at all but rather a revolution, that is, a total change of the foundations of the Catholic Faith.

It is not realistic to argue that [Luther’s] intention was only to fight against abuses of indulgences or the sins of the Renaissance Church. Abuses and evil actions have always existed in the Church, not only during the Renaissance, and they still exist today. We are the holy Church because of the God’s grace and the Sacraments, but all the men of the Church are sinners, they all need forgiveness, contrition, and repentance.

This distinction is very important. And in the book written by Luther in 1520, “De captivitate Babylonica ecclesiae,” it is absolutely clear that Luther has left behind all of the principles of the Catholic Faith, Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, the magisterium of the Pope and the Councils, and of the episcopate. In this sense, he upended the concept of the homogeneous development of Christian doctrine as explained in the Middle Ages, even denying that a sacrament is an efficacious sign of the grace contained therein. He replaced this objective efficacy of the sacraments with a subjective faith. Here, Luther abolished five sacraments, and he also denied the Eucharist: the sacrificial character of the sacrament of the Eucharist, and the real conversion of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, he called the sacrament of episcopal ordination, the sacrament of Orders, an invention of the Pope — whom he called the Antichrist — and not part of the Church of Jesus Christ. Instead, we say that the sacramental hierarchy, in communion with the successor of Peter, is an essential element of the Catholic Church, and not only a principle of a human organization.

That is why we cannot accept Luther’s reform being called a reform of the Church in a Catholic sense. Catholic reform is a renewal of faith lived in grace, in the renewal of customs, of ethics, a spiritual and moral renewal of Christians; not a new foundation, not a new Church.

It is therefore unacceptable to assert that Luther’s reform “was an event of the Holy Spirit.” On the contrary, it was against the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit helps the Church to maintain her continuity through the Church’s magisterium, above all in the service of the Petrine ministry: on Peter has Jesus founded His Church (Mt 16:18), which is “the Church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself.

We hear so many voices speaking too enthusiastically about Luther, [Pope Francis?] not knowing exactly his theology, his polemics and the disastrous effect of this movement which destroyed the unity of millions of Christians with the Catholic Church. We cannot evaluate positively his good will, the lucid explanation of the shared mysteries of faith but not his statements against the Catholic Faith, especially with regard to the sacraments and hierarchical-apostolic structure of the Church.

Nor is it correct to assert that Luther initially had good intentions, meaning by this that it was the rigid attitude of the Church that pushed him down the wrong road. This is not true: Luther was intent on fighting against the selling of indulgences, but the goal was not indulgences as such, but as an element of the Sacrament of Penance.

Nor is it true that the Church refused to dialogue: Luther first had a dispute with John Eck; then the Pope sent Cardinal Gaetano as a liaison to talk to him. We can discuss the methods, but when it comes to the substance of the doctrine, it must be stated that the authority of the Church did not make mistakes. Otherwise, one must argue that, for a thousand years, the Church has taught errors regarding the faith, when we know — and this is an essential element of doctrine — that the Church can not err in the transmission of salvation in the sacraments.

One should not confuse personal mistakes and the sins of people in the Church with errors in doctrine and the sacraments. Those who do this believe that the Church is only an organization comprised of men and deny the principle that Jesus himself founded His Church and protects her in the transmission of the faith and grace in the sacraments through the Holy Spirit. His Church is not a merely human organization: it is the body of Christ, where the infallibility of the Council and the Pope exists in precisely described ways. All of the councils speak of the infallibility of the Magisterium, in setting forth the Catholic faith. Amid today’s confusion, in many people this reality has been overturned: they believe the Pope is infallible when he speaks privately, but then when the Popes throughout history have set forth the Catholic faith, they say it is fallible.

Of course, 500 years have passed. It’s no longer the time for polemics but for seeking reconciliation: but not at the expense of truth. One should not create confusion. While on the one hand, we must be able to grasp the effectiveness of the Holy Spirit in these other non-Catholic Christians who have good will, and who have not personally committed this sin of separation from the Church, on the other we cannot change history, and what happened 500 years ago. It’s one thing to want to have good relations with non-Catholic Christians today, in order to bring us closer to a full communion with the Catholic hierarchy and with the acceptance of the Apostolic Tradition according to Catholic doctrine. It’s quite another thing to misunderstand or falsify what happened 500 years ago and the disastrous effect it had. An effect contrary to the will of God: “… that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou has sent me” (Jn 17:21).

Will the real Rome please stand up?

Around the beginning of September, the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops issued a new set of guidelines regarding divorced and invalidly remarried couples. In it the claim is made that there may be moral “excuses” for living in adulterous circumstances and having adulterous sexual relations in such circumstances.  Of course, the source cited is Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.

“There are extreme cases in which the existence of excuses for not interrupting conjugal interactions, for example, the existence of children and of certain moral circumstances, can reduce or even eliminate the moral responsibility and imputability of illicit acts,” say the bishops.  Furthermore, “this involves extenuating circumstances and conditions. These concepts are technically precise in the field of moral theology and must be well understood to offer efficacious help in discernment.”

It all rests upon a footnote.  The now infamous footnote 329 of Amoris Laetitia, which quotes (out of context) the Second Vatican Council that “if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, ‘it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers.’”  But the bishops also imply that Francis’ doctrine in Amoris Laetitia is nothing more or less than that which John Paul II put forth in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, writing, “Beginning with the exhortation Familiaris Consortio, the Church, faithful to the Gospel, has made a more attentive effort to approach couples that find themselves in these situations [of divorce and invalid remarriage], including by way of the sacraments.”  What is most interesting is the suggestion that: “Amoris Laetitia bases itself on the same principles, reinforcing the necessity of a truly particular pastoral treatment, while avoiding a pronouncement regarding norms.” 

The bishops believe that allowing such “persons who in an irregular situation” (adulterous unions) to serve as “role of godparents in baptisms, to act as lectors or catechists, to help in some work of family apostolate, contributing with their life experience” is a good thing.  Finally they suggest that the Church, what they call the "community of disciples-missionaries," "show themselves to be such by the welcoming, accompaniment, discernment, and integration of every human person, without any kind of exclusion.”

Hmmmm.  Unless I am wrong, this is one of the first practical applications of Amoris Laetitia in which the most progressive or liberal interpretation of the document is put into operation but it is not the last.  Eventually, the practice will change.  And then, surprise, surprise, the doctrine will change.

In other words, as we Lutherans approach the big Reformation Anniversary, we would be wise to remember that this is not Grandpa Luther's Roman Catholic Church.  It may not be where we think it should be but it has definitely moved away from what Luther encountered.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Luther's Reform an event of the Spirit?!?

Apparently a bishop whom Pope Francis is known to like and whom he personally raised to rank within the Italian episcopal conference, Bp. Nunzio Galantino, is warming up to Luther.  He spoke at the Pontifical Lateran University (“The Pope’s University”) during their LutherFest 2017 sponsored by the theology faculty (who knew that a Roman Catholic university would have that?).  Some of his remarks are surprising to say the least:
“I’ve deployed against all the papists, against the Pope and indulgences but only by preaching the word of God.  And when I was sleeping the word of God was working such things that the Pope is now fallen.”  [Bp.] Nunzio Galantino, Secretary General of the Italian Episcopate, read at full voice this passage from Luther which for 5 centuries was considered offensive to Catholics.  “The reform started by Martin Luther 500 years ago was an event of the Holy Spirit“, the bishop affirmed while speaking at the Pontifical Lateran University to a conference promoted by the Pope’s school to celebrate the anniversary.

“The Reform”, Galantino underscored, “responds to the truth expressed in the formula ecclesia semper reformanda.”  “It was the same Luther,” the Secretary of the CI reminded, “who didn’t consider himself the author of the Reform, writing: “while I was sleeping, God was reforming the Church.”  “Even today,” the prelate commented, “the Church needs a reform.  And today, too, it can be fulfilled by God alone.”
 I am sure that some in Rome might disagree, don't you think?

Danger is hidden in half truth. . .

The danger of heresy is that it is never totally wrong; it is  just that it is never totally right, either. Heresy is dangerous because it appears to be true, indeed, it is a half truth, a twisted truth, or a semi-truth. There is less danger in absolute falsehood for it is easily identified for being false.  So, for example, if someone contradicts the truth in an obvious way, it is obvious.  But, if someone does not contradict the truth as much as to deny part of it, then it is dangerous beyond measure.  Heresy is attractive because it appears reasonable, sensible, and Biblical.  It makes perfect sense, after all.  In this way, the truth is treated as something systematic, connected, and reasoned.  But, of course, the faith is not reasonable or sensible.  It is Biblical.  It does not make perfect sense -- not in whole or in parts.  Some of the doctrine is downright offensive to the reasonable mind and to the ordinary sense of things.  Heresy is how you would define God and the things of God if you were making the whole thing up.  Made up truth is, if anything, reasonable, logical, and sensible.  But the truth of God is anything but reasonable, logical, and sensible.  It offends.  It is offensive.  When we would smooth over the rough edges and square up the angles and put a finish coat on it all, we are committing heresy.  God is, if anything, raw, unmanageable, and not domesticated. 

Heresy is more than anything else an attempt to domesticate God, to force God to play by rules (ours most of all), and to require God to appeal to reason most of all.  It is because we confuse faith with understanding and presume that God wants, above all things, to be comprehended.  But that is the point.  His ways are high above ours.  He condescends to us to save us and not to explain Himself to us.  He calls us to follow Him and not to converse with Him on the deep things of Him and His Kingdom.  Heresy forgets this or rejects this.  Heresy requires more than faithfulness, it requires sensibility.  In this, heresy does not only value sensibility but seeks emotional approval (especially in our own day and time).  This is why it is so dangerous.  Minds and hearts are constantly seeking to understand and to appreciate it all but God does not seek to be understood or even appreciated.  He calls us to trust in Him, to cast aside all and take up our cross and follow Him.

The intellectuals of any age who presume to treat God as a riddle or to unpack the mystery as if it were a mystery to be solved (or even one that could be solved) are no helpers of God.  In this respect, we offend the very nature of God when we presume to be His interpreters, His explainers, or His apologists.  God needs no defenders.  God requires only voices who will speak His Word and thus become His voice addressing the world with the Word that endures forever, the Word that saves, and the Word that creates faith.  Heresy presumes God needs an intermediary to translate Him to us and heretics presume to be those intermediaries and to fit God into the ears, minds, and hearts of the hearers.  Such a God is defanged and declawed by the very people who would claim to be His greatest allies.  Heresy makes God into a toothless lion who is so weak and fragile that He will do anything to be loved.  Where is this God in Scripture?  He is not there.  So heresy inflates the mortal and demeans the divine.

I sometimes shudder at the casual way we use the word leader or leadership.  It is bantered about as if it were ordinary and routine when it comes to God and His kingdom.  But does God ever seek leaders or need our leadership?  Does God recognize leaders or acknowledge leadership or does He simply equip those whom He has already called?  Could this presumption be the greatest heresy of all:  God needs leaders and God requires their leadership because He is not fully capable of revealing Himself or making Himself known or creating faith in the hearts of people.  But of course this is false.  And yet we live with this half-truth all around us.  The greatest leaders of Christianity ought to be the greatest followers of Christ, humble and deferential just as blessed Mary, greatest of all women, delights to sing not of herself but of Him who has raised her up and declared her blessed.  The wise cloak themselves in everything but God's Word and so they are exposed more as heretics than as sages.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Corporate morality. . .

For some time, corporations have taken the lead in deciding what is moral and what is not.  When some CEOs decided to take a moral stand and resign from Trump's business advisory group, it was heralded by many as a conscience for the corporate world.  In reality, it cost those CEOs little to resign.  It has not cost the corporations much to shy away from states who resisted the GLBTQ agenda or to condemn those who want to close the borders down a bit.  It has cost them little to take their moral stands and it has allowed them to ride the roller coaster of political correctness all the way to the bank.

I am leery (well, really I am Larry) of corporations deciding what is moral and what is not.  The marketplace is a great thing but it is a remarkably unreliable when it comes to deciding what is right and what is wrong.  Corporate America is a great follower but not a great leader when it comes to acting with a conscience.  This should come as little surprise.  The business of business is business, or, more accurately, making money.  A moral stance which might require them to choose between making and losing money is one you seldom see.  Oh, sure, some corporations may take stands that reduce their profits but they cannot afford to exchange profits for morality.  It is not their business.  We should not expect them to be moral leaders.  No institutions are effective or reliable moral leaders.  Consciences were placed by God into people and not into business structures.

It is actually quite fearful to think that the moral conscience of America has taken up residence in businesses -- not in churches or even schools but in businesses?!?  Businesses are followers and not moral leaders.  They adapt to the changing tastes and desires of Americans but they are seldom more than followers when it comes to judging those tastes and desires.  It is foolish to think otherwise.  Morality lives in people and not in inanimate structures or processes.

So count me as suspicious of a cause when business gets around to deciding to take a stand on something.  It is not that I think little of those who are in it for profit.  It is that too often that that which is right is a roadblock to that which makes money.  Individuals have a hard enough time trying to listen to truth over the roar of the crowd.  So while it may seem courageous for CEOs and their Boards of Directors to take a stand, it is really rather easy.  We need to listen less to those who have decided that their idea of morality will not cost them anything and we need to struggle more with the choices before us and listen more to the voice of God's Word.  When this happens we will find that what is moral is seldom popular and the cause of truth is costly both to the pocketbook and to pride.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Without discipline, how can we disciple?

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has been not taken disciplinary action against dissident theologians since the election of Pope Francis, the National Catholic Reporter remarks.  The Reporter contacted several theologians whose work had come under scrutiny by the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation in the past. None had heard from the CDF since Pope Francis was elected in March 2013.  At least one priest who was disciplined by the CDF in the past, the Irish Father Tony Flannery, revealed that he had expected further disciplinary action after he defied a Vatican order by celebrating Mass despite his suspension from ministry. No steps have been taken, however, he said; he has not heard from Rome.
So it was reported in the National Catholic Reporter.  Francis has either deliberately chosen to restrain ecclesiastical supervision or else it may be that he sides with those whose doctrinal orthodoxy was subject to question previously.  In any case, it is notable that Rome has been silent since Francis became Pope and disciplinary action has not been taken against anyone -- except perhaps those whom he has dismissed from their posts for having the nerve to question him and his overtures (think here of people like Cardinal Burke).

While some might be relieved that the Roman Church is no longer going after dissidents, the truth is that without boundaries the truth is not secure.  Doctrine cannot only be positive but it must also be negative -- condemning those things that cannot be tolerated as true and faithful.  Lutherans take note.  For we cannot exist without boundaries either.  When those who contradict Scripture and the sacred tradition are allowed to stand without sanction or condemnation, the truth itself is under assault and the faithful are left upon uncertain ground.

The Lutheran Confessions not only confess but also condemn.  If Lutherans cannot also confess and condemn, they risk a profound disconnect with their own tradition.  I cannot speak for Rome but as a Lutheran we must meet challenges to our creedal and confessional orthodoxy or we will betray the living legacy of those who were willing to risk their lives both for what they taught and what they condemned.  Since Roman Catholics constitute such a large portion of the whole Christian witness before the world, even Lutherans suffer when Rome no longer has the stomache to confront and condemn falsehood.  To be sure there will always be great difference between Wittenberg and Rome over many things, there are also many commonalities.  We Lutherans cannot shrug off the failure of any Christian tradition to confront error and condemn it.  These assaults are not internal matters but attacks upon the core of Christian doctrine and faith.

It makes you wonder.  One blogger has suggested that the current pope is neither learned nor intelligent.  Church leaders do not have to be the most scholarly or astute but they do need to be faithful.  Francis needs to be at least that.  If he is not, then all of Christianity loses as error is confused with truth and falsehood tolerated and therefore affirmed.  Orthodox Christianity is not so wide or deep that we can afford to write off any tradition.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Caesar & God, Coins & You

Sermon for Pentecost 20, Proper 24A preached on Sunday, October 22, 2017, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

          We like to live our lives by mottos.  “I’m my own man.”  “My body belongs to me & I can do with it whatever I want.”  These mottos are popular today & they proclaim the ultimate individualism.  They imply a self-autonomy that requires nothing from others & zero responsibility to anyone else...& they’re false.  No matter how many times we repeat them, they’ll never be true.  You’re not self-sufficient; you do have responsibilities to others; you’re not your own man; & your body doesn’t belong to you.  You belong to God, just as taxes belong to the government.   
            Jesus’ speaks these truths in response to the Pharisees’ trap question.   The Pharisees wanted to catch Jesus in His words, so they came up with a question that no matter how Jesus answered it, it would enrage somebody; & we all know no topic is more enraging than taxes. 
The Pharisees sent their disciples to Jesus, along with some Herodians.  The Herodians were supporters of King Herod & His family who ruled the region of Israel for Rome & because of this they were basically considered traitors.  But even though they were disliked, the Pharisees saw a use for them in trapping Jesus.  So, these two groups came together & asked Jesus: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matt 22:17).  No matter how Jesus answered this, He’d anger one group & be in the wrong.  If He said, “No, it’s not lawful to pay taxes to Caesar because he claims to be a god,” then the Herodians would be angered & Jesus could be charged with inciting an uprising.  But if He said, “Yes, it is lawful to pay taxes,” then the Israelites would be upset & the Pharisees could say Jesus endorsed idolatry & the Romans.  Jesus enemies must have thought they had Jesus in between a rock & hard place.
But Jesus knew what they were up to.  He could see into their hearts & He knew their hypocrisy.  But instead of copping out & answering with an “I don’t know,” like the Pharisees had done, He answered: “Show me the coin for the tax.”... “Whose likeness & inscription is [on it]?” (Matt 22:19-20).
The coin bore Caesar’s face, so Jesus answered: “Therefore render to Caesar the things of Caesar, & to God the things that are God’s” (Matt 22:21).  The image on the coin pointed to its owner. 
Money is issued by the government, whether it’s the empire of Rome or the United States of America & government is instituted by God.  Since government mints money, it has a right to govern financial concerns.  As citizens we have the responsibility to pay taxes because through these funds the government does the work it’s supposed to do.  Our money bears the image of our government: past presidents & monuments, & therefor we render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.  The image points to the owner. This is true for our money, & it’s true for you, because you bear not the image of yourself, but the image of Christ. 
In the beginning God created us in His image (Gn 1:26-27).  Our first parents, Adam & Eve, they bore God’s image.  But this was lost when they sinned, when they ate of the fruit trying to be like God.  They already bore His image, but they wanted to be gods themselves, & so do we.  
We continue in this sin.  We’d rather be our own man.  We don’t want to bear the image of God, we want to be god.  Just like Caesar, we declare ourselves divine.  We’re our own little gods; doing what we want when we want; deciding good and evil for ourselves, even if it goes against God’s Word.  But this sinful usurpation of God’s place doesn’t give us the freedom we think it does.  Instead it enslaves us to sin & death.  We lost God’s image & now we bear the image of sin & death. 
But God wouldn’t let this be for you.  He sent His Son, God in the flesh, to pay the tax your sin owes.  Jesus died on the cross, paying the price for your sin, redeeming you, buying you back from sin & death, and because of this, you belong to God. 
            What does Luther say in explanation to the 2nd Article of the Apostles’ Creed: [Christ] has redeemed me, a lost & condemned person, purchased & won me from all sins, from death, & from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood & with His innocent suffering & death, that I may be His own & live under Him in His kingdom & serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, & blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives & reigns to all eternity.  This is most certainly true.
            You’ve been redeemed by Christ’s blood.  Baptized into His death & resurrection, you wear the robe of His righteousness & bear His image, the mark of the cross on your forehead & on your heart, marking you as one redeemed by Him.  When God looks at you, He sees His Son, & because He bought you with His sacrificial death, you render to God the things that are God’s; you render yourself to Him. 
            If money belongs to Caesar because it bears his image, you belong to God because you bear Christ’s.  So with faith in your Savior, you render your life to God who gave you life & who redeemed you from sin. 
            This means you live the life God calls you to.  This is a life of faith: a life of repentance & confession; a life of listening to His Word & receiving His forgiveness; a life of worship & praise.  Instead of loving yourself, setting yourself up as your own god, you love God, & others.
            In our catechetical moments these past few weeks, we’ve been reviewing the Table of Duties, reciting Scripture that encourages us in our vocation as citizens, as husbands & wives, parents & children.  We don’t live alone, isolated from others.  God has given us families, neighbors, & fellow citizens.  He’s given us His Church, brothers & sisters in Christ, & we have responsibilities to all of them.  With faith, bearing the image of our Lord, we’re little Christ’s to them, loving them & serving them: by taking care of spouse & children; by lending a helpful hand to our neighbors in need; by paying taxes to support the work of government for the welfare of our fellow citizens; & by encouraging one another in the faith through prayers & our confession as we worship together. 
            Redeemed by Christ’s blood, you’re not your own man.  Your body doesn’t belong to you.  You belong to Christ; He’s your Lord.  Baptized, you’re freed from selfish desires & isolation, you’re given the image of Christ.  You live in the community of believers & you have responsibilities to them, & to God.  With faith you live the life of love you’re called to...rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s & to God the things that are God’s.  In Jesus name...Amen. 

Misgendered. . .

On the TV program Jazz there is the story of a family that made a choice to raise their son as a girl, providing hormone therapy so that the child would not enter puberty as a male, and the series is now working through the final "bottom" surgery to finish creating what nature did not.  In one scene the main character accompanies a doctor's visit of another boy choosing to identified as a girl (but one who had gone through male puberty before beginning the transition).  In the doctor's office the physician mistakenly called the boy who identifies as a girl he.  The Jazz character kept after the other youth saying over and over again "Did she just misgender you?"

Of course this is so-called reality TV and what would reality TV be without drama, right?  But that is the point.  This is not just reality TV.  There are schools where children are being punished or corrected or sent to the proverbial principal's office over the use of the wrong pronoun or for using the given name of a boy or girl who is now choosing to be identified differently.  Misgendering is not merely something invented for TV.  It is real.  Those who dare to call someone a boy or girl because that is the shape of the body or because that is the legal name of the individual are in big trouble, literally.

Sadly, we live in an age in which feelings are so pivotal to our sense of what is real and what is not, we have creatively invented ways to offend or be offended.  How are we to find out way out of a culture so wedded to invented truth?  How will we solve the riddle of "gender" if the body is left out of the equation?  The point is that we have not only normalized a disorder and created a medical treatment for a psychological issue, we have created a conundrum for polite society.  With our already thin skins and penchant for offense, we have now invented another way to offend and another way to take offense for something that is not a diss or an offense at all but a attempt to find our way through what is a confusing mess.

I will admit that I have misgendered babies whose clothing and appearance did not immediately scream out boy or girl.  I have repeatedly misgendered people whose names have no real identifying gender (from traditional names like Taylor to the fanciful mess of letters people inflict upon modern day children).  But if you wrongly call someone who identifies as one gender but has the body of another, is that really an offense?  Let me step out on a limb here.  No.  It is not.  There is no offense.  If we wonder why we live in such a divided and prejudiced world, it might behoove us to consider stop inventing reasons to take offense when none was intended.

I live in the South, notorious for being less than charitable toward Roman Catholics.  Only about 8 or 9 pastors in a city of 150K wear a clerical collar.  Talk about strange looks and angry reactions!  I have even had people ask if I was in an accident since I seem to be wearing a neck brace.  I have been cursed at, spit at, and been fair game for everyone who has no use for clergy except to ask for money.  It goes with the territory.  I can waste my time being offended or I can get on with it.  That is true about a lot of things in life we have made into offenses. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Cry rooms, Nurseries, and Children's Church. . .

Don't get me wrong.  Every church building needs to have a place where a mom can go occasionally when a baby needs nursing or changing or even a quick break when upset.  But the last thing a congregation needs to do is provide a place dedicated to moms and kids or to provide an alternative to "worship" in a children's church meant to entertain more than anything else. We not only should not provide places for children or parents to go in place of worship, we should openly welcome children into the pews and put on our grown up pants to deal with a few squirms or cries or fussy moments.

Large, comfortable cry rooms where children can go to continue to behave badly, nurseries designed to remove children from church and relieve their parents of their responsibilities to raise their children in the faith or one of the so-called children's "churches" are not appropriate substitutes for sitting with mom and dad in the pews.  They are not only dangerous for the children and their parents, they are dangerous to the congregation.  First of all, the problem of those children creating a disturbance hasn’t actually been solved by a cry room or a nursery, it has merely been moved to another place (out of sight and out of mind for the rest of the people in worship).  While this is often necessary for a brief period, it is never a good thing Sunday after Sunday.  Children need to learn that not only do they have a place on Sunday morning, they have a responsibility as part of the congregation as well as to the congregation gathered in worship.

Children are already segregated away from the general populace.  Now, more than at any other time in history, children are seen as intruders into the adult world.  We have little patience with the children and we have even less with their parents.  This is not a good thing.  It is surely a requirement of entertainment worship in which the people are spectators or an audience while others perform but it is not a requirement of liturgy.  In fact, by removing our children regularly from the worship space, we are teaching them that they do not belong there, they do not need to learn the behavior appropriate to the arena of worship, and they do not need to learn the liturgy itself (learned best by participating).  The Church does nothing good for moms, dads, and kids by encouraging their infants and toddlers to be absent from the congregation in the most important time we spend together.

Congregations dominated by older people or by adults without children are lonely places and it is not in keeping with the faith or the liturgy to segregate by age or marital status or preference.  Just the opposite, it is the place where all of these come together and we are served by the Lord with His gifts for all.  Sunday morning is the most integrated place of the Church -- all ages, races, singles, families, etc., as one people before the Lord, receiving His gifts, and responding with praise and thanksgiving.

I can understand why some kinds of churches prefer to eliminate children from worship but I cannot for the life of me understand why this would be appealing to Lutherans.  While there may be a few who cannot keep their eyes off a squirming child or stop themselves from condemning the faults and failings of their parents, the nature of liturgical worship is to integrate those children into the common life flowing from font to pulpit and altar.  To adults who complain, grow up and train yourself to focus on the Word of the Lord and the liturgy.  To families who feel conspicuous with their occasionally fussy or squirming or noisy children, calm down and be patient.  They are just kids being kids.  They will learn.  And to congregations planing for worship and planing for buildings, don't segregate the kids from the rest of us because it sends a bad message to the kids and it gives us a distorted message about what worship is.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A first wrong step. . .

“In the case of every errant course there is always a first wrong step. If we can trace that wrong step, we may be able to avoid it and its results. Where, then, is the point of divergence from the “King’s highway of truth”? What is the first step astray? Is it doubting this doctrine, or questioning that sentiment, or being sceptical as to the other article of orthodox belief? We think not. These doubts and this scepticism are the outcome of something going before.

“If a mariner, having to traverse an unknown sea, does not put implicit confidence in his charts, and therefore does not consult them for guidance in steering the ship, he is, as anyone can see, every moment exposed to dangers of various kinds. Now, the Word of God—the Book written by holy men as they were moved by the Spirit of God—is the Christian’s chart; and though, in a ship’s company, some of the men may have little critical knowledge of navigation, the captain is supposed to be well instructed therein, and to be able, by consulting the charts, to steer the ship aright; so in reference to ministers of Christ’s gospel, and pastors of Christ’s church, which he hath purchased with his blood. The first step astray is a want of adequate faith in the divine inspiration of the sacred Scriptures. All the while a man bows to the authority of God’s Word, he will not entertain any sentiment contrary to its teaching. “To the law and to the testimony,” is his appeal concerning every doctrine. He esteems that holy Book, concerning all things, to be right, and therefore he hates every false way. But let a man question, or entertain low views of the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and he is without chart to guide him, and without anchor to hold him.” — Robert Shindler, 1887, writing about the life and influence of Charles Spurgeon.
I know not much of Robert Shindler but of this quote.  It is a great quote.  It draws attention to the Word of the Lord that endures forever and its particular place at the core and center of the life of the Church and its foundation -- if the Church is to have a foundation.  Certainly this is at the source of the Great Reformation.  It is at the source of any reform movement -- even if this one did create an unintended schism.  It remains the single most profound difference between Rome and the churches of that Reformation -- the central place and role of the Word of God.  As we come near the day when Lutherans will recall that Reformation again, we cannot afford to minimize or draw attention away from the fact that this Reformation was at its heart a renewal movement born of the Word of God. 

The timing of this Reformation was not coincidentally the time when the Word of God was at the forefront of scholarship and teaching.  Think here of Erasmus and his critical editions of the Greek text and of Luther's early and, some might say, most profound act of translating the Scriptures into German.  Yet this has also been the undoing of the very heirs of Luther who would claim his name but shy away from the Word of the Lord when it speaks what they wish not to hear.  The disarray among Lutherans is due more than anything else to a crisis over the Word of the Lord. 

What was a very catholic understanding of the Word has become a Protestant and private understanding of that Word.  What was by its nature a submissive posture to that Word has been replaced by the deliberate dominance of so-called science, reason, and, above all, presumption.  What was the great hope of this Reformation has become its great disgrace as Lutherans have led the way to analyze, revise, and dismiss that Word (thereby surrendering their claim to be Lutheran).  What was once the power of the Word has been replaced by a culture that has caved into modern values so at odds with the Scriptures, with the desires of culture seeking entertainment more than salvation, and with the focus of culture upon the moment instead of eternity.  What was once an understanding of that Word as a means of grace (extending even to preaching and to teaching) has become an understanding of a Word that simply reported the past and that with error and prejudice.

So as we come to celebrate a great Reformation anniversary, we cannot forget that just as our past was, so our future (if we have one) will be built upon, shaped by, and accomplished by the power of that Word.  The Word of the Lord endures forever. The Word does not return to the Lord empty handed but accomplishes His purpose in sending it.  The Word was made flesh and we have beheld its glory.  Faith comes by hearing the Word.  The Church is sent forth into the world with the Word meant for all nations and all peoples.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Not just goofy. . .

Tattled from another forum:

I wish you could call this simple goofiness but it is not.  It is dangerous.  To suggest that Jesus was guided by cultural bias and not by knowledge and consent to the Father's saving will and purpose is  heresy.  To suggest that this pericope was simply a lesson in learning to overcome biases is to miss the whole point of it all.  Perhaps it would have helped if the texter has simply looked back to one of the fathers of the church, if the author of the text was unsure as to its meaning.

St. John Chrysostom, a 4th century Doctor of the Church, said of the passage:
“This was the cause why Christ was so backward, that He knew what she would say, and would not have her so great excellence hid; whence it follows, “Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith, be it unto thee according to thy will.”
Jesus did not have any prejudices to overcome, not against the Canaanite woman nor against anyone else.  Jesus did not need to learn anything of his messianic mission from the Canaanite woman or from anyone. According to his divine nature, Jesus was omniscient; according to his human nature, his knowledge was not unlimited, and but Jesus was fully aware of His messianic mission.  Think of his time in the temple at age 12.  He knew hat the salvation he offered was for everyone in the whole world -- think of how Christ himself teaches in the Gospels that he came for the salvation of the whole world (e.g. John 3.16ff, among other passages).