Saturday, April 30, 2022

Friday, April 29, 2022

Reflections on another anniversary. . .

The history is somewhat amazing.  The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) was founded on April 26, 1847, when 12 pastors representing 14 congregations from Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Michigan, New York and Ohio signed the church body’s constitution at First St. Paul Lutheran Church, Chicago. Since that time, the LCMS has seen ups and downs and a few sideways detours along the way.  While the anniversary is significant, the timing is not so good.  At the very time we should be celebrating we are wrestling with serious and substantive problems over everything from our Concordia Universities to where we are going to get future pastors to discrepancies over such things as online sacraments to the confusing array of worship styles that pass for LCMS Lutheran to the declining numbers in our pews and of congregations.  It is not exactly the moment one might choose for a big anniversary celebration, now, is it?

The reality, however, is that the golden years are the ones we esteem to be moments of earthly glory.  They are not exactly our finest hours -- they were the times when it all seemed easier, less confusing, less troubled, and more peaceful.  Few of those things could be said of the present moment and of the start of a year long observance of 175 years.  Quite frankly, like most of our folks, I am not exactly sure I am excited enough to do much.  Maybe it could be a time to grab a beer and some munchies and reminisce while crying into that beer the lament of the days of our lives.  Or, we might do something else.  We could try to remember why this Synod was formed and rediscover both our identity and our mission while looking at Jesus.

I purposely waited a bit before posting this.  The fuss ought to be where it belongs -- not on us or those who went before us but on the changeless Christ our changing world needs now more than ever.  The means to this will not come by beating our chests about the past but it will come from a renewed focus on what we believe, teach, and confess.  The whole genesis of our Synod was about doctrine and practice, dogma and praxis, faith and life.  That is the part we have the most trouble with of late.  We grew from a dozen or s congregations into a Synod well known throughout the world not by magical programs or charismatic personalities but by remembering it is all about Jesus.  This was not mere sentiment but a people who actually believed not only that the Word of the Lord was and is true, that it endures forever, but also that it does what it says.  When there is little you can point to in statistics and current accomplishments, we ought to at least be able to point to unanimity with respect to our Confession and trust that God still works through the Word preached and the Sacraments administered.  If we get this right, I suspect we might be around to celebrate another anniversary.  If we get it wrong, I am not sure there would be any reason to notice the passage of another 25, 50, or 100 years.

I am invested in this church body, in its history and confession, its past and its future.  But that is not institutional loyalty.  Perhaps the best institutional loyalty is to freely admit all our weaknesses, faults, failings, and foibles while at the same time determined to address them with the trust that the Word still works.  We have enjoyed the blessing of many larger than life leaders on every level of our Synod's life and work.  We have lived with the abundance of resources and people from generation to generation.  We have also revealed how much we tend to squabble, how hard it is for us to decide when to stop that fighting, and what is worth fighting for and what is not.  I suspect we will continue to wrestle with this for a while -- the good and the bad.  But as I have so often said, the future does not lie with a Lutheran Lite catechism, creed, and confession or with an anything goes attitude toward Sunday morning.  If we fail, then let us fail for being faithful.  And if we succeed, let us credit the Lord and pray that He makes us humble.  If we just end up muddling through the next quarter century, let us give reason for the hope within us in a spirit of love and gentleness about everything except the truth of Christ crucified and risen.  Let us appeal not to the rules that govern us but to the Gospel we confess for our courage, reason for being, and the power to unite us.  Let us remember that theology must sing -- from the chapels of our seminaries to the smallest place where two or three gather in His name.  I have no illusions.  The LCMS has no guarantee of existence but the faith that is embodied in our confessions and praxis will endure even if this institution does not.  But I hope I am not a cause for its decline and I hope and pray you join me in this prayer.  So let us do as we are able, the best for His glory, to make sure that it remains about Jesus and let us leave our anxieties at the foot of the cross.


Thursday, April 28, 2022

I would not have thought it. . .

When you get to a certain age and maybe a little past that age, you start looking around you and wondering what will endure of those things which have occupied your time, energy, and concern.  For a pastor comes the glorious realization that the wrong guy to follow you could undo everything you have done.  For the life of me I cannot understand why a congregation would call a pastor who is against everything their previous pastor was for and is for everything their previous pastor was against.  I cannot tell you how many times a solid and thriving congregation was thrown into chaos, confusion, and decline by a pastor whom they called working against everything that had been built up prior to his coming.  You have a nice organ and a good organist and the new pastor comes along to suggest that pipe organs are not missional and you need a praise bad down front.  You have a good church choir that leads the singing of the glorious hymns of old and the new pastor comes along to suggest that these hymns do not speak to people anymore.  You have a reverence before the presence of the almighty God and the new pastor comes along in torn jeans and a tee and says God's wants you to be comfortable, happy, and casual.  I could go on but you get the drift.

The call process is one of the weakest links in our whole system.  On the one hand, it can leave the future of a congregation into the hands of a few cranks who have been a thorn in the previous pastor's side for years -- especially if they are loud and organized.  On the other hand, if a pastor works for a good transition, some (including Circuit Visitors and District Presidents) say he cannot let go and is interfering in the process.  In between you have an interim in which the devil is too often at work stirring up discontent that was not there and creating issues that no one had raised until there is an opening in the pastoral office.  I have witnessed several congregations go through deep periods of decline because they did not recognize and their advisors did not tell them that the guy they were calling was so far from the guy he is replacing that there would probably be trouble in River City.  No congregation should have to suffer the pain of having a new pastor tear down what the old pastor built or being told that they are in maintenance mode and the new pastor will help them into a mission mode.  But that is what often happens.

District Presidents owe it to the congregations under their care to advise them by providing good counsel and good candidates who will not agitate against their identity as a confessionally Lutheran church.  Circuit Visitors owe it to the parishes of their circuit not to be neutral or objective but to work for the good of the congregation by helping them vet the list.  Pastors owe it to their parishes to put into place good structures and processes for a transition that will not tear the people apart or create undue fear or angst over the adjustment to a new pastor.  Parish lay leaders need to work harder than ever during a vacancy and call process to make sure the whole congregation is appraised of things, participates in the decisions along the way, and knows what is happening and when. 

I would not have thought that a congregation would have to make sure that the prospective pastor is committed to the hymnal as a bare minimum of confessional Lutheran worship.  I would not have thought that a congregation would have to check out the motives of a pastor who comes in as one guy and soon casts off the mask and is somebody else.  I would not have thought that voices in the district would say that a parish needs a change when they have been solidly Lutheran in doctrine and practice for many years.  But that is the state we are in -- though, clearly, some areas are in worse shape than others.

Allow me caveat to the above.  There are occasions in which a congregation has had their fill of bad praise bands and generic evangelical church music and a mission which dwarfs the Divine Service.  They are to be commended for risking something to be faithful.  God bless them when they take the heat and make sure that the direction of the parish's future is toward our confession and not away from it.  And God bless those pastors who come into situations like this knowing that the road to faithfulness will not be easy and still they stick it out and lovingly and deliberately preach and teach a parish back into Lutheranism.  But for every parish that has been reclaimed from the swamp of evangelical seeker style worship and contemporary (what does that word even mean) Christian music, there are a dozen who turn off the organ, ditch the vestments, pack up the hymnals and catechism, and join the ranks of the big box evangelicals on Sunday morning (got your khakis and a polo Pastor Buddy?).

I cannot tell you how many folks come back to Grace for a visit and lament that there is nothing like us where they now live.  Why not?  Okay, we have a pipe organ, organist, and solidly Lutheran preaching and catechesis and practice.  But why is that so odd?  It should not be.  It should be the norm.  And maybe if it were, we would not be looking at the greener grass (sprayed a fake color) on the other side of the fence and start using the wonderful resources of our confession, hymnal, and piety to simply be the Church of Christ in this place.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

People are basically good, right?

The idea that people are basically good is a very popular doctrine which is believed and taught by many religions.  This belief in the goodness of man has become an article of faith for many Christians -- as well as for Jews. It is also a strange concurrence of many mainstream Protestants and Roman Catholics.  Now it must be posited that no Protestant body with Reformation roots or Rome held to this belief in the basic goodness of people until more modern times.  There was, instead, a more universal understanding that original sin made for just the opposite -- people were sinful not because they were sinners but sinned because they were sinners.  There is a difference.  The common acceptance of the innocence of a child and the basic goodness of man (until corrupted) has been a turning point for liberal and progressive Protestants and a significant problem for Roman Catholics as well.  It has left us with little to combat the idea that desire is also good and that doctrine must change to accept desire and even affirm it.

For the Roman Catholic Church, the acceptance of the goodness of people has been a disaster.   It is, in part, responsible for the massive decline in private confession and for the great divide between those who feelings over the truth of Scripture.  I believe that this is also responsible for massive decline in church attendance among Roman Catholics (as well as other Christians) -- after all, if you are basically good at heart, what is the urgency or need for a God who rescues you?   When Christians replace human sinfulness with basic human goodness, the premise of Christianity is destroyed.  If we do not need rescuing from our sins, why would we need a Savior?  The solution for those who insist upon the basic goodness of humanity is that the job of the Church and the Savior is to help people come to terms with and live in accordance with their desires.  When this happens, the whole rationale for Christianity—sinners in need of redemption is destroyed and what you have left is an individualistic morality whose job is to affirm the desire of the moment.  It is no less damaging to orthodox Lutheranism as well.  In fact, it is the rationale for those who have opened the door to behaviors that were once declared sinful and gender identity with its notion that the body and the gender probably have nothing in common.  Where you find a church body ready to ditch the traditional teaching of Scripture on marriage, sexual desire, and gender identity, you probably have a church body that has exchanged the truth of original sin for the pleasant lie that people are basically good and life screws them up later.

While Rousseau is certainly responsible for thrusting this idea into the mainstream of Christian thought, the churches were quick to adopt this popular idea.  When that happened, self-actualization rather than holiness became the goal and purpose of the Church's existence.  In the wake of this subjective and self-centered understanding of truth and life, Christianity was already on the path to becoming merely a therapeutic deism where people run for refuge from those who would challenge their desires.  Truth is only as big or deep as the individual and counseling suddenly becomes the purpose for the pastoral ministry as well as the primary program for the Church.  The theologian and exegete gives place to the therapist, psychologist, and sociologist to define what God is, who we are, and how the two intersect.  The gospel for this aberration is "Judge not" and the presumption is that if we affirm others with their idiosyncrasies, they will not question and will affirm ours.  The psychology of this “feel-good-about-yourself” religion became the enlightened and advanced form of Christianity -- the modern form.

I see people wince when in the baptismal rite, we confess that the child being brought to the font is under the power of the devil until Christ redeems him.  We are destroyed by our sentimental view of the child because if that child is sinful, we are.  And that we cannot allow.  So, what has to go is the doctrine of original sin and that is replaced by the notion that people are basically good, that society and experience forms the sinner and not the desires of the heart.  The problem with ditching original sin, is that it ditches the teaching of the Scripture and the atonement.  But, if that is the cost of holding on to a pleasant notion, many seem ready to pay that price.  One more neat thing about this idea is that it posits the blame for sin away from the individual and places it on the society at large. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Your Sin Isn’t Your Identity

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter (C), preached on Sunday, April 24, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!
    We call him Doubting Thomas.  But why?  Why do we define Jesus’ disciple by a moment of doubt?  Why do we define him by sin?  Is that how the Lord sees Thomas?  Is that how you want Jesus to see you?  Of course not.  We don’t want Jesus to identify us with our sin…and He doesn’t.  When He looks at you He sees someone forgiven and cleansed from their sin.  He sees someone clothed with His righteousness.  That’s your identity.  But the world and Satan want you to find your identity somewhere else. 
    Our world and culture today is very concerned with identity; and not just any identity, but self-identity.  We don’t want people to label us; to assume things about us.  That’s for us to decide and us alone.  “No one can tell me who I am but me.”  And so we spend a lot of time trying to figure it out.  We wrestle with how to define ourselves.  This is especially true for the younger generations.  All the time they're told to figure out who they are, and there’s plenty of negative influences out there that are happy to help with that.   
    Many of us happily identify with our jobs and careers.  We identify with our hobbies and fandom.  We identify with our familial relationships and other groups that we’ve joined.  We’ve been identifying ourselves in these ways for a long time.  But within the last several decades there’s been a strong movement to self-identify with our feelings, whether those feelings are based in reality or not; and to self-identify with our sins, especially our sins that are sexual in nature.  But is that all we are?  Are we only just our feelings, feelings that change throughout our lives, feelings that change many times throughout the day?  Are we just people who are controlled and enslaved and defined by our sin? 
    It’d be odd for someone to introduce them self to you as Hateful Harry or Depressed Debbie.  You’d be unsure how to react to someone who shook your hand and said they were Klepto Kevin or Gossip Gail or Murderous Megan or Lustful Larry or Adulterous Anne or Cheating Charlie.  But that’s exactly what our culture and society is trying to get us to do.  That’s what’s being pushed on our young people.  The world and Satan want us to identify in these ways because these identities lead us away from Christ. 
    Satan was happy when Thomas wasn’t there that first Easter night.  He was glad that Thomas embraced despair and doubt.  The more that Thomas identified with his doubt the less he'd be identified with the Lord, and that’s what Satan wants.  Satan didn’t want Jesus’ disciples to hear the news of His resurrection.  He didn’t want them to receive Christ’s forgiveness.  And He doesn’t want you to either.  Satan wants you to identify with your sin because sin keeps us from the Lord.
    Satan loves it when we focus solely on our sins and the sins of others.  He loves the fact that the first things we think of when we think about Peter is his threefold denial.  He loves the fact that we’ve been calling Thomas “Doubting” for centuries.  Satan loves it when we associate ourselves with our sin, claiming it as our identity, because when we do this we forget about Christ’s forgiveness.  We forget about what He has done for us.  We forget about what Jesus says concerning who we are.  Satan wants you to cling to sin.  Jesus wants to forgive your sin.
The very first thing that Jesus said to His disciples that first Easter was, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19).  He said it not once, but twice.  “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:21).  That peace was spoken to His disciples, all of whom ran.  We remember Peter’s denial, but all of the disciples ran when Jesus was arrested.  They stood at a distance while He hung on the cross.  The disciples were gathered together fearing the Jews, but imagine how the source of that fear shifted to Jesus when He appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the room.  Before that fear turned to gladness, think about what they must have thought.  What kind of tongue lashing were they going to get for abandoning their Lord?  
    But that wasn’t why Jesus appeared that evening.  He didn’t come to scold or identify His disciples with their sin.  He came to forgive.  He came to absolve.  He came to give them an apostolic identity, sending them out to share the peace of Christ with all sinners; including their friend Thomas. 
    The next week, the disciples made sure that Thomas was with them.  And again, the first thing Jesus said was “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:26).  That peace was for Thomas.  That forgiveness was for Thomas.  Seeing his risen Lord, Thomas believed.  With faith, He confessed his Savior and received His forgiveness.  He received a believing identity; the same identity the Lord gives to you. 
    Jesus' sacrifice on the cross redeems you and redefines you.  His death paid for your sins.  His death atones for your sin.  His blood cleanses you from your sin.  Your sin is gone, taken from you.  As far as the east is from the west, so far does the Lord remove your sin from you (Ps 103:12).  He doesn’t see your sin anymore.  He doesn’t associate you with your sin.  He doesn’t define you by your sin.  Murderous Megan is Forgiven Megan.  Lustful Larry is Forgiven Larry.  Cheating Charlie is Forgiven Charlie.  And the same is true for you. 
    When the Lord looks at you He sees His baptized child.  He sees you clothed with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness.  He sees you marked with Christ’s cross.  And that’s how you should see yourself.  
    Your sin doesn’t define you because the Lord has taken that sin away.  Christ carried it to the cross and there He died for it.  There He left it.  Don’t take your sin back from God.  What He’s removed from you, what He’s forgiven, don’t hold on to it hoping to find your identity there, because that’s not who you are.  You belong to the Lord.  You’re baptized in the name of Christ.  This isn’t a fleeting identity.  This identity doesn’t change.  This identity is certain and true.  It’s permanent and everlasting.
    We’ve had the habit of identifying and defining Thomas with his doubt.  But should we?  That’s not how our Lord looks at him.  Christ died for Thomas.  His blood covers Thomas’ sin; and it covers yours too.  Don’t define yourself by your sin.  Repent of it.  Don’t let the world and Satan convince you that all you are is your sin.  Let Christ’s forgiveness erase your sin.  Let that be your identity.  With faith, believe in your Savior, and believe in the identity He has given you.  You are a forgiven baptized child of God.  In Jesus’ name…Amen.  
Alleluia!  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

Fixing sin with sentiment. . .

Over and over it would seem that some have decided the problem of sin is how it makes you feel.  The curse of sin is not death or disordered relationships with God or others.  No, the fruit of Eden is guilt and shame.  Therefore, do away with guilt and shame and you do away with sin -- at least the problem of sin, anyway.  The best way to do away with guilt and shame is to ignore sin, to judge sin normal and good, and to put the feelings of the moment in the driver's seat of life.

Added to this is the current psychobabble about wholeness and the perception of safety and security (for our feelings) and you have a recipe for a therapeutic deism that couches its words in the vocabulary of the sacred but means nothing of the kind.  The fruits of original sin can be handled on the psychiatrist's couch or with sentiment or with the redefinition of sin, the morality of desire, and gender.  This is exactly what has been done but the effect has not been to fix anything.

There was a news report of some 27 transgendered who were court ordered to be housed in a women's prison -- this resulted in at least two pregnancies (on the part of those not transgendered, one would assume).  There is the foolishness of pronouns that now belong to the person and not to the language itself.  There is the crazy idea that the school should somehow introduce doubt or curiosity about gender to children third grade and below.  There is the inequity of a woman in a man's body who competes against women in women's bodies.  There is the rejection of a binary world in which everything except a few narrow exceptions are, well, binary.  There is the spectacle of a candidate for the Supreme Court who should be expected to weigh in authoritatively on the most confounding conflicts of law and wisdom but who cannot define what a woman is.  I could go on but I will not.  My point here being that the fix for all our problems lies in dealing with feelings???  Really?

When someone claims, for example, “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body,” that is an irrational and empty claim.  No matter what the person saying it feels, there is no rational basis for its proof except feeling and there are every rational basis for questions based on the solid and objective stuff of reproductive organs, DNA, and chromosomes.  It is empty except that we have chosen to fill such a statement with power drawn from the simple fact and legitimacy afforded by our uniquely Western notions of individual freedom and individual self-determination. The fix given to the problem of sin has effectively destroyed every notion of what it means to be an embodied person, turning something objective into a puzzle to be put together in the way that satisfies the individual and then making this path the singularly most important quest and determination a person must make in life -- except, of course, that they might end up making it over and over again so that it ends up being the totality of that life.  For the fix of treating the effects of sin with the resolution of feelings is upset by the fact that feelings by nature change and they do not represent any solid reality other than a snapshot of the moment.  Worse, any question of those feelings, and therefore the fix, is considered the most reprehensible assault on the individual that can ever be made -- even worse than disgendering somebody!

Sin can only be fixed by an objective atonement -- the work to end all works.  Such can only by done by the One whose claim to righteousness is backed up by the Law itself.  The blood that must be shed is the blood of man but the blood of the only righteous man -- this alone cleanses us from all our sin.  The fruit of this atoning work does not manifest itself in a better quality of life today but eternal life that death cannot overcome and with the new flesh and blood of Christ's own glory.  The repair of feelings comes not from our personal quest for identity but from the gift of a new identity and a new heart within the baptismal womb that delivers to us this new and everlasting life.  Until we get this back, all the Christian efforts to play the game of fixing sin with sentiment will only add to the darkness and obscure the Light of Christ.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Henkel Conference. . .

If you are looking for a conference to attend, might I suggest something in vacation friendly Tennessee, just north of Nashville, on August 22-23?

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Mission. . .

A piece designed to awaken the complacent with a healthy dose of fear warns of congregations dying because they refuse to make changes for the sake of Mission.  Interesting.  Change for the sake of Mission.  That could mean, and probably does mean, seeing nearly everything except the most basic tenets of doctrine as being up for grabs as the dying desperately work to survive and thrive.  That is how it is usually put anyway.  Mission means all doctrines except the most basic and essential and all practices period.

Now, let me assure you, I am not naive.  I know painfully well the things in any typical parish that cry out for change.  In most congregations the form of government is broken.  People are not interested in governance in the way previous generations were and so a very small number of people make decisions on behalf of the many.  In addition, some congregations seem inclined to vote on things that belong to the office of the Pastor while being indecisive about the things rightfully the domain of the lay (like voting on how often to have the Lord's Supper or what liturgy is to be used vs making painful choices to deal with broken buildings, programs, and organizations within the parish).  We clearly need to figure out a streamlined way of parish organization that does not leave most of our people out of the loop or with an easy way to escape what is their rightful responsibility.  In too many congregations, repeating what we did last year is the default -- no matter how last year turned out.

In many congregations worship is broken -- not the liturgy but worship.  Worship is viewed as a program and funded like one.  I know of a parish where the organist was put on the time clock -- paid for when she sat on the bench and not paid when she was not on the bench.  Organ on the cheap.  I know of parishes in which excellence is the last thing on anyone's mind on Sunday morning.  It shows.  Things are disorderly, disorganized, and undisciplined.  We clearly need to remind our people that what happens on Sunday morning is not one of many things but the fount and source of everything that happens in the congregation.  Good programs cannot make up for poor worship but doing our best for His glory will bear good fruit in the life of the parish.  If only we were as intent upon doing our best for His glory as we were making sure the coffee was on!

In many congregations the imagination is broken.  People live in the glory days of the past and dare not hope for anything to come.  They see only that which is not like it was and have surrendered themselves to despair.  I see so many places where the people come together simply to comfort their sadness rather than to dare to hope for more.  There is certainly nothing wrong with comfort -- but as a church body we have become rather melancholy and the only smiles on Sunday morning are for the jokes that probably should not have been told.  Where is our joy in the Lord?  People notice our lack of joy, our surrender to yesterday, and our failure to hope for tomorrow.  They see the palpable fear present in so many of our congregations and it is toxic.  We cannot expect anything more unless and until we practice the posture of joy in Christ over sins forgiven, lives born anew in baptism, the voice of God's spoken into the ear through the Gospel, and the body and blood of Christ given to us to eat and drink.

For too many of us fellowship is broken.  We think a like on Facebook or a few words tattled through the various social media or smart phone texts is what passes for koinonia.  I am not talking about coffee or potlucks but the ways in which we know each other, encourage each other, and hold each other accountable in Christ and to Christ.  Fellowship is not about common interest but common life in the one body of Christ the Church.  It is marked not by self-interest but service.  It is not about what we do but rejoicing in Christ's life among us -- calling us from our closets of fear into the glorious assembly of the saints where we bear one another's burdens as Christ has born ours and where the sharing of the peace is not a howdy moment but the real affection of the forgiven forgiving each other.

I will tell you what is not broken.  The Word is not broken.  It remains the efficacious Word that accomplishes its purpose every time it is sent forth.  The font is not broken.  It is still the womb in which the dead are reborn to endless life.  For all our hand wringing, preaching is not broken -- people will listen if we have something to say and if that something is Christ's Word and not our own opinions.  The altar is not broken.  It offers still as Christ has promised His flesh for the life of the world and His blood that cleanses us from all our sin.  Prayer is not broken.  God still listens for the faithful to empty their hearts to Him but He listens even more for us to pray "Thy will be done."  The family may be suffering but it is broken only when we fail to teach our children Jesus.  The catechism is not broken though it lies rather dusty and forgotten instead of being read and prayed.  The technology we use for every purpose still awaits that moment when we will capitalize on it for the sake of the Gospel -- and I do not mean simply videoing worship and Bible study but using the social media more effectively to witness and catechize more effectively.

It is not about being missional or traditional but it is about being faithful.  When we learn that again, the glory days of the past will not seem so enticing to us as we walk through the doors of the church on Sunday morning.  Maybe the joy will return to our hearts and our lips as well.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

A process not an end. . .

Unlike Rome, Lutherans do not have some sort of papal authority to insist upon uniformity of worship forms and ceremonies.  While some view this as unfortunate, especially in the face of some rather egregious examples of what should not be allowed in a Lutheran service, Rome has not fared any better -- even with all the rules.  Indeed, historically speaking, the ability of anyone to enforce a liturgical rite and its particular words has depended upon the printing press and more modern forms of communication.  Prior to the advent of this technology, it would have been difficult and costly to make missals available every time somebody in Rome decided to make a change.  In this respect, Lutherans are not all that much different.  Yes, jurisdictions exercised authority over the form and ceremonies of the evangelical mass but this was post-printing press and with the force of secular authority behind the change or enforcing it.  Even so, Lutherans have never had a Tridentine Mass which existed pretty much unchanged for 400 years.  Even though some would like to make the Common Service such a form, it has neither the history nor the uniformity of the Extraordinary Form.  Instead, we have a 100 year period in which the Common Service became mostly uniform among Lutherans, at least those in the US.  Europe continued to have divisions within Lutheranism -- although most of them were between jurisdictions and not within them.  Some of them were profound -- such as the difference between the more liturgical and ceremonial Scandinavian traditions and the German ones.

Lutherans have a generalized consensus of the ordo or pattern and outline of the Divine Service but even within that unanimity there has always been a diversity of words and ceremonies.  That was aided and abetted by the advent of the photo copier and desk top publishing that made it possible not only to print a a local liturgy and hymnal every Sunday but to make that printed piece look good.  Now we live in a time when that whole process has been fostered and made easier by official programs that make what is in the official hymnal available in the format of the proverbial Chinese restaurant menu -- one from column A and two from column B, etc...  I know many who would decry this and suggest that for the Lutheran, saying the black and doing the red means sticking to the official hymnal as both minimum and maximum.  They are being somewhat disingenuous.  Hymnals were never ending points but were always starting points.  The goal of the hymnal was not to prevent additions of words and ceremonies of the past (that had already been proven orthodox).  Instead, it was to provide a minimal standard of what qualified as Lutheran in form and practice.

If God is with us, every succeeding edit and revision moves toward the recovery of the fuller ceremonial and liturgical identity rather than a uniform settling for what is on the page and no more.  As Pope Benedict XVI admitted, the reform of the liturgy does not mean that the previous form has been abrogated or replaced.  Now Pope Francis is not so sure about this and seems to violate B16s point.  It does reveal how the opposite is also true.  When the reforms are enacted too quickly or the movement of its evolution made at too fast a speed, it creates division rather than a focal point of unity.  Rome is only now beginning to realize this and Lutherans are still trying to figure out how they went from one Divine Service (and one half mass) to 6-10 or more settings of the Divine Service and variations within Divine Services (from the form the canon to the placement of the creed) to so many diverse and varied formats that make it hard to judge any as right by consensus.  Especially when the technology makes it possible to treat every service and every part of that service as potential fodder for a cut and paste mentality like we had never seen before.

I would suggest that this tension is created by two extremes.  On the one hand is the extreme of diversity in which the form itself is suspect -- at least more suspect than the whims and desires of the moment.  In these situations, the form has been put in the midst of a reform process that would see most of it thrust out the door as yesterday's garbage.  In this circumstance, orthodoxy seems not to apply and the presumption is that whatever is borrowed from evangelicalism or Protestantism in general is of equal weight and authority to what had been agreed by an official hymnal committee.  The other extreme is to presume that what did get printed is the end all be all of what the Divine Service is or should be.  This is both naive and foolish.  Hymnals and agendas, even the most orthodox ones, are by nature consensus projects.  Some of them fail to note the difference between what wannabe experts, printers, and authors have agreed upon and what they might borrow willingly from others outside their own Communion.

By all means should the hymnal be seen as a bare minimum.  This should end every challenge that begins with the presumption that what Lutherans have done is no more sacred than what any other Christian group has done.  We do not borrow from those who would challenge the basic premise of a Lutheran liturgical and sacramental communion.  But we might borrow back the things that were once ours but have since been cast to the side of the road.  There is no bare maximum and as long as such added ceremonies, rites, or words remain within the veil of orthodoxy and under the authority of tradition, they can and ought be added to the Divine Service again.  Just because some Lutheran congregation abandoned the chalice and served only individual cups does not mean that the chalice should not or could not be reintroduced as orthodox Lutheran practice.  Just because incense fell out of use does not mean it is alien or foreign to Lutheran practice -- only that it remains to be restored to its rightful place within a Church that loves and listens to Scripture.  The same goes for vestments, genuflection, bowing, crossing one's self, and a host of other things.  Adding that which does not violate the Gospel and reflects our own history is not something the people decide but is part of the pastor's stewardship of the good office into which he was ordained.

The good hymnal understands itself not as forbidding more or requiring less but setting basic levels of unanimity that give identity, purpose, and meaning to the Church's doctrine and practice.  The good hymnal understands itself as a fruit of a specific process with the end goal encouraging those outside the liturgical identity of the faith to come back home and teaches those minimal ceremonies that reflect a solid confessional identity.  That is what LSB (Lutheran Service Book) has done.  It brought us so far, into the same book (though on different pages), and to become comfortable again with our own identity and practices.  But it would be an overreach to justify going only so far as the book went and no further. 

Friday, April 22, 2022

The glory of Rome. . .

News from Chicago is grim.  While the Chicago Archdiocese had 2,400 priests in 1975, including Diocesan, religious order and retired priests; today there are 1,200.  In terms of parishes, just four years ago there were 344 in the Chicago Archdiocese. Under Cardinal Cupich, the Archdiocese has wonderful news.  On July 1, 2022, there will likely be 221 parishes -- the loss of 123 churches.  At least 57 churches across the archdiocese will no longer be used for Mass and so their buildings will be closed, sold, or repurposed.  Others will be yoked together into a parish that includes several facilities or sites where Mass is offered.  Although this reduction has been in the planning stages for some time, the pandemic only hastened and expanded the overhaul.  After all, Mass attendance had been falling long before the impact of COVID on the dismal statistics.  A couple of other things to consider.  The Chicago Archdiocese was one of the last hold outs for masked students in their parochial schools and Cardinal Cupich has been quicker and tougher than most bishops in clamping down against the Latin Mass.  At the same time, the Cardinal made waves by performing a Chinese pagan ceremony at Mass and tolerates the abuse of the Novus Ordo by some priests, such as Father Michael Pfleger, and seems friendlier than most Roman Catholic bishops to the LGBTQ cause.

Is there a lesson here for Lutherans?  I think there is.  The road to renewal does not lead to an embrace of the prevailing move of culture or society.  It leads through orthodoxy in doctrine and in practice.  The future of the churches is dim if all we can do is offer the world a faint echo to what they already think or feel.  There will be no blessing from God upon such distortion of the Scriptures or betrayal of the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen.  In some respects, we have suffered greatly under the same temptation.  When you lose faith in God to keep His promise and work through the means of grace, you are left with a conundrum.  If God is not going to build His Church in a way that satisfies you, then you must build His Church for Him.  Or, simply do what God has called you to do and trust that He will make sure that the Word does not return to Him empty.  It seems that many are not quite willing to let God be God of His Church and so they have taken in hand the work of the Kingdom, dismissing faithfulness to Scripture and Confession in favor of a faithfulness to an image or idea -- the welcoming church.

Growing up as a child in the 1950s, it was inconceivable to me that the Church would be in such a state today.  Rome was monolithic and unbending.  Parishes were full.  But the little breathe of spring that John XXIII brought, turned out to the cold wind of winter in the hands of Paul VI.  Lutherans were also enjoying rapid growth.  We knew who we were, what we believed, and how we worshiped.  People responded.  There was a Bible institute for the laity every year and my parents dropped everything to listen to the pastors of the Circuit.  Catechism classes were full -- like Sunday school.  Seminaries were also full.  The liturgy, though not the hymnal, was pretty much the same wherever you went in Lutheranism.  And then the bottom dropped out when we thought it was time to get with the times.  While an embrace of avenues to proclaim the Gospel is never bad, the Word of the Lord cannot be changed or adapted or the faith modernized without losing the Gospel itself.  The changeless Christ for a changing world has become a Christ changing to keep up with a changing world.  The only changeless thing around us is the primacy of the individual and the individual's feelings and perception.

Most of our whole districts are much smaller than the Archdiocese of Chicago and we do not have a clergy shortage like Rome does but we may be in the same boat of closing down parishes because they have no people.  If we have done all we could in faithfulness to Christ, His Word and His Sacraments, then closing them down is what we have to do.  But if we are closing down parishes because we have been unfaithful to the unchanging Christ and His means of grace, then it is high time that we made the mea culpa and repented with the promise to amend our sinful ways.  God's forgiveness is never in doubt but our faithfulness as a Church has not exactly been certain.

Update. . . Cincinnati is not far behind. . . the Bishop announced plans to reduce the number of parishes in this 450K size diocese:  210 down to 57.  They must be doing something right.  Huh?

Thursday, April 21, 2022

I'll be watching you...

Strangely enough, at a time in which people (even Christians) are not sure that God or anyone up there is watching us, we seem to be more and more intent upon watching each other and are content in being watched.

I am amazed at how many folks have tracker apps on their spouses phones so that they know at every moment of the day where the hubby or wife is (or their phones, anyway).  Having raised teenagers I could envision such a use for the kids' phones but I wonder why it is so important to know where your spouse is -- unless, of course, you are suspicious of them and do not trust them.

There are also tattletale apps so that your spouse is informed when you use a debit card or credit card in a joint account or login to Netflix or social media or a host of other things.  Again, I can well imagine how useful this is if you have trust issues with those people but I am not exactly sure it is helpful to a relationship when one or the other is constantly checking up on the other.

We have gotten to such a place where we trust our police so little we insist upon reviewing everything they do with body cams and car cams and neighbors on smart phones.  Sometimes this is helpful but too often the camera does not see everything and cannot answer every question we have.  Plus the camera is without emotion and is detached from what it actually happening.  Police tell us that we were not there.  And, for good or for ill, we were not.  Judges and juries cannot establish fact but only make reasonable judgments of what they believe are the operative facts in determining guilt or innocence before the law.

While England and Europe has a different attitude than Americans traditionally have had toward cameras in the public venues, that might be changing as well.  Every time there is a mass shooting or something hits the news in a negative way, we think we ought to have video on it.  We have placed cameras all over to make sure we do not miss anything.  Now more than ever, you are likely to be watched by traffic cameras -- largely placed there to substitute for police eyes to issue tickets to those who run red lights.  How far are we willing to go with this? According to bills making the rounds in Washington, money is being readied to exponentially expand the cameras and automated law enforcement.

Let me admit here that I am not against everything.  I have one of those camera doorbells to find out when we need to go to the door to retrieve a package -- we do not have that many surprise visitors.  It is less to spy than a convenience.  Neighbors, however, have organized those who have these devices into a group in which alerts are issued.  Stranger on my porch, dog missing, stranger checked my car to see if it was locked, etc...  I must admit I do not pay much attention to those alerts.  Perhaps I would if the issue were next door.  Some folks seem to be preoccupied by such things.

We reject the notion that there are divinely appointed laws we all are accountable to or that there is an all-seeing God who watches over us -- seeing everything -- but apparently we are becoming amenable to a nanny state in which laws are enforced by technology and not simply people authorized to do so.  The danger is that, unlike God, the camera does not see motive nor does it see everything.  Perhaps when safety and security are concerned, we offer a bit more leeway to the technology and allow more doors into the antiquated notion of privacy.  That is why I am still unsure about cameras in church.  I have asked those who video our services not to pan the congregation.  A kid picking his nose or an adult nodding off is not the primary concern of why we video the service.  Too much information is even less helpful than too little.  But all of this does point out one curiosity.  We don't believe all that much that God is watching but we are more and more at ease with others watching.  Could it be that this is another reflection of our focus on the here and now and our spiritual but not religious worldview?

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Our failures revealed. . .

It is no secret that and I am no oracle of the mighty when I say to you that the generation in teens and young adulthood is preocupied with identity.  Although it is most obvious when it comes to a sexual identity that is at odds with the biology of a person, that is not the only area in which this generation struggles with identity.  It is revealed in the willingness of young men to act like boys who love their techno toys and the imaginary world of games more than anything else and of young women to act as if they were in constant competition with and really did not need or desire men at all.  It is manifested in the rejection of marriage as essential or desirable and of children as blessing and of family as the essential order of their lives.  It is manifested in a social isolation in which digital connections replace personal relationships and amusement is the ultimate goal of life -- an amusement, by the way, of self-indulgence.  Of course, all of the things I have written are characterizations and stereotypes but they are fair characterizations of the many and the vocal if not all and a real stereotype because both media and life are consumed with the subject of identity.  

This pursuit of the question who am I is not simply one question to be answered at one time.  It has become the longing of the life for the issue is not primarily who am I but who am I now.  This generation has been crippled by this vexing question which touches every aspect of their lives -- from their relationship to their family, their place within the community, their vocation and occupation, their connection to others, their choice to marry or not, to have children or not, and to continue to be married or parent.  Although I do not know the angst that has become the consuming goal and purpose of a new generation, I can only image that this is a terrible burden and curse to have to answer and answer over and over again this same essential question.

This elusive identity problem cannot be solved by family or by a social order inherited down the ages.  Neither is this identity a single overarching search or solution.  Instead, the problem of identity is individual.  Only the person can answer it and solve it and that answer and solution has to be discovered and worked out in the various facets or aspects of the total person.  Of great concern ought to be that these nuances of the individual's identity are in actuality disjointed and distinct.  What a person discovers about self with respect to sexual identity or desire is unrelated to and unaffected by their spirituality.  As an example, a Christian who identifies as transgender or gay is Christian not because they believe and live under the Scriptures or the doctrine confessed from those Scriptures yesterday and today the same.  No, the Christian identity is the object of discovery just like the sexual or gender one.  Christianity is therefore the definition of the individual just like the sexual identity or gender identity is.

How did this happen?  How did it happen that a person might grow up with all kinds of benefits and blessings that no previous generation had ever known and be crippled by the lack of an identity?  I suggest to you that the seeds for this confusion were laid long before the children of this generation were conceived.  Those who were custodians and guardians of the sacred deposit failed miserably to catechize our children and so our grandchildren are being raised in a world where the chief occupation of that life is to answer the riddle of their identity so that they might consume their days with that which amuses that discovered self.  When we fail to pass on the tradition of our fathers, we leave our heirs subject to the wisdom of the moment, to the disdain of their past, and to the task of protecting their fragile identities by being insulated against every challenge.

When we fail to teach by word and example what it means to be man, we will not have any men.  When we fail to teach by word and example what it means to be woman, we will not have any women.  When we fail to teach by word and example what it means to be husband or wife, we will not have any marriage.  When we fail to teach by word and example what it means to be parents and children and family, we will not have any more of these.  The catechesis of Scripture is not simply concerned with the individual's faith and personal relationship with Jesus, it is concerned with the whole person -- created and redeemed by God to fulfill His purpose in the order He established when He made man, made them male and female, and made them to serve Him, His Kingdom, and for His glory.  You cannot teach a child about Jesus and forget to teach them what it means to be a person, created by God, rescued from their rebellion in Christ, born anew in the waters of baptism, and set apart to live under Him in His Kingdom now and forever.

Somehow, we missed this.  We taught our children where to put away their toys, how to operate their techno toys, how to get what they wanted, how to avoid doing what they did not want to do, how to get what they wanted, and so on.  But we did not teach them who they were and are within the sphere of God's created order and, especially, within His redemptive order.  We did not teach them that community is not an affinity group of our creating or choosing but those called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.  We did not teach them that they were created in sin and dare not trust the desires of their hearts more than God's Word.  We did not teach them that sin was serious, that sin was the cause of death and the disorder that made identity and community elusive.  We did not teach them that death was the final enemy but only that it was merely one stage of life, the circle of life.  We did not teach them the value of forgiveness or its cost in the suffering of Jesus and so they do not forgive or they forgive hesitantly by insisting that the sinner dare not sin again or the game is up.

I love my parents and believe that they raised me well but I admit that they taught more by example than words the things I have spoken of.  They certainly showed me that service and sacrifice were the currency of loving, that forgiveness was the greatest treasure of all, and that who I was and who I am is not something I choose but a gift from God in my baptism.  I love my children and believe I raised them well but I confess that I did not teach them as clearly by example and words as I thought that who they are and what they are here for is not a puzzle to be pieced together or a riddle to be solved than it is the gift of God in baptism.  I fear I am not alone in this confession.

The Holy Spirit works through the Word.  Faith comes by hearing.  The Holy Spirit is tied to the forgiveness of sins, to baptismal miracle of new birth, and to the apprehension of and living out of the communion in Christ's flesh and blood.  Of these we are assured.  But at the same time, we are constantly urged by Scripture to pass on, to deliver to those who come after what was delivered to us, and to be guardians and custodians of this unadulterated Word and truth for the sake of those yet to come.  This does not only mean so that an individual might believe and have a personal relationship with Jesus.  In fact, that is not even primary.  It is so that the individual might become part of the unity of God's people, sired of the same heavenly Father, washed clean in the same blood of Christ, made one in the one baptism, to confess the one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to live within the one body of the Church, first on earth and then forevermore in God's presence.  If we will admit that we failed the generation now searching in vain to discover who they are in all the wrong places, then let us rise up to seize the moment in repentance and renew our pledge and promise to do better.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

In case you have not heard. . .

Now some sixteen years after the publication of Lutheran Service Book, and rather quickly on the heels of the publication of the long awaited Hymnal Companion (in two volumes), the Companion to the Services is ready.  Set for release on July 1 (at least at the time of writing this blog), it is sure to become a very valuable tool in understanding and appreciating the LSB hymnal.  God knows, no hymnal is perfect (not even, dare I say it, THE Lutheran Hymnal).  The LSB has been around long enough to know what it does well and what it does not and, on the whole, it is a very serviceable book and resource.  Yes, I have my own problems with a few things but it was not my approval that was necessary to get this book in the pews.  Sometimes I forget that.  It has long been wondered, however, why and how the contributors and editors of LSB made the choices they made and I hope this will help to answer that question.  

I knew this was coming out soon as soon as I discovered that Lutheran Worship: History and Practice, was no longer in print.  That is a shame.  This resource, which also came out long after LW, has served the churches well both to instruct and guide the use of the resources not simply of LW but of Lutheran worship forms and practices over the years.  As good as I expect this new volume will be, I do not believe that it will completely replace History and Practice.  Like Luther Reed's volumes on worship several generations before, we do not always appreciate these volumes until later in time.

According to Amazon:

Lutheran Service Book has been foundational to LCMS worship for years, and now, for the first time in history, this hymnal gets an in-depth companion volume. Twelve authors have come together to create Companion to the Services to give you a deeper understand to the services and other parts of Lutheran Service Book. This comprehensive book will cover various topics, including theology of worship, Psalmody, Divine Service, Baptism, Creeds, music in the liturgy, and more. This groundbreaking work is essential for church musicians, pastors, and all who wish to know more about the beloved work in the pages of Lutheran Service Book.

Some will inevitably balk at the price (expected to be about $85) but I think it will be a bargain and expect that if a pastor or parish musician begins to use it, they will find it very important and I hope that the binding breaks for such constant use.  So dig in your piggy bank and cough up the money.  I pray it will be worth the wait.

Liturgy is doctrine. . .

There is a part of me that is mystified with the seeming acceptance of so many that worship is a style, that what you do on Sunday morning is not intimately connected with what you believe, and that you can use Sunday morning as a program to grow or educate or comfort the people of God.  Strangely, there are many who do not want their congregation to deviate from the hymnal but who are not troubled by what passes for Lutheran worship in congregations within their fellowship that have no hymnal and do whatever seems good in their eyes.  Why is it okay for a church body to be all over the page on Sunday morning?  Far from strict uniformity, we ought to at least have hope for a common identity.  And that is found in the faith prayed that is called the Liturgy.  

Liturgy is doctrine. If it isn't, why do we sing and speak it?  As the sainted Dr. Franzmann put it -- theology must sing.  Liturgy is theology sung and prayed and confessed.  It is doctrine.  Those who disagree are fools or naive.  That is why we are concerned about what happens in worship.  Doctrine informs the minds and shapes the heart.  Our fanciful and sentimental attempts to be relevant and urgent are pathetic and empty but doctrine is life.  That is why what happens in worship is such a big deal -- it must be the orthodox and catholic doctrine and not some sectarian truth.  The heart and mind of the faithful who meet in this worship are not only fed but taught what to hunger for and learn to hunger for more doctrine.  Liturgy is not an end (as the liberals would think who keep the forms but empty the words of their meaning) but it moves us to God by confessing God, praying back to God what He has said to us, and responding to His gracious acts with praise and thanksgiving.

Even those who consider themselves conservative have told me that what happens in other congregations should not be my concern.  At least that is said when I raise a question about the evangelical style seeker services that parade as Lutheran.  Strangely though, they tell me that I am oblivious to the dangers of too much ceremony and how that it is not Lutheran.  What is the greater threat to Lutheranism?  Is it in the congregations who add to the compromise of our published liturgy words and ceremonies that were there before but not now OR is it in the congregations who reject the published liturgy of our church in favor of a worship style without a confessional brand?  Worse, what is more dangerous to our people?  The idea that you can worship as you desire (what scratches your itch or amuses you most) and that has nothing to do with what it is you believe OR the idea that how you worship and what you believe are intimately connected?

Oddly enough, Rome has found itself where we are as Lutherans.  Those terrible traddies who insist upon reverence and the ancient forms and words are considered threats while those who turn the mass into a party and the Divine Service into an amusement park are not threats.  Really?  As I have said once and a hundred times, the most radical thing you can do is to take seriously what the liturgy confesses and to order the ceremonies of that liturgy to what the words say.  If you want to be unorthodox today, be orthodox in confession and piety.  Believe you me, that will get you in trouble.  But if you stats look good and you are building bigger airline terminals for God (and calling them church) and sending folks away with empty wallets and feet still tapping to the beat of the music, it does not matter what jurisdiction you are under, they will tolerate, approve, and laud you.   

Liturgy is doctrine.  That is why Luther could not tolerate those parts of the mass that obscured the Sacramental Grace and replaced God's act with ours.  Liturgy is doctrine.  That is why Luther heralded anew the role of sermon as the words of God and not simply moralistic encouragements to make better behaved people.  Liturgy is doctrine.  That is why the Lutherans confessed their faith in liturgical words and connected what they believed to what happened on Sunday morning.  It is about time we remembered to do the same.  Before it is too late. . .

Monday, April 18, 2022

Remember and Believe. . .

 Sermon for Easter Late, preached on Sunday, April 17, 2022 by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.


Alleluia! Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

    It’s understandable that they’d forget.  Life had been a rollercoaster for them the past three days.  Within just 24 hours the disciples saw Jesus betrayed and arrested, mocked and beaten, sentenced to death, and then finally crucified.  After going through all of that, who could blame someone for forgetting a few things?  And that’s the point.  We forget things.  All the time we forget things; so we need to be reminded.  We need to be reminded that Jesus died on the cross for us.  We need to be reminded that He rose from the dead on the 3rd day.  And we need to be reminded that we too will rise on the last day.   

    It’d be a gross understatement for me to say that we are forgetful people.  Yes, some of us have better memories than others; but all of us forget things from time to time.  We forget about important dates in our lives, so we put them in our Google calendars.  We forget about appointments, doctor visits and meetings, so we set up reminders and notifications.  We forget about our vacations and trips and other special events, so we take pictures and videos. We forget about all the chores that need done around the house, so we make to-do lists and post them on the refrigerator.  We forget, so we do things to help us remember. And so does God.  He does things to help us remember.  He sent two angels to Jesus’ tomb to help the women remember.  

    When the women went to Jesus’ tomb early that first Easter they were expecting to see it all sealed up with that large stone.  They remembered how Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus’ lifeless body and they came to finish that rushed burial.  But when they got there they didn’t see the stone, and they didn’t see Jesus’ lifeless body.  Instead, they saw two men in dazzling clothing, two angels.  Just imagine what must’ve been going through their heads: sorrow, confusion, fear, anxiety, surprise; a rollercoaster of emotion, a perfect storm for forgetfulness.  And in the midst of all of that the angels spoke their message of remembrance.  “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  [Jesus isn’t here, He’s risen.]  Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee.” (Lk 24:5).  

    What happened to Jesus on Good Friday and what He did on Easter Sunday, He already told His disciples that it was going to happen.  Right after Peter’s great confession, when he faithfully called Jesus the Christ of God, Jesus told them what that meant.  “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Lk 9:22).  And that wasn’t the only time He told them that.  At least three times He specifically told them about His death and resurrection (Lk 9:22, 44; 18:31-34), and that doesn’t included all the other times He alluded to it; like when He talked about the sign of Jonah (Lk 11:29-32).  But the disciples didn’t remember.  They forgot His Word…just like we do.  

    We forget Jesus’ Word.  We forget God’s Word.  We forget about what He says concerning sin and death and the devil.  We look at the broken relationships in our lives, at all the hate and division in our society, and we wonder where it all comes from?  We see confusion in our world about basic truths: the definitions of man and woman and marriage and questions about when life begins, and we shrug our shoulders not knowing what to say.  We suffer illness and sickness and disease and ask “Why?”  We read and hear about wars around the world and all the senseless acts of violence in our communities and we’re left fearful and dismayed.  We don’t know what to do about all of this because we’ve forgotten what God has said about all this.  

God’s Word tells us why the world is the way it is.  He tells us why we struggle and suffer the things we do.  It’s because of our sin.  It’s because of the sin of others.  Sin and Satan has brought about all this confusion and violence and suffering.  Sin has brought death into God’s world.  Sin is the cause…and there’s nothing we can do about it.  Only God can save us from it; and He has in His Son.  

Christ’s sacrificial death on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday is the answer to sin, death, and the devil.  Dying on the cross, Christ paid the price of our sin.  He suffered the just punishment of death for our sin.  He shed His blood to atone for our sin, and because of that you’re forgiven.  Your guilt and shame are taken away.  No longer do you stand under God’s judgment.  Christ suffered that for you.  He died for you.  And when He walked out of that tomb on Easter morning, He overcame death and the grave for you.  He won eternal life for you.  That’s is the Gospel.  That’s what our Christian life and faith are all about.  That’s what God’s Word is about.  And that’s what we need to remember.  

It seems like such an easy thing to remember and yet we forget.  We forget Christ died for our sins, paying that price for us, so we try to earn forgiveness through holier living.  We forget Christ has overcome the enemy of death, and so we make peace with death, thinking at times death is better than life.  We forget that Christ, who is the Way the Truth and the Life, has defeated Satan, so we fall for his lies.  We forget, but God doesn’t.  He is faithful and just.  He remembers you and He remembers what His Son has done for you.  He remembers His promises to you, He reminds you of those promises.  

    Our Lord sent angels to remind the women at the tomb, and still He sends messengers to remind you today.  God sends out His pastors and missionaries and teachers and DCE’s and faithful parents and friends and neighbors to remind you.  He brings you here, to this place, to hear His Word and the saving Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection for you proclaimed here every Sunday.  He brings you here so that you will remember and receive the forgiveness of sins through His absolving words.  He brings you here to remember and receive your crucified and risen Savior in the Holy Supper of His body and blood.  So hear His Word.  Remember what Christ did for you.  Remember and believe what He says to you.  Remember and believe in His salvation and resurrection promised to you.   

The angels’ message at the tomb to the women was to remember; remember and believe what Jesus said.  And the women went back to the disciples with that same message.  They went to Peter, James, and John and all the rest of them and told them to remember and believe.  God still speaks that message to you today.  Remember and believe.  Remember and believe in your Savior who died for your sin.  Remember and believe in His forgiveness.  Remember and believe in Christ who rose from the dead.  Remember and believe that because He lives, so will you.  Remember and believe in your resurrection, because that’s exactly what God has promised you.  In Jesus’ name…Amen.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed. Alleluia!


Easter is no symbol. . .

Sermon for Easter Early, the Resurrection of Our Lord, preached on Sunday, April 17, 2022.

It is so much easier to think of the resurrection as symbol.  We all know the power of symbols.  But there also is something quite weak about symbols.  Symbols tug at the heart strings but they do not have the power to change us.  We enjoy the sentiment of many things but then we go back to our old and familiar ways.  Get on with it.  Get over it.  If a symbol helps us do that, that is enough.  Or is it?

Mary of Magdala had her life turned upside down.  Her life had been stolen by demons until Jesus set her free.  In return she gave her life willingly to Jesus.  She following Him into the holy city of Jerusalem and joined her voice with the crowd shouting “Hosanna.”  Five days later and Jesus had been arrested, tried in show court, condemned to death, and the sentence carried out with all the brutality Rome could muster.  She had been there at the cross and watched it all.  It was not a symbolic death to show God’s love but the gory and brutal death of sin and for sin that exposed all the ugliness we tend to keep hidden in the shadows.

The disciples did not scatter because of a symbolic death but because Jesus death was real – so real that they feared for their own lives.  Mary went to the tomb that Easter morning expecting to see His bruised and broken body.  She was willing to be consoled by a symbol – the finishing of a the rushed job of burial and the application of spices and ointments to His corpse so that in her mind, Jesus might rest in peace.  But there was no peace in the grave.  The stone was rolled away.  She feared something even worse than death had happened and ran to tell the fearful disciples.  Peter and John run to the tomb and see enough to go home disappointed that the hurt was not over.  But Mary remained.

Nobody was thinking about the resurrection.  Nobody recalled what Jesus had told them or headed off to Galilee to wait for Him to come.  Nobody expected to see Jesus again and all that Mary cared about was that His body might rest in peace. With tears rolling down her cheeks, she called to the caretaker in the cemetery.  “Tell me where they have taken His body?”  And in one word and a moment, her life was turned upside down again.  Jesus is alive.

Sadly, like Mary, we are more comfortable with a dead Jesus than a living one.  It is easy to see the cross as symbol and so to see the resurrection as symbol too.  We will go on.  That’s nice.  Now lets go home and get back to the business of living.  Mary found the surprise of life where she expected to find death.  She was consoled by Christ’s resurrection because now everything could go back to the way it was before the cross spoiled it all.  But Jesus refuses to allow her to hold on to Him or the past.  His scars still in place, Jesus has been vindicated and He lives to proclaim that His death accomplished what only His death could do.  And now nothing can be the same.

How foolish we are.  We tell each other Happy Easter as if it is merely a good day. Do you suppose that is what the disciples who had peered into an empty tomb and then been met by Jesus entering through locked doors said?  Happy Easter?  Do you suppose that is how Mary recalled the surprise of Jesus alive where once He lay dead?  Or is it more.  Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

God is not so much concerned that we will not believe the resurrection of Jesus.  Whether you believe something or not does not make it true or false.  Never mind the foolishness that passes for truth today.  Feelings do not matter.  Opinions do not count.  Christ is risen.  Mary knew it and more than 500 witnesses knew it with her.  What God is more concerned about is that it won’t matter.  Life will go back and not forward.  We will retreat into the familiar old paths and be content to make our peace with death rather than live in the new world of Christ’s resurrection and of the promise of our own joyful resurrection with Him to everlasting life.

If Jesus is alive, it’s consequences are not simply about what happened 2000 years ago but what happens right now today.  You may, like Peter and John, go home after church today but you dare not go back to life as it was.  Your sins have been forgiven and you have been set free.  That is what His death accomplished and that is the Gospel His resurrection has vindicated.  The cross has not been put away but what it accomplished now has the testimony of the living Lord Jesus so that what we need and hope for is done.  Christ is risen and we too are raised.  Raised from sin and the desire for what is wrong.  Raised from despair and our captivity to fear.  Raised from death and its final word on our lives.  Raised from a life centered around us to one focused on Jesus.  Raised from a hopeless end to an endless hope.  Raised from tyranny of feelings to the freedom of objective truth.  Raised from a heart that moves only by threat to a new heart moved by love to love.

Beloved people of God, it is too easy to expect death and to live our lives in its shadow.  That is the old familiar path bequeathed to us by sin.  But we were created in Christ Jesus not for the old ruts of a life ready to be disappointed to a new life governed by hope, by love, and by peace.  

It is too easy to presume that on the cross people were doing something terrible to Jesus rather than to see that God was acting to save us by the love willing to be crucified in our place for our sin.  It is too easy to presume that Easter is about old lives and old bodies raised up instead of new lives and new and glorious bodies being fitted right now and right here for the eternity that is to come.

Christ has not simply won a victory for love but has conquered sin so that we, whose hearts and minds were once prisoners to sin, might live new lives.  Now we see that the empty tomb does not erase the cross but vindicates the Lord who was willing to endure all things for us and our salvation.  And now so vindicated, let us live the new life He offers, hoping against hope and living today the beginning of everlasting life.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Christ Is Risen!

St. Luke 24:1–12
1 On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 

2And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8And they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.