Thursday, October 31, 2019

Reformation thoughts. . .

In the face of the suggestion that the Pope believes Jesus was mere man from His incarnation to His death, we find ourselves recalling again the Great Reformation, Martin Luther, and the Confessions that were born of this movement.  Who knows what the Pope said or did not say to that aging atheist but without the Pope's insistence that a grave misunderstanding has taken place, we are left to believe that the sense of what the journalist reported is accurate and the Pope is a heretic.  If he is not, he could be even worse.  He could simply love the fringes of darkness and the vagaries of imprecise language.  That, my friends, should be no consolation for the worst damage to the Church has been done not by those who barged into heresy but those who left room for it to enter by the back door unnoticed.

Lest we take this occasion for Lutherans to beat our chests and sneer with pride, our house is an equal state of shambles.  We have Lutherans who love the name but know nothing of the faith.  We have Lutherans who are captive to culture and social movement but not to the Word of God.  We have Lutherans who value institutional loyalty over unchanging truth.  We have Lutherans who prefer to see a dying church body over repentance and renewal of the faith yesterday, today, and forever the same.  So do not take this as an occasion to look down at our Roman brethren.  We are all in a terrible mess and it is a wonder the Church has a future at all.  That she does is due not to anything we might do or fail to do but only to the Word of the Lord and the Holy Sacraments through which God is still at work calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying His Holy Church -- even while institutions crumble.

Yet this should not be a time of great despair or retreat.  Just the opposite.  We do not get to pick and choose the time in which we live.  God does.  That means that God has supplied us not only the resources but the people to ensure that His Church endures and the gates of hell do not prevail.  This is our time.  We inherit the successes and failures of those who went before us, to be sure, but we are responsible for what we bequeath to those who come after us.  God has brought us to this time and this place.  Ordained or lay, from the pulpit or the pew, it does not matter.  This is the time and this is the place where God has placed us, given us the new birth of Water and the Word, spoken into our ears the living voice of the Good Shepherd, absolved us of our sins, and fed and nourished us upon the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation.  The challenge for those of yesteryear is the same as for those of this moment -- do we believe this is enough?  Far from making too much of the Word of the Lord or the Holy Sacraments, the Church has always been her weakest when she devalued the means of grace and presumed people or programs would bring success when it seemed faithful preaching, teaching, and the administration of the Sacraments was not.  But this is a fault of our shortsightedness and not of God's failure.  Faith is the difficult way but the only way.  We can have no certainty of the eye and what it sees or reason and what seems good to us until God finishes His new creation and transforms what is fading into what is eternal.

So on this Reformation Day I say, do not lose heart.  Do not give into despair.  Do not throw up your hands in frustration and disgust.  Do not abandon the means of grace wherein God's gift and promise are yours (as they were the people of God's before you and will be for those who follow you).  There is only one message on Reformation Day and it needs to be heard in Rome and Geneva as well as in Wittenberg, God is faithful.  He will do it.  Be faithful to Him and He will bring all things to pass as He has ordered.  Repent of the sin of pride and arrogance and renew your desire to know only Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  Cast off the works that presume to please God and do what God has called you to do where He has called you, fulfilling your baptismal vocation as His own child.  Things just may get worse before they get better but that does not matter.  What matters is Christ and our lives in Christ. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Man is not the enemy of creation. . .

The little Swedish climate change advocate has certainly made waves.  She has become fodder for ridicule by those opposed to her radical vision of how the world should look and she has become the visionary for those who believe this is the cardinal doctrine of the future.  There is no denying her basic premise that man has not been a good steward of the good earth God has given.  We have squandered the resources God has supplied, sullied the beauty of His creation, distributed its gifts unevenly and unjustly, and scarred its landscape in the pursuit of progress.  For this we need to repent for this is sin every bit as much as the immoralities that afflict our culture as normal today.  Those Christians who refuse to see this are blind and their lack of repentance is telling.

That said, the basic principle underlying the whole agenda of climate change activists and those in pursuit of a more radical environmentalism is flawed.  They see man as the problem.  Everything would be hunky dory if there were fewer people and more responsible people and it would be even better if there were none.  In this view man is the interloper and the natural world is its own perfect system of balance, order, and life.  But this is a fundamental lie that no Christian can accept -- unless that Christian has abandoned all sense of Scripture and its eternal truth.

The problem is this.  According to Scripture man is not simply part of creation but its lord, not simply curator of its wonder but the one for whom it was made and the one who was meant to benefit from its gift.  Man was not an accidental part of this world but God created the world with man in view and for man to live to God's glory and in His service.  

From the first verses of the Bible, man is front and center within God's whole creative work.  He is blessed in the role God has assigned and given the command to be fruitful and fill the earth -- the earth which existed to support man's fruitful expansion.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit contains seed. They will be yours for food” (Genesis 1:28-31).

Man was created to live within creation not simply as a consumer of its goodness but with the authority of a steward and the responsibility of a manager.  He is not simply to reap the harvest of the earth but to subdue it.  Note the Hebrew used here: kabash (subdue). To subdue means to bring something wild into submission, to tame it and to impose upon it a certain order.  Then the LORD God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and keep it (Gen 2:15).  Note here that the Garden did not live on its own with man living a live of leisure but man already had been given from the beginning the work of cultivating and keeping the Garden, imposing upon it the order designed by God.

Of course sin screwed it all up.  Even creation groans under the weight of all that went wrong.  But these words spoken before Original Sin were not negated by that sinWithin Eden and its paradise, there was an order to be undone but not erased and after Original Sin the original responsibility was not narrowed but expanded.  Even after the Fall, man had the responsibility to work with God in the ongoing work of maintaining God's creation and managing all its resources for His glory.

The reality was that Original Sin did not simply hurt the relationship of man to God but distorted and harmed all of creation.  In his address to Adam, God said: Cursed is the ground because of you; through toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it will yield for you, and you will eat the plants of the field (Gen 3:17-18). Yet within the shadow of the worst that sin wrote for humanity and the world in the flood, God reiterated the responsibility of man and the role of man with respect to creation:
And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on every living creature on the earth, every bird of the air, every creature that crawls on the ground, and all the fish of the sea. They are delivered into your hand. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you; just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you all things” (Genesis 9:1-3).
It is impossible to reconcile the full agenda of those who agitate against climate change and radical environmentalism with the Scriptures and a Christian worldview.  In fact, this green movement has become a religion which discards one of the most basic truths of God's creation -- man was intended to occupy the center place in it all and to enjoy its fruits while subduing the earth.  Man is not an alien in God's creation and the goal is not reduce his presence in that creation.  Of course, man owes his Creator far better than a landscape littered with his rubbish and scarred by his failures (most of which are related to that Original Sin of desiring to be his own God!).  But redemption was given not to repair the earth but to replace it with the new heavens and the near earth filled with the glory of God in a humanity redeemed and restored never to be stained by sin or darkened by death again.  When churches forget this in order to pursue a cultural agenda that may well be popular with the people, they abandon the very reason for their claim to be the people of God.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Just a paper tiger???

Sermon for Reformation Day Observed, preached on Sunday, October 27, 2019.

    Do you recall what started off the Reformation?  It was not some grand affair but pieces of paper to which the Pope had affixed his signature and which promised to shave off many years from the purgatory that had to be endured before heaven’s joys began.  It was not the sound of cannon fire or clinking suits of armor or a political assassination or some movement of social discontent.  It was merely a piece of paper, like so many other pieces of paper that had been sent out before, all to raise funds to build a spectacular church in Rome.  It was a fund raising scheme on steroids that had kings and princes and dukes lined up to buy their indulgences along side the poor peasants of the day.  Who would have thought one piece of paper would have started such a movement?

    But there was one voice raised to say "wait a minute."  This was not the teaching of the Bible, it was not the faith of the apostles, and it was not the faith that saves.  One man and one voice.  It was one man who pounded to the door of the Castle Church an invitation to debate whether indulgences were moral and godly or immoral and a lie.  It was one man who dared to fear offending God more than offending popes and kings and lords and soldiers.  It was one man who stood his ground in he face of power and privilege designed to make him quake in his boots and recant his every thought.  It was one man who became God’s man for the moment to reform and restore His failing church.

    His power was not the might of an army or even the mass of peasant folk who rose up in arms.  His might was paper printed with 95 Theses, with a Confession of Faith, with a catechism, and with hymns that would sing the call to reformation in the minds and hearts of God’s people.  His authority was not divine right but humble faith that insisted upon championing the cross over glory and the salvation that was free to all who believed even though it cost Jesus His life in suffering and death upon the cross.  His was an unlikely heroic virtue in a world of cowards who refused to speak up even thought their consciences were pricked by the lies being paraded as truth.

    Well, friends, we are back at square one.  More than 500 years have passed and the crime of indulgences seems almost tolerable in the face of Christians who care little for the Gospel and who believe freedom means they can give into every sin and error without guilt.  More than 500 years have passed and most of the world not only does not care about Martin Luther, they do not care about God.   More than 500 years have passed the Church that bears the name of the Reformer has become a pale and weak shadow of its former self.  More than 500 years have passed and we have learned to call virtue sin and sin truth, to value faithfulness to desire over faithfulness to God, to label His Word myth and legend, and to judge God on the basis of what feels good in the moment or sounds reasonable to us.

    Reformation Churches have great buildings, colleges and universities, seminaries and schools.  Reformation Churches have publishing houses and media strategies.  Reformation Churches have mountains of paper.  But you know what they don’t have anymore?  They don’t have confidence in God’s Word.  They don’t have the courage to stand up and to stand out for God against the world and its thinking which does not fear God, does not fear death, and does not fear hell but does fear not being happy, not filling your life with rich experiences, and not being who you think you are at any given moment.  Reformation Churches have reams of paper that no longer mean much of anything anymore against the pursuit of what feels good in the moment because they no longer preach and teach with confidence this eternal Gospel.

    Where are the Luthers of this day?  Where are youth confirmed with promises of faithfulness and where are adults who insist they will keep the faith and suffer all even death rather than fall away?  Where are the bodies that should fill the empty pews you find in every Church every week?  Where are the faithful singing the mighty hymns of old in a world that uses music to glorify anything and everything except the Word of God?  Where are the pastors who have the courage to speak the unchanging Gospel in a changing world?  Where are the people who refuse to listen except to the Word of God faithfully preached and taught?

    In Wittenberg where it all began, the faith of Luther is almost dead.  Dictators and philosophers have persecuted the faith until it is timid and shallow.  War and bloodshed have dulled the sharp edge of God’s Word with too many disappointed hopes.  Perversions become normal in the minds of most people.  Depression and prosperity have taught people you get by without God.  But in the places where you least expect it, the Reformation still lives.  In Africa’s dark jungles and Siberia’s freezing cold and in India’s crowded cities, people rejoice to hear the Gospel of Christ crucified and give up everything for the prospect of a freedom purchased with the blood of Christ once for all.

    And here today four youth will add their halting voices to the chorus of those who say “This we believe, teach, and confess.”  Today a mighty organ calls us to sing the battle hymn of the Reformation “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  Today through confession you let go of your sins and leave them at the cross of Christ.  Today a people rejoices that God does forgive and restore His lost and fallen people.   Today a people will pray with confidence to the God they know hears their prayers and will give them all that they need for this body and life and for eternal life.  Today people come to kneel at the altar and open their mouths to feast upon the bread of heaven come down from above and to drink the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all our sin.  Today a people will not only open their hearts but their wallets to make sure that today is not the last Reformation day, that the work goes on and the Word ventures forth to do God’s bidding.

    Dear people of God, no matter how far ahead we plan, the Church lives one week at a time, by the grace of God given in Word and Sacrament, to a people called, gathered, and enlightened by the Spirit.  Our future is known not by sight but by faith.  Tomorrow’s army of God is right now being nurtured by parents who hold their children’s hands and teach them to pray “Our Father who art in heaven.”  The battlefields where we meet Satan with the sword of the Word of God are not far off hills in distant lands but the very streets where we live, the buildings where we work, the schools in which our children learn, and the churches fighting to keep the doors open one more week.

    People loved by God, the Word of God is not a paper tiger but a mighty Word that does what it says and delivers what it promises.  The water of baptism is no symbolic washing but the place where we die to sin and rise up in Christ as new people.  The absolution spoken by the pastor is not a wish or a dream but the verdict of God who declares you sinners forgiven.  The table of the Lord is no snack counter but where the people of God eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood that His forgiveness and life may live in us still.  The Church seems like a paper tiger that barks at all the things that are wrong in this world but forgets to speak God’s yes in Christ.  But we are a paper tiger only when we fail to speak the Word that endures forever and live from faith our baptismal lives, fed and nourished at the Altar.  The Body of Christ is where the lost, the least, the lone, the lame, the little, the left out, and the last are given place, purpose, promise, and power in Christ our Lord.

    If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.  That is the Gospel.  The gates of hell cannot prevail and Satan cannot threaten.  One little Word has toppled the devil and his legions.  No one can snatch you from His hand.  Nothing can separate you from His love in Christ.  You are not your own; you belong to Him.  Oh, it is true that you will suffer for the sake of Christ and you will have to make sacrifices so that the church can do her work, and you will have to rebuild what the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh seek to tear down, but if you keep the faith, God will deliver you from all your enemies and give you Christ’s eternal victory.  Let these and all things be gone but your enemies have not won.  You will endure in Christ and be kept holy and blameless to the day of Christ’s coming when all will be replaced, when a new heaven and a new earth will rise up from the ruins of this world and you will wear a new flesh and blood that death cannot touch and sin cannot stain.  And in this Kingdom God will reign and He will share His glory with you and your hearts will be so full of joy and peace that it will seem they cannot contain it all, forevermore.

    He who has ears to hear, let him hear.  Fear God and give Him glory.  Amen

NB  Parts of this sermon were inspired and words borrowed from a number of different Reformation sermons I have heard over the years.

I should not read my email. . .

I opened an email and got this:

By 2030 the Christian landscape in the United States will be mostly cleared.

  • Historic denominations will be a whisper of what they once were…by 2030.
  • Congregations gone. Many more will be simply shadows of what they once were…by 2030.
  • The Christian “footprint” of the people of God will be minimal…by 2030.
Will there be congregations that defy that reality? Of course!
But, by and large, by 2030 there won’t be much left of what we’ve known.
Ask any conscientious congregational leader…they may not have named it, but they feel the burden. Add the congregation’s curious questions of why…
  • a bit more work…
  • a bit more programming…
  • a bit better preaching…
…couldn’t take us back to the heights of yesteryear.
  • Look in any major metropolitan area in the U.S. Churches are almost all gone in these hard soils. (And the pastor-champions that are plowing oftentimes feel undervalued by the rest of the church.)
  • Count the under 50 crowd in your own congregation this Sunday.
Still disagree?
Exponentially accelerate and you arrive at a “not much left” 2030 landscape. 

All of this may be true.  I have no crystal ball.  But I suspect that it is a scenario born more of a liberal and progressive Christianity unleashed from its moorings in the Word of God than it does of the Church in general.  I suspect that where Christianity has ceased to stand out and stand apart from culture (whatever that culture is) there is no compelling reason to be Christian.  I suspect that the kind of Christianity in which worship focuses upon the individual and rests upon the pillars of interest and preference will find itself shoved to the side by better entertainment that comes without all the baggage of orthodox faith that may still be clinging to it.  I suspect that the vision of Christianity being offered here lumps together the churches with confidence in the Word of God with those who find the Scriptures riddled with myth, quaint expressions of an outdated worldview, and irrelevant to a world in which the feelings and reason of the individual are the ultimate barometers of truth and life.

I must admit that I weary of those voices of doom and destruction.  They presume a world in which we are the reasons for success or failure and God is sidelined.  They offer their own ideas of what should be done or must be done to repair God's sinking ship.  They encourage creativity and innovation as if theology were a spiritual version of technology in which newer is better.  They operate on the fringes of the Church with enough connection to have credibility but without the burden of operating under creed and confession.  So, if you are like me and read these prophets of Christianity's demise, don't pay too much attention to them.

Monday, October 28, 2019

No safe vocation. . .

I have had a bit of a trying month.  I will not hide the fact that I work too hard.  I know my family does not appreciate it and neither does the parish for that matter.  Most folks looking in from the outside do not see and cannot imagine all that a typical pastor does between Sundays.  But I knew this going in.  So did my wife.  No, neither of us had a specific idea of the costs or sacrifices born but we knew that was the job description.  It did not take long to figure it out.  A dozen funerals in the first month.  Serious illness and surgeries that happened on my supposed day off.  Crises that seemed to be planned by the devil or his minions around my busiest calendars.  We learned quickly that the ministry is not a safe vocation.

At the same time, there was a movement arising to see the pastor as a professional church worker and the ministry as a career.  It began the idea that pastors need to have care given and personal time and it has flourished in the wellness wheels that offer the illusion of balance between the demands of family, church, spirit, home duties, leisure, physical activity, etc...  Everywhere I go I hear the mantra of this now sacred deception that the ministry can be managed, that your time can be scheduled, and that the vocation of pastor can be fit into a neat 9-5 slot with two full days off.  Worse than this, I get constant mail and email from my health insurer insisting that I succumb to their programs designed to make me healthier and suggesting I am a candidate for everything from diabetes to heart disease unless I manage my life better (though they have no clue what is actually going on in my life!).

So today you get my crankier side that says much of this stuff promotes an idea of the pastoral office that is blatantly false and sets up a young pastor for serious disappointment and conflict.  The ministry is not a career.  Your work as a pastor does not follow a neat schedule.  You will miss family events or force them to fit the schedule of emergencies and crises that will surely come.  You will not be rewarded for the good you do and you will be blamed for things that were not your fault.  You will need to teach your people every week what pastors do or they will never get it or get you.  You will be caught in budget crunches and you will do maintenance and clear side walks in winter and unlock and lock the building and clean a toilet or two all in the regular course of your pastoral life and work.  So get over it.  There is no congregation out there that provides a perfect work environment for you and your family and there is no easy life without struggle or sacrifice.

At the same time, you are making the difference of an eternal lifetime.  It may feel like you have little to offer, few tools to use against the problems laid upon you, and little real impact on the lives of people.  This is a lie as well.  You have the Word of the Lord and His gracious Sacraments of life and worship.  These accomplish an eternal good in a world of seemingly impossible evils.  Do not give up or give into despair.  A pastor is doing a mighty work for the benefit of his people and for the sake of the Lord simply by being the mouth, hands, and heart of the Lord within the midst of the people.  Do the work of the ministry and let God worry about the successes or failures.  Do it without complaint and remember that even the folks in the pew are called to take up the cross and follow Him.  Pastors may be more visible in this role but they are not alone in bearing the cross.

Recently I read a couple of good lines:  We don’t need men looking for a career. We need warriors who are willing and ready to suffer and sacrifice for the sake of the Church in love for Christ. We need men full of zeal and compassion who will give up the best years of their lives...  Let me add one more thing.  We need pastors who are willing to die.  We don't need legions of people looking for a safe or easy career but we need a few men willing to sacrifice and die each day for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus never promised the apostles an easy life or Christians a comfortable path.  He is painfully blunt about the challenges and pitfalls that lie before us.  Yet even pastors would do well to remember that they are not alone and their labors are not in vain.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Who gets the vote?

Everyone knows the great Chesterton quote:
Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. ... The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones.
The funny part of this is that tradition has been more universally denied voice or vote for some time.  As Lutherans some think that our default is to deny tradition its voice or vote and to let the Word stand alone.  Those Lutherans have great theory but they have not read Luther or know anything about the Lutheran Symbols.  Sola Scriptura has never meant a naked Word stripped out of the community of believers and cut away from the living tradition of faith and the faithful who have believed and taught this truth in the generations before our own time. 

Lutherans give no class the decisive vote or veto; only Scripture has that.  However, that does not mean that we ignore the voice of those who have gone before us or discount their witness against the voices of the present moment.  Lutherans do not look for some pristine moment in church history to recreate.  We understand that every moment has had its challenges and choices.  We put our trust in the Word and we attempt to be faithful to that Word in all circumstances and this is what we have received from those who went before and that is what we pray we will pass on to the generations to come.  Tradition is part of this witness.

Yet the sad reality is that we too often give to another class the veto we refuse to give to the dead.  I am speaking to those outside the Church.  We defer to those who have either rejected the faith or never believed in the first place more than any other group.  Does anyone else find this strange?  We ask people outside the Church what our buildings should look like, what kind of music we should use, what ceremonies (or none) we should include, what we should be preaching about, how we ought to preach, what programs we should offer, what stands we should take on this issue or that, and the list goes on.  Those barely involved or not even involved are regularly polled to find out what might just bring them in.  But is that not the job of the Word (what with faith coming by hearing the Word of God and all)?

As we prepare to celebrate the Reformation again, it is time for us to remember that this movement was not fueled by poll or survey but by the Word of God.  Luther was one of the Reformers who particularly rejected the idea that we had to reinvent the Church as if it had never been and forget the witness of the saints through history.  This was not because he gave to the dead the greatest authority but because he recognized that the Church was and is where the marks of the Church are, where the Word is faithfully preach and taught and the Sacraments are administered in accord with Christ's institution -- as it was and always will be.

The Church born of this Reformation refuses to dismiss the witness of the past but rejoices to recognize God's faithful voice echoed in the mouths of the faithful through the ages.  That is one of the things we Lutherans tend to forget and this is the time to remember it.  We will not survive by rejecting the voice and vote of the dead but we just may die because we chose to listen to those not of the faith more than the faithful who went before us.  The saints of old advise us as people in whom and through whom the Lord worked.  We ought to be relieved by this instead of fearing tradition.  If we cannot find our way to more profoundly reflect the deep respect that Luther and our great Lutheran fathers had for the saints and tradition, we run the risk of failing to be their heirs. 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Words to warm my heart. . .

I came home from Church tired.  Two services and a Bible study can tax your stamina whether you are pastor or parish musician.  But it is also taxing for a mom who, because her husband is not available this Sunday morning, is a single parent of two at least when it comes to Church.  She wrote more eloquently than I could because she lived it and she made the harder choice.  God bless her for making that choice for herself and for her children.  Would that more would make the same more difficult choice on Sunday.  But enough of me, read on in her words. . . 
It would be easier.

It would be easier to stay in bed. It would be easier to relax on the couch and sip my coffee while the kids watch tv. It would be easier to not leave the house at 7:30 am.

This morning I reheated my coffee 4 times I think. And I still didn't finish it. A was tearing the house apart and pulling out all the toys that I had worked so hard to clean up yesterday. B was giving me attitude, telling me he didn't want to go. I forgot I had cleaned the carseats yesterday, so I had to put them together and reinstall them. It would have been easier to just say screw it, and not even bother and just relax instead. 

It would have been SO MUCH EASIER.

But we all need this. We need to pray, to hear the Word, receive the sacraments. And I need grace, and to hear I am forgiven despite all my shortcomings and sinfulness.

We need it.

So on Sundays, we go to church. Even though it would be so much easier not to. Because after we go, I know we made the right choice. And my week is easier because I made the hard choice on Sunday.
God bless Heidi and all those parents who make the hard choice that is the right choice.  I know the Lord understands what she goes through to make sure they are there on Sunday morning and I want her to know that so do I.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Circuit riders return. . .

According to the Washington Post, circuit riders are making a return to the places where congregations are small and far apart and unable to support their own pastors.
[The Rev. Jess Felici], 36, and her husband, the Rev. Jason Felici, 33, serve together as the pastors of five churches in one of the most isolated pockets of America. Their weekly acrobatics of military-precision timing and long-distance driving are what it takes to make Sunday church services happen in a place where churchgoers are aging, pews are getting emptier and church budgets are getting smaller.
While circuit riders were mostly the domain of Methodists, those who are looking back to this icon of the American frontier are not just Methodists.  In fact the so-called 7 Sisters of Old Line American Protestantism are all finding themselves in need of creative ways to deal with declining fortunes.  What these denominations have in common is that their yesterday was brighter than their today and tomorrow.  The United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Episcopal Church, the American Baptist Churches USA, the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are all bleeding off members and a shell of their former selves.  Between a third and half of their membership is no more and those who remain are graying faster than America.  That has left congregations selling off buildings, closing their doors, and searching for ways to keep the lights on a little longer.

What is so strange here is that you would never know about this by reading the media or listening to the news.  While you might hear about a resurrection of the old circuit rider idea, what is not in the story is why things are in such tough shape.  Perhaps it is because the news media does not know or it might just be that the news media is sympathetic to the liberal and progressive stands taken by these declining churches and so they refuse to connect the dots.  In either case the media is hiding the most significant story in American religion.  The big story is what is emptying these churches -- a full embrace of the most radical social positions on everything from climate change to globalism to GLBTQ+ agendas to gender fluidity to population control while at the same time distancing themselves more and more from Biblical truth, the reliability of the text, and their own historic confessions.

Now to be sure, holding the line on the faith against the pressure of cultural change does not guarantee success but it has slowed the decline.  In the LCMS our decline has largely mirrored the trends in the population around them.  That is not an excuse or justification for sitting on our hands but what it does do is remind us that much of the problem has been caused by us.  Among the causes, the failure to effectively teach the faith to our children, to properly catechize those new to the faith, to hold up marriage and children as godly and good, to equip our people to give witness to the hope within them, and to strive for and sacrifice for excellence in all we do (starting with Sunday morning!).  It is an uphill battle but it is not a lost cause.  We are not preaching a hollow message with a mythological gospel.  We have the Word through which God works.  Perhaps we need to believe it more.  And perhaps those 7 sisters need to reconsider how they have distorted and diluted the faith in order to appear more in step with the times.  Otherwise all the creative approaches you can come up with will only prolong the inevitable.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The great temptation of choice. . .

I live in a community in which the chains are king -- from restaurants to retail our city thrives on known brands.  You know what to expect from a known brand and when you have a highly mobile population like Clarksville, familiarity trumps all.  People who move here want to know where they can get what they want to eat and where to shop -- they even appreciate it when the stores are laid out in a familiar pattern.

Somehow or another this truth has been lost to churches.  Flexibility and options predominate and, frankly, you never know what to expect when you go to any church anymore.  I had once thought this primarily a Protestant phenomenon but it seems to be universal.  We had a man in church, from England, who had lived in the US for about 10 years.  He was Roman Catholic but found American Roman Catholic Churches a hollow shell of pop Gospel music and irreverent production style liturgy and was amazed to come to Grace Lutheran Church and hear a choir sing Psalm 113 in Latin and a full sung Divine Service.  He was looking for a brand and was disappointed at the confusing array of choices that left so much to local identity.  The same is true of Lutherans who have come to appreciate the reverent liturgy, majestic music, and Biblical preaching of this congregation only to to move and find the local LCMS congregation with praise band, pastor in polos and khakis, and sermon series on improving your lives.  Where is my Lutheran Church? they complain.

Some would say it is about “LCD,” the lowest common denominator, but I would add to the "L" local.  It would seem that not only do congregations do whatever feels good locally but they often struggle to aspire to any standards of excellence that might stretch the pocketbook or require any heavy lifting -- especially when it comes to worship.  Now we all know what the normal course of man’s fallen nature does.  We know that without hearts and minds being in the Word and the Spirit prodding us, we will revert to that sinful nature that has become the default because of sin.  Furthermore, in a world in which preference is king, there is immense pressure on every pastor and parish to conform to the local LCD.  That will end up being what is least confrontational with the folks in the pews, whatever fits the mindset and culture of the moment, and what requires the least amount of preparation and effort. It takes no crystal ball to see where this will lead and what it will do to the Church.

Instead of resisting what is common to us all and what should be ordinary in the extraordinary Divine Service, we should embrace it with enthusiasm.  I am not talking about a rigid uniformity of rules but of the common concern for the well being of the Church, the well being of the people of God, and the ability of the Church to pass on the sacred deposit to those who come after (without diluting or degrading that tradition).  This is important not simply for brand loyalty (though we should not dismiss this) but for our clear confession before the world and the clear identity of the sacred place where God has marked out His Church and His people around His Word and Table.  Nobody in their right mind is talking about putting little marks in the chancel so that everyone stands in exactly the same place at the same time and holds their hands in exactly the same way.  What I am commending is unseating the rule of me from the throne of local determination and the lowest common denominator and adding in our concern to preserve the inward unity by our outward unity.  You begin at least with the hymnal.  You can add to it ceremonies and such but to detract from it or depart from it represents a clear departure also from the confession and identity we have as a Church and a people united not simply in theory but in life.

Should we not all desire to celebrate in harmony with those who have gone before and to commend faithfully to those yet to come the rich and faithful experience the fullness of great treasure that we have?  In case there are those who might wonder if this will turn people away, the people attracted by conformity with culture, modern morality, and a gospel of self-interest are not the unchurched but the restless Christians whose itchy ears refuse to be satisfied with the Word of the Lord and His sacramental gifts and graces.  Instead of playing musical chairs with the people who come and go as they move to whatever is new, we ought to be establishing an outpost of the sacred in this world which identifies us as the Church of the saints of old anticipating the promised future God has given in Christ through the means of grace.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Stay in the faith. . . Stay in the Word

Sermon for Pentecost 19, Proper 24A, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, October 20, 2019.

    In the collect for the day, we asked God to grant us the Holy Spirit to direct and govern our hearts so that we’d persevere with steadfast faith, a faith that endures to the end.  We talk a lot about faith, but I wonder if we truly know what it is?  It can be a hard word to define especially when so many people have so many different ideas about faith.  So what is faith?  Where does it come from?  What does it do?  And how do we persevere with it?
    Faith gets talked about in many different settings, not just church.  It gets talked about in the sports world.  Athletes and coaches say they just have to have faith that all their work and preparation will result in a win.  Faith is spoken about as words of encouragement.  When things don’t seem to be going your way there’s usually someone who will say, “Just have faith and everything will work out in the end.”  But is that what faith is?  Is it a shallow hope that you’ll win?  Is it positive thoughts and optimism?  No. 
    Faith is also described as a mental activity; the ability to know facts and the choice to believe them as true.  Sadly, this is one of the most prevalent views of faith.  Too often we think of faith as knowing what the Bible says, knowing Jesus died on the cross and then our choice to accept Him as our Savior.  But is that what faith is; knowing facts and then our choice to believe?  No. 
    These popular views of faith don’t line up with how God talks about faith.  They assume faith is a mental activity.  But faith isn’t forced positive thoughts and it’s not a decision.  Faith is trust.  It’s located not in the head, but the heart…and it’s not of our making, but God’s. 
We want faith to be our doing.  We want faith to be based on our positive thoughts, on our knowledge and understanding, on our decision and choice because that shows the strength of our mind.  We want faith to be a creation of our determination and will because then we get credit for it.  We want to be able to stand up and say, “I did it.  Against all odds, I kept trusting and believing.”  But this isn’t faith, at least not faith in God.  This kind of faith is trust in ourselves, and let me ask you, can we really be trusted?  No, we can’t.  We can’t trust ourselves because we’re sinners.  Sin is in our heart, and therefore, we can’t create a holy faith that looks to God, because sin only looks inward.  Our sin doesn’t want God.  Our sin hates God. 
We can’t produce faith because our heart is filled with sin.  We can only have faith God gives it to us.  He must create in us new and clean hearts.  Your faith is a gift from God, not because you’re so smart and knowledgeable, not because you’re full of optimism, but because God wants to give it to you.
He gives it to you through the working of the Spirit as you hear His Word, as you hear His Law that shows you you’re a sinner, and as you hear His Gospel that shows you your Savior.  God’s Word is the foundation of your faith.  God’s promises spoken and His promises fulfilled in Christ are what your faith is built upon.  You trust in God because He has done what He said.  You trust in your Savior because He has given His life for you.  These are sure and certain and true.  These can be trusted.
    Today’s parable about a widow who persistently came before an unrighteous judge seeking justice is a parable about trust.  We hear this story and we say the woman was foolish.  Why did she keep going before this judge looking for justice when the judge admitted he cared nothing for justice?  Why did this woman trust in a man who couldn’t be trusted?  In the end, the judge did the right thing, not because it was the right thing, but because the widow keeps pestering him.  Using this story as an argument from lesser to greater, Jesus asked, “Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?” (Lk 18:7).  Of course He will, because God cares for justice, He cares for His people, He can be trusted. 
    The widow showed faith in a man who couldn’t be trusted, but your faith is in God who can be trusted.  God is faithful and just, that’s what we say at the beginning of every Divine Service.  He’s faithful, meaning He’ll do what He promises.  And He promises you forgiveness of sins, life everlasting.  These He gives to you through Christ who died in your place, taking the just punishment of death your sin deserves.  And with the gift of faith, you trust in your Savior.  With the gift of faith you receive that forgiveness and life He won for you. 
    Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, you have His promised everlasting life now, but you don’t experience it now.  You experience pain and suffering, temptation and sin.  It can be tough to stay faithful during these times.  It can be tough to stay faithful when it doesn’t appear as if God is faithful.  And on your own, you can’t remain faithful...that’s why you pray for steadfast faith. 
    At the end of Jesus’ parable He asked the question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8).  If our faith were our own doing, the answer would be “NO!”  You can’t keep the faith on your own.  You can’t persevere on your own.  You must be kept in the faith by the working of the Spirit, and He does keep you in the faith.  As you hear God’s Word, the source of your faith, continually preached and read, the Spirit strengthens your faith.  As you eat and drink the body and blood of your Savior, in whom you trust, your faith grows.  It’s only by these things, it’s only by God’s grace, by His Means of Grace, that you continue to have faith.  He creates it.  He sustains it.  And you live by it. 
Faith is trust.  It isn’t head knowledge.  It isn’t shallow optimism.  It’s trust; trust in God’s Word and in the promise of life in Christ.  This faith isn’t your doing.  It’s given to you by the working of the Spirit.  This faith is founded on God’s Word and strengthened in that Word; and it’ll only endure through the hearing of God’s Word.  So stay in faith.  Remain in the Word, receive the Sacrament, and when the Son of Man returns, He will find faith in you.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

Hidden mercy. . .

Western Christianity seems unduly preoccupied with substance and accident.  We find it hard to get away from the categories of change -- what changes and what does not.  So Rome insists that everything that is real changes and all that is left is the least real part of bread and wine.  And Lutherans insist that there is, indeed, a change, but the change does not replace one neatly with the other but adds something to what is there.  So it is still bread but now also Christ's flesh and still wine but now also His blood.  Rome insists that there can no Real Presence without Transubstantiation and Lutherans insist that Real Presence has nothing to do with a philosophical theory of how Christ is present.  In both cases the issue is really about what is manifest in bread and wine, in eating and drinking what the Lord gives and promises.

The great Orthodox theologian, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, once rather famously said that sacraments do not make things into something else so much as they reveal things to be what they are.  In other words, it is not about what changes or how but the God who reveals what is hidden. Why is it that some are preoccupied with what changes and others are focused on what is hidden there, apprehended only by the eyes of faith, received with grateful faith,  Lutherans and Rome continue to fight it out about what changes, if it changes, or what remains the same and who makes it happen.  In the end, I am not at all sure Luther was as keen on fighting it out on this turf as some Lutherans were.  For Luther as it should be for Lutherans the focus is surely on what God has hidden there.  We do not apprehend it as we do acknowledge it, trust it, receive it with joy and thanksgiving, and are transformed by it as the Spirit brings the promise to bear upon us.  Perhaps because Luther was less the systematician than exegete and his theology more Biblical than anything else.

Not long ago I preached on the parable of the dishonest steward.  I cannot think of any preacher who wants to preach on such a text.  It remains one of those words we wish Jesus had not spoken or we would rather have had Jesus say something else.  But it is a text one approaches simply on the basis that Jesus said it and therefore we must hear it for the Word of God is less about us and what we think than about God and what He chooses to reveal.  Can we not say the same about water and bread and wine and the voice that absolves?  They are wonderful things but hardly what we would have chosen to be where grace is given and Christ accessible.  Yet, there He is.  In parable and Sacrament what is gained comes not by cracking the nut but by hearing it with faith, believing it, and rejoicing at the mercy hidden therein.  This happens by the Spirit.  And what a joy that is!

Monday, October 21, 2019

An unreasonable faith. . .

I have had a number of ongoing discussions with folks who were Lutheran and ended up, either by deliberate choice or accidental detour, not Lutheran.  Among the many protests were the promise that they were still Lutheran in their heart of hearts -- at least until they were baptized again but this time as an adult and by immersion.  And then there were those who dated or married a non-Lutheran who refused to attend a Lutheran Church and so the spouse, desiring to worship together as a family, began attending the non-Lutheran Church and, before long, was no longer Lutheran even in that person's heart of hearts. It has always struck me strange how quickly people can abandon some of the core and center of Lutheran doctrine and practice for non-doctrinal reasons that eventually probably do become doctrinal.  Were they never really Lutheran?  I am not ready to go there.  I suspect that the real issue is faith itself.  They eventually gave up not on doctrine but on faith -- at least the idea of faith that is trust instead of understanding and rational, reasonable, acceptance. 

Lutheranism is not rational or reasonable or systematic.  It is filled with paradoxes left unresolved and it surrenders the hope of understanding or getting God for the trust that believes His Word and is captive to that Word -- captive minds and hearts.  The problem is not so much with Lutheranism as much as it is with the Word of God itself.  People seem to be drawn like magnets to those who can cut and paste the Scriptures together to offer something that is logical and orderly and answers questions and can be understood.  But if God can be understood, does He continue to be God?  Is not a God who is captive to the mind not worth believing?

In a recent conversation a parent in tears lamented a child who had abandoned the faith the child was confirmed in and embraced something more appealing to the mind and more satisfying to the heart.  In the end it was less about doctrine than it was about the need to understand, to have God explain Himself or be explained.  While that is quite often our desire, it mitigates against the very nature of faith (Hebrews says it best -- the substance of things hoped for and confidence in things not seen).  Lutheranism is not all that appealing to those who want a systematic God who can be explained, predicted, and understood.  But Calvinism is attractive for exactly that reason.  Calvin approaches God from the vantage point of reason.  If Calvin is not explaining God, at least he is certain God has explained Himself and transformed faith from trust to consent of the mind and will.

There must be a reason why some are saved and not others and predestination is it.  Jesus would surely not die for the world but only for those who He foresaw would come to faith or whom He chosen to set apart as the recipients of His atoning work.  Infant baptism makes no sense but believer's baptism makes all the sense in the world.  The saved will bear the marks of this salvation and election in their lives of obedience. What cannot be understood with the mind is experienced and God is manifested in feelings (the sublime nature of the Eucharist, for example).  For more than 23 years Calvin kept adding to his Institutes in an effort to unpack more and more of the mystery of God and God's work.  There are not many true Calvinists left but enough -- enough to appeal to those who find it too much to trust the Lord without explanation or reason to back it up.  Instead of jumping headlong into the hidden arms of God at the prompting of the Spirit, the person begins to seek something more to hold onto -- a reasonable faith that appeals to the mind and the movement of God in the realm of feelings and emotion.

In the end I have tired of trying to argue it out.  If I can argue someone into the faith, then somebody else can argue them out.  I do not believe it is fruitful to approach these people with an appeal to the mind.  Their argument is really not against Luther or catholic theological tradition with respect to the Word and Sacraments.  Their argument is with faith itself.  They refuse to believe if believing does not offer something rational to the mind and something warm to the heart.  They will not believe if believing means trusting what their eyes cannot see or their minds cannot understand or their hearts not experience or feel.  If we think we can argue them back into classical and orthodox Christianity,, then we have already conceded the most important theological point -- God is not the end result of the mind's fruitful search for reason and order to life and the future.  God has made Himself accessible in the means of grace -- not to supplement understanding and feelings but to replace them with something eminently more durable.

I was reminded of a small quote from Hermann Sasse:
Not every question can be settled by means of a friendly discussion. It is necessary to remember this in an age which has a superstitious belief in dialog as the infallible means of settling everything. There are questions raised by the devil to destroy the Church of Christ. To achieve this he may use as his mouth piece not only ambitious professors of theology, his favorite tools, but also simple, pious souls.
Consensus is a wonderful thing and compromise sounds positively wonderful but in the end these may just lead us from truth to error in our search for a credible faith and a reasonable God.  I get it.  I feel it as well.  I want a God who will explain Himself to me, clue me into His ways, and fit into the understanding of my limited mind.  Who doesn't?  But as nice as it is, the true faith will always challenge and shock and scandalize us.  After all, Jesus the innocent Son of God willingly suffered for the sake of those who were sinners and enemies of God.  Nobody can find much comfort in a God who willingly dies for the unworthy and undeserving.  Jesus did not suffer for scoundrels.  Or did He???  God can be explained and predicted.  Or can He???  Ultimately all we know is what God has told us and what He has told us points us not to minds that get Him but to the trust of things we cannot see and have only by promise and the witness of the Spirit.  In the end, we must ask ourselves if this is enough?  I pray that the Spirit will enable us to say "Yes, that is more than enough" for me to believe in Him and rejoice in His grace and mercy.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Better sung than said. . .

The chief distinction between a low mass and a high mass is the singing.  Low mass is spoken; high mass is sung (chanted).  Much has been written about how the exception (low mass) became the norm and norm (sung mass) became the exception.  Music was not always welcomed into the liturgy.  St. Augustine had concerns for the sensuality of music, fearing that it would detract from the mass.  But it eventually won out over fears.  At least until some of the reformers overcame the music that sang in the Reformation with their own fears and reservations.  Think here especially of Zwingli who wanted it banished entirely.  But Luther was unequivocal.  Music is the handmaid of the Word, its most profound and noble servant!

I wonder if it might be possible that the Christian faith is better sung than said.  It is not that I have anything against the spoken Word but that music is one of the most profound mediums to use in the proclamation of that Word.  We sing it better into our memory and singing allows the many voices of a congregation to be one voice together.  But I cannot take credit for this.  Anglican cleric Giles Fraser was the one who asserted that “Christianity is always better sung than said.”  His point was made not only for the love of music but because of his fear of academia and the descent of faith into words that attempt to say what is hard, if not impossible to say.   So, according to Fraser, “to the extent that all religion exists to make raids into the what is unsayable, the musicians penetrate further than most.”  Music has the power to address in more than words the depth of the great mystery of God in flesh.  Of course, it does not hurt that the angels sang in the birth of the Savior and that Scripture is replete with calls to sing praise to the Lord.  This singing is not only worship but also witness and confession.

Luther himself was not simply in favor of music as a musician but saw the whole thing theologically,  regarding music as God’s second greatest gift to creation (after theology).  So many have said it that it must be true -- the Reformation might well have failed without the power of the hymn to sing it into the hearts and minds of the people of God.  Still to this day the Lutheran chorales are noteworthy for the way they sing the Gospel into the minds and hearts of the singers and through the witness of song into the ears of the hearers.  Yes, it does matter what we sing.

As the Anglican bishop Nick Baines said it: “I go along with Wesley that if you sing you learn your theology from what you sing. And if you sing rubbish you believe in rubbish. Language matters.”  I am not sure he was the first or the last to suggest that the content of the song and how that sounds  has as much to do with it benefits the Word or detracts from it.

Every pastor knows that you can tell a great deal about the theology your people hold dear by asking their favorite hymns.  Yet even that may be more information than you want to know.  Our people struggle to understand why the silly little ditties or guilty pleasures are not beneficial to the faith and they struggle to identify what it is that makes hymns good.  Yet that should not detract from our recognition that for Christians, faith is sung as much as it is said and perhaps better sung.  What we owe those in the pew is the training to understand what make s hymn noble and profound and what makes it, well, empty and ordinary.  

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Had to repost. . .

The reality is that we have enjoyed a wealth of good teachers, not just good theologians but good teachers, within our small slice of Christian history. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has produced and enjoyed the good witness and thinking and, even better, the apt teaching of giants. I watched the funeral of The Rev. Dr. Norman Edgar Nagel with great sadness that we have lost another of those giant figures. It is, of course, to his joy that he has received the outcome of his faith, the salvation of his soul, but he has not left us without substantial record on which to chew for some days. My good friend The Rev. William Weedon put this together and I am passing it on. Great and pithy gems of wisdom, truth, and theology to ponder, left to us by a kind, gentle, but great man!!

A Miscellany of Nagelisms

A friend asked [Will Weedon] me to share these with him today. I thought others might be blessed. I was, by merely typing them out:

"The good news of Easter isn't that a man rose from the dead, but that the man who had been crucified for our sin rose from the dead."

"Glorying in the element is sarkical. It is is glorying in the gift-all-the-way-down-ward."

"The big thing is not that the body and blood are there, but that the body and and blood of Christ which were given for you are there."

"Faith is nothing but what it is given. What faith is given is the Gift that lives. Living Gift! And so living, it enlivens. As enlivening gift of the Living Lord, it is not suceptible to our measurement or calculation."

"You mayn't have a Gospel justification and a semi-law sanctification."

"The person scornful of the Lord's Supper says: 'I don't need to be given to.'"

"Sasse asks the haunting question: Is our doctrine of inspiration based on Scripture alone or on tradition, tradition that Luther and Melanchthon swallowed whole?"

"All the Christ, Christ, Christ stuff flies in the air unless it is Christ for you. And He is for you where He promises to be."

"You cannot move by analogy—progression of our thinking, yearning—which can have as its outcome God."

"Glory in contingency and the dataness of it!"

"We are not roaming in the realm of ideas. He did it. The sheer He-did-it-ness for which we can lay on Him no compelling reasons; and the data-ness, THAT recognition evacuates any possibility of us laying something down ahead of God."

"Nothing could less like God than the man hanging dead on the cross. Only God could be so human and so weak. So opposite to every religious notion about God—religion being the result of our wishing, emotions, yearning, thinking."

"Of the sheer did-ness and data-ness you have the locatedness—the specificity of time and place. He did it. He provides for its delivery to you."

"Each part of the Gospels is to be read as the whole of the Gospels are to be read, the pushing or giving of the Jesus they bestow."

"The specific Jesus that is the specific gift of that pericope."

"God loves nothing better than dishing out the good stuff. Why else did he make this crazy world?" 

"That which is His great delight, He would bring to us too. So He gives us much more than we need so that we can have fun dishing it out too. In that there is the life of God which cannot be brought into any bondage of coercion."

"Faith is not the product of the exercise of God's power, but the consequence of His giving."

"A gift is rejectable; His power is not."

"Toenails grow. Is that under the power of law or gospel?"

"There is no action of the Holy Spirit outside the Church in the New Testament."

"Unbelief is the refusal of gift, the refusing to be given to."

"The grounds of damnation is the rejection of the gift."

"When the Lord said, 'Follow me,' to Matthew, Matthew was given to. He is made alive as a man that wasn't alive before. That 'Follow me' is Gospel."

"The wordless Law—what man knows in his bones. A wordless God is Deus Absconditus, before whom is only terror and dread. But Law, worded or wordless is the same, and worded is the more terrible and inescapable. Never by an exercise of inescapable power is faith produced. Any inescapable power is Law talk, not Gospel."

"There is an unwillingness in Jesus to be other than Gift. And He wants to be all the gift that He is. Those who just wanted a piece, He wouldn't let them have it, because He wanted to be the lot for them."

"God runs the whole show in two ways: Law and Gospel. Either life or death, it is gift which evokes the faith in the being received. If received as gift, it is received faithfully and gospelly. The man who receives the death by cancer as a gift from the Lord has faith."

"The AC's 'where and when He pleases' warns us off from lusting to get our hands on things and bring them into our control."

"The distinction between Law and Gospel has the ultimate reach in God. There is a God who damns and a God who saves. Only at the last minute do you say it to the same God—up to then it's like there are two gods going on."

"When you find reason taking God captive and laying prescriptions on Him, that's law talk."

"The Gospel runs the third use of the Law. We'd do better to talk about the Gospel's use of the Law."

"It is a measure of our freedom that the Law can be brought into our service as a gift. Then it is a guide. It's not what makes us what we are nor the prompting before Him."

"Love is evoked outside of you. You don't work up a bit of love and then give it away." 

"If ever we did a good work that didn't need forgiving, we'd never know about it."

"Where there's measuring, there's Law-talk going on."

"Rather than measuring good works, let us engender them. Only we can't. The Spirit does it by the Gospel. We do not know what damage is done to people that misshapes and shrivels and warps them. The way of the gifts of Christ in such a one will work in the way they will work and we are not in a position to keep a scoresheet."

"Whatever good thing happens, we can but say thanks!"

"The wholeness of the child! When a little child laughs, there is no part of him not laughing, and so when he weeps."

"The infant is as damnable as the rest of us."

"It is the way of being gifted that its never enough and there's always more."

"Unbelief is refusing to let God be gracious."

"Your forgiveness is as sure as Calvary is sure; the fluctuation is in us, not in Him."

"The Dominicality is the biggy. The first thing to confess about Baptism and the Supper is what HE said about them. After He has had His say, we can rejoice in the gift in our own words. It is the Lord's Supper, not our Supper."

"Confirmation is the public celebration of the fulfillment of our Lord's bidding: We've been baptized and we've been taught!"

"Our good works are only good works because they are forgiven."

"It is vital that we always be on the alert for spotting anthropological analogy in the matter of the Holy Spirit—that is always backwards."

"You cannot move from evidence in you to saying something about the Holy Spirit. That will always be dubious."

"Equating the Holy Spirit with love you end up with quantitative parcels."

"When the lot of good works are within His forgiveness, then we're not playing quantitative games with God."

"We rejoice to confess filioque because the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. That is the point."

"How does the Holy Spirit give the Jesus stuff?"

"We must not talk about faith in any way but a grace alone way." 

"Faith is the creation of the Holy Spirit and the receiving of the Jesus stuff."

"Love and necessity are mutually exclusive."

"Does God think you're worth bothering with? Look to Calvary!"

"Salvation may not be deduced from God's nature, but from what Christ has done." 

"The love of God that is shed abroad in our heart is Jesus' death and resurrection. That is how He loved us." 

"The best confession of the Trinity is that which tells the good news of our salvation that the Father sent the Son to die for us sinners and what Jesus did is given to us by the work of the Holy Spirit. The directionality inherent in this is the opposite of an inverted Trinity."

"Does God make you fit to be loved, and then love you? Or does He love all what's going on, sitting on your chair?"

"To pay attention to the Holy Spirit is to frustrate the Jesus work that He is seeking to do. The Spirit gets behind you and gets you to look at Calvary."

"Would this theology work without Calvary? Then it's not Christian theology."

"What Jesus loves is you, not what He ends up making of you."

"The Supper can never be our work. It is God's giving out what Calvary achieved."

"God is given you in the sarx, whose shins would bruise if you kicked them. To look for him anywhere outside the flesh is to look away from where He is for you."

"The most important question to ask of any pericope is what is the Jesus that this text gives me that is given nowhere else? What is its proprium?"

"The becoming man of God was the becoming man of man."

"The bestowal of salvation happens where we are at. That's the job of the Holy Spirit."

"Can't say unJesusy things about the Holy Spirit. The more Jesusy the Spirit, the more we can be sure we're getting it right!"