Wednesday, October 31, 2018

We made it. . .

We made it through the anniversary year.  It was the 500th anniversary of 1517 to 2017 -- since we are not sure about the accuracy of the nail pounding in the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church it is an anniversary without a specific starting point.  And, I suppose, the same could be said about its ending point.  Nevertheless, we have made it through a year of beating our chests and parading about our pride at being Lutheran.  For what it is worth, I am not at all suggesting we should have ignored this anniversary nor am I saying that we should not have a little pride of place as Luther's heirs.  But this was not so much the start of the Reformation as June 25, 1530, might be, with its formal presentation of the Augsburg Confession that has binding doctrinal force (at least in theory) among nearly all Lutherans.  Yet the Reformation spark that burned into a great flame began inauspiciously enough with some words of challenge on a paper by a monk not yet Lutheran and sent to an Archbishop who had no inkling of what this would turn into.  So 1517 is appropriately enough a good date to begin with. . . even if the end is not yet in sight.

We had a display of pictures and prints, a Lutheran timeline, a framed page from a Luther Bible published pretty close to Luther's time, and a host of other memorabilia.  We worked our way through everything in the Confessions except the Formula of Concord (that is to come shortly) and sang our way through Lutheran chorales.  For some it was a joy and for others it was a relief when it all came to a close.  But it remains an open question -- this thing called the Reformation.  It is not over yet and still there are Lutherans who want to be even more Lutheran (along with those who would prefer not to be reminded about such inconvenient truths as confession and catechism).  But the Reformation was never merely an event, it was and is a movement.  Maybe it is too little to claim that the Reformation is a reform movement within the church catholic or perhaps it is too much but Luther would surely think something was amiss if we made it into something that came and went in the past.  The Church is always being reformed.  Maybe not by a single force of nature like Luther but by the faithful who call with the Gospel and the faithful who hear and heed this call.  She is inhabited by sinful men (and women) and for this she must constantly be in a state of reform.  The devil's work will come to a close but he is still feverishly vexing the Church and creating reasons to acknowledge God's work of cleansing.  So I would posture a guess that God is not yet finished with Luther's heirs.  No should He be!

As you munch on your Halloween candy tonight, it would be good for you to ponder on the circumstances that surrounded the need for reform and renewal then and whether our own age and time is ripe for the same thing.  And then pray that those in our generation who hear and heed the call to reform will not squander the legacy nor fail to live up to the challenge of the future.

Gospel Pride. . .

Sermon for Reformation, observed, preached on Sunday, October 28, 2018, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

    Reformation Sunday is always a proud day for us Lutherans, and doubly so for us here at Grace as we get to witness the confession and confirmation of several of our youth.  Today we remember Martin Luther and all the reformers who worked to bring the eternal Gospel of Christ to light in the dark days of the Law oriented medieval church.  Today is a celebration, a celebration of shedding the chains of the Law and putting on the freedom of the Gospel.  We think of this freedom as a freedom from the Law, never having to look back at it again...but that’s not true.  The Reformation was never about getting rid of the Law.  It was about rightly understanding God’s Law and His Gospel. 

I.     We hear the words of Paul in our Epistle reading saying, “by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight,” (Rom 3:20) and we think that means the Law is bad.  Then we hear him say, “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law...through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom 3:21-22) and we know the Gospel is good.  But the idea that the Law is bad and the Gospel is good, is a false dichotomy.  Law and Gospel have to go together.  Without the sternness of the Law we couldn’t hear the sweet good news of the Gospel. 

    We assume the Law is bad because it can’t justify us, it can’t make us right with God.  Doing the works of the Law doesn’t earn us brownie points with God; they don’t get our feet in the door heaven.  No matter how many good works we do, no matter how many commandments we keep, it doesn’t make up for our sin.  We can’t erase our sin by following the Law.  In fact, we only know about our sin because of the Law. 

This is exactly what Paul says later on in his letter to the Romans.  “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin….I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died” (Rom 7:7, 9).  Paul isn’t saying that he had no sin until he heard the Law.  Paul was always a sinner, even from birth, even from the womb, just as you and I are sinners, born with that original sin passed on from our first parents.  It’s not the commandments that bring about sin within us; no, that’s already inside our heart.  But it is the commandments that shows us our sin. 
When we look at the “Thou shall’s” and “shall not’s” of the Law we see we haven’t done the “shall’s” and we’ve definitely done the “shall not’s.”  This is exactly what we said in our Confession of sins.  We live as if God didn’t matter and as if we matter the most.  We haven’t let God’s love have its way with us so our love for others fails.  We see this when we hear God’s Law, and it kills us, revealing our sin, revealing the eternal death that we deserve.  And because of that, we think it’s bad. 

In our world and society today it seems as if shame and guilt are non-existent.  We’re told to always be positive.  We’re told not to think about our failures and wrong doings, but instead think about our wants and success.  Any message that says we’ve done wrong is seen as hateful, damaging to who we are as a person.  And yet the truth is that we all have done wrong.  “There is no distinction: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:22-23).   This is the truth, and how can truth be bad? 

This is what the Law is and does.  It’s truth, telling us we’ve sinned, but it’s truth spoken by God. 
The Law can’t be bad because it’s from God, and nothing from God is bad.  The Law is good.  It’s God’s message to us so that we might see our sin, repent of it, and receive His forgiveness in Christ. 
Your works don’t justify you, Christ justifies you.  His work of propitiation, His sacrifice, His living a perfect life according to the Law and then willingly giving that life up on the cross to pay for your sin, that is what justifies you.  His blood cleanses you and makes you holy.  By the grace of God and for the sake of Jesus Christ His Son, our Lord forgives you your sins and declares you righteous.  This is the Gospel, how you’re saved and justified.  This is the sweet good news that you wouldn’t know as good news, unless you first heard God’s good Law. 

II.    God’s Law is good because it shows us our sin and our need for our Savior.  And it’s good because it shows us how we live as God’s redeemed people, how we live out Christ’s righteousness that we’ve received in our Baptism.  And since we are God’s people, since we’ve received Christ’s righteousness, we strive to fulfill the Law. 

There’s the temptation for us to consider the Law as bad because we fear it might breed self-righteousness.  We’re afraid we might begin boasting in our works, putting them forward as things worthy to God, things we should be rewarded for.  This is a real temptation.  Maybe you’ve thought your works were worth something to God? Maybe our Confirmands have thought their works were worth something?

Over the last 2 and 1/2 years these young ladies have done a lot of good work in preparation for today.  They’ve done the work of the second table of the commandments through different service projects.  They’ve done the work of the first table as they’ve studied Scripture and the Small Catechism, as they’ve completed workbook assignments and memory work, and written their essays.  All of this is good work, but these girls won’t boast in them.  They’re not here in front today because of these works.  You’re not here today in God’s house because of your works.  You’re here because of God’s grace, because He has worked faith within you, so that you would trust in Christ, in His salvation, and confess Him as Lord. 

As Paul says in our Epistle, we boast not in our works, but in Christ.  He’s done it all, even calling you to be His own.  You didn’t do a good work deciding to be a Christian, to follow Christ and receive the Gospel.  No, God gave this to you.  He worked faith within you through the words of the Gospel.  God chose you out of the world, to be His people, and He has brought you here, uniting you in the faith.  We don’t have a Law pride, but a Gospel pride.  We boast not in the works of the Law, but in Christ who saved us from everlasting death and condemnation. 

The point of the Reformation was never to get rid of the Law.  The point of the Reformation was to rightly understand God’s Law and Gospel.  Even though the Law doesn’t justify us, it isn’t bad.  It’s good, it comes from the Lord.  It shows us our sin so that we might hear the sweet news of the Gospel.  This is what we boast in.  We do works of the Law because it’s good, and as God’s people we want to do them.  And all the while we boast in our Savior with a Gospel pride, thanking God for the salvation that is ours because of Jesus.  In His name...Amen.  

A misreading of history. . .

501 years ago this week, a monk teaching at a fledgling university in Wittenberg had come to believe that a personal experience of God was more important than church tradition. . . or so it was said by one commentator this week.  But as surely as this is the popular reading of history, it is most assuredly a misreading of history and a rash judgment against a man who would not presume experience a pivotal magisterial role.  As neat and tidy as this explanation of Luther and the Reformation might be, it is so far from the truth as to perpetuate a great and damaging lie about Luther -- but more importantly about Lutheranism -- that continues to this day.

It was a time of question and concern.  What was the right and true authority for the Christian?  Was it deposited in earthly men and earthly institutions or was it retained by God in the primacy of His Word as source and norm of all doctrine?  Authority seems a quaint concern in our modern era in which little is granted much authority and skepticism is the norm.  But Luther was no skeptic.  He was not the humanist of Erasmus but a child of his time, surveying the corrupt landscape of Christianity and seeking to know that God was still present amid immoral popes, bishops, and priests, and dogmas which had no authority beyond the realms of the church which perpetuated those dogmas.  He was a man with a personal stake in this crisis but he was not driven by his own experience nor was he satisfied by that experience.  It was an external and objective truth He sought and it was the spark of the Reformation fire that this truth was found objective and concrete in the living words of the Word of God that endures forever.  Luther could be accused of being naive and idealistic but it would be a very hard stretch to say that Luther was an experiential Christian.  He certainly had little idea of the realities of the world beyond his own little world of Wittenberg nor any appreciation for the complexities of the then modern political life -- nor did he much care.  There was a higher calling and a higher purpose at work in Luther and that was the Kingdom of God and how it comes.  Luther was painfully transparent, moody, and filled with angst and a most unlikely candidate to have fostered the Great Reformation movement.  Erasmus was surely the better choice for the role -- if anyone were casting it.  But it was Luther who drove home the point over and over again and for which Lutherans still wrestle -- my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  Luther was loathe to change much more in that church tradition that must be changed and then only those traditions with recent pedigree and those which promoted an anti-Scriptural accretion of works righteousness into a gracious construction of hope in Christ alone.  And so we struggle with the man and the movement even today.  Consider the rash of books good and bad published for the movement's 500th anniversary year.  Consider the blame of some who place all modern day woes of Christianity upon the doorstep of Martin and Katie.  Consider the abandonment of Lutherans of their Luther and, even more significantly, of their own Symbols.  No, Luther was not an experientialist who judged tradition according to his own measure of things but a rather unlikely choice for God to use to raise Scripture up at a time when reason, works, and morality had all but buried the prize born of suffering and the life that rose from the ashes of death.  Happy Reformation!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Do your job. . .

Everyone knows Bill Belichick's coaching mantra:  'Do Your Job.' Roughly translated, "Do Your Job!" simply means being prepared, working hard, paying attention to the details and putting the team first. There must be something to it. Since Belichick took over the New England Patriots, his team has enjoyed 14 straight winning seasons, 12 playoff appearances, 6 AFC championships -- among other things. Many have taken up that mantle with respect to leadership in a variety of venues, even in the Church (watch Pr Ben Ball here).  I won't steal his thunder, though it is rather gentle thunder at that.  Yet I wonder if that is not the sum total of Luther's Table of Duties?  If it is, then it is applicable to all of us, from our baptismal vocations of worship, witness, intercession, and service, to our vocations as husbands, wives, sons, daughters, employers, employees, neighbors, and citizens.  Yet that is what makes it so difficult, isn't it?

Is it ever so much easier to criticize other people for not doing their jobs or for how they do their jobs than it is for us to do ours.  It is ever so much easier to come up with excuses or justifications for things we did not do that were our jobs.  It is ever so much easier to rewrite the job description so that it has us doing what we want to do instead of what is our job.  All of these are certainly clear and evident in the world around us but could they be evident also in our baptismal vocation and our callings to live as Christ's own in the world?

Not only to we love to hate our jobs, we love to spend our time figuring out ways to avoid doing our jobs.  I know it is true for me.  I suspect it is no less true for you.  Tomorrow is the convenient day when we shall at last be faithful and do what is given us to do but, as the song sings, tomorrow never comes.  We occupy ourselves with the things we love to do which may or may not be ours to do while we ignore what is our duty.  That is surely the dilemma every pastor finds himself in and I know it is not exclusive to pastors.

And the other side of the coin is that when we do work at what is ours to do, we expect recognition for it and complain when there is no formal gratitude or acknowledgement.  But, as Jesus reminds us, we have only done our duty -- something honorable but something that does not require and should not expect peculiar honors.

Every day I wrestle with the duties that are mine in the jobs I have to do and every day I fail -- but it is less the failure of a man who works hard but is always behind than it is a man who labors under a job or vocation that is not easy.  I would rather do the easy stuff than the hard stuff every day of the week.  You are probably no different.  So today we hear a simple call to a great task -- do your job.  Do it to the fullest of your ability.  Do it without expectation of reward or recognition.  Do it not because there is something in it for you but because it is your job.  And in this we are all to hold one another accountable.  In the world.  In the home.  And, in the Church.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Survey says. . .

You have heard the old expression, happy wife, happy life?  What about pastors and their parishes?  Take a gander at what Barna has surveyed and think about the results.

Pastors seem somewhat content with their present church but much more happy about being pastors than where they pastor.

Pastors love preaching most of all. . . surprise?  No, but it is a surprise that they are not so fond of pastoral care.

Pastors are most frustrated by apathetic members.  Go figure!!!  People who tend to make pastors act like dads raising immature children, reminding them to go to church, to give to support the work of the Lord, to read the Bible, to grow in faith. . . yeah, that is frustrating but it is part and parcel of the pastoral vocation.  Read Hebrews or Paul.

Pastors are good preachers.  At least those who are bald in the back.  Those who are bald in the front just think.  Those who are bald all over think they are good preachers.  Okay, pardon me the old joke.  I have been at this for more than 40 years and I am not sure I would say I am a good preacher.  I will leave that to the judgment of others.  No surprise that pastors hate being fund raisers.  What joy is there in that job???  What is surprising is that pastors think they are good at connecting with their neighbors and communities -- I daily struggle at this and would never say this is a personal strong point.  The bigger surprise is the number who think they are good evangelists.  Is it too low or too high???

I suppose surveys are most important to the people doing them.  I do not pay all that much attention to the results but I do find them interesting and challenging.  You can look it over at your leisure and if you come up with interesting conclusions, share them with me. . . please.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

On the way to the Forum. . .

Most of my adult life has included an anticipatory wait for the latest from the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau'  Lutheran Forum and its supplement Forum.  A subscriber since 1972, it was one of those must read sources of information on the subjects of liturgy and worship, Lutheran unity, and, of course, As Missouri Turns.  No matter what side of those issues you were on, these publications were must read.  Before the advent of the information age, the internet, and a 24 hour news cycle, we were left pacing to see what was the latest from NYC or New Haven, MO.  We knew the names by heart -- Koenig, Neuhaus, Stone, Baily, Klein, etc...  We read while Missouri blew up, the AELC, ALC, and LCA came together, and the world marched on by caring little about either.

I have to admit that I developed a certain fondness even for articles with which I was prone to disagree.  When I lived for a year on Long Island and later as a Lutheran pastor between Albany and NYC for some 13 years, I met some of the names now chronicled through the annals of its history (Changing World, Changeless Christ).  There was a time when I would stop whatever I was doing to read the ALPB publication that came in the mail.  Not so much anymore.  In fact, days go buy before I bother to open the quarterly journal or peruse the newsletter.  The world has changed.  Lutheranism is far different than it was in 1972 or even a decade or two later.  The glory names of its history are either Roman Catholic or dead.  Its attempt to focus its mission more pan-Lutheran has left it without many subscribers -- LCMS or otherwise.  It is not the first to struggle along while others packed it in.

After reading the history, it is clear to me that some things the Forum folks got wrong -- dead wrong.  Missouri's stand for dead orthodoxy has left it as the last remaining hope for confessional Lutheranism in the USA (and, perhaps, beyond).  Missouri is not in great shape but at least it has not committed wholesale abandonment of its Lutheran-ness in pursuit of crawling in bed with every other dying mainline Christian denomination in America or embracing the latest GLBTQ position as its own.  In some respects, Neuhaus and others put their money on the wrong horse in the church wars of the 1960s-1980s.  The ordination of women has led to the ordination of GLBTQ clergy -- whether by accident or intention.  The skeptical view of Biblical history and its message has led to a distance between what is believed, confessed, and taught and the Scriptural witness.  The renewal of Lutheranism got derailed and the Preus' brothers cannot be blamed for the sham and shell that is much of Lutheranism in America today.  Bleeding people and red ink, Lutheranism bears little witness to the admiring story TIME magazine foretold of its future back in 1958.  The American Lutheran Publicity Bureau has fared no better.  I have as many readers per day on my meager blog as ALPB has subscribers and this is not as much a credit to me as it is a sign of the grand decline of the once great effort to equip LCMS pastors with practical help toward a resurgent Lutheran identity.

Richard Johnson is a credible editor and writer for the Forum Letter but he worships at an Episcopal congregation -- despite being many steps to the right of the current leadership of the ELCA.  Who would have thought that the ALPB would lead to this?  The editorship of the Lutheran Forum is still open when this is being written and there is probably no chance in hell that the editor would be LCMS -- nor that his affiliation might make any difference at all.  Lutheran ecumenism has been eclipsed by an ELCA that will marry nearly anyone but Missouri and Missouri whose brightest prospects for a marriage partner probably lie with Lutherans in Africa.  We have Lutherans in name who say they believe like Lutherans while acting like liberal Methodists and Episcopalians and we have Lutherans who worship like evangelicals but insist they still hold to the theory of what it means to be Lutheran.  We have Lutherans who have recovered their catholic liturgical identity and Lutherans who insist that whatever works to pack them in is best practice.  We have diversity which has become the goal of nearly every Lutheran group but Lutheranism is just as white as ever.  We have a great history of Lutheran education but most Lutheran colleges and universities see their Lutheran identity more as legacy and heritage than guiding force or influential identity for who they are and what they do.  We have a ton of Lutheran seminaries but not so many Lutheran seminarians.

In the end, I guess, I lament how so many things turned out.  I wish that Missouri had taken on the theological questions front and center instead of relying on by-law to deal with an expanding gulf between her profs and her people.  I wish that Missouri and the ALC had gotten together before Missouri was entering the fight for its soul and the ALC had already begun to ordain women.  I wish that the LCA was more prominent in the ELCA -- at least the old kind of LCA from the 1950s.  I wish that it were still possible to realign Lutheranism into people who wanted to be Lutheran and those who did not care about it all that much.  Missouri may have won the Battle for the Bible but at what cost?  The ecumenists got a Lutheran merger but at what cost?  Lutheran seminaries wanted to do more than train pastors but at what cost?  All around us Lutheranism is in decline because it either forgets its history to pursue relevance or it forgets its history to mimic the evangelicals or it forgets its history to be accepted by mainline churches.  The greatest shock of all is that many of those who once were thought to be Lutheranism's future leaders are Roman Catholics.

So, what else is new?  Could it have turned out worse?  I suppose.  But I would have rather tried simply to be Lutheran and seen all this failure than to have tried to be somebody else and failed -- which seems to be what most Lutherans have done.  Strange, isn't it, that where Lutheran is still vital is where Lutherans are still Lutheran?!?!  I wonder if there is a lesson there.  I wonder if the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau and its twin publications of Forum and Forum Letter are paying any attention.  I sure hope the Lutherans I know are.  If there is a future for us, it will not be because we minimize our Lutheran identity or trade it away for our 15 minutes of fame.  I think you can take that last bit of wisdom to the bank.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

A picture IS worth a thousand words. . .

While some who have ditched nearly everything that identifies Lutherans as liturgical or dismissed it all as adiaphora and therefore matters indifferent and unimportant, pictures from the time around and after the Reformation show a very different spirit.

The whole thing is available here.  Thanks to T. David Demerest and Matthew Carver for making the work of Helmut Schatz available in English.  You can flip to it here and read and look for yourself. 

I have simply made some of the pictures available here.  I think they speak for themselves.  It is hard to dismiss the imagery of chasubles, copes, etc. and the dates that signify this was not simply some stage in a cleansing effort of Lutherans to ditch their catholic identity.  This is who we were, who we are, and, if we have a future, who we will be.

So look and think about it all. . . .

If Lutherans do not look like this today, what is the reason?

Friday, October 26, 2018

Not a withdrawl but an end to accmmodation. . .

For many years the game was played and it was sufficiently beneficial to both sides that it appeared to work. . . for a while.  The game I am referring to is the way the church or church agencies were contracted and paid to do what was considered the work of the state.  From orphanages and adoption to hospitals and nursing homes to social services and refugee resettlement and on and on, the church did the actual work, being paid for or having the bulk of its expenses covered by tax dollar, on the state, local, and national level.  For a long time, things seem beneficial to both provider and the government paying the bills.  But then things changed.  The culture no longer was in a mood to allow church distinctives to prevail in this service for pay arrangement.  Churches had to distance the faith from the actions done because of the one paying the bills.  Eventually, some churches agreed to be nothing more than secular agencies acting as sub-contractors for the government.  Some did not find a problem with that.  After all, the poor needed to be fed, the homeless needed shelter, the orphans needed, homes, etc...  Others found it impossible to continue in these arrangements in which they were paid to be quiet about the Gospel that was compelling them to love and serve their neighbor.  For the state, it was a simple either/or.  Either you do it our way and silence your doctrine while doing it or we will find somebody else to do it.  Eventually some agencies found that their reliance on government money made it impossible for them to continue even on a small scale without the government's dime.  Some of this is even now unfolding as governments and churches reassess the changing situation.

The so-called Benedict Option appeared to many to be a retreat, abandoning the public square in favor of a refuge of like believing people together, separate and apart.  But it was never the neat and clean disconnect that some claimed the “Benedict Option” was all about  The only real cultural withdrawal involved the withdrawal from exactly those circumstances and situations in which the church would have to surrender its distinctive message, doctrine, and morality to continue.  And the same applied to individual Christians.  It was never about finding a place to hide out but admission that when we silence our voices to do good with our hands, it is precisely the Gospel that loses.  When we become dependent upon somebody else for funds and they exercise their inherent right to call the shots, the church and individual Christians cannot continue without losing their integrity and without diluting the Gospel.

When I read the Benedict Option, I hear the resurgence of a church unafraid to speak, a church not in fear of the purse strings, and a church no longer willingly constrained in the good works that she can and must do.  Let us be honest here.  Are there many religious hospitals left?  Are there many religious retirement communities and nursing home facilities left?  If we must forego the government dollar to do these, must it also mean that we do them no longer?  I hear in this a call for the church to be resurgent and for individual Christians to sacrificially support this work so that the work continues of engaging people with the Gospel in word and works without having to follow the rules of the donors who make the condition of silence the price to pay.

In Lutheran terms, our Lutheran social service agencies need not stop what they are doing but find a way to do with work in spite of not having the comfortable tax dollar to pay for it all.  Our Lutheran works for the poor, the needy, the unemployed, and the sick is not to end simply because the government has pulled the plug on the steady stream of dollars that made these works Lutheran in name only.  No, indeed.  We still do them but free from constraint of rule or fettered by what we cannot say while doing them.  Our Lutheran schools ought not be just like public schools with a hint of faith but thoroughly Christian and Lutheran in identity and practice.  Are Lutheran schools dying because they are no longer needed or because they have been slowly but deliberately surrendering their Lutheran identity over so many years that we did not even see it?

Maybe it is time for us to cough up the money to make these arenas Lutheran in identity and practice without the luxury of the government dollar.  Or maybe we will decide that some of these things are not so needed or not so urgent and we will not do them anymore.  I don't know the answers to those questions but I do know we cannot make accommodation with the state without finding our hands are tied and our mouths are silenced and this cannot continue.  So have it if you disagree or, perhaps, if you do agree. . .

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Who was Paul VI?

Popes are popes, it is true, but they are also men, flawed and sinful.  In this respect, they are like all of us -- we have our moments of great heroic strength and we have our moments of grave weakness.  Paul VI is no different from us in this way though none of the rest of us were ever called Pope.

In the wake of Vatican II, it appears that Paul VI was not a pillar of strength but a bowl full of jell-o.  The Council did not mandate the liturgical changes that have become identified with it.  Nearly every one of these decisions were made post-Vatican II, promulgated by a small circle of liturgical pioneers who were given rather free reign by the Pope to implement the practical side of Vatican II's theory.  This included the stark changes of language, of tables set up as altars so priests might face the people, of translations that made trivial the great words of old (think here the collects), of vestments that introduced this rather stark modernity to the eye even as the words did to the ear of the faithful, and of music that seemed to shift at once from the timeless sound of chant and polyphonic ordinary to the folk song of guitar so common in the secular world.  There are stories after stories of Paul VI not even realizing what he had signed into being, the grave disruption between the life of those in the pew prior to the Council and the life of those in the pew in the wake of these substantial changes.  Paul VI here seems a small man, a weak man, who did not know or realize what was being done in his name and therefore by him.

This year, however, we remembered the anniversary of a radically different Pauline legacy.  July 25 was the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, the great encyclical on marriage, love, and children that did not fall victim to the press of change but solidly planted the Roman Catholic Church in continuity with its past. What makes it all the more surprising is that this encyclical was issued during the cultural meltdown of the 1960s, indeed the very year a sitting President chose not to run again, pivotal figures were assassinated in the US, and the violence in our land came to a climax at a Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  The whole of the Western world was expecting change and revolution the likes of which they had seen from Paul in the liturgical changes under his imprimatur following Vatican II but Humanae Vitae instantly became the subject of papal betrayal and one of the most vilified works of the papal magisterium in history.  Bishops and theological professors expressed moral outrage and some of them worked publicly to distance themselves from Paul VI as well as work behind the scenes to but the document of its intent.  The guitar song of free love, free sex, and free choice had fallen victim to a pope who had suddenly found his backbone.

Thirty years before this the Anglicans had caved on artificial forms of birth control and most Protestants and Lutherans had left this confused mess to be sorted out without much guidance from the Church and by men and women in the privacy of their own bedrooms.  Perhaps this side of Christianity was too caught up in the spirit of revolution or perhaps it thought there were bigger fish to fry.  In either case, Paul VI provided a pause to the non-stop press for the sovereignty of desire that would produce Roe v Wade and the invention of the right of privacy which trumped all other moral rights and wrongs.  I doubt that John XXIII would have recognized the Roman Church if history had moved as it did but he had not died before the end of Vatican II.  I am not sure that many recognized the Roman Church if they had slept through the decade of the 1960s but Paul VI did provide a rationale for maintaining the teaching of the past even in the wake of such radical change.  In the end, Paul VI proved prescient.  His prophesied in Humanae Vitae about the rise of abortion fever, of the assault on marriage and the family, and of the victimization of women that would be the end of all the freedom and the dismantling of previous social mores for the cause of sexual freedom.  And now look where we are at today. Much as I abhor the idea of liturgical change that is a radical disconnect with the past, I must credit Paul VI for finding his voice on the issue of life and its sacred gift and character from God.  His stumble out of the gate following Vatican II was mitigated by his unwillingness to abandon marriage, children, and life to human desire or technology.  For that we should all be grateful -- even Lutherans about to celebrate again the Reformation.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Profound Pastoral Theologian. . .

In Remembrance
+ Rev. Dr. Charles John Evanson +

Charles John Evanson was born in Elmhurst, Illinois, the firstborn son of Dr. Charles Olaf and Louise Evanson. He was baptized and confirmed by Pastor Luther Yeager Seibert in St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Elmhurst. He was married to Lenore (nee Clark) in the Bronx by the Reverend Berthold F. von Schenk. They were blessed with three children: James August, Charles John III, and Anne Marie.

Pastor Evanson earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology and Philosophy from Valparaiso University in 1959. He subsequently studied at Chicago Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago from whence he received a Bachelor’s of Divinity in 1964. He did post-graduate work at both Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

He served a vicarage at Lutheran Charities in Chicago and as part of his move to the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, he served for two years as an ordained deacon under Rev. Berthold von Schenk at Our Savior in the Bronx. He was ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry and rostered in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod on the first Sunday in Advent, November 29, 1964, by Pastor Clemens Neuhaus.

His first pastorate was with St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Stratford, Ontario, Canada (1964-1967). Subsequently, he served congregations in Detroit (St. John’s Lutheran Church, 1967-1970), and in Chicago (Christ English Lutheran Church, 1970-1975). His final pastorate was with Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne (1975-2000).

In 1999 Pastor Evanson was asked to travel to the University of Klaipeda in Lithuania to serve as a guest instructor. Soon after Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne issued him a call to serve as deployed staff in the Baltic States. By April of 2000 he was teaching elementary Hebrew, homiletics, God and creation, eschatology and New Testament theology at the University. He continued in theological education on behalf of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in that part of the world until his retirement in 2015.

In addition to his parish work, from 1964 to 1999, Pastor Evanson served in many district capacities for the Ontario District and the English District, including as circuit counselor. He also served at the synodical level as the secretary of the Liturgical Texts and Music Committee of the Commission on Worship. He was also at various times a guest instructor or lecturer at the Stratford Normal School, the Stratford General Hospital School of Nursing, Saint Francis College, Concordia Senior College, Concordia Seminary (St. Louis), and Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne). He also lectured widely throughout the United States for district conventions, circuit conferences, and Church Musicians within the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. He published articles in Studia Liturgica (as a translator), The Lutheran Witness, In Spirit, Concordia Theological Quarterly, The Bride of Christ, and a Festschrift for Norman Nagel. He was also a contributor to Lutheran Worship – History and Practice, and the translator/author of the collects as well as much of the liturgical material in the hymnal Lutheran Worship.

In the year 2000, he was awarded the Doctor of Divinity (Honoris Causa) by Con- cordia Theological Seminary. Working with the Rev. Dr. Darius Petkūnis, pastor of the Palanga Lutheran Church, Dr. Evanson played a significant role in the development of the Lithuanian hymnal and agenda. In 2012, he received his greatest honor: Bishop Midaugus Sabutis made him a member of the Lithuanian clergy.

Surviving are his wife, Lenore of Oviedo, Florida; his son James and his wife Jill and their children Lydia and Noel of Evansville, Indiana; his daughter Anne of Oviedo, Florida; and his son Charles and his wife Julie and their children Case, Claire, and Crew of Carmel, Indiana; along with many students, colleagues, and friends.

A Brief Tribute. . .

Pastor Charles Evanson was a pastoral theologian.  Though he had every capability of being an academic theologian, his heart was centered within the life of the parish, gathered around the Word and Table of the Lord as the baptized people of God fulfilling their calling of worship, witness, intercession, and mercy work.  He was a gifted teacher who schooled, as he preached and taught, from perspective of the steps of the altar where we approach God to receive His inestimable gifts and from which we depart in His name to serve Him in the world.  I first came to Redeemer anticipating the heady days of the then great liturgical scholar Herbert Lindemann but what I found was a congregation in some disarray.  A senior pastor was leaving not only Redeemer but the Synod and the assistant had left amid scandal.  In the pieces of that once legendary liturgical church, it seemed good to the Lord to call as their sole pastor, the Rev. Charles J. Evanson.  It was not a match made in heaven but it proved to be wise beyond our knowing and Redeemer congregation was redeemed in the years that followed.  I was there when he was installed and no one could have known what tests and trials would come from that wonderfully celebratory occasion. 

Whatever turmoil in the parish was seldom the focus of his works or his heart.  I was ordained a deacon with Gary Frank and Marvin Hinkle and served at Redeemer as liturgical deacon, visitor to the sick and shut-in, sometime catechism teacher, occasional organist, and temporary custodian for most of the six years I was at the Senior College and Seminary.  When I was to marry, Pastor Evanson was our counselor and presided at the nuptial Eucharist.  When vicarage took my wife and I to Long Island (not that far from his own diaconal service), we stored our furniture in an unused room at Redeemer.  When I was ordained and installed into my own parish, our frequent visits back to the Fort Wayne area included an obligatory visit in his study and the opportunity to sit in the pews once more on Sunday morning.  It is at the altar and in the pulpit that I remember him most vividly.

On Saturday mornings while I was there, Pastor Evanson often presided over impromptu classes on liturgy, on pastoral care, on church history, and on the life of those who serve the Lord as His under-shepherds.  Amid pipe smoke and frequent reaching for a book, this man became not only the object of my awe but a wise and eloquent mentor.  Amid the turbulence of a Synod in conflict, he was one of those who put together a hymnal in 18 months -- one that seems to have satisfied no one but was the essential forerunner of the much beloved Lutheran Service Book now in use.  He was nobody's man but the Lord's man.  It confounded those on the left and the right; those who thought in political terms were often confounded by a man who thought only in pastoral terms.  He, like many, was a man touched by affliction, sorrow, and conflict in life and yet he did not surrender to bitterness.  His humor was erudite and his wit sometimes had a sting but he lived what he taught me -- never take yourself seriously but never take the work of the Lord lightly.

In the weakness of disease, he remained a man of the church whose long shadow was cast over the lives of many pastors in our church body.  Whether many will remember him or not, the Lord has not forgotten him.  I write this brief tribute as a means of reminding our church today of the profound character of this man whose gifts were manifold and whose legacy is more than we know.

Resquiat in Pacem

Fake Moral Outrage. . .

Anthony Esolen recently used a sentence to describe the outrage of many against the McCarrick and  associated sex abuse scandals.   We are pigs in a sty, complaining that the boar stinksI thought about what he wrote and wondered if it was not exactly the situation, not simply for Rome and its scandals but for the wider story of abuse and sexual license.  We complain about what is wrong but we do nothing to repair the wrong except blame the wrongdoer.  We strive for the easy goal of trying to be good when goodness costs us nothing but we give it up as soon as it requires anything from us.

In the McCarrick scandal the problem is not simply one bishop but many.  It is not that McCarrick is one bad apple but rather that Rome has labored under a denial of the problem and a denial of responsibility by those could have, should have, and probably did know something of it but denied it or ignored it.  Here I am not so much addressing the issue of celibacy as much as the issue of homosexuality among the clergy.  Here the issue is not only the issue of disordered desire but also the willingness to do more than try to live a chaste and pure life.  Yet at the same time, the people pointing their fingers are the same folks who show disdain and mock the whole idea of purity, chastity, and holiness.  A culture that winks at consensual immorality of all kinds has reduced morality simply to consent.

At the same time, the #metoo movement has proven effective at bringing down people who many were thought untouchable and yet there is something wrong here.  The same people who rightfully condemn that actions of the offenders at the same time are perfectly comfortable with a culture in which hook ups and sexual liaisons are not wrong except when they are not consensual.  Add to this the fact that many of the people who are so strong with their words of condemnation continue to dress provocatively and to flaunt sexuality while expecting the lookers to look beyond that to the inner beauty of the person.  Can you have it both ways?  Is morality defined simply by a yes or a no?

Much of the moral outrage is fake.  Our culture does not want to give up its immorality excused simply because it is consensual or because it is does not hurt anyone (as some claim about pornography).  Culture wants it all -- free sex without commitment, love that is momentary infatuation, judgment free choice as long as it is consensual, abortion and an out from the ordinary intended fruit of sexual intercourse -- while at the same time remaining free to condemn what it does not like -- self-denial, chastity, and purity.  We love to admire such virtues but we do not strive very hard to emulate them in our own lives.

In the midst of all of this, the Church must do more than mirror the words we hear from culture.  We need to do more than ask people to try.  We must call people to the sacrificial struggle of self-denial which is the hallmark of those who confess the Gospel with their lips.  That is what Rome forgot and what we forget when we remain silent about the pursuit of virtue while being loud in our protests against the wrongs in fashion at the moment.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Holy Lord deserves something more. . .

Undoubtedly most folks using Divine Service 1 and 2 of LSB or the services of ELW will have grown accustomed to the phrase, Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might...  But it has not worn so well, at least in my mind.  The translation of the Sanctus was a nod to the ICEL and our attempt to be ecumenical.  We went along with the rest of the liturgical crowd in an attempt to render Hebrew into mundane English.

It does not take much familiarity with Scripture to figure out where the original came from.  Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus Domine Deus Sabaoth  (Heilig, heilig, heilig, Herr Gott Zabaoth) pulls together Isaiah 6 since about the 5th century. The Greek text in Revelation 4 has παντοκρατωρ (pantokrator)instead of Σαβαώθ (Sabaoth). Pantokrator does mean “powerful over all.” 

He is YHWH God SBAOTH.  The Vulgate puts it rather awkwardly as 'God of armies,' referencing the great warrior tradition of the God who vanquished the enemies of His people Israel.  Of course, armies will not work today without hesitation about things military and all.  So I can well understand the problem addressed by the ICEL.  Nevertheless, their solution has not worn well, I think.  I am not sure how to render the image of God and His armies in a way that does not step on modern sensitivities but I do think the Lord deserves something more.

'Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might'.  So if we cannot render it "armies," what might replace power and might?  I wonder if Rome has not picked the right word.  In the newer English translation of the Mass, the phrase power and might was replaced with God of hosts.  Now I will admit that this is a rather ancient term and somewhat in need of unpacking but that the very reason I am drawn to it.  It is not mundane but somewhat of a mystery.  Hosts does mean armies, after all, and it we cannot use the original Sabaoth or the more literal armies, maybe hosts is a fitting compromise.  We Lutherans seem intent upon following Rome's lead in liturgical reform.  It remains to be seen if we will follow this one.

My own preference would have been to retain the original and leave the Hebrew term alone --  Sabaoth. We Lutherans have a history of that term until 1978 and LBW and 1982 and LW, but we have restored Divine Service 3 without much alteration -- none in the ordinary, at least.  So why not simply let it be?

Monday, October 22, 2018

Who can be saved?

    Sermon preached for Pentecost 22, Proper 24B, on Sunday, October 21, 2018. 

    We live in a different world than the world of Jesus and His disciples.  Perhaps that is rather obvious but here I am speaking about the way we view God and our status before Him.  Unlike the words of the Gospel this morning, we marvel not at who can be saved but who won’t be saved.  Ours is a God who shrugs His shoulders at sin, who welcomes even unbelievers, and in whom everyone shall be saved.  To think otherwise is offensive to us.  In our diversity loving culture in which everyone is included and no one excluded, the God of Mark’s Gospel has no place.

    But it does not matter all that much what we think of God.  It does matter what God thinks of us.  And this will be the revelation of judgment day that will both surprise the world and cause no small amount of consternation.  It is shocking to us because we live in a world in which nobody is allowed to fail anymore.  We have adopted the T-ball rules for life in which everyone gets as many chances at bat as they want or need, everyone runs the bases, nobody keeps score, and everyone gets a trophy in the end.  Those are not the rules of God.

    If the rich cannot be saved, who can be saved?  The disciples grew up in a world cleanly divided between the haves and the have nots.  They expected the rich and powerful to be able to do whatever they wanted and to get away with anything.  We are probably not so different in this respect.  Where the disciples were in awe of this, we probably resent it.  We expect a fair and equal playing field and we expect the rules to bend so that everyone may succeed.

    Jesus insists that riches cannot buy salvation – not even someone rich in good works.  It is harder for the rich to be saved than a camel to go through the eye of a needle.  If the rich cannot be saved, then there is little hope for ordinary people.  Or, is there?

    Peter is the good Lutheran in the bunch.  Well, Jesus, we don’t have much money but we gave up everything for you.  We followed You when You called us.  We have left home and families behind.  We go to Church most Sundays.  We often attend a Bible study.  We have brought our kids to catechism classes.  We gave up beer money to put something in the plate as well.  We may not be perfect but surely even these count for something.  Surely there is room for us?

    Yet the words of Jesus are blunt.  Neither money nor works can purchase salvation.  With man it is impossible.  Not hard, not difficult, not tedious, but impossible.  Jesus refuses to give us a pep talk to try harder, to work smarter, to be holier.  None of this will count.  Who we are and what we think and what we say and what we do are stained with sin.  Thought, word, and deed, we confess.  What we do and what we have not done.  The evil that was forbidden and the good that we could not.  It is not a matter of what you have or what you have given up.  Yet what is impossible with man, is not only possible but probable with God.  He can do for you what you cannot do for yourself.  He can save the guilty sinner and redeem the lost sheep.  That is the good news to camels seeking to fly through the eye of a needle.

    Our great temptation is to think that we have given up something for God.  We give up Sunday mornings.  We give up all the fun things in life to follow the commandments. We give our money for the offerings.  We give up what we want to do in order to try and do what God wants.  Some of us leave a spouse at home and go to Church alone.  Some of us have sacrificed careers for the sake of the Kingdom.  Some of us have faced hard lives, great afflictions, and much sorrow all to remain faithful to God.   Does this not count?

    Christ will have none of it.  None of these things commend you before God and none of these things will count for anything in obtaining your salvation.  For whatever you have given up to be faithful to God is nothing compared to what God has done for you.  Riches and works count for nothing – only the treasure of Christ and His saving work.

    This is not a promise of a reward or a balance scale that will eventually be in your favor. This is about the nature of God’s grace and the power of His mercy.  Salvation is not for the good or the righteous or even for those who have potential to become good or righteous.  It is for the sinner with dirty hands and dirty heart and dirty mind who confesses it all before the Holy God.  You may think that you have done something or given up something to contributed in some small way to your salvation but God has done it all for You in Christ.  Faith rejoices in mercy that cannot be purchased or earned but is freely given in Christ your Savior.

    In this way, the first will be last.  The haves in this world who trust in themselves and what they have done will end up with nothing.  They will be last.  Like the rich man last week.  Once they find out that they have nothing to give God in exchange for His mercy, they will go away disappointed.  And those who think they are last on earth because they are afflicted, wounded, poor, weak, and repentant sinners –  they will be first.  God will not forget those who confess their sins and plead for mercy just as God will not have mercy on those who confess they are worthy.

    So then what?  The consequence of grace is not that we do nothing but that the direction of our works is not toward God for His approval but toward our neighbor.  Because God has changed our hearts and we don’t think in terms of self-interest or a balance scale anymore.  We think as a people who have been given more than they deserve.  We are not merely grateful but transformed by grace.  We love what we once feared and we rejoice in what we once found unthinkable.  That God loves sinners and saves us by grace has become the driving force of our lives.  We sing “created in me a clean heart, O God,” and this is exactly what God has done.  Our hearts are new and so in this newness we battle the old Adam in us.

    What we do for the sake of Christ and the Gospel is not lost to us. In fact, these things are the only things that last.  We love to say you can’t take it with you but in one sense we can.  Those good works that contribute nothing to our salvation will not be forgotten by God nor do they pass His gaze unnoticed.  Faithfulness to God is not without consequence.  The Lord who sees all, sees our faithfulness to Him and our efforts to live faithfully in response to the Gospel. 

    Friends in Christ, the Gospel is always free to you but it cost the Lord Jesus everything in suffering on the cross and in the pain of death.  From that suffering, your new life is born. Connected to His death and resurrection in baptism, you are not who you were.  You are a new people in Christ, created anew in Christ Jesus for good works.  And through these good works You show forth to the world whose you are and what is the everlasting treasure you grasp by faith. 

    How easy it is to focus on what we think we have sacrificed or given up for the sake of the faith.  How tempting it is to think that God is asking too much of us, that the cost of faith is too great.  But we are the blessed of the Lord on whom He has lavished His most precious Son.  He died for us while we were yet sinners and before we even knew or acknowledged His gracious favor.  Yet He esteemed us in love enough to do this and to choose us to be His own children through baptism and to live under Him in His kingdom now and forever.  We live now in this generation but as a people who have enjoyed a heritage of faithful generations who went before us, who built where nothing was before and now we have this congregation, who passed on the faith to us as children and nurtured us as adults making sure there was a pastor here to provide the Word and the Sacraments to our budding faith, and whose work and witness has proven faithful. 

Now we must consider our part in maintaining this faithful witness and in doing the work to enable the Church to be here for a new generation.  We are the blessed, chosen generation to whom are given the gifts and blessings of the Lord which we neither merit nor earn.  And with it comes the responsibility and the challenge to leave a legacy, to secure things for those to come, and to pass the faith on in words and in works.  In just a few weeks we will have a celebration dinner to come together to pray, to consider how the Lord has blessed us, and to give sacrificially for that future. . . And to rejoice in those who are being saved as angels do above.

    Why do we marvel so at who will not be saved while the miracle of those who are right now being saved is before us?  You, whom God has raised from death through baptism to live in Christ and with Christ.  You, who contributed nothing to your salvation but who shows this salvation in words and works that glorify God and help your neighbor.  You, who have never known the poverty endured by the Son of God, but have been made rich in Him.  You, whom the Lord has delighted to call His own, rejoice not in what God has not done or what He has not revealed to you but in what He has done and what He has made known in Christ for you, for your salvation, and for the sake of the whole world.  Amen

Before it said no, it said yes. . .

More goofiness parading as fact. . .  You may read here. . .

 I have no idea who this Idan Dershowitz is but his invention published as scholarly wisdom is beyond belief.  Dershowitz is attempting to claim that among the many renditions of the text of Leviticus along its way to the version we know today, things changed.  What was first allowance for homosexual relations between men because a prohibition later on.  And how does he know this, textual evidence, he claims.  Textual criticism and those who practice it generally cannot accept the text as we have it and presume to unpack a history that is attested to not in evidence or in fact but in supposition.  We must be careful here.  We do not have the luxury of being able to press the undo button and see what went before.  Even if we did, there is no evidence whatsoever that the undo button would show us anything different than what we have.  In fact, every evidence we have sustains and supports the text as we know it to be the ancient text, the authentic text, and the authoritative text.  The rest of this is interesting supposition that offers us nothing solid except a guess ventured, a guess so often based less on what is thought to be in the text but upon modern presuppositions and points of view.  That is surely the case with Dershowitz.  He is guided not by the text but by his desire to see what the text clearly says to be undone.

Chapter 18 of Leviticus contains a list of forbidden incestuous acts, followed by prohibitions against sex with a menstruating woman, bestiality and various other sexual acts. In Verse 22, we find its most famous injunction: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Leviticus 20:13 repeats this law, along with a punishment for those who violate it: “They shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”)

Like many ancient texts, Leviticus was created gradually over a long period and includes the words of more than one writer. Many scholars believe that the section in which Leviticus 18 appears was added by a comparatively late editor, perhaps one who worked more than a century after the oldest material in the book was composed. An earlier edition of Leviticus, then, may have been silent on the matter of sex between men.

But I think a stronger claim is warranted. As I argue in an article published in the latest issue of the journal Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel, there is good evidence that an earlier version of the laws in Leviticus 18 permitted sex between men. In addition to having the prohibition against same-sex relations added to it, the earlier text, I believe, was revised in an attempt to obscure any implication that same-sex relations had once been permissible.
A better scholar than I has rebuffed Dershowitz and his claims in First Things.  You can read Robert Gagnon here. 

My point in all of this is that the typical modern approach is to begin with the assumption that Scripture simply cannot possibly mean what it says and therefore something had to happen to corrupt its intent and its original meaning.  Such is the nefarious way of the editor who puts two and two together and comes up with fifteen and one half.  And, of course, the moderns insist that the text as we have it could not possibly be from the original authors but has suffered drastic revision by editors and redactors until it is in the shape we have it today -- wholly unreliable and invented.  So therefore the Church must turn to the academic to tell us what it really says and what it really means.  In this way the exegete cannot possible begin with the textus receptus but must mine its earth for the raw ore of origins.  The problem with this raw ore is that it is just as unreliable and unreadable as the text and so we must presume what is not there and read into it what it does not say.  In the end we have no word of the Lord at all but our best guesses -- minus miracles, of course.  And with such legend, myth, story, opinion, edit and redaction, about the only thing left is morality -- a morality without boundary except what is consensual and what feels right and a morality which insists that what God wants, if there is one, is to thine own self be true.   All that work just to get to where culture, society, trend, and fad already are.  Seems like too much work to me.  Why not dispense with Scripture and simply allow God to speak through desire, want, consent, and feeling?  Yup, that is surely the easier path but, alas, it does not have the same authority as "Thus saith the Lord -- we think."

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The sign of peace. . .

The liturgical movement has been credited with the restoration of the sign of peace to accompany the Pax Domini.  If you want to stir up things, just ask folks Roman or Lutheran about the practice of stretching forth the hand with a smile and greetings which rage from the traditional Peace of the Lord to Howdy.  Some, usually extroverts, love the chance to say Hey to all the folks and others, usually introverts, abhor the idea of a formalized welcome time.  Of course, it is neither a how are ya moment nor is it a greeting time.  The peace remains Christ's to give and ours to mirror in His name and it is not a feeling or a greeting but a peace born of the gift of forgiveness and expressed most profoundly in the peace of the bread and cup that convey this grace.

I learned that the sharing of the peace and the Pax Domini are, in essence, different things.  We do share the peace but it is shared immediately following the absolution.  The pastor absolves according to the customary wording of Lutheran Service Book and after the people's Amen, the pastor prays: May He who began this good work within you bring it to completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Again the people respond with the Amen to the prayer.  Then the pastor greets them:  The peace of the Lord be with you.  The people respond, And also with you, before extending this greeting to those around them.  In this way the greeting of peace is tied to the absolution and to that which the Lord has done to forgive our sins (so that we may also forgive one another).  It is before the actual beginning of the Divine Service and so it does not intrude upon the flow of the Pax Domini to the Agnus Dei and the people's preparation for the reception of the Lord's flesh and blood.

In doing this, the peace that comes at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer and Our Father is preserved as the word and work of Christ alone.  The response here is not And also with you but simply Amen -- for that is what the faithful say in response to the gift of the Lord's peace.  It is at once a word not only fitting but all that the faithful can possibly say before the Lord whose gracious favor has forgiven their sins and now proceeds to feed them the blessed food of Christ's body and blood under bread and wine.  In doing it this way, there is no need to try and bring the chaos of voices and movement back to the flow of the liturgy and the time of the people to prepare for their reception of the Holy Sacrament has not been shortened or treated as something casual or unimportant.

In contrast, the greeting after the absolution comes just as the Divine Service will soon begin.  The organist and cantor begin intoning the Introit and it gently and reverently brings the people back together in their places and for the purpose of the Divine Service.  As the Introit is intoned, the pastor and his assistants make their way to the altar for the first time, the pastor kisses the altar and either bows or genuflects and takes his place for the Kyrie, Hymn of Praise, and Collect (the extended entrance rite of the mass).

It is a subtle change to the printed order of LSB and a very gentle addition that befits both the words and the character of what is happening in both places.  I have been doing it this way for nearly 40 years and it has helped both to preserve the greeting for its noble purpose while preventing the free for all that causes many of the pious angst when it happens suddenly after the Our Father and as the people sing their preparatory song of faith, the Agnus Dei.

Repeating this with a few adaptations because some of our newer folks who hated the greeting of peace find this order much more conducive to the liturgy, its solemnity, and the purpose of the greeting. . .

Saturday, October 20, 2018

A legal choice that one hopes is never made. . .

What do we make of all our division over abortion?  For surely the proxy fight that played out over Kavanagh's nomination to the SCOTUS was less about the man than about Roe v. Wade.  It would not have mattered if there were no charges to his character, there was something else that was going on.  Yet poll after poll show that at the edges about the same percentage of people want to ban it entirely (taking the choice away) also want to prevent any ban and leave no limits upon the choice.  In the middle are people who mostly wish it was a choice that no one ever made -- sort of the way many Christians look at hell and hope that it is mostly empty. 

Americans are not so divided over other issues as they are over abortion.  The rhetoric has escalated to the point where it has come to define the political parties.  Is there such a thing as a real pro-life prominent Democrat or even the potential to be one, anymore?  Is there such a thing as a real pro-choice prominent Republican or even the potential to be one, anymore?  Most of us would say that this is a foregone conclusion.  Dems are all for being able to flush away what lives in the womb and Repubs are all for keeping that life at all costs, save, perhaps, the life of the mother (not her health but her life).  How has one issue so characterized political parties that seem to be a broader umbrella of other positions on other subjects?

I will admit I have no understanding of why a mother would want to end her pregnancy.  I certainly do understand it is costly to bring the pregnancy to term -- costly in so many ways -- but the choice, if there is one, was made before the pregnancy text was positive.  I have lived with the regret and shame of many choices made and suffered for them.  I am not comparing these to the abrupt awareness that you are pregnant with a child you do not desire.  What I am saying is that the common drive for abortion is the desire to have a way out, a do over, a release from the responsibility of a choice already made.  This is not unique to a woman who finds out she is pregnant.  It is the common malady of sinners since the Fall.  We are all like Adam in our pursuit of any alternative but the one consequence of a choice already made.  But that choice is usually one with smaller consequences than the death (not of a fetus but) of a child.  This only magnifies and puts directly into the cross hairs the nature of our fallen lives and how we deal with regret.

That is the key.  We all wish we could live without regret.  That is why we have some sympathy for the women who find themselves pregnant with a child they do not want.  We have all been there, lived with the regret of a choice made, and in desperate search for way out.  No one but a monster would look at the frail figure of an aborted child and say this is good.  But everyone of us knows what it is to look with regret upon a choice we do not want to live with but cannot live without.  So when it comes to abortion, most Americans may not be ready to say it cannot ever be allowed but they are very ready to say it SHOULD never be necessary.  In other words, Americans think it should be legal but rare, so rare, in fact, that we never hear about it.  Why?  Because we want for all to make better choices, to choose so that there will not be regret.  This is how we feel about divorce as well.  It should be legal but we hope it will be seldom if ever used, that every marriage would be rescued from the ravages of divorce upon spouses and children and families as a whole.

That is why forgiveness is sometimes disappointing to us.  We want forgiveness to make the whole thing go away.  The guilt does but the consequences of the act remain.  So the murderer is forgiven but still must account for the crime and suffer the just punishment of the law.  So the rapist and the liar and thief and so on.  When, in the name of Christ, the Church speaks forgiveness to the guilty soul, what the Church cannot do is prevent the ordinary consequences of the act from being suffered by the one who committed it -- even though he or she be forgiven.  We have come to make forgiveness into a do-over.  But that is not what it is.  We suffer the consequences in part to learn from them.  Some have come to think of abortion as forgiveness and a do-over, born of honest and understandable regret.  They wish that everyone could abort words they have said and things they have done.  This is a false and misleading dream and a trivializing of what forgiveness really is.  The pro-choice argument is that life should have do-overs, no consequences from bad choices.  What we can offer is not this but real and genuine forgiveness and honest help to those who find themselves with a child they were not prepared to have.  This may not seem to be the ideal solution but it is the best solution of all.  The grace of forgiveness to answer regret and guilt and the grace of hope and future for the child.  It is for this that the Church addresses the world in Christ's name -- not simply to insist that wrong is wrong but wrong is answered by forgiveness for mom and gracious support for her and her child.  And, perhaps, one more thing.  Learn where the choice is and where it is not.  It is not a perfect solution but, it is the only real option.  And, I think, when push comes to shove, even those who are not religious would rather have this than do-over that comes at the cost of a life.