Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Church MILITANT. . .

On March 22 of this year, as the corona virus pandemic was ramping up and churches were ramping down, I preached at the ordination and installation of the Rev. Richard Neely Owen.  In the sermon I mentioned the rather unsettling circumstances with which his ministry was beginning.  The service itself had been scheduled for the parish he is now serving but when the Kentucky governor closed down that venue, we shifted it about thirty miles south, across the border in Tennessee, where I serve.  So I was a little exuberant about this and proudly proclaimed that the Church here on earth was always the Church Militant, that persecutions and threats and enemies were the norm for our life together and a pastor's service to his people, and that while a pandemic was exceptional, the battle mode of the faith was the norm.  After saying his first mass here at Grace, it would be weeks and and months before he would regularly offer the Lord's body and blood to the people of the parish he was called to serve.

Now some have been unusually at ease with the shut down of the Church.  Rome quickly cancelled Easter and the bishops fell all over themselves trying to outdo what could not be done in the Lord's House.  Baptists in my neck of the woods are only weeks into resuming in person worship.  Big box evangelicals seem to be pretty happy with their online stuff.  Lutherans, a mixed bag in the best of circumstances, have continued to bicker about who is wise, who is faithful, what is the threat, and why their response is the only reasonable response.  The reality, of course, is that America is not the same everywhere and the threat from this virus is not the same everywhere.  I understand that even if some do not.  There may be places where there was no choice but to close the doors.  However, I believe those places are fewer rather than larger in number and, given Lutheranism's rural tilt, it would and should have been possible for more churches to find ways to continue rather than simply shutter the doors and send people home to watch the screens.

That brings up a point which, now that we are freed from some of the most urgent matters of survival, we could and ought discuss.  What does it mean to be the Church Militant?  Well, let us begin with the foundation for that question.  Who is the Lord?  The Psalmist has a pretty good answer:  Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle!  Because the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love does NOT mean He is milquetoast.  Our God is not schizophrenic -- a mild mannered Clark Kent at some times and a powerful Superman at others.  He does not vacillate between naughty and nice.  He is always the Lord, strong and mighty, and no stronger or mightier than when He meets our death, pays the price for our sin, and suffers for the punishment due us all.  Hidden in the guise of weakness is the Lord strong and mighty and we dare never forget it.  His surrender to be the Victim for our sin was not the act of a weak God or a fearful man.  He is the God-man whose strength is revealed on the cross and not just in the empty tomb.

Strange how it is, then, that the Church seems to muster her strength more to fight on behalf of people and causes other than the faith itself.  Some churches will issue ultimatums and protest the unjust treatment of gay, lesbian, transgender, queer, and every other stab at a gender and identity other than the one you are born with BUT will not fight for the truth of God's Word or over doctrine the Lord warns us against changing.  Some churches will risk dividing people over screens and praise bands but not over the dogmas confessed in the creeds or their own historic confessions.  Some churches will reserve their right to sit in judgment over this president or that or this law or that or this SCOTUS opinion or that but then fall into lock step with the edicts of politicians over what they may do and when they may do it.

IF we are the Church Militant, we should at least remember what it is we are most militant about.  That does not diminish the cause of the poor and the oppressed but it does recall that there is but one institution established by God to preserve and promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are it; we are her.  The Church Militant is a blowhard and a fool if she takes up fighting words at every cause well funded and well articulated by media and culture but stumbles, hems, and haws at confessing the simple creed without caveat and equivocation.  Pardon me for saying this but the GLBTQ+ does not need the Church to plead their cause -- they have the voice of the media, the resources to survive, and, apparently, the SCOTUS to come to their aid.  The unborn do not.  The Gospel does not.  The Church Militant about everything else but the cause of life and the Gospel is not the Church at all.  She is not Militant but passive, empty, foolish, and a sham.  She will never hope to see the Church Triumphant, much less become her, but will be chewed up and spit out by the Lord who loves the sinner but cannot stand the lukewarm.


Padre Dave Poedel said...

AAwesome, Larry. God bless your work in this and every “venue” (I hate that word). Be joyful and of good cheer, you are pleaing in the eyes of the Lord!

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Great message, Pastor.

Anonymous said...

Wow! and well said. A true word for our day and church. God bless you.