Saturday, March 31, 2018

Who could call it good?

Sermon for Good Friday evening, preached on March 30, 2018, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.
            The seasons & days of the church year are aptly named.  They describe the events remembered that day or summarize and overall theme of the season.  Advent is the season in which we look forward to Christ’s advent, His coming bon on Christmas Day & on the Last Day.  Epiphany, which means the revelation of truth, is the season when the truth of Jesus’ identity is revealed.  On Palm Sunday we remember Jesus entering Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna” & the waving of palm branches.  Maundy Thursday gets its name from the Latin word for mandate, in reference to Jesus’ words, “A new commandment [or mandate] I give to you, that you love another: just as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34).  These names all fit, but the name we give today is a bit ironic.  We call today good, Good Friday, but I’m certain none of Jesus’ disciples thought today was good when it happened.            There are many ways to define the word good.  There are many things that we call good, but ultimately what we call good boils down to personal tastes & preferences.  However, there are a few things that are almost universally understood as being not good: like suffering & death.  When you get right down to it, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who’d say suffering & death are completely good.
            Jesus’ suffering & death mark Good Friday.  Every year, on this day, we gather together & we hear from Scripture all of the suffering & non-good, that Jesus endured as He made His way to the cross.  Immediately we hear about Judas’ betrayal of Christ.  For just 30 pieces of silver, one of Jesus’ disciples handed Him over to His enemies.  Who could call this good?!?  Then we hear about another disciple who betrayed Jesus.  Peter 3 times denied knowing our Lord.  Who could call this good?!?  We hear of the sham trial held for the sole purpose of getting a death sentence.  Who could call this good?!?  Barabbas, a robber & murder, was released while Jesus, innocent of all wrong, was put in chains.  Who could call this good?!?  Christ was beaten & flogged by Roman soldiers, who took pleasure in it.  Mockingly they gave Him His own crown of thorns that pierced His brow.  They clothed Him in purple & worshipped Him in jest before they stripped Him naked & beat Him some more.  Who could call this good?!?  The crowd shouted for His crucifixion & Christ was forced to carry the instrument of His death.  Who could call this good?!?  Soldiers gambled for His cloths.  Who could call this good?!?  Jesus’ mother stood at the foot of the cross and watched her son die.  Who could call this good?!?  His burial was a rush job & He was laid to rest in a borrowed tomb.  Who could call this good?!?  No one.  No one could call this good. 
            None of Jesus’ followers could’ve watched all of this & called it good.  Their Lord, their Teacher, their Master was dead.  The Man who they believed would restore the kingdom of Israel was gone.  With eyes filled with tears, with hearts filled with uncertainty & fear, they could see nothing good, & on the surface, neither can we. 
            Hearing all of this, imagining everything Jesus went through, we have a hard time calling it good.  We come to worship today specifically to hear about Jesus’ death, & we think it’s a funeral.  But Good Friday isn’t a funeral for Christ.  It’s a day of repentance and restrained joy. 
            Good Friday is a day of repentance over our sin.  We recognize our sin & its great cost.  The wages of sin is death, & death is never a good thing.  Death wasn’t the plan.  You and I weren’t meant to die, but that’s what we deserve because of our sin.  The death of the cross should be ours, but Christ paid it in your place.  This is good.  God calls this good.  This is the Good News of the Gospel by which you are saved. 
            The only reason we can call today good is because Jesus’ death on the cross brings the exact opposite.  It brings life & joy.  This is what God promises us, & this is what we believe.  This is what we confess every week in the Creed.  Jesus Christ has redeemed me, a lost & condemned person, purchased & won me from all sins, from death, and 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.  This is good.  This is what Good Friday is about.  It’s about our Savior who exchanged His life for yours.  It’s about the forgiveness of sins you receive because Jesus died for you.  It’s about the everlasting life you receive in Him.  All of this is truly good.  All of this brings us joy, joy that’s there even on days when there appears to be no good. 
            It can be hard for us to call today good.  Hearing about Jesus’ suffering, remembering that today is the day He died on the cross for our sin, we can’t see good.  But today is a good day because God has called it good.  He gives to you good through the cross of Christ.  Because He died, you’re forgiven.  Because He gave up His life you have life.  This is good, & with faith, we call it good!  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

He is the Temple. . .

Sermon for Good Friday Noon, March 30, 2018. put the cleansing of the temple early in his Gospel record.  It was and is the shape of things to come.  Jesus did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them.  He did not come to do away with temple worship but to become the temple and the lamb.  By turning over the tables of the moneychangers and by setting free the animals penned up to be used in the sacrifices of the Temple, Jesus was intentionally preventing anything from competing with His own sacrifice.  The charge laid against Jesus was that He claimed He could rebuild the temple in three days.  Jesus was intentionally turning the attention from a building of stone to His own flesh given for the life of the world.

So no more would the bleating of the Passover lambs be heard as they were slaughtered in the Temple.  Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and He stands silent before His accusers.  No more would the temple be served by priests who had to cleanse themselves before they could cleanse the people from their sin.  Christ is the priest whose perfect righteousness is big enough to cover every sinner.  No more would a veil hide the altar from view.  Torn from top to bottom, Christ is exposed, the altar of the cross is laid bare – in full view of a whole world.  Jerusalem, the city of shalom, the city of peace, is the location of the worst violence the world ever saw – the innocent dies for the guilty and the holy one for sinners.  Christ has come to establish peace and that peace comes at the cost of His own blood.

The old is undone by Him who comes to fulfill it and to establish a new order, a new covenant in His blood.  How strange this is!!  Here on the Friday of death we have named “Good” Friday, the great paradox is laid before us.  It is not as we had expected.  It is radically new.  It does not conform to reason nor does it ask from us that we comprehend it.  Simply that we believe.  A virgin can conceive and bear a son.  The innocent has come to pay for the sins of the guilty.  The God who cannot die, lies mortally wounded and dying before you on the cross. 

“Behold the man,” said Pilate.  For that is all Pilate saw.  He was a man, a man who did not deserve the death that the Jews cried out for but still just a man.  He was a man, a man strange and different from other men who would have sold their souls to the devil to escape death but still a man.  “Behold the man,” said Pilate when they brought Jesus to him.  In a strange twist, Pilate becomes more than judge and executioner.  He becomes truth teller and prophet.  “Behold your king,” he says.  Crowned with thorns, wounded for the transgressions of His people, and marked for death.  “Behold your king.”  But they will have none of it.  “We have no king but Caesar,” they answered.  But Pilate got them.  On the cross it said “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”  He meant the charge as insult but it is the truest of words.  Jesus is the King of the Jews.
What a day it is!  Israel’s King hangs lifeless upon a cross.  From His side blood and water flows.  And it washes Jew and Gentile alike clean.  It fills the cup that we are to drink.  It was the mark of death but it becomes the means of life.  What a day it is!

Mary was foretold.  A sword would pierce her, heart and soul.  “Woman behold your son,” He says.  And the words went clear through her.  Jesus was no longer simply her Son but now her Lord.  She pondered everything from the first visit of the angel and his mind numbing word.  The pondering did not end.  For scarcely had she begun to think what this word meant when it was finished and her son gave up His spirit. 

A cross becomes the symbol of life.  A cemetery becomes the garden of hope.  And God has raised up sons and daughters from stones.  Everything He said He did.  Everything He did was said before He did it.  Here is glory more than the world has ever seen.  Here is the dawn of a day that will not end in night, of life that triumphed in death so that the dead might live, of the heel bruised so that the serpent’s head might be forever crushed.  Here is the Friday we dare to call good.  Here is the death that beckons us to look and see.  Here is the seed planted into the soil of the earth that it might bear us up as fruit for eternity.

Behold the man.  Behold your king.  The man of sorrows acquainted with grief.  He does for us what we should have done for ourselves but could not.  He seems the weak victim who is powerless to stop it all but He is strong enough so that it will not be stopped until His blood cleanses us from all our sin and His death ends the reign of death and His life is lived in the dead whom death can no more claim.

We mark poison with the skull and cross bones.  Here is Calvary, Golgotha, the place of the skull.  But it not poison.  It is medicine.  And you are called her to drink in what Christ has done so that it may fill your sin-sick body and heal you.  It is medicine that we would pay for with our lives but God gives freely and without charge. 

So, dear friends, do not pass this cross unheeding.  Do not count other things greater than the glory that shines from it.  It is not over.  It is just begun.  He has drunk of the cup the Father gave Him and drunk it down to the end.  He has been baptized into the baptism the Father gave Him and its bitterness is done.  Your salvation is complete and the sacrifice is paid.  And your life has just begun.  Amen.

So, are we better off?

Are we really better off by omitting fasting and prayer from the discipline of Lent?  Are we really better off by abandoning the traditional shape of Lenten piety in favor of whatever feels good?  I cannot help but think there is something wrong with the way we dismiss the disciplines of old as either too rigorous for our ways of life or no longer relevant.

I grew up in a congregation that had something of an odd liturgical identity.  Things were rather plain, liturgically, except that our pastor chanted;, there was a crucifix on the altar; the altar was an elaborately carved oaken for;, the communion vessels were sterling and intricately made.. but the pastor wore a black gown; Holy Communion was held only quarterly; no one in their right mind would mistake this for a Roman Catholic building and congregation...  That said, the people were serious about the faith, rarely missed church, were sacrificial in their support of the work of the kingdom there and elsewhere, and lived humbly.  Now we no longer live all that humbly, we are less generous in our support of the church, we consider once a month faithful church attendance, and we treat the faith as if what you believed really did not matter (both as an individual and as a church).

Is this an improvement?  Are we better off?  Is the church stronger and more faithful and are we as individual Christians stronger in our faith and more faithful in doing God's bidding than our ancestors?

Let me say up front that I am not at all suggesting that everything was perfect 60 years ago or more or that we were living in the golden age of Christianity in America.  There were many things that were not so good and some of those have improved.  At the same time, however, many things have changed that have contributed to the weakness of the church and of individual Christians.  These changes have to addressed; we cannot live in the past, after all.  But these changes do not have to be lauded as progress.  Because many of them are not.  They are regressive and not at all progressive.

To treat the Bible with skepticism and treat doctrine as not all that important is not progress. To spend more time in catechesis but to end up knowing and believing less is not progress.   To have the Sacrament of the Altar more frequently but still on the fringes of our piety is not progress.  To be so comfortable in our sins that we do not seek out private confession and to presume that a general confession is a fit replacement for this private confession is not progress.  To be in church less often and to give less (percentage wise) is not progress.

The past was no pristine moment of glory but neither is our modernity progress when it destroys the best of the past and offers nothing substantive to replace it except doubt and disregard toward the means of grace.  I am not saying we need to go back but I am suggesting we should repent of much of what we have done with the things of God entrusted to our care.

Covenant Blood

Sermon for Holy Thursday, Evening, preached on March 29, 2018.    The priestly service of Jesus to His people is not only what He did in offering Himself as priest and victim on the cross.  Jesus’ priestly service continues in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar.  For this Supper is not yours nor is it mine.  It is not even the Church’s Supper.  It belongs to Christ.  He remains host as well as food.  It is offered not to those whom we deem to be worthy but for those whom Christ has invited – the baptized, who confess their faith in the creed, who have examined their lives and consciences, who believe the Word of Christ concerning this Supper, and who, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, desire to live the new lives given them in their baptism. 

    The priestly service of Christ was both backward looking and forward looking.  Looking to the past, our Lord’s once for all sacrifice of Himself upon the cross gave power to the blood of bulls and goats to forgive sins.  Our Lord’s once for all atonement by His blood delivered those in the past who were sprinkled by that blood on the day of atonement and in all the worship of the Temple.  They were looking at sacrifices that prefigured that once for all sacrifice our Lord accomplished when He delivered Himself up to the altar of the cross and fulfilled the words of John the Forerunner:  Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

    That priestly service of Christ also looks forward.  It brings to people and generations far removed from Calvary the blessings that Christ won there by that obedient service and life giving death.  What is it that we hear every Sunday?  As often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.  Our eating and drinking is not symbolic but the real participation in the body of Christ and a real participation in the blood of Christ.  The once for all sacrifice is made present for us, that by eating and drinking as Christ has bidden us, we may enjoy the benefits and blessings of that sacrifice, especially the forgiveness of our sins.

    The Temple in Jerusalem had as its center the altar where blood was shed.  Read through Leviticus and hear what the Lord commanded.  The heartbeat of Israel’s worship was the Temple and the center of that Temple were the sacrifices offered there.  In the same way, the heartbeat of Christian worship is Holy Communion and the central focus of our life together is our communion on the body of Christ and the blood of Christ.  This is why we have Holy Communion every week and every Thursday.  Anything less and it begs the question of whether we worship God on our terms instead of His.

    The covenant of Christ is a covenant of blood.  It was blood that paid the price for sin and blood that cleanses from its guilt and shame and blood that bought us back to be God’s own.  And it is in the blood of this communion that all the gifts and graces won for us and graciously bestowed upon us become ours, the heavenly food that bestows a new tomorrow.

    As Melchizedek of old, Christ is the High Priest of the offering.  Melchizedek brought bread and wine to Abraham and Jesus brings to us His flesh and blood in bread and wine.  This is the most intimate communion, our Lord coming into our bodies and cleansing and claiming them that He might dwell in us in the richness of His mercy.  This is the meal of love where the sinner is welcomed, the lowly is given prominent place, and the unworthy sits in the place of honor.  This is the Table of the Lord set in the presence of our enemies not only to feed us but also to flaunt the fruits of His victory over His very enemies and ours.

    Though we do not always realize what is happening or appreciate the significance of His coming to us in flesh and blood in this Holy Meal, God still comes and gives and feeds and nourishes us.  How different it might be if we were truly aware of just what an awesome gift this Holy Communion was and is!  We sing the hymns of old that speak of the Sacrament in this way but too often their words seem foreign to us. 

    Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face; her would I touch and handle things unseen.  Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace and all my weariness upon Thee lean.  He re would I feed upon the bread of God.  Here drink with Thee the royal wine of heaven.  Here would I lay aside each earthly load, here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven.  Feast after feast thus comes and passes by, Yet, passing, points to that glad feast above, giving sweet foretaste of the festal joy, the Lamb’s great marriage feast of bliss and love.

    For some strange reason we tend to think the spiritual things more profound than the physical, the pious communion of the spirit in prayerful devotion more profound than this eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ.  But it is truly just the opposite.  It is here that the most profound communion with Christ takes place and only because of this can we commune with Christ in the heart by faith.  Again the hymns teach us what we too often miss:

    Thee we adore, O hidden Savior, Thee, who in Thy Sacrament art pleased to be; both flesh and spirit in Thy presence fail, Yet here Thy presence we devoutly hail.  Or another:  You gave me all I wanted; this food can death destroy. And You have freely granted the cup of endless joy, my Lord, I do not merit the favor You have shown, and all my soul and spirit bows here before Your throne.

    That God dwells with men refers not only to the incarnation but to our Lord’s continued incarnation in flesh and blood, bread and wine.  Our Lord does not wile away the time in heaven thinking kind thoughts about us.  He comes to us where He has promised in the living voice that speaks absolution to our sins and in the living bread where we taste the goodness of the Lord in anticipation of the eternal banquet the Isaiah the prophet and St. John in the book of Revelation promises.

    Where is God?  Do not point to heaven but to His Word and to this Holy Sacrament.  For here He is and here He gives Himself to you and here You receive the riches of His grace. That is the job of the priest.  To bring God to us.  To mediate the sacrifice.  And that is what our Lord has done and continues to do.  He brings God to us to be touched and tasted.  He mediates His once for all sacrifice so that our sins are forgiven, His death proclaimed in witness before the world, and our very future anticipated in the foretaste of the feast to come.

    Lutherans do not make too much of this Real Presence but too little.  We shrug our shoulders at what God has moved time and eternity to give to us.  Here is the covenant meal sealed in the blood of the Lamb.  Here is where we commune with Christ and He with us.  Here is where taste the goodness of the Lord as the Psalmist promises.  Here is where we proclaim His death until He comes again.  Here is where the weak are made strong, the hungry are fed, our thirst is quenched, and our eternity is glimpsed.  This is not a casual meal but the most solemn moment of awe for a people into whose presence God comes to save and redeem and to nurture to everlasting life.

    You cannot watch the clock for such an awesome and blessed moment.  Instead you can only regret that “too soon we rise, the vessels disappear, the feast though not the love, is past and gone, the bread and wine remove but Thou art here, nearer than ever, still my shield and sun.  Into such a moment, the Church can only pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”  From this moment the Church can only confess, “Truly God was in this place.”  Amen.

Footwashing. . .

Sermon for Holy Thursday Morning (One Year Series), preached on Thursday, March 29, 2018.
There is far too much romance about foot washing.  The attraction is easy to understand.  It is easier to wash feet than to face complicated doctrines like this bread is really Jesus’ body and this cup is His blood.  So the great temptation is to reduce all of Christianity to an ethic or moral compass and nothing shows it better than the humble shape of a person of great station kneeling to wash the feet of someone lesser.  If nothing else, it takes the guilt away from the person who has much to think that he has done something humble and selfless for the sake of another.  It is all so easy to get but it is not what it is about at all.

We are not asked by Jesus to re-enact foot washing or really to duplicate anything He does at all.  What we do in Church and what we do heeding His commandment to love does not re-enact what Jesus did or repeat what Jesus did in any way shape or form.  The foot washing is a powerful symbol but not a recipe for how we ought to love one another.  In fact, it would be far easier to do something distasteful like washing the feet of another once a year than to love your brother, your sister, your neighbor, or even a stranger every day of the year.  I would much prefer an annual duty to stinky, misshapen, and ugly feet to loving people I don’t know or don’t like.  I wonder if you just might secretly feel the same way.

The love Christ has for us is not something we are called to repeat as if it were an action, an event, a duty.  No, this is not some task He has assigned to us.  It is the gift of being remade, of being new, of being different.  He calls us to love not because this is a good thing or something we ought to do.  No, He calls us to love because He has remade us in love.  He calls us to cast aside the old man, at least as best we are able, and to strive to be the new man, created in Christ Jesus for good works that flow from new and clean hearts made new in baptism.

The sadness is that we find it not only easier but more pleasant to do a good deed here and there rather than to seek to strive to become the new people who love righteousness and who hate evil.  The sadness is that we prefer a religion in which we do things we think will please God rather than a faith that moves us to love others as our Lord has loved us. 

It is not hard to love the lovable but it takes the hard love for those who are hard to love.  He has seen us as we are, complete with all our sin, with all our rebellious hearts, and with all our  arrogant pride. He sees us as we are and He loves us enough to give Himself up for us.  Jesus does not love us for who we could become or the people we should become.  He loves us even in our sins and loves us enough to bear the curse of those sins upon His own shoulders.  He loves us even though we are dead and He enters our death to set us free.

By nature I don’t want that kind of love.  Instead, I want the love that caters to my whims and desires.  I do not want to control those desires or kill them or bury them.  I want the love that will honor those desires and encourage them.  That is the shape of our sinful hearts that cannot be rehabilitated but must be killed and made new.  That is the love of the Savior who came not to be served but to serve, with an apron and a basin and a towel before dirty, ugly feet.  The love that was willing to suffer in our place and to die for us the death we should have died and to rise to give us new life.

Foot washing once a year would be easy if you could get away with it.  It might even be easier if we were commanded to wash feet in Church every Sunday and then go home to our sinful ways so comfortable.  But Jesus has called us to new life and a noble calling as the children of God by baptism and faith.  We cannot afford a cheap faith anymore than we can benefit from cheap grace.  The love that loved us, that lives in us by baptism and faith is love not to recreate a moment in time but for time without end.

This love is shown not by the occasional washing of feet but by daily forgiving as we have been forgiven, by daily serving others as Christ has served us, by praying for others before we pray for our selves, by interceding before God’s throne of grace for our enemies as well as our friends, by giving to those who cannot repay, and by giving to others the good news of the Gospel that Christ has given to us – a prize so expensive none can afford it and yet one which He bestows without charge to us.

Foot washing is the easy way out.  Love is more.  Where do we find such love today?  Here in this wondrous sacrament which the Lord has bequeathed to us.  Here in the Word that speaks with the voice of God.  Here in the household of faith where we bear one another’s burdens.  Here where neighbors and poor and even strangers are not burdens but opportunities.  I wish we could get away with stinky feet once a year but God has made us see and love more.  Love one another as I have loved you.

Friday, March 30, 2018

From Pastor Harrison. . .

From Facebook.  Click here to listen. . .

Good Friday with O. P. Kretzmann

Litany for Good Friday — 1938
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father in heaven
Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world
Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Ghost
Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God
Have mercy on us.

By Thy Suering and Death —
By the hurt of Judas
By the pain of Peter
s denial
By the sweat of blood
By the agony of soul
By the robe of purple and the crown of thorn
By the bite of the whip and the lash of the scourge
By the Way of the Cross
By the nails and thirst
By the blood that stained the Holy Rood
By the travail of Thy soul By the riven vine and the trodden winepress
By Thy expiring cry

By Thy triumph in death
O dying Redeemer, hear us.

From hardness of heart and darkness of soul
From coldness of mind
From trampling Thy blood on the way of sin
From driving the nails again
From crucifying Thee anew
From forgetfulness of Thy great sorrow
From the loneliness of life without Thee
From greed and ambition
From the lust of the eye and the pride of life
From the burden of remembered sin
From the cunning of men
From the confusion of ignorance
From hate
From a jealous heart
From the last sin of unbelief
O living Redeemer, deliver us.

For the heart of man today, afraid
For the sick of body to ease their pain
For the sick of mind to lighten their gloom
For the sick of soul to bring them forgiveness
For them who weep alone
For Thy Life in every broken heart
For the soul that knows not Thee
For all who make known Thy way upon earth
For all who love Thy Holy Name
For all Thy Church in all the world
Thou King of Principalities and Powers, of Thrones and Domin ions
Thou Lord of Cherubim and Seraphim, of angels and archangels
Thou Prince of Peace and Glory, of Kingdoms and Empires
O dying and living Redeemer, hear us.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

From Pastor Harrison. . .

Watch it on Facebook by clicking here.

Tantum Ergo

Latin text An English translation
Pange, lingua, gloriosi
Corporis mysterium,
Sanguinisque pretiosi,
quem in mundi pretium
fructus ventris generosi
Rex effudit Gentium.
Nobis datus, nobis natus
ex intacta Virgine,
et in mundo conversatus,
sparso verbi semine,
sui moras incolatus
miro clausit ordine.
In supremae nocte coenae
recumbens cum fratribus
observata lege plene
cibis in legalibus,
cibum turbae duodenae
se dat suis manibus.
Verbum caro, panem verum
verbo carnem efficit:
fitque sanguis Christi merum,
et si sensus deficit,
ad firmandum cor sincerum
sola fides sufficit.
Tantum ergo Sacramentum
veneremur cernui:
et antiquum documentum
novo cedat ritui:
praestet fides supplementum
sensuum defectui.
Genitori, Genitoque
laus et jubilatio,
salus, honor, virtus quoque
sit et benedictio:
Procedenti ab utroque
compar sit laudatio.

Sing, my tongue, the Savior's glory,
of His flesh the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our immortal King,
destined, for the world's redemption,
from a noble womb to spring.
Of a pure and spotless Virgin
born for us on earth below,
He, as Man, with man conversing,
stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
then He closed in solemn order
wondrously His life of woe.
On the night of that Last Supper,
seated with His chosen band,
He the Pascal victim eating,
first fulfills the Law's command;
then as Food to His Apostles
gives Himself with His own hand.
Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
by His word to Flesh He turns;
wine into His Blood He changes;
what though sense no change discerns?
Only be the heart in earnest,
faith her lesson quickly learns.
Down in adoration falling,
This great Sacrament we hail,
Over ancient forms of worship
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith will tell us Christ is present,
When our human senses fail.
To the everlasting Father,
And the Son who made us free
And the Spirit, God proceeding
From them Each eternally,
Be salvation, honor, blessing,
Might and endless majesty.
Amen. Alleluia.

Isn't it ironic. . . and over again I get push back from some Roman Catholics who insist that Luther is the source of all the wrongs that have happened in the last 500 years.  One of the chief complaints has to do with the issue of conscience.  It is claimed, not accurately, that Luther gave primacy to individual conscience over the Church, her teaching magisterium, the papacy, council, and just about anything else.  According to this idea, Luther placed the individual and his sovereign conscience above all and, in particular,over the Scriptures so that he is singularly responsible for undoing any and all churchly authority and truth.

The surprise here is that it appears that Amoris Laetitia is doing exactly that.  So, in the matter of their reception of Holy Communion, those who remarried after a divorce use their own individual conscience to determine whether or not they are fit and repentant and reconciled to the faith. Indeed, Pope Francis and his supporters are doing just what they condemn Luther (falsely) for doing.  They bypass the Church entirely and the priestly office and responsibility to leave it at the door of the individuals in question. 

Let me say that Luther did not himself stand on individual conscience nor does he countenance such.  It is not that Luther has replaced one pope with everyone a pope at all.  Luther insists that his conscience is captive to the Word of God and not some individual Word of God defined or interpreted as he desired but the Word of God in catholic form and truth, the faith of our fathers.  The  truth is that the end result of of Rome's machinations was to place the Church above the Scripture, the Church as the source and judge of those Scriptures, and particular offices within the Church  as the ones who ultimately make this determination.  In the end, Rome ended up with dogmas alien and foreign to Scripture and, the cause of the Reformation, in conflict with Scripture.

Now we see that Rome has come full circle and Pope Francis seems intent upon giving the individual conscience full authority to make a determination which heretofore was a judgment of the Church and by the Church.  What was a principle too Protestant for Luther and for which Luther was roundly condemned by the more radical voices of the Reformation, has now become the operating principle behind Amoris Laetitia.  All of this makes a Lutheran laugh but not the light-hearted laughter of a joke but the sad laughter of a terrible screw up.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Holy Weak. . . is midway in Holy Week, toward the destination of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  For most Lutherans, it is just another week.  We have services every evening and a morning and afternoon through this week but the pews will hardly be full.  This year we compete not only against work and school but against school break and the line of cars headed out of town for recreational venues or visits with family.  Perhaps it is foolish to think that people are thinking of the events of this week of weeks or that they should be keeping time with the sacred time of the church year and its calendar of services.  If they would, they would hear the Passion from all the Gospels as well as the familiar events of the Upper Room and Calvary.  But Holy Week has become holy weak, a shadow of its former self.

When I was in public school in a small town in Nebraska, the school teachers shepherded the school children across the street to the Augustana Lutheran Church building and each day during Holy Week one of the pastors in town preached to the students.  Illegal now and probably not necessarily the best of ideas but it showed the devotion in this week that extended past denominational barriers to unite a Christian people in recalling and being renewed in the story of Jesus and His love expressed in the events spanning from Palm Sunday to Easter.

We have a few faithful folks who try to get to as many services as they can but most of our folks tend to pick one or perhaps two services of Holy Week.  I guess that some think I have become rather cranky and sound like an old man trying to recreate his youth.  That is really not it at all.  I wish only that at least once in their lives, Christians might find the time for the full complement of services and experience the riches of the liturgical offerings by which we make our way slowly and deliberately to the cross and empty tomb.

Everywhere I have gone the full schedule of Holy Week services has been added and that includes the Easter Vigil.  In the 38+ years I have been a pastor, only a couple of times have there been no baptisms at the Vigil and it has often been the occasion for adult baptisms.  So, if you have not spent much time in church during Holy Week, here is the encouragement to make time, at least once, to be there for all the services and to experience the riches of the church's liturgical offerings as Holy Week makes its way from Hosannas to Alleluias.

From Pastor Harrison. . .

Devotions for Holy Week. . . from Facebook, click here.