Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Heaven is Jesus' prayer for you. . .

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (C), the Sunday after the Ascension, preached on Sunday, May 29, 2022.

There are moments when our concern turns to heaven but for the most part, we are focused on this life, this moment, and this world.  When age brings it frailty of body and mind, there are many who long to fall asleep here on earth and awaken in the arms of our Savior.  But not most of us.  We have things to do and places to go and experiences to enjoy.  We find death an unfair interruption when it comes before our plans are fulfilled.  We work to keep death at bay long enough for us to fill our moments with all the things we desire.  We pray God to do this for us when death comes as a thief to steal life away.  When we are old or weak or impaired and have nothing more to look forward to, then our attention may turn to heaven.  But not now.

Some churches have noticed this and adjusted the preaching and content of worship so that it no longer points to heaven but to the wants, desires, and needs of this day and this moment.  In those churches you hear little of sin and forgiveness as the bridge Jesus laid so that we might be prepared for heaven even now while we live this earthly life.  In those churches, worship is focused on now and its goal is to entertain, inspire, encourage, and equip you to achieve your earthly dreams.

Some have said that our liturgical and richly ceremonial worship makes us odd – even for a Lutheran congregation.  That we go beyond what is in the hymnal to supplement the basic order that should be found in every Lutheran congregation to add back in liturgical elements and rituals not in the average parish.  That is true.  But this is not an aesthetic or personal preference.  This is because the Divine Service does not reflect the earthly locale in which we live but the heavenly liturgy for which we are even now being prepared.

The oddest thing about worship in this congregation is not the ceremonial and liturgical part but its heavenward direction.  The Divine Service is a rehearsal for eternity, a glimpse of the heavenly future God has prepared for us – to which we will come by His grace and mercy.  You see a bit of Revelation in this Sanctuary both in the art and setting of the space.  Here we do not merely sing of the foretaste of the feast to come but we eat that foretaste, Christ preparing us to meet that future with His own voice in the Word and flesh and blood in the Sacrament.  Heavenward worship seems strange to our earthly lives but it is God’s focus and direction from our new life born of baptismal waters directed by the Spirit.  
We are certainly in the world but we are not of it; our citizenship is on high, our lives are not simply a brief span of 70 or 80 or more year but the blood shed for our sins and the resurrection that prefigures our own resurrection in Christ to be with Christ forever.  This life we now experience is the briefest portion of the lives we have in Christ but our great temptation is to focus more on today then eternity.

You heard this in the high priestly prayer of Jesus prayed on Maundy Thursday before His betrayal, suffering, death, and resurrection.  “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
To be with Jesus is not a mental state or an imaginary place but the most real life of all.  To be with Jesus is to dwell with Him where He has promised to be in the Word and Sacraments, in the Divine Service, so that we may also be with Him in the place where He has gone ahead.  He is even now preparing the way for us in this Divine Service so that we may come to Him, be with Him where He is, and  behold the glory that only Jesus knew before the foundation of the world.  This is the new destiny of the baptized, who believe Christ and pray for His will to be fulfilled.

As tempting as it is to believe that God’s almighty purpose is to handle the things of this world, deal with the problems of this life, fulfill our hopes and dreams for these days, and answer our prayers so heavenly weighted to the present, God has a bigger goal.  Heaven is Jesus’ prayer for you and His work by the power of the Spirit is to fit you for the heavenly place He has prepared.  Everything in this life is a practice or rehearsal for eternity – at least for the Christian.

Even our daily cycle of confession and repentance for our sins is not simply so that these sins will not trouble us but so we may be forward focused instead of looking in the rear view mirror.  We were found as sinners in a sinful world but Jesus refuses to let sin stain us.  He has washed us clean and placed on us the white robes of His righteousness so that we are ready and prepared for the heavenly future that is our destiny in Christ.

How we gather here, right now, at the bidding of the Spirit, and what we do here in this Divine Service are working toward that heavenly future.  People complain that worship is not practical but it is this life which is not practical.  Sin and death have made this life most impractical.  All our labors for this life end in a few shovels of dirt over a hole in the ground.  All our work to compress the living of a lifetime into whatever days is no consolation at all when age steals those memories and turns our loved ones into strangers.  If this is all life is or the best life we live, no wonder some people live in despair.  The rescue of our Savior is not the repair of a broken life but the gift of the eternal to a mortal people.  This world and this life is what it is but the life Christ has prepared and the future He has created by His death and resurrection is the most real and practical things of all.

The world in all its glory cannot compare with the glory of God.  For now we glimpse that glory in the most unlikely places  – in water the stirs with everlasting life, in words through which God works His saving will, in bread and wine that feeds us heavenly food as a foretaste of the eternal which is to come.  But one day the glimpse will give way to a reality beyond imagination.  Here there will be no need of forgiveness for sin will end and be banished from our  consciences forever.  Our yesterdays will not need to be remembered because we will be filled with the today of God’s grace and mercy.  There will be no tears of sorrow or loss, no enemies to trouble us, no painful separations, and no bodies to age or decay.  This is what God has prepared for you and for me and for all who have loved His appearing and this is what worship is preparing us to enjoy.

The world does not know this or get this.  The world cannot imagine why anyone would live their lives toward a future no one can see and which we see only by faith.  The world has made its peace with death and wonders why you have not. The world puts its hope in the gods of technology and science and medicine and pleasure.  The world snickers at what it does not understand or reason or touch.  When God calls us not to reflect the world, this is not simply about avoiding evil but living toward the future where righteousness and purity are complete.

The name of God was placed upon you in your baptism.  You are no longer your own.  You belong to the Lord.  You are not the old creation marked by sin for death but the child of God marked by His grace for a future that will live when this world is dead.  You are not unloved or alone or on your own.  The love that calls us friends has come that we might be in Christ now and with Christ forevermore.

My friends, life is not a mystery to be cracked or explained but a cross planted in death and a tomb which could not hold its occupant anymore.  Every day in this life, Christ builds us in faith that we may see not only His tomb as empty but ours when the day comes for us to be with Him forever. Now by faith but then face to face, destined for greater glory than this world has ever known or will ever know, this is the hope we live, the consolation we know, and the peace that passes understanding.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed.  Risen, ascended, and glorified.  Amen.  Alleluia!

The borders are moving. . .

Although it is true in one way of the positions of those more conservative, the reality is that liberal and progressive positions are moving targets. Ronald Reagan famously quipped that he did not leave the Democratic Party, it left him. He was correct. The party he had known had changed; its values had changed as well as its positions. Whether you are happy about this or sad, you cannot dispute it. It is a fact of life. Now the same thing is happening. The party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the party of Hubert Humphrey became the party of Bill Clinton became the party of Barak Obamma. You can no longer say that about Joseph Biden. He is not the face of the Democratic Party of today and he will not be the face of its future. In some respects he is playing catch up with a party and with leaders and positions that are evolving far and away from where they were.

Consider the likes of somebody like Bill Maher. Like Reagan before him, he complains that he has not changed, his positions have not changed, but the world has. Now the woke moniker has become the herald of changes that make even liberals wince. The same thing happened to Richard John Neuhaus. Once he was considered on the leftward fringe of politics and religion but now many look at him as having changed and become the voice of conservatism. He insisted that he did not change but, like others, he admitted the world around him had. For him the issue was abortion. For those today the issue might be gender identity.

This is the problem with progressivism -- it is not a position but a worldview. It is constantly changing by design. What 3-5 years ago might not be imagined becomes the new and normative position of those who would lay claim to the term liberal. But that is not how it once was. The reality is the Joe Biden is not the only one who is trying to catch up. All of those who stand against conservatism are united in a quest to keep up and keep step with the constantly evolving marks of loyalty to the liberal and progressive viewpoint. The danger is that no one can pin down where this movement will lead but so many have pinned themselves and their future to it -- wherever it may lead.

The debates are not simply debates over positions and issues. It is a worldview that is in dispute -- a view of history as well as the present and future. We will not battle this out by attacking and defending an issue or a specific position. We must battle where the war is actually being fought and that is worldview.  That is why the Christian in the midst of this is so often swept up in a movement that is going places where nobody can see the ending.  That is why the values of the home and the values and dogmas of the Church are so important.  It is not like we missed the cues.  We knew it was coming.  Our youth are more influenced by their peers, teachers, social media, and culture not because they have chosen these voices and values over those they got in the home but because the home did not articulately and passionately impart a worldview that was consistent with Scripture and tradition.  They left because they had not been catechized into this worldview but only catechized into certain dogmas.  That is the failure of home and Church.  If we are to keep our children in the faith, we must not only teach them the faith but impart to them a Christian worldview that will prevent them from being sucked into a movement that is like a moving train whose track is being laid in front of the speeding locomotive but without any clue where it will end.

Conservatives have got to stop arguing nuance of positions -- as if this will do anything more than merely slow the inevitable.  We must engage the woke, liberal, and progressive worldview at its core and center and offer an alternative.  Or, we will lose.  We will lose our children, our culture, our politics, and our country. Even some who were once the liberals are waking up to an America they do not recognize and did not see coming. 


Monday, May 30, 2022

Morbid??? Or one of the least morbid things we do?

I used to enjoy making visits to my hometown at Memorial Day.  While there, we would accompany my mother out to the cemeteries fulfilling the obligation of decorating graves.  It seems that many cemeteries discourage or prohibit flowers (not surprising since many now forbid any but flat tombstones).  Not where I come from.  It is a solemn annual duty to remember the dead and to decorate graves.  It may coincide with Memorial Day and the special decoration of the graves of soldiers but it goes well beyond this patriotic duty.  It is love's effort to remember and never forget those whom we love who have died.  So we would go from grave to grave decorating the tombstones of family members but it was not a burden.  It was a privilege.  

Now that my dad's grave is among those to decorate, it is even more profound.  I well recall when it was part of his duty to direct what happened in the small park by the auditorium and the job of loading children into the cars with enough white crosses marked with poppies to mark the graves of the dead who served our country.  Now others are placing the memorials on his grave and he is one of the many who served and whose service is now honored by a moment of remembrance and a small cross.

Some folks abhor cemeteries.  I don't.  My wife is particularly keen on them (part of her interest in our ancestors).  Tombstones tell us the stories of the dead is often hidden ways.  The sayings or Scripture passages carved into stone.  The dates of life and death.  Those who accompany the dead in that plot. The weathering of the stone and its information.  All of this combines to tell us a story not of the dead but of their lives and they are living memorials to a life which, in earthly terms, had a beginning and an end.

Remembering the dead is not morbid.  In fact, it is just the opposite.  It is one of the most important characteristics of living that the dying are remembered with thanksgiving to the Lord.  I know that in many congregations one or more of the Easter services took place in the cemetery.  Again, this was not morbid at all.  It was a wonderful affirmation for Christians of something we have celebrated for many, many centuries.  As Israel identified the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob along with an affirmation that this living God was a God of the living, so do we remember with thanksgiving our fathers in the faith as affirmation of the truth that they live in Christ.

We do not have any family graves where we live.  We live far removed from family.  So being near the graves of loved ones who have died in the Lord is a privilege we do not take lightly.  I hope that we communicate this to our children.  It is love's duty to remember, recall, and rejoice in those who have died in the Lord and now rest from their labors.  We do have graves of those whose funerals I preached, whose bodies I lay into the dust of the earth, and whose lives I commended to the Lord in Jesus' name.  That is the privilege of serving so long in one place -- my ministry has connected me to so many people, so many graves, in so many places.  Again, it is not morbid or sad but a testament to the value we place on life -- particularly on this day to the lives given to protect and defend our liberty.  Though we know not their names, we know the price they paid.  Our every day is lived because of that price paid.  Thanks be to God!

Sunday, May 29, 2022

The bane of programs. . .

I am sure you have read this before here but it bears saying again.  Programs will not revitalize the Church, will not bring people into the Kingdom of God, will not keep them in that Kingdom, or grow them into the people the promise of their baptism portends.  Programs seem to be what we rush to when we find things not going well or when we spot a problem or when we need to justify our existence.  But programs -- good for what the can do -- are not good for what they cannot do.

If there is anything we have learned from the pandemic, it ought to be that making things easier for our people is not the answer.  Online services and Bible studies and zoom meetings and the like may be a partial substitute for being there when that is impossible but these are not the places we should be turning to in order to grow the Church or restore a broken Church.  Exceptions are just that exceptions.  They are for exceptional times when nothing else is possible.  But after that it is time to put away the exceptional practices.  Once I was a child but now I have grown up.  So the Church ought to grow up.  Technology can be a tool for a few things but it is not our future and it will not substitute for what was and always will be the way the Church grows, lives, and flourishes.

Neither will the Church grow with more conferences.  Don't get me wrong.  Some conferences are good for the purpose of engaging issues, teaching the teachers, and exploring how what we believe, teach, and confess stands up against what others believe, teach, and confess.  I am all for conferences wherein pastors are encouraged in their good offices, renewed in the holy tasks of their calling, challenged to think theologically, and trained for the things that Seminary does not train you for.  That is good, right, and salutary.  But we cannot conference the Church into glory.

Imagine what would have happened if the apostles had the benefit of our technology and decided to have online services, podcasted sermons, zoom meetings, the photocopier, and programs taught at training conferences.  I dare say that the Church would have fizzled and died and God would have had to replant His Church again.  Would anyone have listened to the apostles if they held such conferences, spent all their money on slick advertising, published endless pamphlets, and held more and endless meetings?  Was it their programs that caught the notice of the world but the fact that they were willing to die for their beliefs?  Was it their finesse at promoting themselves and their cause that turned thousands into disciples or their courage in the face of persecution and threat?  Was it their reasonableness and flexibility to enable people to find doctrines and a congregation that fit their preferences and personalities that built the Church into a mighty force within a century or two of Christ's death and resurrection or was it their confidence in the doctrine once given and faithfully preserved?  Was it the personalities and training of those personalities to use all the technology and the lessons of psychology and sociology and marketing that turned this Jewish sect into a Church across nations and continents?

They held to the doctrine of the apostles, to the fellowship of Word and Sacrament, to a disciplined life of prayer, and did what God had called them to do even in the face of threat and opposition.  Somehow, we have forgotten this.  We have succumbed to the idea that technology is the savior of a moribund Church, that accommodation with the world will bring converts into the Kingdom, and that marketing the Gospel like a product (with endless consumer satisfaction surveys) will grow up the Church into something we can present to God with pride.  This is what we did, Lord.  Ain't it grand?  We have forgotten the cardinal principle that it is His Church, it was His Church, and it will always be His Church.  He has given us His Word.  His Word brings forth faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.  His Word calls His own to the waters of baptism where they are born anew, forgiven of their sins, and covered with Christ's righteousness.  His Word addresses the penitent with absolution and the impenitent with warning and the call to repentance.  His Word sets apart bread to be His body and wine to be His blood, imparting a foretaste of the eternal feast to come and nourishing us for the journey of faith in this mortal life.  The Spirit is the force and power at work in all of these means of grace.

There is only one program or recipe for the growing and sustaining of God's people and His Church.  That is the vigorous and faithful preaching and teaching of His Word.  The faithful passing on of the sacred deposit once conferred delivered to the saints and handed down through the generations -- doctrine that does not change.  The faithful administration of the Sacraments according to Christ's own institution.  While there may be tools provided by technology to assist this, the technology is not the answer.  While we may use what we have learned to be more efficient and effective in doing what God has called us to do, we are not marketers, programmers, or salesmen.  While exceptional times may cause us to find ways we have not tried to do what we must, the exception cannot become the norm.  Nothing we do online is a fit substitute for the gathering together of God's people in one place around His Word, Font, and Table.  Until we learn that, we will be forever looking to program things for God and replace His Word and faithfulness to that Word with our own wisdom, efforts, and definition of success.  If the Church goes down in a flame of glory by being faithful, it is God's to figure out but if the Church is lost because we took it over from Him and did it our way, we will have to answer for it.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Before ascension, He descends...and so do we

Sermon for Ascension, preached on Thursday, May 26, 2022.

Before Christ ascended, He descended.  He left behind His heavenly glory for the earthly frame of a man.  He surrendered Himself to live as one of us, certainly without sin but not without the pain and sorrows of a world where death reigns and the devil rules.  He was obedient unto death on a cross – a cross that was not His but ours and yet He willingly gave Himself up to its pain and death.  He descended into the cold darkness of the tomb.  And He descended into hell – not as one to join the devil’s torment or live under his dominion but to walk there first the victory lap of the Savior who descends to raise up His lost and condemned people.

His work of salvation is done.  It is not that we need not add to what He has done – the whole point is that we cannot.  There is nothing that can be added to His one all-sufficient suffering and death.  It is perfect and perfectly complete.  He never gave up being God but He hid His divinity in our flesh and blood.  But no more. His flesh is now fully assumed into the glory of God and He sits at the right hand of the Father so that He might fill all things.  The divinity He hid and did not always exercise before His death He now embraces fully in His resurrection to ascend on high.

Our Lord does not ascend to escape His flesh.  No, He wears that flesh for all eternity – scars and all.  But it is no longer the fragile flesh that death could threaten.  It is the glorious flesh that death cannot overcome anymore.  He does not leave to abandon us but to fill all things for us – especially to fill His Word that speaks salvation into our hearts and minds, His baptismal water that bestows new life to the dead, and His bread and cup that feed us on His very flesh and blood. Our Lord leaves to be here for us and in us and to work through us to finish all that He began.  

In order to ascend, our Lord had to first descend.  And what is true of Jesus, is also true of those whom Jesus calls His own.  We descend into the baptismal water to rise up to be God’s own and to live under Him now on earth and then in heaven. We descend to the knees of our confession in order to be raised up by the voice of absolution.  We descend upon our knees at this rail in order to be raised up by the only food that fills us and satisfies us for all eternity.  We descend upon the bed of mortal death in order to be raised up to life that death cannot touch.  Before we ascend, we must also descend.  We go not on our own but where Christ has gone.    Our lives are not transparent except to God.  None of us has a crystal ball to see the future.  None of us is superhuman and cannot be threatened by doubt and fear.  Our lives are hidden in Christ with God.  We see this not with eyes to behold or minds to understand but with faith that trusts.  The world is filled with tribulation and trials.  The devil is constantly at work to pull us down in the depths of His descent into sin and evil.  Our own hearts are reluctant to give up the old ways of sin that lead to death.  We are not sure what to make of death except to know that most of us would do anything to hold onto this life.  We are caught between the people we were and those we will be and the tension is painful to us all.

But Christ has ascended to fill all things and to fill you and me.  Christ has ascended from death and the grave to give us new and everlasting life.  Christ has ascended from the altar of sin to the throne of judgment where you and I have been declared righteous.  But we are still in the world though we are not of the world.  God is at work in us raising us every day from sin and its death through repentance that we might endure every trial and be saved for His mercy’s sake.  We are still in the world, though not of the world, and the new life Christ planted in us by baptism is being nurtured right here upon the crucified and risen body of Christ and His holy and precious blood.  He has overcome the world, even if we are still fighting to hold on, struggling to endure, and battling our demons.

Christ descended before He ascended, emptied Himself in suffering to be filled in glory, and now fills the world and all of us with the fruits of His redeeming work.  Trust in Him who has promised to find the way, to prepare that way that you and I may be where He is just as He came to be where we were.  Hope in Him against hope the promise that nothing can separate us from His love.  Meet Him where He has promised to be in the Word of Scripture and in the Sacraments He has established.  Come to be where He is so that He can go with you where you must go until the ripe and fruitful moment comes and we are delivered from this struggle once for all to ascend to our final home on high.

Know this.  The day is coming when your life will no longer be hidden in Christ but revealed for the whole world to see.  That is no day of dread or fear but hope and triumph.  What is now hidden is not the secret sins of the guilty but the holy and righteous life that is yours in Christ – a life that sometimes seems far from the daily life you live.  What is waiting to be revealed is the life that is beyond your imagination, ripe with all that is better than our best and more than our little.
Rest your fears and your hopes in this promise.  What now we hold by faith, then we shall see face to face.  What now we see through the mirror dimly, then we shall see clearly.  What now we feel so threatened by, then will be banished from our minds and our hearts so that there will be only Christ.  

Christ has high ascended and so will YOU.  You will ascend and leave behind all the troubles and trials of this mortal life to be swallowed up once and forever by His life-giving death and His triumphant resurrection.  Every day the Spirit is turning you to the East, to the Sonrise, to the future, to eternity.  Every day you are right now being reclaimed from all that own you – from sin and despair and death – to that which owns you and you it – forgiveness, hope, and life.  That is why we observe Ascension.  Christ’s future is ours.  God grant this in the name of our Ascended Lord Jesus Christ.

Fruits as consequence. . .

As we make our way to Pentecost it occurs to me that too much ink and time has been spent on the gifts  of the Spirit and too little on the fruits of the Spirit.  Frankly, coming into the ministry in the midst of the charismatic movement's ascendancy in nearly every denomination, I am tired of talking about speaking in tongues.  If you have not had to deal with this, you owe the Lord a Te Deum.  At one point in time it was about the only thing talked about.  Spiritual gift surveys were given out like time and talent surveys and I can recall recruiting Sunday school or VBS teachers only to be told oh, that is not my gift; my gift is blah...  I am ever so thankful we are not so preoccupied with such things now.  But at the same time I truly regret that we are not more occupied with the fruits of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Gal. 5:22-23

Fewer words than the ink St. Paul and the rest of us have spend on spiritual gifts but probably more important ones.  Much of the time St. Paul spent on spiritual gifts was to correct, rebuke, and reprove the abuses.  I doubt that he had to spend any time doing that for the fruits of the Spirit.   The fruits of the Spirit are not so much the willed decisions  or choices on our part as they are the consequences of those willed decisions or choices.  The fruits of the Spirit are not fruits that we must plant but the planting of the Spirit; we do not nurture them in the sense of practicing them or desiring them.  Rather, they are the natural fruits that come from and flow out of our time spent in the Word of God and through the means of grace.  Being in the Spirit through the means of grace is the means to bearing in our lives the fruits of the Spirit.

We do not will the love of God into our hearts or make us be joyful anymore than we set our hearts with peace.  We do not will patience into our impatient hearts or become kind by choice.  Goodness is not the fruit of choices we make.  Faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are not the result of improved effort.  Rather, these come from God and it is by being with God in His Word and Sacraments that the Spirit grows these into our hearts, minds, and lives.  We do not learn them from earthly teachers or therapists (which is what too many presume the role of pastor) or life coaches.  Pastors aid this through their preaching and teaching of God's Word and by their administration of the Sacraments but it is the work of the Spirit to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit.

Finally, something ought to be said for prayer.  A rich and full prayer life is not only salutary for the commending of the desires of our heart to the Lord but to prepare us to receive from Him what He has promised.  The fruits of the Spirit are the consequences of more time spent in prayer and do not find their way in us through short cuts or abbreviated times of devotion.  The work of God in us are not instantaneous but deliberate.  In truth we see them best by looking back rather than by looking in the mirror now or by trying to clear up the fog of the future for our plans.

Friday, May 27, 2022

When we see through our feelings. . .

Though I am hardly the first to say it, it is clear that we have lost our ability to laugh at ourselves, to take important things seriously, and to take unimportant things (like self) not so seriously.  It has been documented in too many different ways to ignore.  The whole existence of satire humor such as the Babylon Bee and the Onion is a call to take a break, take a chill pill, and to relax.  Nobody needs this more than Christians who are prone to depression and despair as they look at the state of the world and the state of Christianity today.  We are gravely tempted to mirror the way the world operates among things that offend -- to have hurt feelings, to be a victim, and to decry how meanly or insensitively we were treated.  But that does nothing except exacerbate our feelings of depression and despair and prevents us from remembering that God is God and we are not.

The first mark of the progressive agenda is to pay too much attention to feelings.  Indeed, the whole GLBTQ+, gender identity, cancel culture, rewrite history, sanitize the public square, and label humans as enemies of nature agenda is driven more by feelings than anything else.  The sexual revolution is the result of the if it feels good do it generation.  Gender identity says the body cannot define and is not to be trusted in the pursuit of identity.  Cancel culture and history revision is done precisely because facts get in the way of feelings or offend those feelings or must be altered because of their potential to offend.  Sanitizing the public square, providing safe space for university students, and the very label of hate speech is all about feelings and not much about a sense of humor or even common sense.  Making humanity an enemy of nature is taking an offense to the point of absurdity.

Our feelings are gifts from God but when they become the preeminent things that identify us and the criteria by which we judge everything else, those feelings become a prison.  They hold us captive to something not objectively truth or real apart from the truth or reality we give to them.  In the Church it is a sad and regrettable truth that we reject what God says because we find what God says offensive -- especially with regard to sex.  That cannot be what God says because I either do not like what it says or because what it says hurts or offends me.  In the congregation, how many people leave because of feelings hurt by pastors who are claimed to be insensitive to them and their needs or the failure of people to recognize, appreciate, or acknowledge them?  How many Christians walk out the door of the congregation because they did not feel welcomed, accepted, or esteemed by those in the pews with them?  At the same time, people will remain in congregations that preach and teach unfaithfully and even heresy because they do feel welcomed, accepted, or esteemed?  The problem here is not if this is God pleasing but if this serves us well as Christian people.

Much of this is because we have learned to take very seriously our feelings and less seriously the objective truth and voice of God speaking through His Word.  We listen more to the voices inside us (another name for feelings) than we do God's voice and then we complain because God appears to ignore us or remain silent in the face of our desires.  It is sort of like that old Babylon Bee post which shows a man sitting at a table with a Bible in front of him while complaining that God is not speaking to him.  If people are saying something with which we disagree, does that mean that they are not speaking or that their speaking is filled with hate or offensive?  

Politics and community have also been profoundly impacted by our failure to laugh at ourselves and our insistence upon trusting our feelings as the most trustworthy and authentic truths and voices of all.  Consider the disdain with which the political parties hold one another, elected officials hold other elected officials, and we hold those who disagree with us.  How do we work together for common good when we hold each other in such deep derision?   

I certainly take most seriously what God says and, although I do not always take it, I well recall the advice given me as a young pastor not to take myself too seriously but to take the office I hold and the means of grace as the most sacred things of all.  So, if you have read this, don't be so quick to feel offended, to complain that you are not appreciated or taken seriously, or to lament that you are not fully appreciated.  If you are a Christian, you are in the company of Christ who was Himself the subject of much misunderstanding.  At the same time, these things do not last but you will.  Because Christ has made you His own in baptism, fed and nourished you upon His Word and Sacraments, and will not surrender you to the world in which you live or the devil who roars about like a lion seeking someone to devour, you are in good hands.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

A sermon, a sonnet, and some stanzas...

Accordingly, dearly-beloved, throughout this time which elapsed between the Lord's Resurrection and
Ascension, God's Providence had this in view, to teach and impress upon both the eyes and hearts of His own people that the Lord Jesus Christ might be acknowledged to have as truly risen, as He was truly born, suffered, and died. And hence the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been both bewildered at His death on the cross and backward in believing His Resurrection, were so strengthened by the clearness of the truth that when the Lord entered the heights of heaven, not only were they affected with no sadness, but were even filled with great joy. And truly great and unspeakable was their cause for joy, when in the sight of the holy multitude, above the dignity of all heavenly creatures, the Nature of mankind went up, to pass above the angels' ranks and to rise beyond the archangels' heights, and to have Its uplifting limited by no elevation until, received to sit with the Eternal Father, It should be associated on the throne with His glory, to Whose Nature It was united in the Son. Since then Christ's Ascension is our uplifting, and the hope of the Body is raised, whither the glory of the Head has gone before, let us exult, dearly-beloved, with worthy joy and delight in the loyal paying of thanks. For today not only are we confirmed as possessors of paradise, but have also in Christ penetrated the heights of heaven, and have gained still greater things through Christ's unspeakable grace than we had lost through the devil's malice. For us, whom our virulent enemy had driven out from the bliss of our first abode, the Son of God has made members of Himself and placed at the right hand of the Father, with Whom He lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.  Pope Leo the Great



Salute the last and everlasting day,
Joy at th' uprising of this Sun, and Son,
Ye whose true tears, or tribulation
Have purely wash'd, or burnt your drossy clay.
Behold, the Highest, parting hence away,
Lightens the dark clouds, which He treads upon;
Nor doth He by ascending show alone,
But first He, and He first enters the way.
O strong Ram, which hast batter'd heaven for me!
Mild Lamb, which with Thy Blood hast mark'd the path!
Bright Torch, which shinest, that I the way may see!
O, with Thy own Blood quench Thy own just wrath;
And if Thy Holy Spirit my Muse did raise,
Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise.  John Donne



LSB 495 Look, Ye Saints, the Sight Is Glorious


1 Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious;
    See the Man of Sorrows now!
From the fight returned victorious,
    Ev’ry knee to Him shall bow.
Crown Him! Crown Him!
Crown Him! Crown Him!
Crown Him! Crown Him!
    Crowns become the victor’s brow.
    Crowns become the victor’s brow.


2 Crown the Savior! Angels, crown Him!
    Rich the trophies Jesus brings;
On the seat of pow’r enthrone Him
    While the vault of heaven rings.
Crown Him! Crown Him!
Crown Him! Crown Him!
Crown Him! Crown Him!
    Crown the Savior King of kings.
    Crown the Savior King of kings.


3 Sinners in derision crowned Him,
    Mocking thus the Savior’s claim;
Saints and angels crowd around Him,
    Own His title, praise His name.
Crown Him! Crown Him!
Crown Him! Crown Him!
Crown Him! Crown Him!
    Spread abroad the victor’s fame.
    Spread abroad the victor’s fame.


4 Hark, those bursts of acclamation!
    Hark, those loud triumphant chords!
Jesus takes the highest station;
    Oh, what joy the sight affords!
Crown Him! Crown Him!
Crown Him! Crown Him!
Crown Him! Crown Him!
    King of kings and Lord of lords!
    King of kings and Lord of lords!


Wednesday, May 25, 2022

One Church. . .

Though the Reformation is often blamed for the fracturing of Christianity, the truth is that the Christian Church has been divided many times and from the evening of the apostolic age.  Read of the problems St. Paul encountered and of the warnings and admonition given to gospels other than the Gospel he proclaimed, of the Supper of the Lord which was not a Lord's Supper because of their actions, and of the divisions to be marked.  Add this to the call to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace and you have the circumstance of clear division.  Although not all congregations the one who is least of all the apostles planted caused him troubles, it is unmistakable that some did and were not of the same doctrine and faith as St. Paul.  Indeed, we know of this problem from the First Epistle of St. Clement and from St. Ignatius.  

Everyone, including those marked heretics, believed the Church to be one and theirs to be that one Church.  While St. Paul did not shy from appealing to his apostolic authority, it was and remains the doctrine that binds the Church as one and not persons, personalities, or particular offices.  Our oneness at the altar receiving the Eucharist has been and remains broken.  The first and larger breach came when East and West refused communion to each other and, although conversations have been held more recently, no progress had been made on its healing.  That said, our oneness is not nor has it ever been an achievement of man negotiating and conciliating consensus.  The unity of the body of Christ is and always has been from the perspective of Christ who knows His own.  The broken state of affairs we see should not ever allow us to be complacent about such division nor should it ease the burden upon us to make sure that such divisions are over substance, when and where they must be for the sake of the Gospel itself.  Yet it must also be said that such a state of broken communion was not and is not a judgment upon the faith of the individual.  Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.  As true as this was and is, it is just as true that until time ends, not all who call on the Name of the Lord will be united at the same altar receiving the same Sacrament.

The episcopate, the canon of Scripture, and the regula fidei (tradition) were three norms of authority to benefit the orthodoxy and continuity of the one, true, orthodox and apostolic Church but only a fool would suggest that they were successful in preventing division.  And yet, it is doctrine that is the unity of the faith and the faithful -- doctrine sourced in Scripture, taught by the apostles, and confessed through the ages.  It is this that has and always will both unite and rightfully divide when error, falsehood, and other sources of revelation conflict with Scripture and the doctrine that flows from it. Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved, but when it comes to those who sup together at the Table of the Lord, a common confession is the minimal requirement of such visible unity and koinonia.  

While doctrinal debate is often castigated as fighting over words or trifles or babbling to hear one's self speak, doctrine is the kerygma (see Iraneaus) which like the sun, shines with the only and one true light so that all people might shine like the sun by coming to the knowledge of the truth.  For myself, I hate the modern day translation of didaskalia as teaching and think the King James got it right by using doctrine in nearly every case when that word appears in Greek.  Nobody over time and history confessed that they believe what their bishop believes but everyone -- even heretics! -- claim to confess what Scripture says.  In this regard, doctrine is confession.  When in Nicea they confessed we believe they were not venturing an opinion or taking sides or offering a perspective but insisting that this is what the Church believes, teaches, and confesses; what has been handed down through the ages; what is still taught by those who stand in Christ and with Scripture.  It is this that is the catholic and apostolic faith and this by which those who come to the altar are examined and admitted.  It is this Church that is the One Church -- not the one with a legacy or a Petrine Office or tradition or statistics.  It always was this way and it will always be.  While that says nothing against the clear confession that all who call on the Name of the Lord will be saved, it admits that this is not how the familial fellowship of the Table works.  That the two must live side by side is itself a confession of the fractured state of Christianity that can only and will only be mended by Christ when He comes in His glory.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

A blunt question. . .

Although Lutherans say that they have not abolished private confession and hold it in higher regard than their opponents, the history does not quite support that -- at least in practice.  Oh, yes, in theory we are all about individual confession and absolution but much of that is talk and not much of it is practice.  In the edition of the Small Catechism used when I was catechized as a youth, there was not even a rite for it and it was barely mentioned.  While that has been rectified, the practice remains on the fringes of Lutheranism and an anachronism for most Lutherans.

The absolution is, as Luther maintained, the heart and gift of private confession.  The focus is not even on penitence as precondition and certainly not on any kind of satisfaction.  The core and center not only of the rite but of the sacrament (which Lutherans have called it) is in the absolution.  Indeed, it is the reason why we confess.  We come not as a people uncertain what God will do with our confession but because of His mercy we confess, knowing that He will forgive and restore us.  

You can read of a recent effort to bring this sacrament to the mind of the faithful that they may avail themselves of its gift and blessing but it remains a hard nut to crack.  The truth is that this was a hard sell long ago.  Consider Luther's treatise Of Confession, where says, " I will let no one take away private confession and would not exchange it for all the wealth of the world, for I know what strength and comfort it has given me."' In his eighth sermon against Carlstadt (1522), who had abolished private confession in Wittenberg during Luther's absence, Luther preached "I know the devil well. If you had known him as well as I, you would not have thrown private confession so quickly to the wind." Also, in his Babylonian Captivity of the Church Luther writes, "Of private confession, which is now observed, I am heartily in favor, even though it [the requirement] cannot be proved from the Scriptures; it is useful and necessary, nor would I have it abolished; nay, I rejoice that it exists in the church of Christ, for it is a cure without equal for distressed conscience."   Luther rejects the ecclesiastical rule which requires confession in an absolute sense. It cannot be made a law, but it is, at one and the same time, an indispensable form of the gospel. It is therefore not a requirement but rather a gift which we cannot do without -- the law that cannot relieve the sinner compared to the unmerited mercy that can and does.

While Luther and the Reformers had much to say against what confession had become in Rome, the Lutheran doctrine confessed was not the creation of an opposing doctrine to Rome.  It was, to be sure, a correction of abuses, not simply in theology but in the received practice of the day.  It would be a false characterization of Luther and those who followed him that the adherents to the Augsburg Confession went about establishing a new doctrine and practice antithetical to Rome. The Lutheran doctrine placed confession, which is the work of man, over against absolution, which is the work of God. In his brief admonition to confession, Luther says, "Now mark well what I have said often, that confession consists of two parts. The first is our work and doing, that I lament my sins and desire comfort and renewal of my soul.  The other is a work which God does, who absolves me from my sins through His word spoken by the mouth of man. This is the most important and precious part, as it also makes it lovely and comforting. Up till now the confession has all been our work without going any farther than recognizing a good confession, and the other most important part was not recognized nor preached, quite as if it all were a good work with which to pay God. And whenever the confession was not complete to the last detail, then absolution could not be effective nor sins be forgiven."'

However, the problem of restoring private confession lies, in part, with the identification of this sacrament's benefits as solely with the absolution.  Is there a Lutheran pastor who has not been asked Do I need to confess my sins to a pastor for Confession, or can I simply say sorry to God in my head?  

For our God, the God we have, is not so stingy that he has left us with only one comfort or strengthening for our conscience, or only one absolution, but we have many absolutions in the gospel and we are richly showered with many absolutions. For instance, we have this in the gospel: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” [Matt. 6:14]. Another comfort we have in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses,” etc. [Matt. 6:12]. A third is our baptism, when I reason thus: See, my Lord, I have been baptized in thy name so that I may be assured of thy grace and mercy. Then we have private confession, when I go and receive a sure absolution as if God himself spoke it, so that I may be assured that my sins are forgiven. Finally, I take to myself the blessed sacrament, when I eat his body and drink his blood as a sign that I am rid of my sins and God has freed me from all my frailties; and in order to make me sure of this, he gives me his body to eat and his blood to drink, so that I shall not and cannot doubt that I have a gracious God. Thus you see that confession must not be despised, but that it is a comforting thing. (Sermon of 16 March 1522; LW, Vol. 51, 97-98)

The center of private confession is absolution but the benefit is the comfort of the troubled soul, the counsel given to those who struggle to recognize and confess their sins with excusing or justifying them, and the clear conscience to those who feel so deeply the shame of their sin.  Again, Luther in the Smalcald Articles (VIII, 1): "Confession or absolution ought by no means to be abolished in the church, especially on account of [tender and] timid consciences and on account of the untrained [and
capricious] young people, in order that they may be examined, and instructed in the Christian doctrine." In other words, private confession is meant to be an essential instrument of pastoral care.  It is here that the pastor knows his people and what lies upon their hearts -- all the while he hears their confession and is privileged to be the voice of our Savior in absolving them of their sins.

How foolish of us to presume that the preaching of the Gospel, the baptism into Christ, the general absolution in the liturgy (though much later), and the reception of the Sacrament of the Altar are all simply redundant means of grace that offer exactly the same thing and therefore offer the penitent a choice!  How even more foolish of us to presume that the private prayer of the individual to God, while effective in both offering repentance and receiving God's mercy, is an exact substitute of the gift and blessing of all the means of grace in general and private confession in particular!  We have an embarrassment of riches from God but they are all distinct and, though the forgiveness of sins is at the heart of each, they offer additional gifts and blessings particular to them.  It has not helped us in any way to heighten the focus solely on the forgiveness of sins while neglecting the other benefits and blessings associated with each means of grace and, in the case of private confession, this has been an effective force in detracting from that which our forebearers considered essential.  In reality, both in John 20 and in the ministry that proceeds from that Easter evening ordination, forgiveness and the pastoral care of the penitent and impenitent is at the heart of the Lutheran office of the ministry every bit as much as preaching and catechesis.

Monday, May 23, 2022

The face of strangers. . .

I do not know how it for you, but on most Christmases and Easters, I look out on the face of strangers.  Yes, some of them are well known to me because I have been here almost thirty years and their attendance is limited to the high and holy days.  They have become familiar strangers but strangers none the less.  In some places it is that way on Ash Wednesday and on Confirmation Day (whenever that is observed).  If you will permit me this lament -- I hate it.  It is not because I am looking into the faces of the familiar alien to the House of God but that these are the people who should be here every Sunday.  It is the lament not of those who are present on the high and holy days but of their absence from the rhythmic life of the Lord's people in the Lord's House around the Lord's Word and the Lord's Table on the Lord's Day.  They are the occasional visitors whose names may be recorded on membership rolls somewhere and who may fulfill the duty of at least a couple of communions and attendances per year but they are not really members.  They are occasional, even regularly occasional guests.

I am sure that many know the feeling.  Almost every pastor or priest has looked out into a congregation that is barely recognizable to him and yet not quite visitors or guests.  Among them are many familiar faces of those who regularly attend irregularly.  What an oddity!  It is the curse of membership statistics and rules that set minimums for belonging but it is the letter and not the spirit of those intentions.  Yet, as sad as this is for those on the altar and pulpit side of the rail, it is even more sad and lamentable for those on the pew side.  They are strangers.  Like the guests at their first formal dining experience, they watch to see what others are doing because they do not know what to do.  They read the bulletin looking for cues to what is familiar and almost instinctive to others.  It is not simply that the Church greets them as strangers but they find strange and odd the ways of God's House.  This is not because the liturgy or pastors have changed over the years (good grief, the liturgies in LSB, like most hymnals, have been pretty much the same for more than two generations!).  It is because they have so seldom participated in them that they are like ill-fitting clothing rather than the comfortable and well worn garments of salvation.

If this is true of the liturgy, how much more true is it of God's Word?  It is not that people do not recognize a few of the familiar passages from Scripture -- even pagans and heathen do in this day and age.  It is that they do not recognize these words as being the living voice of the Good Shepherd addressing them as His beloved sheep.  Again, they are as strangers with the voice and the words that should be as familiar as their own.  While it is a loss lamentable to Him who speaks, it is a loss even more lamentable among those who hear but do not recognize who or what they are hearing.  That is the the state of things for many who count themselves among the flock of God but are not regularly gathered within the sheepfold.

If today is anything, it is a time of sifting.  The time is coming when those bloated membership rolls will no longer define the Church but the regulars who gather around the Word and Table of the Lord will manifest the identity of Christ's Church at this time and in this place.  The time is coming when it will no longer be desired for the familiar strangers to gather at all -- not even on the high and holy days.  It is this kind of thing that many are speaking of for the future of the Church and I am but an echo of their warning.  In a way, it may be a relief to some.  No longer will we have to presume a connection that is, for all intents and purposes, not there.  But for me it will also be a time of great loss.  As long as the familiar strangers show up occasionally, there is the chance for the Word and Spirit of God to address them and work in them to bring them nearer God's presence in the means of grace.  I have witnessed just this renewal many times.  But as the familiar strangers are pressed by culture to distrust or find less interest in the Church and a cost is attached to even their occasional belonging, many will have to make a choice.  For those without the habit of meeting together (Hebrews 10), the choice they make will be to forego even the occasional presence for the feasts and festivals a couple of times a year.  And when that happens, we will remember that the Church has always been and will always be a Church Militant, an outpost of God in an alien and foreign place, in but not of the world.  When the sifting is complete, the Church may be substantially smaller but more determined to be the Church then ever before.  Such is the hope of one who believes that all things work together for the good of those called.  The wheat from the chaff may not be one cataclysmic event but a gradual process that will not be seen until the Lord announces it is done.


Sunday, May 22, 2022

The problem of patience. . .

God comes by His patience naturally.  He does not cultivate it as virtue or character trait but it proceeds from His nature.  God is patient.  We say this all the time even though we may use different words.  There are different words that get translated as “patience” in the Bible. In Nahum 1:3, the prophet says God is “slow to anger”—greatly patient—yet the acknowledgement of His patience does not leave us without the promise that He “will not leave the guilty unpunished.”  Wickedness will not go unpunished by God but it happens in His own timing and not ours.  One of the most beloved statements in Scripture is that God is  “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” This means that His restraint is tied to His saving will and purpose and not simply a mark of His personality.  The word used to describe Christ’s patience in 2 Thessalonians 3:5 is “steadfastness,” or “perseverance;” or even “patient endurance.” Check your translation.  In any case, it is again tied to His saving will and purpose.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  I Peter 3:9-10  Again, the patience of the Lord is tied to His saving will, a mark of His mercy, and the goal of it is our repentance.

God is patient until He is not.  The people in Babel, in the days of Noah, in the forty years of the journey to the promised land, and in the exiles, among others, found out that God's patience is not without limit.  It comes to an end -- unpredictably so.  He does not give us a three minute warning or send a shot across the bow -- unless you consider the voice of the prophet calling the people to repentance such a warning.  In any case, Scripture is also replete with examples of how God came to an end with His patience and His wrath was visited upon those who have presumed God's patience to be indifference.  God's longsuffering nature is a blessing and a problem.  It often becomes a stumbling block for the hard-hearted who choose to abuse that patience and ignore the warning and the call to repentance until they find their end at the hands of God's destruction.  Solomon perhaps warns us of this, ‘A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy.’” 

I wonder if it is about time for us to rethink the patience of the Church with those who refuse correction, who ignore the reproof of God's own Word, and who persist in their own understanding even when it conflicts with His clear revelation.  The Roman Catholic bishops have long had patience with Roman Catholic politicians who openly and defiantly refuse the teaching of their own church with regard to sexual desire, gender identity, abortion and the sacredness of life, and a host of other things.  The politicians wait for friendly bishops or popes or those who love worldly power and prestige more than they love the truth of God's Word and what has it bought Rome?  Little good.  Instead the non-famous in the pews have presumed the silence of Rome and its patience to be license to push the limits even further and ignore the teaching of Rome without recrimination.  So we end up with Roman Catholics who cohabit, practice birth control, abort, approve of the GLBTQ+ agenda, support the violation of secular law for political purpose (like immigration), and now do not even believe that the Christ is present in the Eucharist.  How has that worked for Rome?

Before Lutherans smile smugly, we have had our own patience problems.  We have presumed that if you can agree on some generic thing about Jesus nothing else matters -- it does not matter how much of Scripture you reject, who you welcome at the altar rail, who is ordained, how you worship, if you worship, etc...  Look at the ELCA.  They have gone from being against but politically neutral on the issue of abortion to now insisting it is the right of the mother, indeed a civil right, that must be protected at all costs.  They went from typical Lutheran Eucharistic practice to an open table that offers merely a symbolic Christ to those who only believe that far.  They went from a liturgy that must be preserved because of what it says to words that sound nice but do not intersect with actual faith (Virgin Birth).  They went from allowing theologians to say that the historicity of many things in the Bible did not matter to an insistence that even when the Bible speaks clearly it does not mean what it says.  Missouri is not quite there yet but we are headed on the same strategic trajectory -- if only because ecclesiastical supervision has become rare and when applied, selectively used.  Think here of the furor created when a person who openly taught and fought for such things against Scripture and Missouri's confession as the ordination of women and the historicity of Adam and Eve was challenged and finally removed.  Think here of the way we struggle to find the line between what can and cannot be taught and practiced on our Lutheran universities.  

Those cohabiting have seen the patience of the Church as proof that marriage does not matter.  Those using the patience of the Church to have sex without marriage and marriage without love have been confirmed in this error.  Those who allow questions about Scripture to overpower what Scripture clearly says have learned that God is a toothless lion and His Word powerless to do anything unless and until we give it power.  So maybe the time of patience has come. . . and gone.  At least it is time to consider if our patience and our silence have worked against the cause of repentance instead of for it.  Again, I do not presume to have all the answers but it is worth our time to have a serious conversation about what we are saying, how we are saying it, and what people are hearing -- inside and outside the Church.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

When we forget history. . .

On the radio I heard that there is a movement to establish a national COVID memorial day to remember those who died, those who are living with the lasting effects of the virus, and the pain we bore for this terrible event.  Without in any way minimizing the suffering of people, nations, and our culture due to this pandemic, it is clear that we have forgotten our own history.  When we forget our history, we forget those who suffered far greater than we did for the last few years and, even more so, what it means to suffer at all.  Unlike other pandemics and economic disasters, we survived with prepared food delivered to our doors, with the constant service of USPS, UPS, Prime, and FedEx bringing everything else we wanted to our front porches, with the internet and cable to entertain us, and with online medicine still treating our aches and pains.  Yes, we did endure uncertainty, some shortages of goods and services, and even rationed hospitalizations due to COVID.  But this was not the kind of event where you will tell your grandchildren and great-grandchildren where you were with the world came to an end.  Unless you have forgotten what it means for the world to really come to an end. 

What we lost was, in part, willingly surrendered.  We traded so much in pursuit of personal safety but we traded it willingly.  No one stole our liberty from us or locked us in our homes or shuttered our churches without our consent.  We gladly gave it all up because we thought we were preserving a way of life and even life itself.  Most folks considered it an even trade -- money, freedom, masks, vaccines that cannot quite prevent what they were supposed to stop, in favor of a life insulated from the unknown and risk.  Is that what we will be memorializing?  If we are willing to admit and confess what we did and what we did not do, what we allowed to divide and isolate us, and what we thought was true that turned out to be not quite truth, then maybe we need a memorial day for COVID.  But if we are looking for another memorial day to grill some food and pursue our leisure while lamenting how bad it was and how hard it was on us, I vote no.

Ask my mom and dad and their parents about growing up and living through the depression, trading coupons for scarcities, and working like dogs only to see the crops dry up and the soil blow away.  Ask them about the Spanish Flu and the 50-75 million who died throughout the world.  Ask those who went before them about the Black Death in 1349 that killed about half of all Londoners and between 30% and 60% of all Europeans. Ask about the war dead from the Thirty Years' War or the Napoleonic wars or the Great War or the War to end all wars.  Ask about the millions killed in Chinese conflicts or the many African conflicts.  It is not only the death toll that ought to teach us something but the devastation that followed these great conflicts.  But perhaps we don't want to ask and would rather live with the illusion that our suffering was the worst that humanity ever knew.  It makes for a good story -- even if it is not true.  We live with the lies also because we do not know any better.  With lives so centered on the moment and ourselves, it might be worse than a pandemic to give up our sacred delusions.  

Without minimizing in any way the cost in lives, suffering, and the economy, we survived with less inconvenience than those who went before us and with more resources and choices available to us than those who went before enjoyed in good times.  Every now and then it might do us some good to wake up and smell the roses.  We have grown so accustomed to describing the bad things that happen to us as horrible, the worst ever, and more than we can bear that we have began to believe our own words.  It does not help us in the long run to dote on our feelings and live within our misery.  A healthy sense of history and the sufferings of others and some perspective may be better medicine than anything else.

Friday, May 20, 2022

The Forty-Four. . .

Forty-four years ago today I stood in the chancel waiting for a beautiful woman to walk down the aisle and begin a new chapter in both our lives.  The processional hymn was "In Thee Is Gladness," the presider was the Rev. Charles Evanson, the vested deacon was the Rev. Gary Frank, and the setting was Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ft. Wayne, IN.  Following the Liturgy of the Word, vows were spoken and rings exchanged.  Then the congregation sang "Now Thank We All Our God."  We received the Sacrament of Holy Communion together as husband and wife for the first time.  And then we recessed to greet the family and guests before heading down to the Fellowship Room for a reception.

I thought I knew everything.  But the reality was that on that day I had no real idea what marriage was, what it meant to be husband to this woman, or for her to be wife to me.  Love was untried and untested, filled with expectation but without any track record.  I was fortunate.  The woman I married was first my friend before she became my love.  I trusted her with everything, I valued her companionship as the best friend a person could have, I promised to loved her as best I knew what love was, and I learned to care for her more than my life.  In the forty-four years of life together love was learned through many tests and trials, many joys and many sorrows, many moves and changes, but what has not changed is my belief that she was and is the best choice and decision I have ever made.  I know a bit more about what marriage is, what it means for me to be husband to her and for her to be wife to me.  I trust more than ever, I delight in being with her every moment, I love her more than life, and I care for her more than I ever knew I could care.  And that is what love is -- burdens shared, sorrows comforted, trials faced together, joys and laughter untold, honest conversation of the hardest things to speak, faith grounded and united in God, so much so that I cannot think of me without her...   

This is not one of the big anniversaries -- the ones that have numbers or special colors on the cards and gifts.  It is one easily overlooked.  But so are the things that make a marriage and make it endure.  They are not the big things that compel you as much as the daily things that become richer because they are shared.  The times are different now.  The home is without children (as it was when we began).  There are a couple of grandchildren to delight us.  There is only one parent left (my mother) so we have become the elder generations on both sides of the family.  As much as I thought I knew everything forty-four years ago, I have learned more than I could have imagined about her, about what it means to love and be loved, about the resilience we did not know we had for the worst of times and about the best of times that can be bested by the better times still to come.

Thanks be to God for her and Happy Anniversary to my one and only beloved!


Thursday, May 19, 2022

Forked tongues. . .

Part of the growth of the educational system in America has been fueled by the desire among some to move the primary means to role model and influence values from the home to the school.  Though it is often framed as a matter of need, it is a need fueled by an unhealthy desire.  While flipping through stations on the radio, I heard an interview with an advocate of the takeover of preschool education lauding how this is a civil rights issue for minorities, an economic issue for those in poverty, and an equality issue for everyone from feminists to rural populations.  I am sure it is from one point of view.  There is no doubt that preschool helps bring disadvantaged and those with fewer educational choices to the table on a more equal basis with those who enjoy the benefits of stable/supportive family, good income, school choice, and suburbia.  But that is neither the sole nor the primary purpose in this endeavor.  For with the money, comes purse strings to tie that money to an agenda that is formed not by the local school board but by hidden experts in Washington, DC, who are the products of and whose thinking reflects the progressive and liberal agenda of the university.

The assaults on local control of curriculum are many.  You recognize them: CRT, GLBTQ+/Rainbow Pride, Intersectionality, Climate Change, Gender Identity, Common Core, and Social Emotional Learning, among them.  Add to that the fruits of the pandemic and its push to make the classroom also a counseling center in which the depression, fears, anxiety, and such are treated by teachers (untrained for this role and task).  All of this has been aided by the influence and funds of global benefactors the likes of the Gates Foundation that distributes the Microsoft largess to peddle a point of view.  Only a fool would suggest there were no bits and pieces of truth in this puzzle but the truth is in service to a worldview and a cause.  What the government gives with one hand, it takes away with another.  That is the cost to this.  It is not free money at all but money redistributed for the sake of a purpose -- social change.  

Those concerned about a short labor market are also on board -- free childcare makes more people available for the jobs that are now going begging.  Business, industry, educational elite, the thinkers and movers of a liberal and progressive worldview, and the desire on both sides of the governmental fence to live in a nanny state have all combined to push for this step in a series of long steps designed to fence in our liberty and surrender some of our freedoms for the sake of what is promised to be a greater good.  Through counselors, educators, physicians, bureaucrats, elected officials, and business we are being spoken to with a forked tongue and being fooled by the illusion of something in the best interests of a better world.  By the time we have tried the koolaid it will be too late to stop the speeding locomotive of this social change.  Let us admit that we have already lost a generation or two to this because it was planting the seeds of a new social order a long time ago.  

The movement to rewrite history and the shift away from the 3 Rs are but two aspects of the program of social engineering that will leave little room for God, for Scripture, and for the Gospel of redemption through the cross.  The serpent's whispers are filling many ears.  Everyone whose voice is raised against this will be labeled an insurgent and the words hate speech.  When you cannot win in an open debate of ideas, you are left only with forced compliance and obedience to promote your cause.  Even when we are not forced by law, we are constrained by mandate and by the flow of easy money.  If this is not what you want for you, your grandchildren, and your church, maybe you ought to pay more attention.  Our leaders who advocate for these are speaking with forked tongues, giving us what they tell us we need while taking from us what many died to preserve.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

An unlikely future. . .

Lately I have been thinking some on the ministry I have been privileged to provide to the saints of the Lord gathered first in New York and now in Tennessee.  Without any slight to the places I have served, both of them had suffered much prior to my coming.  Both had gone through conflict and some division.  Both faced an uncertain future and one more likely to see the struggles continue than resolve.  Though they were in different parts of the country and in very different locales, they had learned not to expect much from their future.  Both were suspicious of that future and worried that the best had been and what was to come was more of the struggles they had known in their recent past.

Surprisingly, both parishes were planted in that great missionary period of Lutheranism at the end of the 1950s.  Both had been surveyed by the missions executives of the District in 1958.   Both were begun as missions of the District.  The one in New York got a freshly minted pastor from the seminary to do the work of mission developer.  The one in Tennessee got an experienced church planting pastor from Wheaton, IL, and Muskegon, MI, to do the same here.  Both had great promise.  Both flourished very quickly.  Both built buildings and had ambitious plans for a second stage to add on to that initial structure.  Both congregations were begun by pastors who were not highly liturgical but who wore cassock, surplice, stole, and clerical collar -- not necessarily the norm for the end of the 1950s in the LCMS.

The next stages brought with them a slowdown in the growth they had experienced and with it some sense of stagnation.  Eventually, a couple of pastors later, they experienced enough conflict that attention turned away from the mission, away from Christ and His gifts, and onto their troubles.  Whenever that happens, it seems all the energy and excitement of a congregation can be sapped by such things and expectations of the future seem to wither away.  It is also not uncommon for membership to stagnate and financial troubles to become the focus.  When these happens, people literally stop hoping for more and simply wish that their troubles might lessen.

I was privileged to come at a down time in their lives.  Both parishes were not expecting a dreamer and a schemer who was sure that our future was not going to be defined by our past.  Within a very short time, both parishes undertook a capital project of some kind and the success of that project taught them to hope for and anticipate more.  In both cases, they went from a typical broad church liturgical character of the Divine Service to one which introduced and championed a more liturgical, ceremonial, and rich shape to their worship lives.  Both went to a weekly Eucharist very quickly.  Both saw a pastor in full Eucharistic vestments for the first time (and many of them heard chanting for the first time).  They saw the sign of the cross, genuflection, and bowing -- sometimes considered strange or unusual for certain Lutherans.  Both saw with real ashes on Ash Wednesdays and real palms on Palm Sunday.  Both experienced the rich liturgical character of Holy Week for the first time -- stripping of the altar, adoration of the Cross, and the Easter Vigil.  Both got new baptismal fonts whose size now reflected the importance of Holy Baptism.  Both got a crucifix, processional cross, processional candles, and a chalice.  Both installed new organs, found a new parish musician, and vastly multiplied the musical groups within the parish.  There was much adjustment -- on both sides.  Both also learned to turn away from the hurts of the past to become more intentionally welcoming toward the stranger.  And both grew in numbers and finances as well as in mission. 

Neither of these places were likely candidates for a hopeful future -- at least by every human estimator of things.  At both of my installations I encountered a pastor who told me he showed up in part to see who was fool enough to accept the call to be the pastor of this place!  There were calls that came with more hopeful prospects but I had a certain stubbornness in me that was convinced that this was where God wanted me and He had a future planned for each place.  My point is this.  When you get to a congregation, it is easy to look backward or to fear that the past was too strong to be ignored when looking for a future.  With man it is always impossible -- but not with God.  I remain convinced that God's Word will not return to Him empty but will accomplish His purpose in sending it.  Both congregations went from being small to medium sized and in the upper contingent of the congregations in the districts where they reside.  I take very little of the credit for this success (except to acknowledge that I was and am a dreamer).  It can happen.  It does happen.  Don't write off the present because of the past and don't let the past deprive you of the future.  God always has more in mind that we do.