Friday, August 31, 2018

Death is not the answer nor a real choice. . .

Driving into work the other day the voice over the radio proclaimed the urgency of suicide rates up some 24% in the state of Tennessee (where I reside).  Some states have seen the rise go even higher -- 30% increase or more!  Of course, the suicides of several rather public figures (Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdaine) has brought this back into the news.  We will see how long it lasts.  45,000 Americans murdered themselves in 2016; among some age groups and genders suicide is a top cause of death for that group.

The great temptation is to write all of this off to mental illness or unique circumstances in the lives of those who try or succeed at taking their own lives.  At the same time we view this as a problem, we are in the process of normalizing suicide as the reasoned choice of those who believe they have physical or mental burdens of pain or illness too great to bear.  Indeed, we want this to happen in a medical setting with a professional either overseeing or administering the lethal dose for those who would welcome death in their retreat from life.  We are of several minds on this subject -- at least as a culture.

Yet I cannot help but wonder why depression is so prevalent and suicide on the rise when we live in such a liberated society.  After all, every form of sexual identity and gender choice is lauded in the media and celebrated in pride parades all across the nation.  We seem to have come to some terms with it all -- it is normalized for our children and youth in the social media and entertainment industry even if it is still not quite normal for older folks among us.  We live in a world with seemingly endless forms of entertainment on the internet, video games, live, streaming, and podcasted versions of everything from comedy to music to shows of all kinds.  We have more free time than any generation before us.  We have more resources to spend on our desires and more freedom to explore them without prejudice from law or enlightened culture.  Why do we struggle then with depression and suicide?  Is it just in the water or food chain?  Or is it an epidemic that is the fruit of such sanctioned happiness of any kind and at any cost?

What happened to the promise of modernity?  To the claims of enlightenment?  To the gift of technology?  To a life freed from work to explore desire, interest, and whim?   Could it be that all of these have failed us?  We put our trust in the idea of unlimited freedom -- even the freedom to choose death -- and it turned out to be only greater bondage.  We put our hope in a life defined by entertainment and shaped by the unbridled pursuit of happiness -- and it turned out not to be so happy.  We expected that if we removed all taboos and left everyone to explore themselves and their wants unhindered by values or morals except consent, all would be wonderful -- and what we ended up with was not so wonderful at all.

The odd thing is that the people who seem to be happiest and most content are not those who have mined the fringes of desire and old taboos or entertainment's many shapes but ordinary old Christian folk with a conscience and a God who forgives, who fellowship not on a web page but around a table on Sunday morning, and who seek not to be freed by their desires but to control them by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The odd thing is that Christians are not immune to depression or to thoughts of self-destruction or even destructive acts but these orthodox, church going folks seem less troubled by them than those who, it would seem from the outside, have it all just the way they want it.

Augustine was right.  There is no rest for the soul until it rests in the Lord.  We were created for our Creator and our lives will remain somewhat disordered until this order is restored.  Faith is not the great constrictor of freedom or self-fulfillment but the only real path to it all.  Faith is not the safe choice (at least according to the world around us).  Faith is, however, the only path that offers real hope for those in despair even to thoughts of death.  Faith does not promote the lie that we are all okay and our desires and wants are equally okay.  Faith admits what the heart informed by the conscience already knows.  But it does not stop there.  It points us into the open arms of our suffering Savior who bore the pain of our sin for us and now speaks peace to our troubled and weary souls.

I am not at all suggesting that if all those who thought of taking their own lives went to church that everything would be hunky dory.  But, unlike the world which insists Christianity makes it worse, I believe it does make it better.  This is, after all, the God who does not quench the dimly burning wick nor break the bruised reed.  Thanks be to God!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

More than goofy. . . sacrilegious. . .

Catching up on some reading, I saw the August edition of The Living Lutheran (I question the title) had a story on Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco.  Apparently, this congregation sends single serving consecrated communion packets to worshipers who request them.  They are using this to include those who watch the livestreamed services at home.  They found that many of those watching were also injured by faith communities and therefore unwilling to attend local congregations.  They were LGBTQ (big surprise in San Francisco) or more progressive than the preaching at local congregations.  Hmmmmm..... that should say something.

They chose to use grape juice in solidarity with those trying to remain sober and because some of them could not drink wine with the medications they drink (and probably because the single serving packets are readily available from nearly every Baptist or evangelical supplier).  They mail them as far as Hawaii, Washington, and South Dakota.  Jesus by Mail packets come with a helpful reminder to dispose of the remains and packaging faithfully by gifting them to the earth (whatever that is supposed to mean).

So what do you think?  Simply goofy. . . or worse.  I vote for worse.  Whether they sit at home and put their packets to the screen during the consecration or get it by mail, this is NOT what our Lord intended and is, in fact, a sacrilege to the Body and Blood of Christ.  It it not helpful ministry to the homebound to leave them home alone with Jesus by Mail packets.  It is not faithful ministry nor is it faithful stewardship of the mystery. 

Sadly, too many Lutherans will think this is a good idea.  Even worse, no Lutheran in leadership in the ELCA or in most Lutheran bodies has the gumption to stand up and say enough already!  One more sign the ELCA is in decline.  For it you have Jesus by Mail, why do you need a congregation at all?  Maybe just a mailing list and an endless supply of hermetically sealed Jesus packets and some money for postage and you are all set. . . indeed!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Hearts and Hands

Sermon for Pentecost 14, Proper 16B, preached on Sunday, August 26, 2018, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.
“It’s what’s on the inside that counts.”  Have you ever heard this before?  Of course you have, we all have.  This goes right along with “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”  These two well-known clichés speak to the idea that what’s seen isn’t what’s always true.  What’s true comes from the inside.  What’s true comes from the heart.  This can be said about our worship.  True worship comes from a faithful heart.  This is in essence what Jesus said to the Pharisees as He rebuked them in our Gospel reading. 
            The Pharisees were concerned with what could be seen, with visible action, with visible worship.  And what they saw was Jesus’ disciples not washing their hands.  Of course we know washing our hands before we eat is a healthy practice, but the Pharisees weren’t worried about the disciples’ hygiene.  The Pharisees pointed out this lack of washing because it went against the Jewish traditions and purity laws. 
            Part of the OT Law dealt with ritual cleanliness.  Being ritually clean was important to have access to God.  God is holy and therefore nothing unholy, nothing unclean or defiled can come into His presence.  We see this in God’s Word to Moses about the Tabernacle.  God instructed Moses to build a large bronze basin to hold water and to set this basin in front of the Tabernacle.  Aaron and the other priests were then required to wash their hands and feet before they entered the Tent of Meeting.  God said they had to do this so that they didn’t die (Ex 30:21).  Elsewhere in the book of Leviticus, it talks about washing after coming into contact with unclean things (Lev 22:4-7).  This ritual purity was a way of separating God’s people from the unclean idolatrous pagans that surrounded them. 
            The Pharisees were concerned about defilement.  They didn’t want to be separated from God, so they washed, and they washed often.  They washed their hands after returning from the marketplace, where they inevitably came into contact with Gentiles and unclean people.  They washed their cups, and pots and cooking utensils.  They even ritually washed the dining couches they sat on. 
            This might sound a little excessive to us, but for the Pharisees it was important.  Pharisees get a bad rap as being opponents of Jesus, and this is rightly deserved when they reject Christ.  But not every Pharisee was an evil hypocrite.  Many were faithful men who tried to live according to God’s laws.  The issue between Jesus and the Pharisees wasn’t the fact that they were trying to live a pious life, it was the Pharisees’ rejection of Jesus and their relying on that pious life for salvation.
The Pharisees in our Gospel today weren’t being faithful.  Their questioning of Jesus and His disciples wasn’t about the disciples’ piousness, it was about their own, showing that they were better, holier, and cleaner than Jesus and His followers.  This is why Jesus rebuked them.  Quoting our OT reading, Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mk 7:6-7; Is 29:13).  These Pharisees were hypocrites, pretenders.  They were just paying lip service to God.  They had no faithful trust for God in their hearts.    Instead they trusted in themselves and their pious worship life.  They trusted in their own doings, even the traditions that they made up. 
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their made up tradition of corban.  Corban was a gift or offering above and beyond the required tithe.  Now, this in and of itself isn’t a bad thing.  In fact, it could even be a faithful thing.  However, Jesus explains that some would give this gift of corban in place of caring for their parents.  This man made tradition replaced God’s commands to honor father and mother, and yet, the Pharisees saw it as a greater work. 
Do we do this?  Do we neglect the good of God’s commands with our own traditions, thinking they’re greater, thinking they’re more pious and holier than what God has given us?  Do we look at our visible worship life and compare it to others?  Do we trust in it, thinking we’re safe for our actions’ sake?  Do we only give our Lord lip service?  Are we pretenders and hypocrites, or do we have faithful hearts?
Faithful hearts trust in Christ.  Faithful hearts look to and rely on God’s grace and mercy.  Faithful hearts bring true worship to the Lord.  Faithful hearts don’t look upon our own piousness, thinking it’s worth something.  The Lord is concerned with faithful hearts.  He wants you to trust in Him and His mercy.  He wants you to trust in Christ Jesus for salvation, because Christ and His cross is the only way of salvation.  Our prayer then is to have faithful hearts...and God answers this prayer. 
We can’t make our hearts faithful.  We can’t turn our unclean sinful hearts into clean faithful ones.  Only God can do that, and that’s exactly what He does.  Through His Word and Sacraments, He cleans you of the sin that defiles.  He takes what is unholy and through the Gospel message of Christ heard and received in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, He makes you holy.  He gives you a faithful heart, and it’s with this heart that you bring true worship to the Lord. 
            The faith you’ve been given, trusting in Jesus, in His death and resurrection, it resides in your heart.  But even though it’s inside, it’s still seen. 
            Last Sunday, Pastor Peters quoted that famous verse from the book of James that we Lutherans often cringe at, “Faith without works is dead” (Jas 2:17).  Faith doesn’t just sit idly by, hidden in your heart.  It moves you.  It moves you to worship and it moves you to do good works.  All of this is seen.  Your faith is seen and lived out in worship, in faithful pious lives that are lived out according to God’s Word. 
            Our faithful worship is seen as we gather together every Sunday here in this place.  It’s seen as we sing hymns, proclaiming God’s power and might, His grace and mercy.  It’s seen as we reverence and bow before the crucifix and altar, acknowledging our Savior is present here in His Word and Sacrament.  It’s seen as we cross ourselves in remembrance of our Baptism, when we kneel in confession and prayer, acknowledging our humbleness before God.  It’s seen as we boldly speak the Creed, as we stand together as the body of Christ, giving voice to our faith in Him.  It’s seen as we place our offerings and tithes in the plates that are passed up and down the pews, giving back a portion of God’s gifts with thankful hearts so that He might continue His work here.  And it’s seen as we leave this place and live out our vocations all in His name and for His glory and the benefit of others.  Faith and true worship come from within, from the heart, but it’s lived out with our hands. 
            The hypocritical Pharisees were concerned only with outward actions.  Their worship was void of faith.  It was done only with their hands.  It was just lip service.  They made up their own traditions that looked good and God pleasing, and yet they went against the pleasing actions God commands.  Empty words and actions don’t make true worship.  True worship comes from faith in the heart, faith that trust in God and His salvation through Christ.  This doesn’t mean however that true worship is void of visible action.  The faith we have on the inside is lived out in visible ways.  It can be seen in what we do and say.  Our prayer and desire is for true worship that is made up of faith in our heart, faith that’s visibly seen through the actions of our hands.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

Follow the Money Trail. . .

In the news. . .word is out that the Southern Poverty Law Center, the self appointed watch dogs of hate speech whose mission is apparently to classify any defenders of religious liberty (example: the Alliance Defending Freedom) as “extremists” and the purveyors of hate speech which dare not be tolerated, now has about a half-billion dollars in its coin purse to finance its mission.  Let me say that again.  $500M!  Money to keep the press releases going and keep paying for those who fight for the cause of free speech only to prevent it from those who might disagree with them.

In other news. . . the Human Rights Campaign, another group policing speech and rights against those who might have the nerve to affirm marriage as the lifelong union of one man and one woman, took in some $42 million last year to finance its pursuit of bigots who shall not be allowed to exist.

I could keep up the count with a hundred other organizations who are not struggling with money problems in their cause to remake right from wrong and devalue life unless it fits their definition.  But this is enough for now.  And who are the sources of these funds?  The rich and powerful, of course.  The media folks and Hollywood crowd, the George Soros kind of people, who find liberty detestable unless it is the freedom to silence those who disagree with them.  Among them are the traditional culprits -- the great foundations of the past (like the Ford Foundation) which have become entities that exist to forward the liberal cause on all fronts.  They have taken the fortunes of robber barons and the industrial giants of the past and used them in ways those who made the money had not envisioned.

The presumption is always that the conservative or pro-life cause is funded by these well placed millionaires or secretive foundations with a hoard of cash.  In reality, it is the opposite.  Many of the organizations that work for the cause of life at all stages and for traditional values with respect to marriage, sex, and gender, do so on a shoestring budget compared to the well funded voices against them.  In addition to this, the cause of liberalism and the left have garnered almost the full control of the media -- from the so-called news media to the entertainment media.

So why I am telling you what most of you already know?  Be generous in your support of the cause of life.  Be active in the work of witness and advocacy for the values of the Kingdom.  Be fervent in prayer for the way of common sense to prevail.  Be faithful in your church whose witness and nurture is so important as we raise our children in a world so unfriendly to the cause of Christ.  Be informed with reliable news as to the state of things in these important causes.  Be active as a voter, as a voice, and as a supporter of the pro-life cause, Scriptural marriage, and common sense.  We cannot afford to hide against those forces against us but neither can we accept despair as if the cause is lost.  The truth is always on trial and virtue must always battle sin and error.  This is the way in which we walk.  But the cause of Christ will not be overcome and God has already placed limits (though we do not see them) on how far the world may tilt to its own self-destruction before He will intervene and bring all before His judgement seat.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

New Medical Specialty -- Baby Killing. . .

Apparently, the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology has applied to the American Board of Medical Specialties for authorization for a medical specialty in late term abortions -- those who are without doubt viable.  In other words, this medical specialty will be in the efficient and safe killing of babies who are fairly near term.  Of course, no one would say that.  And to ensure that no one would say that, this specialty will include the training to mask what is being done and to create vague language that softens the reality and hides it from public view and comment, say, with a name like “Complex Family Planning.”  Oops.  Out of the bag.

From Briana Heldt:
“Although contraception and abortion services for healthy women may be safely provided by general OB GYN clinicians,” the application reads, “subspecialists with special knowledge and skills are necessary for advanced gestations.” What does that special knowledge include, one might ask?
According to ABOG’s application, these subspecialists will demonstrate skill in both electric and manual uterine aspiration in first-trimester abortions. Surgical abortion and feticide procedures are the target areas of competency for second-trimester abortions. “Complex Family Planning” specialists will, predictably, focus their work in “low-resource settings and with vulnerable and underserved populations.”
Furthermore, the application states that doctors wishing to become late-term abortion certified must achieve not only advanced skill in removing a baby from the womb limb by limb, but also competency in public policy and advocacy. “Fellows should be capable of being advocates and leaders in family planning and abortion.”
We live in a culture of death in which death has become normal, normal for the aged and infirm, for those who do not feel like living any longer, for those whose lives we find inconvenient (from those whose lives we do not deem worth living to those who have not yet been born).  It is an affront to a medical establishment which was once known by its prime objective of doing no harm.

At least when it comes to law, America is far from a pro-life nation and, when it comes to death, too many Christians have learned to make their peace with it.  Why it is like Jesus did not come for the sake of sin or death but simply to set us free to do what is right in our own eyes. . . oh, wait, that is the social gospel devoid of cross and empty tomb!

Part of the job of those who hold for the sacred character of life and its protection is to unmask every effort to normalize death and transform medical services into means of safe, legal, and comfortable death for those whom we have determined have either a right to die or we have a right to kill them.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Methodists develop angst over the word Father. . .

In case you have not heard:
The Minnesota Conference of the United Methodist Church has removed the term, ‘Father,’ from the Apostle’s Creed in an attempt to be more gender inclusive to God.
The ancient creed of the Christian Church reads:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.
However, United Methodists in the Minnesota Conference decided that referring to God as “Father” wasn’t inclusive enough for the 21st century United Methodist Church. At the conference, held May 30 through June 1, conference organizers omitted reference to God the Father. Instead, they changed the phrase “God the Father Almighty” to “God the Creator Almighty.” The creed passed out to attendees also removed the phrase, “Jesus Christ, His only Son” to “Jesus Christ, God’s only Son.”
 One attendee, Keith Mcilwain, posted a screenshot of their newly revised creed via social media.

McIlwain is currently the pastor of Slippery Rock United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania. Mcilwain said, “No United Methodist individual or body has the authority to edit those creeds which were formulated by the early Church and have helped define orthodox Christianity for the better part of 2000 years..."
Of course the point is that the term Father has become offensive -- offensive to those who believe any reference to maleness is injustice. . . offensive to those who a bad father growing up. . . offensive to the families with two moms or only one mom and no dad. . . well, just plain offensive.  It does not matter that this is the language of Scripture or the Church has confessed this language (the language of God's own self-disclosure) for going on two thousand years.  What a shame that Jesus could not have looked into the future and picked some other term less freighted with patriarchalism and its sins! But that is how Jesus has taught us to pray. . . Our Father who art in heaven. . .

When we find Scripture offensive, we must change it (or ignore it).  When we find creeds or confessions offensive, we must change them (or ignore them).  When we find truth offensive, we must change it (or ignore it).  Is there anything more offensive that sin which causes death and cannot be fixed except by God Himself taking on flesh, suffering on the cross, dying in our place, and rising (still with the scars of His death) to proclaim the price of sin has been paid?  The reality is that the Gospel does offend and if it does not, something is wrong.  The reality is that Scripture is not a mirror of what is considered politically appropriate for this moment but what God has determined we need to know in order to be saved.  The reality is that we are not God's editors or advisors (talk to Job about that one) but hearers of His Word and those in whom the Spirit work through that preaching and the sacraments to create faith (trust) in His saving work.

I am offended every time I go to my Lutheran Church and everything begins with talk of my sin and its guilt and its fruit of death.  But thanks be to God that He does not shy away from the truth simply because some of us find it offensive.  For in this Word is my hope and this hope is built on nothing less that Jesus' blood and righteousness.  Even my feelings must give way to the Word that endures forever.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

They call me. . .

The world may call him Pope but that is neither his name or his title.  His name is Jorge.  He is Francis, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God...

But, hey, you can call me Frank. . .

There are some who delight in creating an image of casual ease about things definitely not casual.  This Pope is certainly one.  He answers questions off the cuff on the airplane, whispers into the ears of children, calls up reporters and columnists in the dead of night to gab, and eschews much of the ordinary ceremony, vesture, and pomp once used to emphasize the titles and give visual form and shape to them.

There are pastors who do the same.  They like to wear ordinary clothes all the time so that nobody thinks of them as being pastors.  They prefer to be seen as regular folk and just ordinary people with ordinary jobs, except they work for the church.  They ask to be called by their first names or by some cute moniker (PJ or Pastor Dude or whatever) in the hopes that this will light up the seemingly dark side of actually being a pastor.  They do not preach but inspire, they do not act on behalf of God but for the people, and they do not get all bent out of shape over heaven or hell but simply try to help their people find happiness. They are like the parents who try to be their kids best friends or who think that discipline can be ignored if you either let your kids do what they want or think you can talk them into doing what they should without any threat or consequences. 

The problem with this is that the children do not need more friends, they need parents and the people of God and the people not yet of the Kingdom do not need a mentor or leader or life coach but a pastor.  I am not sure which came first -- people who wanted their pastors to be just like them or pastors who wanted to be just like their people.  In either case, it is a falsehood and a sham.

Frank is not your beer drinking bowling buddy who happens to work in Rome, he is, according to Roman dogma, the Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God.  If he does not want to be that, then why did he accept election?  We must deal with him not as one voice but as the voice of Roman Catholicism, for good or for ill.  It is just plain goofy to think that the best pope is someone who does not think or act or look like the pope.  It is a media savvy move, perhaps, but really kind of a lie.  Once in a while even a casual guy like Frank will have to do something or say something people will not like because he is the one who has to do or say it.  And then the people who thought he was this easy going, live and let live sort of guy, will feel betrayed... and rightly so.  So Lutherans should not be taken in by the appearance of friendship by the solemn leader of a church which has anathematized our confession and called our leaders heretics.  It would be better to have a pope who looks and acts the part and is willing to sort through the thorny issues that once and still divide us.  Honest conversation from honest positions are always better than photo ops.

If this truth is claimed by pope, it is no less true of a pastor.  I am a Lutheran pastor.  The Lord has not placed me into the office and called me to this people in order to be their friend or companion upon life's way.  He is given me His Word to preach, the authority to forgive and retain sins, the office to set apart bread to be His body and wine His blood, to welcome those who can receive this gift worthily and to warn those who cannot, to instruct in the Scriptures young and old, to admonish the erring in their ways, to bring the Church to the sick in their hospital beds and to the housebound in their homes so that they too may hear the Word and receive the blessed Sacrament, to bring the comfort of Christ and His resurrection to the faithful in their last hours, to bury them in witness to their faith and for the comfort of those who mourn them.  This is the vocation I sought and the Church conveyed.  What kind of goofiness will shy away from this calling?

No, I am not saying that we need a rule to make every pastor wear a clerical and suit (although I hardly think this would be the worst thing).  But we need to make sure that those who are called, ordained, and installed as pastors are not trying to do everything to run away from or mask or hide this identity in favor of the illusion that a pastor is just another buddy, friend, or guy.  And so Timothy heard from St. Paul that such a calling was a noble thing that had some responsibilities and obligations attached to it.  If you want to say, Hey, that is not really me, then do us all a favor and resign because God's people did not call you to be their friend or mentor or leader or life coach but their pastor.  Be that man of God, if not for your sake, at least for theirs.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Foolishness. . .

There are some who suggest that the danger of ceremony, vestments, chanting, and other things loosely labeled high church is that it draws those who like this stuff into the sphere of the Roman Catholic Church.  It has also drawn some criticism and some association with homosexuality. 

Let me begin by saying that there are those who harbor Roman sympathies who also have a personal preference for higher ceremony but the ceremonies are not the things that draw someone to Rome.  It is theology pure and simple -- theological questions that flow out of the frustration of a Lutheranism that is all over the page theologically, without a stomach for discipline, insistent upon absolute congregational autonomy and independence, and who abhor their own theological (and liturgical) tradition.  The issue is not the ceremonial but the structure, the discipline, and the consistency of a church that remains theologically and liturgically stable.  Now, let me say on the onset that I do not believe this is what Rome offers -- especially in the light of the current occupant of the Chair of St. Peter.  I have always maintained that Rome is even more captive to the currents of change, even doctrinal, than confessional Lutheranism.  But I will admit the state of Lutherans today often vexes those who love its confessional witness and those who honor its liturgical history.

Of course, it is surely possible to find those who have homosexual desire also interested in liturgy and worship and who honor the fuller ceremonial.  It is equally possible to find homosexuals who are confessionally and theologically fully orthodox and Lutheran.  Does that mean that confessionalism among Lutherans leads to homosexuality?  Only a fool would say that.  Neither the theology nor the liturgical practice of that theology contributes to the desire for other men.  Those who in comments on this blog, past or present, who suggest that these things lead men to Rome or attract homosexuals are postulating a lie.

As Rome unfolds even more priestly scandals, it is clear that neither the titles, vestments, ceremonies, or theology of Rome makes men lust for other men or boys. There is but one thing that makes men desire other men and that is the disorder and brokenness of sin.  Everywhere we see that abuse is certainly not the exclusive domain of the church nor of a confessional or liturgical church.  Evangelicals have no denominational structure or supervision inherent in that structure but their own history is also tainted by the same kind and other abuse.  It is time we admitted that how we are born is not God's work.  It is this thing called original sin.  Those who seek and those on whom the good offices of the church have been conferred are not immune from this sin.  Marriage is not a medicine for homosexuality.  The vast majority of abuses are not pedophilia but the equally sinful and wrong abuse of a power figure with a sexually mature minor (male or female).  And it is equally true that the vast majority of cases are same sex abuses.  In other words, the problem lies not with ceremony or office or vestments or anything like that but the failure of those so charged with ascertaining the fitness of those who seek ordination and those who practice ecclesiastical supervision.   If the lust for vestments and pectoral crosses and a fuller ritual is accompanied by the lust for others (male or female), your desires did not originate nor are they encouraged by the liturgical life of the church but by your own affection for your vices.  What is wrong with you is not liturgical preference but disordered desire that is one of terrible fruits of original sin -- the same sin that makes the gift of marriage hard work for the husband and wife and love defined by sacrifice more than anything else.

In your foolishness you may associate a pastor who affirms the richer liturgical expression of our confessional identity as leaning Roman or suspicious in his orientation but that is your own mistaken conclusion.  Those who leave Lutheranism for Rome leave for theological and jurisdictional reasons and not for lace and ermine.  Homosexual desire is neither awakened by nor exhibited in ritual or ceremony but is from original sin.

The track record of detente. . .

The problems of trying to sit down with Kim Jong Un of North Korea or whoever is the real power behind Iran's theocratic system of government pale in comparison to the tension between the Church and the world and some imagined truce.  As history has witnesses, both North Korea and Iran have skillfully negotiated their cause and confounded those who have sought to remove the nuclear threat from either country.  Carrots have not enticed and threats of not cowered these into submission.  Perhaps President Trump knows what he is doing and will figure a way through the mess or he will end up having tried and failed as have most of his predecessors.  In any case, the stakes in this nuclear game of chess are not nearly as high as the stakes faced between the Church and the world.

One of the most common avenues of detente (remember that word) has been the attempt to make for some sort of rapprochement in which the thought is that if the Church gives up some of the things that identify her as church and learn to speak the lingo of modernity, our secular opponents will be won over.  This is most certainly the path of those who either self-identify or have been labeled progressives.  In my own Lutheran circles, another moniker is missional.  In any case it is a worthy cause though one I fear fraught with danger and with the same failed history as our dealings with nuclear powers we seek to disarm.

Many, I am certainly not the first or the finest, have offered a robust critique of liberal or “progressive” Christianity.  Ross Douthat is perhaps the most frequent voice against the cause of progressive or liberal Catholicism. In reality, of course, progressivism has already been called out and named for what it is -- “Modernism” (think here Pope Pius X and his words).  Progressives, unlike orthodox ones, are friendly toward secularism, relativism and skepticism and incline toward that perspective and so they fail to see how these are enemies of Christianity.  Instead, they find these opportunities for Christianity to show its true self, stripped of the non-essentials that have clouded its purpose and identity.

Progressives are hesitant about doctrine or truth that does not change.  Though they may give lip service to the idea of truth that endures forever, progressives believe that practice is always open to change and that definitions may be altered and formulas changed which may conflict with Tradition and even with Scripture itself.  The overarching principle for progressives is love that accepts without many boundaries or limits.  Specifically, this is the direction of the progressives with regard to social teaching, especially about sex, gender, marriage, and family.  They insist that just as life itself evolves and changes, so must the way we speak of these things evolve and change.

Progressives are deeply influenced by the latest thinking from psychology, sociology, and anthropology and consider these truths scientific in a way that dogma and Scripture is not.  They are also under the profound sway of the esteem of the world and the thinking of people.  So when polls tell us that the world thinks this or our own people in the Church think that, this is enough for the progressive to re-examine not only the way the Church has spoken of these things in the past but the content of that witness as well.

Progressives, however, fail to see that in the history of progressivism (or modernity), the result has not been any real gain of respect for Christian truth or adherence to that truth but the opposite -- the weakening of that truth within the Church, the loss of belief, the loss of confidence in the Church, tradition, and Scripture, and, finally, the dilution of the truth.  In addition, practices which should be shaped by faith end up being changed and changing the faith as a result -- in ways that do not at all strengthen the place of the Christian truth or the institution of the church in the world.

The inevitable conclusion to our attempts at detente with a world set against us and a people who like the freedom to pursue desire without restraint has been defeat and loss.  We can make our church buildings more friendly by designing them to look like the nondescript structures of our public areas but we have endured only the loss of reverence and transcendence.  We can make our liturgy more pedestrian and less eloquent but the end result is that there is no sense of mystery or wonder and God has become a yawn from a people bored with the whole idea.  We can make our morality easier and the result is not holiness but sin that masquerades as virtue and virtue that has become labelled as sin.  We can admit small errors in Scripture and tradition and it does not enhance the Scriptures and its living tradition but only make them appear more irrelevant and less true in their greater truth and witness.  Progressivism has not helped us win friends and influence people.  It has only gutted our identity and stripped us of the uniqueness of the Gospel that offers the one and only hope to the world of forgiveness, a clear conscience, real abundant life, and life that death cannot overcome.  Whether Francis the progressive pope or Joel Osteen the modern voice, the wake left by these speeding boats has made it a choppy and rough ride for the truth of Christ crucified and risen.

Friday, August 24, 2018

It must be said again. . .

From the esteemed pen of the Rev'd Dr. Richard Stuckwisch:
The form and adornment of the Liturgy have developed in various ways throughout the Church's history, but its basic integrity must always be guarded and maintained. That is to say, the preaching of the Holy Scriptures of the Prophets and Apostles as fulfilled in Christ Jesus, and the administration of His Holy Supper with His Word in accordance with His institution, are ever and always to be the central, controlling, decisive, and definitive factors. The preaching of Christ is always leading to the celebration of His Holy Sacrament, and the administration of His Sacrament always includes the faithful preaching of His Word unto repentance and faith.

The Liturgy is the Ministry of the Gospel of Christ. It is what He does and gives and carries out through His servants for His Church, according to His Word and promises. It is what constitutes the very Life of the Church as the Body of Christ. It therefore also prompts the preaching and confessing of Christ to the world, even as it provides the content of that witness.

The Church worships her Lord Jesus Christ, first of all, by hearing and receiving the Liturgy of His Gospel in faith and with thanksgiving, and so also by confessing and praying His Word in response to Him and to the praise of His Holy Name, and by living in love with one another in Him. When these holy things are replaced with marketing strategies, gimmicks, entertainment, social events, or appeals to human emotions and worldly appetites, then the entire point has been lost. It is no longer the Church, the Body of Christ, but an exercise in self-promotion.

To meddle with the Liturgy for the sake of missions is inherently a self-defeating tactic. For it is not the mission of the Church that determines or drives the Liturgy, but the Liturgy drives and determines the mission of the Church.

The goal and purpose of the Church's mission is to bring the nations into the Liturgy of the Lamb upon His Throne in the midst of His people, on earth even now as it is and ever shall be in heaven forever. The Church baptizes in the Name of the Lord and catechizes with the Word of Christ for the sake of bringing people to feast upon His Holy Supper as Christian disciples, that is, with repentance and faith in His Word. So, if the celebration of the Lord's Supper is compromised, marginalized, degraded, or removed from the gathering of His people, then whatever attempts are being made to bring people into the "church" are pointless, because the very Life of the Church has been forsaken and let go in favor of something else altogether.
My Comments:

When beginning a class on the Athanasian Creed, we spent some time on the fact that the catholic faith is that the Trinity may be worshiped -- not admired or understood even but worshiped.  Couple that with Franzmann's all theology is doxology or St. Vincent's lex orandi, lex credendi and it is apparent that everything the Church does flows from our life together around the Word and Table of the Lord. . . and it better flow back to it as well.  Or, nothing we are doing has any reality or integrity to it at all.  Thanks to the good pastor for reminding us of this and Gottesdienst for publishing this (by the way, why have you not yet subscribed?).

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The sound of silence. . .

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò at the Rome Life Forum on May 18, 2018. Steve Jalsevac / LifeSiteNews

Read the text of the Pope's letter on the sex scandal in the wake of all the publicity from Pennsylvania and the silence of so many bishops.  You know what you will not find in that letter?  No mention whatsoever of homosexuality.  No mention of bishops.  No plan to resolve the crisis.  What you will find is the Pope laying the blame on clericalism and another promise of zero tolerance.  And echoing his vague promises and insistence that he gets the problem and cares about a solution, well, who else but Cardinal Cupich and Fr. James Martin -- both known as friendly to the GLBTQ cause. So. . . it is clear that Rome not only does not understand the cause or scope of the problem, but the Pope is unwilling to be the point man for a real solution.

By the by. . . if there is ever a modern pope more inclined to the clericalism sin, it is Francis.  He cannot abide his critics or anyone to disagree with him, demotes people who ask him questions, promotes his cronies (complete with their own baggage), micromanages even those whom he has put in place as leaders, and refuses to act in the open but under the cover of secrecy, anonymity, and uncertainty.  We have met the enemy and it is us. 


In an 11-page written statement (see official English text here), Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, 77, insists that Pope Francis not only knew about strict canonical sanctions imposed on McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI but chose to ignore how serious the threat was and repeal them.

In testimony dated August 22, Archbishop Viganò, apostolic nuncio in Washington D.C. from 2011-2016, states that in the late 2000s, Benedict had “imposed on Cardinal McCarrick sanctions similar to those now imposed on him by Pope Francis,” and that Viganò  personally spoke with Francis about the gravity of McCarrick’s abuse soon after his election in 2013.  But, he says, Francis “continued to cover him” and not only did he “not take into account the sanctions that Pope Benedict had imposed on him” but also made McCarrick “his trusted counselor” who helped him to appoint a number of bishops in the United States, including Cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago and Joseph Tobin of Newark.  Archbishop Viganò also implicates Cardinals Sodano, Bertone and Parolin in the cover-up and insists various other cardinals and bishops were well aware, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl, McCarrick’s successor as Archbishop of Washington D.C. “I myself brought up the subject with Cardinal Wuerl on several occasions, and I certainly didn’t need to go into detail because it was immediately clear to me that he was fully aware of it,” he writes. The Cardinal’s “recent statements that he knew nothing about it … are absolutely laughable. He lies shamelessly.”