Monday, May 31, 2021

We remember. . .










I well remember the Memorial Day (we called it Decoration Day back then) rituals of the small town in which I grew up.  An assembly of the whole community at the park near the auditorium began the day.  With the old howitzer on the pedestal, the school band assembled to play the National Anthem (I was even enlisted to direct one year), and the rows upon rows of white crosses decorated with American flags... 

I still remember my Dad in his army hat orchestrating much of the action.  And the kids.  Children upon children lined up to carry each a cross to every veteran's grave in the cemeteries of the community.  It was a big deal... The white crosses represented the grandfathers, fathers, and sons of this small town on the Nebraska prairie.  They would not be forgotten and they were remembered -- all together at least one day a year.  

The final noble act was the playing of taps -- usually the best trumpeter in the band.  In the solemn silence of that moment, aged vets still living, some squeezed into their old service uniforms, some younger veterans of a war no one seemed to remember and a few from the first great war, all at the same time raised a crooked, broken, wrinkled, wounded, young and straight hand in salute.  Those who lived and died for the cause of our nation did not live in vain or die in vain.  

I remember the tears flowing down cheeks of men and women, the aged and the children.  I remember the jerk of my neck to each volley of the gun salute.  I remember running over to where these men stood and shot their weapons -- to pick up the spent brass shells.  Not in vain did they live or fight or die... not in vain...  In towns across America the old ritual of Memorial Day took place.  The VFW and American Legion saw to it.  So did the people whose grandfathers, fathers, and sons left waving their hands only to return in boxes covered with flags.  Not in vain, no sir, they did not die in vain... 

These were men of a great generation willing to make sacrifice before claiming right or privilege.  When my father-in-law died, I watched as they slowly made their way down the aisle to the casket.  For many, the walk was terribly difficult.  They paused before the casket, made a deliberate and profound salute to the flag draped body, and turned to make way for those to come.  We can learn much from this generation and from those of every generation who gave themselves to death on battlefields far and forgotten that we might remember.  Another day will come to honor those who survived the rigors of war and who carry in their bodies and minds the wounds of battle but today we remember the dead, the rows of tombstones that signified their service, their sacrifice, and their salute to liberty.

Today I thought of it all and tears filled my eyes... a part of me wanted to be back there where, now sixty years ago, led by my Dad and people like him, we made sure that those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our liberty were not forgotten.  We were there to remember them with white crosses, solemn salutes, cracks of rifles, and the sad but noble strains of Taps... remembering and never forgetting the men (and women) who served our nation by making the greatest of sacrifices... for you... for me... 

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Who is out of step?






It is often said that the Church is out of step with the modern mind, the modern social ethic, the modern understanding of truth, and the modern world. I have no quarrel with that assessment. The Church is surely out of step with the times and, in particular, with the direction of the world. But is this a problem? Is this something that ought to give pause or even cause to reconsider the considered opinions of the faith? Some would say that it is. The Church needs to be where the people are -- not only geographically but philosophically, morally, and practically.

It is funny because on this day the Church addresses the world with something that contradicts all reason and understanding and begs to be received as mystery confessed by faith. What could be more out of step with what people value, believe, and how they live than the confession of One God in Three Persons? Over time some have tried analogy to explain the incomprehensible. It is usually an epic failure to the truth. Most of the time it is heresy, raw modalism usually. In the end it does not explain or made approachable the inapproachable nature of God. We meet Him on the only ground we can -- on the foundation of His own self-disclosure. Our words contradict and confound when we attempt to go beyond what He has said of Himself. 

On this day, throughout liturgical churches the words of the Athanasian Creed ring out from a people who know not what they mean but know enough to confess what they say -- by faith.

Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith.
Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally.
And the catholic faith is this,
that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity,
neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.
For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Holy Spirit is another.
But the Godhead of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit:
the Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Spirit uncreated;
the Father infinite, the Son infinite, the Holy Spirit infinite;
the Father eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Spirit eternal.
And yet there are not three Eternals, but one Eternal,
just as there are not three Uncreated or three Infinites, but one Uncreated and one Infinite.
In the same way, the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, the Holy Spirit almighty;
and yet there are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God;
and yet there are not three Gods, but one God.
So the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, the Holy Spirit is Lord;
and yet there are not three Lords, but one Lord.
Just as we are compelled by the Christian truth to acknowledge each distinct person as God and Lord, so also are we prohibited by the catholic religion to say that there are three Gods or Lords.
The Father is not made nor created nor begotten by anyone.
The Son is neither made nor created, but begotten of the Father alone.
The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son, neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeding.
Thus, there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.
And in this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another;
but the whole three persons are coeternal with each other and coequal, so that in all things, as has been stated above, the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity is to be worshiped.
Therefore, whoever desires to be saved must think thus about the Trinity.
But it is also necessary for everlasting salvation that one faithfully believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, it is the right faith that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man.
He is God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages; and He is man, born from the substance of His mother in this age:
perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and human flesh;
equal to the Father with respect to His divinity, less than the Father with respect to His humanity.
Although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ:
one, however, not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh,
but by the assumption of the humanity into God;
one altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.
For as the rational soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ,
who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead,
ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
At His coming all people will rise again with their bodies and give an account concerning their own deeds.
And those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire.
This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.

This IS the Catholic Faith. If this is not right, nothing else matters. We worship this God and none other.

All of this is less a subject for the great minds to ponder than for the simple creature in worship to confess.

We could not be more out of step with those around us but more in step with God and His revelation.

Does anything else matter????

Saturday, May 29, 2021

A disappointment. . .

The truth is that I have sat on this for some time.  Perhaps I was so happy to begin a sense of normalcy to the Holy Week observances lost in the wake of the pandemic year, I did not think to spoil the week I had been longing for with complaint.  But it is shocking to me and something I did not expect and could not have predicted.  That is, the surprising meaninglessness of Holy Week, in particular Good Friday, in the South.

I grew up in Nebraska and Holy Week was a big thing among the mostly Lutheran population there.  It was a somber day in which one would not think of challenging the landscape of the cross with humor or distraction.  No, we did not observe the rigorous fasts of Roman Catholics (in a small minority where I grew up) but neither did we ignore that this was the day on which we commemorate that our Lord Jesus had to suffer and die for us and our salvation.

Yet Good Friday in the Bible belt is largely no different than any other Friday.  Business goes on.  Even schools do not uniformly offer the day off for students and staff.  Bars and restaurants continue to serve to the merriment of those attending.  Spring sports programs schedule practices and games for the Friday on which we note the Lord's death.  In fact, I recall one practice in which a coach insisted that if our son did not join them on the mound on Good Friday, he would not play other days!  Baptists and other churches that do have services mostly likely have Easter cantatas on Holy Thursday and Good Friday in which the focus is less on the cross than on the empty tomb.  This year the marquee on the church next door advertised exactly that.  The empty cross is symbolic of an event we have chosen to forget or ignore on the one day of the year devoted to it.  If Jesus is risen, the cross is no more -- except where did you ever read that in Scripture?

But what do we expect from a nation so proudly Protestant?  After all, it was on Good Friday that Lincoln chose to head to the theater and view a comedy -- a profoundly religious man who seemed to be immune to the religious significance of that day.  This year golfers took to the greens for the Masters on Good Friday.  Even Roman Catholics who should know better have largely ignored the religious implications of this day.  The Kennedy clan has a history of Good Friday's spent at home rather than in church (or, in the case of 1991, in a bar where the claim of rape was made against one of them).  

We like to point out that Americans are a much more overtly religious people that Europe and yet in Europe it is more likely that theaters and night clubs and bars would be closed or close to empty as the culture has made more prominent the Good Friday holy day.  Great Britain is Protestant, at least in a classical sense of that term, and there Good Friday is a national holiday.  How strange it is that we would add days to our calendar of national holidays (Juneteenth, for example) and find absent the most sacred day for Christians of all stripes!  Perhaps we have taken too seriously the words of Jesus to hide in the prayer closet.  Or, perhaps, the individualization of a private faith has made it easy to party hearty on the outside while praying on the inside as Jesus mounts the altar of the cross.  In any case, it is a rude lesson to learn that Good Friday is simply one more Friday in the South.  As it might be in many places in the US.  But you might think that in a nation that so loudly lauds its Christian origins and devout people, it might still be a holy day.  There.  Well, you have heard my complaint.

Friday, May 28, 2021

The Sin-o-dal Way. . .

One journalist reported on the growing conflict within the Roman Catholic Church between its richest and most well-funded national jurisdiction and the Vatican.  The Roman Catholic Church in Germany has a net worth of nearly $4 Billion, about 30% more than the Vatican itself.  Such a major concentration of funds has been used of late to influence and shape the rest of the Roman Catholic Church.  It is literally pushing for a new kind of reformation that would distance that communion from Scripture and tradition and put it more closely in tune with the culture and beliefs of the people around it.

The Synodal Way is the suggestion of a new form of ecclesiastical structure in which the centralized power of Rome would diminish and more power would be given to parishioners – especially in the decision making of the churches and a veto over the appointment of bishops.  It advocates for the ordination of women as deacons, for now, and priests, for later.  It cites the sex abuse scandal and the distance between doctrine and belief as causes for the drastic restructuring of the Roman Catholic Church.  It is significant that the Vatican and the Pope have not yet disavowed this document or its direction – a sign of the difficulty they are in posing a conflict between the richest arm of Roman Catholicism and its traditionally centralized government.

Oddly enough, this comes from a section of the Roman Catholic Church in which mass attendance is very low, the numbers of those who go to confession or receive the Sacrament continues to diminish, and the value of this communion is viewed largely in symbolic terms by people inside and outside the confines of the German church.  The Germans have the money to push Rome’s buttons and have insisted that Pope John Paul II’s decision to entirely rule out the ordination of women has been undermined by “new insights into the witness of the Bible, into the developments of Tradition, and into the anthropology of gender,” even casting doubts on “the coherence of his argumentation and the validity of his statements” on the matter.

It is one more sign of the growing influence of liberal and progressive Christians who believe that the future of the faith rests not with faithfulness and continuity with the doctrine and life of the past but with a complete revamping of what is believed and practiced to accord with what is happening in the secular world.  While Lutherans have no dog in this fight, we should watch and pay attention.  The German Lutherans are in much the same boat as this group challenging Rome.  They have largely adopted every liberal position, just as Lutherans throughout the West.  The Lutheran Churches going a different way remain small and have less financial resources than those who have remade the Church of the Augsburg Confession into a mirror of the world around them.  

African Lutherans have especially given hope to Confessional Lutherans in the West and it is possible that the so-called third world churches will give Rome the backbone to say “no” to the money and influence of the Germans.  In any case, orthodox Christianity is under attack more by those inside than outside, attempting to gut the faith and dilute the influence of Scripture and tradition by giving a larger voice to woke culture and progressive voices on nearly every subject – from climate change to gender identity.  My friends, fight is fierce and the warfare long as we battle those who would defeat the cause of the Spirit and the voice of God speaking through His Word the truth that does not change.  Stay tuned. . . 

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Just the facts. . .

Mythology often lives on past reality.  Fans of Star Trek may be disappointed to know that Kirk never actually said "Beam me up, Scotty."  In the same way, Dragnet creator Jack Webb, who also portrayed the hero of the show, the stern Sgt. Joe Friday, is forever associated with the line, "Just the facts, ma'am." He never said it.  In the 1953 episode "The Big Lease," Friday tells the main suspect, one Mrs. Banner (Sarah Selby), "All we know are the facts, ma'am."

We live in an age in which mythology and opinion pass as fact.  From the news we watch to the education our children receive in our schools, everything seems to be slanted.  In fact, it is so slanted that it is often difficult to sort out truth from fiction, reality from mythology, and history from ideology.  In the past the presumption was that things were slanted in favor of the majority (the white majority).  Now we find ourselves facing an affirmative action version of the truth that endeavors to make up for the sins of the past.  That might be a laudable goal were it not for the fact that ideology regularly triumphs over truth in the newspapers, TV news bureaus, and social media of our land.  Even worse, the classrooms of America have become the war rooms of those who are waging battle against history as well as bias, against truth as well as prejudice.  It will not serve us well.

Look at what happened to Christianity when agendas began to operate along side of truth and fact.  There was a time when it was presumed the Scriptures presented facts and real history but now even a majority of Christians assume that errors and legends are wrapped up with the facts of the Bible.  More concerning is that the result of this has not been a renewed call to discernment but the presumption that the faith is more sentiment than history, more emotive fiction than real truth and fact.  The end result is that even Christians find it hard to explain why reincarnation is not compatible with the faith or why it is so wrong to repeat creeds without buying into what the words say and mean.  It has become a muddle.  The fruits of this muddle are shown in the willingness to created a localized truth and a faith that fits the person.  As comfortable as such a faith might be, it will have no power to forgive the guilty sinner, rescue the lost, redeem the captive soul, or raise the dead.  Its power is only to make the believer feel good -- for the moment, anyway.

The state of Christianity often mirrors the reality around us.  In both we have chosen to be consoled by a fiction of our own creation more than the truth that endures and the Word of the Lord that is eternal.  Coming off the heels of Easter, we would do well to ask ourselves what was preached of Jesus' death and resurrection?  Did we hear but a symbolic meaning to events that may or may not have happened or did we hear the facts preached for our justification and salvation?  Did the Church offer the facts of the Scriptures without embarrassment or hesitation or did the Church bow down to the gods of feelings to preach a message that made folks feel good but still in their sin and death?

Although Joe Friday never said it, he should have.  Just the facts.  It is better to preach with conviction the facts of Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection than it is to focus on their symbolism or sentimental meaning.  While this stands true for the annual walk to the cross the empty tomb in the Church Year, it stands even truer for regular preaching of God's Word to God's people -- especially the funeral.  Grief can drink in the sentiments of the moment but these cannot plant hope where death was and they cannot heal the broken heart.  Only the real Christ of Scripture (that is also the Jesus of history) can break through to the heart of the wound and need and heal and restore our brokenness.  

It is a sad day when our kids go to school to hear an opinion about things of which no truth can be said.  They will grow up in the prison of somebody else's opinions and be kept from the reason to discern myth from fact.  But it is surely a worse day when our people go to Church only to hear opinions about things of which no truth or fact can be said.  For when they die, the grave will be the least of their worries as they rise to face a God who is real and a real salvation they thought was imaginary.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The problem of the usus

Lutherans have always had a problem when it comes to the moment of Christ's presence in the Sacrament.  On the one hand, we have taken great pains to say that this moment of the sacramental union cannot be pinpointed to a precise instant but on the other hand at some point we know that Christ is where He has promised to be.  On the one hand, this hesitance is rooted in our refusal to see the power to effect Christ's presence as something deposited in the priest in ordination.  On the other hand, this is shaped by our insistence that it remains Christ's Supper and He is the One who fulfills its promise and makes present His flesh and blood in bread and wine.  But the soft underbelly of Lutheranism is the refusal to take a firm stand and thus allow the muddle to allow such ridiculous opinions as receptionism (the idea that the presence of Christ in the Sacrament happens only at the moment the elements are consumed).  Worse, the refusal to speak forthrightly on this has also allowed us the shame of how the elements are treated after the supper (from disrespect to downright impiety).  Finally, our hesitance to say what we ought and ought not to do, has left some to invent practices clearly at odds with our Confessions (online Sacraments).

If you want the definitive work on the subject, survey Dr. Edward F. Peters ThD dissertation, The Origin and Meaning of the Axiom: "Nothing Has the Character of a Sacrament outside of the Use" in Sixteenth- Century and Seventeenth Century Lutheran Theology.  You might also want to survey Dr. Bjarne Teigen's The Lord's Supper in the Theology of Martin Chemnitz.  Another resource might be Dr. Arthur Carl Piepkorn's The Moment at Which the Sacramental Union Begins.  

The whole point of the usus (the ancient rule or standard, “Nihil habet rationem sacramenti extra usum a Christo institutum” or’ “extra actionem divinitus institutum, in English: Nothing has the nature of a sacrament apart from the use instituted by Christ” or “apart from the action divinely instituted”) (F.C., S.D., VII,85; Trig.p. 1001; Tappert, p. 584) is not the moment at which the sacramental union begins or ends but the protection of the Sacrament as gift and blessing meant to be received, that is, to be eaten and drunk.  The distortion of the usus to deal with other questions has not helped the matter of clarity or consistency in confession and practice.  The context of this was and is against those uses of the Sacrament except for the faithful reception as Christ intends (here, Lutherans would insist that exposition of the Sacrament or benediction -- outside its reception -- is not the use for which Christ intended the Supper).  It stands to reason if our Lord has given the command to eat and drink of His body and blood and there is no eating and drinking, then the blessing attached to that communion is lost to us and there is no Sacrament.

The question of at what point Christ is present and at what point, if any, Christ is no longer present is a separate issue from the question of the usus of the Sacrament.  They might be related but they are not the same.  The sad reality is that even some of the great names of Lutheranism have wandered into the weeds in this question, doing exactly what Lutherans insist they do not do, allowing reason or logic to answer instead of simple Scripture.  So it is true that David Chytraeus, Andreas Quenstedt, CFW Walther, Wilhelm Loehe, and Franz Pieper have written in such way that it appears they believe the presence of Christ happens at the reception and there is no presence in the distribution or in the reliquae that remain after the distribution.  Some, in making this judgment, have cited exceptional circumstances -- spillage, for example.  Because they do not want to believe Christ's blood would be spilled, they have presumed it cannot be spilled because it is not present yet.  It is a little like heading down the path of what might be if a man were alone on a desert island.  Rules from such unusual circumstances are seldom helpful and may violate the very truths of our confession.

While it is certainly true that the Lutheran Confessions do not separate the consecration from distribution from the reception, this does not mean that this precludes us from addressing what happens at each juncture of the one, complete act.  The consecration is one action.  The Words of Christ are addressed to elements not as magical words or incantation but as Words of Promise that are efficacious and deliver what they promise.  The pastor speaks as the voice of Christ speaking and doing what He has promised.  It is not some peculiar power given to the pastor that is at work here but the Word of Christ doing what Christ has promised to do.  Thus, there is involved in the consecration the intent to receive what the Words of Christ promise.  We can have confidence here that what those Words say, the Words do, so that what is distributed and received is the body and blood of Christ, quite apart from our faith or lack thereof or our convictions about the Real Presence or lack thereof.  

The sanctus bells ring not to draw attention to the clock and the time in which this presence occurs but to the Word that speaks and to what that Word effects.  In the same way, the elevation is the natural ceremonial confession of what we believe, teach, and confess about the Words of Christ.  We adore Christ here, acknowledging His presence where He has promised to be.  Because Christ is to be adored, faith rejoices to do so.  We are not distinguishing the bread from the body or the wine from the blood because this sacramental union compels us to see them together.  Not bread that is less than bread but bread that is more -- the body of Christ.  In the same way the wine -- not less than wine but more, the blood of Christ.  We are not worshiping an object any more than one worships an object when one bows before the Incarnate Lord Jesus.  It is simply foolishness to make such a charge.

Distribution is handled in a manner appropriate to what is being distributed.  This is the most sacred gift of God, the flesh of His Son for us to eat and His blood for us to drink.  The use of the houseling cloth or distribution paten or simply holding the purificator under the chin reminds us that this is not just bread and not just wine.  While there is some antiquity to distributing in the hand, it is neither universal or necessarily laudable to do so.  The pastor distributes into the mouth out of reverence for what is being distributed.  The distribution remains until all that is consecrated is consumed, whether later the sick or against the next communion.  Why is this so hard?  The Lord calls on us to eat and drink with the promise that what we eat and drink are His flesh for the life of the world and His blood that cleanses us from all sin.  The Lord does not give time limits to such distribution.

After the Supper, what remains cannot be treated apart from its use.  Luther and others have warned against treating the consecrated host as mere host and mingling with the unconsecrated and also what remains in the flagon or cruet.  Though most Lutherans would look askance at reservation of the reliquae, the truth is most Lutherans reserve without tabernacle.  In the sacristy, a plastic container and separate cruet are marked consecrated to keep them separate.  Why not give what remains its due and honor the Lord with a fitting place of reservation for later distribution or commune all that remains?  By the way, consume it at the altar so that the people see and understand it.  Better this than to do it after the service in the sacristy, behind closed doors.  Sure, over the years there have been practices less than salutary (like sending the Eucharist like a welcome coffee cake to a new bishop).  But that these excesses have occurred does not mean we must deny the obvious.  Take and eat; take and drink.  And what we take and eat and take and drink is what Christ says it is until we eat and drink it.  Unless we do not intend to eat and drink it at all, for then it is not His sacrament but something else.

Perhaps there are Lutherans who believe in two miracles, Christ filling the bread with His body and the wine with His blood AND then Christ departing leaving only bread and wine.  Perhaps there are Lutherans who like such fancifulness but not this one.

Frankly, when did you ever find a Lutheran who wanted to omit the reception?  When did you ever find a Lutheran who thought that being a spectator at the mass was as beneficial as eating and drinking as Christ invites and commands?  When did you ever find a Lutheran who wanted to take the host and mount it for adoration in place of the reception?  When did you ever find a Lutheran who wanted to intentionally violate the usus by taking bits and pieces away from the whole action?  You don't!  You won't!  But I tell what you might find.  You might find Lutherans who toss away leftover reliquae like yesterday's garbage, who treat the elements on the altar and after the Supper with little respect, who ignore spills and leave a trail of crumbs as if it did not matter a bit, and who tinker with the Lord's institution as if it were a suggestion instead of a testament (substituting juice and other breads as they see fit).  The problem with the usus is not Lutherans reserving for some use apart from reception.  The problem is that receptionism and a narrow view of the usus has led us to forget what it is that the pastor holds in his hand and gives to us in Christ's name and treat it as if it were something ordinary, common, and sentimental more than real.

Finally, make sure that the vessels used for distribution are cleansed with clean water, the water reverently poured into the piscina or on the ground, and those vehicles of grace treated in accord with what they carried.  This means careful rinsing and pouring down the piscina the rinsed water even from individual cups (whether glass or plastic).  To do anything less is to admit that these vessels conveyed nothing more than earthly elements and to deny our confession.  Honor the usus.  But do not dishonor the Lord by putting an expiration date where He has put none or by presuming some sort of sophistry designed to minimize our responsibility for reverence instead of encouraging it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Tongues of Sin, Tongues of Faith

Sermon for the Day of Pentecost, Sunday, May 23, 2021, preached by the Rev. Daniel. M. Ulrich.

               Words matter.  This is a simple statement, but it’s powerful and true.  Words have meanings, and we all need to know those meanings so that we can communicate.  Words accomplish things.  Sometimes they bring about good, sometimes bad.  Words inform.  They influence how we view and think about the world around us.  We need words so that we can live together in community, just as God created us to.  But often, our words, instead of bringing us together, they divide. 

               This division is seen most clearly with all the different languages we speak.  Language divides and separates.  Those who speak English are separated from those who speak French.  German from Arabic.  Spanish from Mandarin.  The divisions of language, they go on and on.  Sure, these divisions can be overcome by learning multiple languages; but even then, divisions still exist.  The very fact that we learn multiple languages and have professional translators and interpreters proves the division. 

But it wasn’t always this way.  There was a time when language didn’t divide, when all people were united in one tongue.  God’s Word tells us about that time in Genesis, the time before the Tower of Babel. 

At that time, the whole earth had one language.  Everyone spoke the same words.  And in this unity of tongue, the people, our ancestors, instead of following God’s command to fill the earth, they decided instead to build a great city and tower that reached to the heavens.  With this great feat of construction, they planned to make a name for themselves.  Seeing the city and the tower, the LORD confused the language.  Now when they spoke all that came out was babble.  They couldn’t communicate, so construction stopped and the people were dispersed.  Now there was division and separation, multiple languages

When I was a child in Sunday school, I didn’t fully realize why the Lord didn’t want the people to build that tower, especially since today we have skyscrapers all over the planet.  It just didn’t seem to make sense.  But when you look at this history you see that God’s action was in response to the peoples’ sin.  They’re whole motivation for building the city and tower went against God.  They didn’t want to fill the earth.  And that whole “making a name” for themselves, that was idolatry of self.  No longer did they worship God, the Creator of all things.  Now they worshipped themselves and what they could create. 

The separation that was brought about by the confusion of language, it was the result of sin.  Sin is the divider.  Sin is the separator.  Sin is why God dispersed the people.  And sin is why we still stand divided today. 

We’re not just divided by the language we speak.  We’re divided by sin, by our sinful words.  Our separation from others isn’t as shallow as some of us saying “Thank You,” while others say “Danke,” or “Gracias.”  No, our division runs deep with the sinful words that we say, words that we say for the purpose of dividing and breaking down, words that we say redefining what God has said.  What He calls good, we call evil.  What He calls a blessing, we call a burden.  What He calls freedom, we call oppression. 

Every day we hear these sinful words and we see the destruction it causes.  Just read the headlines or listen to the news.  It’s everywhere...even in the words that we speak.  Think about all that you’ve said this past week.  How much of it was sinful words?  How much of what you said, and thought, were divisive and destructive words?  I know that I’ve spoken these words every day; words of anger, words of mockery and scoffing, words of derision. 

               There’s a movement in our society and culture to try to overcome all the divisions that words can cause.  This movement seeks out specific words that sound divisive and exclusive and then it gets rid of them from our vocabulary, hoping to bring about unity.  But this will never work, because words aren’t the problem.  Our sin is the problem.  And there’s only One Word that overcomes sin.  There’s only One Word that brings true unity: the Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ our Lord.

               Christ and His Gospel, Christ and the Good News of His death and resurrection, Christ and His Absolving Word of forgiveness, that's the only Word that overcomes our sin. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (Jn 1:1, 14).  Our Savior came into our world filled with all of its division and separation, filled with all our sin to overcome sin, to save you from your sin.  He came to undo the separation our sin causes, to bring us back together in communion, to unite us together, not under one tongue of language, but one tongue of faith.  That’s the miracle of Pentecost. 

               We think the miracle of Pentecost is the Holy Spirit descending upon the apostles, giving them the ability to speak in different tongues, in different languages.  That certainly was a miracle.  But the miracle of Pentecost is what happened when the apostles spoke those languages. 

               In all those different tongues, the languages of the Parthians and Medes and Elamites and people from Mesopotamia and Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, from Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and Libya, Rome, Crete and Arabia, all these people heard the mighty works of God in their own tongue.  They heard the Word of Christ, the Good News of His death and resurrection for them.  They heard the forgiveness, life, and salvation that He gives.  And in that hearing, the Spirit brought sinners to repentance and faith.  That day, 3000 souls, 3000 people divided by sin, they all confessed and were united in their faith in Christ.  That’s the miracle.

               The miracle of Pentecost is God uniting people from different cultures, speaking different tongues, uniting them in the same tongue of faith.  On Pentecost, the Lord undid the confusion that happened at the Tower of Babel.  He did it not by making all language one, but by enabling all languages to confess Jesus as Savior and Lord.  That unity of that faith overcomes all divisions and separation. 

               You and me, Christians throughout our city, state, nation, and world, all of us are united in our Lord; whatever language we speak.  We’re united in His death and resurrection.  We’re united in His forgiveness.  We’re united in His life and salvation.  There’s no greater unity than this.  There’s no words of our own that can achieve this unity.  It’s all Christ.  It’s all the Word Incarnate. 

               Divided by language, we struggle to communicate.  Divided by sinful words, we struggle to live together.  But God has overcome all divisions.  He’s overcome your sin with the only word that can, His Son and His Gospel.  By this Word, with one tongue of faith, together, with all different languages we’re united, praising our Savior.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 



The ministry of prayer. . .

Without agreeing that the saints may be addressed directly in our prayers, we joyfully acclaim that the saints pray for us.  They pray for the Church, the people of God whom God has called, gathered, and enlightened through the waters of baptism and into whom He has spoken His Word by the Spirit.  They pray for those not yet of the faith, in whom God is even now at work through the means of His Word to prepare and bring their hearts to faith.  They pray for the world, for God to deliver the world from violence, disaster, and distress -- even as they pray for the new heavens and new earth of God's promise.  They pray for those way is marked by affliction, pain, suffering, and loss.  They pray for the outcome of the faith, for the dawn of the eternal day when no more will the division between heaven and earth divide the people of God.  They pray for what we pray for and for whom we pray.  The saints do not have to have special knowledge or insight or connection to us to know the state of the world, the burden of the flesh, and the enemies of the faithful.  They were among us and lived under the veil of the flesh and, though delivered now, they yearn for those living to be brought through to Christ's victory and eternal presence.

The saints also pray for those who do not pray.  Let me say it again.  They pray for those who do not pray.  They learned it from the ministry of intercession in which the Church prays for those who do not pray.  It is one of the most comforting aspects of the ministry of prayer.  Whether they have forgotten to pray, distracted by the troubles and cares of this world, or they are hesitant to pray, because their faith is weak, the Church on earth and the Church in heaven prays for those who do not pray.  Whether they have not learned to pray and their hearts not yet the dwelling place of the Spirit or they disdain prayer altogether, the Church on earth and the Church in heaven prays for those who do not pray.  It is wonderful when the saints of God combine in offering prayer and petition to the Lord with one heart and one voice, but it is even more wonderful when the saints of God pray where no prayers ascend, where a people have been too lost in the temptations and distractions of the day to pray, and when they have not yet learned the joy and confidence to pray.

When the prayers of the faithful ascend on Sunday morning and in the various other liturgies of the week, the people of God pray for those who are praying, for those who have requested our prayers, for the anonymous and unknown in their needs and burdens, and for those who do not pray.  It is the blessed fruit of the ministry of prayer that our voices ascend not simply for ourselves or for those we know or for the most urgent needs of men but also for those who do not pray and cannot pray.  Do not ever forget this wonderful gift and blessing of the ministry of intercession which our Lord has called us to do in His name and on behalf of His people and the world for which He died.  Let us pray. . .