Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Pieperization of Missouri. . .

The Missouri Synod has long been more an extended family than simply a denomination or a jurisdiction.  Its feuds and squabbles were often family conflicts as well as being legitimate disputes over doctrine and practice.  A look at ancestry.missouri would reveal an integrated family of sons following fathers and brothers following brothers and sons-in-law anointed with the familial crest of authority and orthodoxy.  That is hardly something to be ashamed or embarrassed about.  It was the way of most immigrant groups from that era and it continued long after those groups diversified -- aided by a system of education that was decidedly in house.  But it does offer us a chance to look a bit into how those dynasties of the royal families of Missouri did actually affect the character of the larger church over time.

Most are want to point to the Preus family -- the brothers who came into Missouri rather late in history but whose coming certainly affected the direction of our history as well as the character of our faith.  There are plenty of Preus family members still around -- actively serving and retired.  But that represents more a family that upset the apple cart of Missouri's ruling clans than it does any real relationship to that earlier history.  And this chapter of Missouri, while involving family, was clearly about doctrine and practice most of all.  It was not a power play, strictly speaking, that gained entrance to this Norwegian set of brothers but an internal struggle at play in Missouri that had begun to expose the fracture points that had long laid hidden, covered over most of the time by the family desire not to deal with them.  So when the Preus brothers came in, the mechanisms of family and relation that had long defined Missouri were being stretched thin by conflicts and disputes that were already threatening to come undone before they showed up.  No, the story does not start with them.

Walther's Missouri was vastly different than the Missouri of today.  It was not a Synod of insiders but of strangers welcomed into a doctrinal family.  At some points in Missouri's early history, the ministerium represented in the Synod convention was dominated by pastors serving non-Missouri congregations!  Something that would never happen today!  In fact, Missouri's history began with strangers learning to come together for the sake of doctrine and practice -- the Frankenmuth contingent with the Loehe men with the Saxons and Perry County folk.  They did not know each other well but they knew what they believed, confessed, and taught and this provided a basis for the formation of a Synod and marked the character of that Synod's early life.  Their conventions were more theological than political or programatic and they somehow found how to kick out somebody and then receive him back a few years down the road.  Can you imagine either of those happening today?

It would be hard to overestimate Walther's influence over this early history of Missouri but it would also be hard to see Walther in the complexity of bylaws and resolutions that have come to define us today.  What would Walther think of the way we approach the Synod or fellowship or the contemporary worship styles of so many congregations?  What would Walther think of such inventions as Associate Pastors or conventions designed more as the confirmation of outcomes already decided and housekeeping affairs instead of deliberative assemblies arguing less rules than doctrine?  What would Walther think of a Synod in which leaders were rather timid about suggesting anything is really wrong (the most we often can must is not best practice) and of congregations and clergy who routinely act as if Synod were of little need, benefit, or consequence to them?  What would he say about the colleges and universities that no longer had a core mission of providing pastors and teachers to the churches or of a Synod once known for schools now known more for closing them down?  I will leave you to contemplate these things.

Although we claim that Missouri is Walther's Synod, I wonder if it might be more true to say that Missouri has become Pieper's church body.  Franz August Otto Pieper was born 27 June 1852, in Carwitz, Pomerania, Germany, to his father, the mayor.  He was one of seven children.  He immigrated to the U.S. in 1870 and 5 years later, graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Ordained by Rev. A. Hoenecke on 11 July 1875 in Centerville, Wisconsin, he served there for only one year before accepting a call to Manitowoc.  On 2 January 1877 he married Minnie Koehn in Sheboygan. He would served the Manitowoc congregation until 1878, when he became a professor at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and, 9 years later, its president.   Three of his brothers like him became pastors: Reinhold was a professor at the Missouri Synod seminary in Springfield, IL; August was a professor at the Wisconsin Synod seminary in Thiensville, WI; and Anton was a pastor in the Wisconsin Synod.

When brother August became a proponent of the so-called “Wauwatosa Theology,” there were strong disagreements between the two Pieper brothers on various issues relating to church and ministry. Despite their private disagreements, Franz never publicly criticized his brother or the Wisconsin Synod. He was not quite so reticent with everyone else -- including his colleagues at the Seminary. One anecdote from about 1930 (a year before he died) tells of Pieper reviewing the lecture notes of the professors at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, and then in a faculty meeting remarking that only he and P.E. Kretzmann were not “deviating from the Word of God.” Theodore Graebner stormed out of the room in protest.

Pieper served on the Missions Board for the Synodical Conference. He was the Synod’s president from 1899 until 1911.  But most know him as the author of Christliche Dogmatik (3 vols., 1917-1924; translated as Christian Dogmatics, 1950-1953).  It would be hard to overestimate the impact of those volumes upon Missouri.  Historian Carl S. Meyer put it well when he wrote, “After the death of C.F.W. Walther, [Pieper] was regarded as the ‘Elisha’ on whom Walther’s mantle had fallen.”  Pieper was not Walther and did not hold as many positions simultaneously as Walther did but his dogmatics text ensured that Missouri's clergy would be defined by him more than any other.  The delayed and rather dismissed volumes that were to replace Pieper's work only show that the power of this text upon Missouri's ministerium -- for good or for ill.

A major movement toward Lutheran unity among the conservative mid-western synods of Missouri, Iowa, Ohio and Buffalo seemed on the verge of success in the late 20s, but it would be Missouri’s insistence on agreement on all doctrines that persuaded Iowa, Ohio and Buffalo to put church fellowship with Missouri on the back burner as they united to form the American Lutheran Church (ALC).  Many would fault Pieper (and sometimes St√∂ckhardt) for being over-zealous against unionism. It was his position that fellowship and unity required agreement in all articles of doctrine and that has been Missouri's position ever since.  He was also the main author of the Missouri Synod's A Brief Statement of 1932, an authoritative presentation of the doctrinal teaching of the LCMS -- a document some say was designed to derail any Missouri conversations with other American Lutherans.  It cannot be forgotten that American Lutheranism would have been in a distinctly different state today if that unity sought a century ago had been brought to fruition.  Maybe the Pieperization of Missouri was inevitable as this church body moved from being the new kind on the block to being an institutionalized structure that needed to be preserved as much as it needed to grow.  The Missouri of today needs to learn a little something from its earlier incarnation and maybe it is time we stopped trying to out Pieper one another and trying to solve every theological issue with a bylaw and a dispute resolution process and adding to the Book of Concord without really adding to it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Grow up. . .

Living in a world so in love with youth, it is hard to advocate for adulthood and yet that is, indeed, what is needed more than anything else.  We find ourselves at a time when boys seem never to put away childish things and seem to be getting away with living in their childhood without much challenge.  Our reality is defined not by things objective and truthful but by feelings and these feelings are fueled by technology that appeals to the fantasy.  Life has become one giant video game, complete with do-overs.  Men do not need to put away childish things and women do not need men, at least the kind of men who are large version of their childish selves.  Women live in their own fantasy world in which they dominate and control their world, eliminating what they find offensive and establishing a political correctness that forces everything to conform to feminist ideals.  Worse, many churches seem content to reshape themselves, their mission, their purpose, and their gospel to fit it all.  Far from being a conscience against the excesses of a childish culture of individualism and subjectivism, these churches have become the voices that echo the feminist ideal of strong women and weak men (the only good men are those who will not challenge this feminist gospel.

What we have are little boys who are given drugs so that they sit quietly like the little girls in the classroom.  Then we rob them of recess when some of their energy might be worn off and tell them to sit quietly a little longer and complain why they cannot be as cooperative as the girls.  These boys learn to defer to girls and give up competition in order to take on supportive roles.  They are no longer all that useful since girls can do whatever they want and boys just get in the way of the girls who know what they want and go after their goals and dreams. Follow the path down the road a few years and you find that boys have forgotten how to compete and left the honors stage at high school graduation to females, dropped out of college, and left the graduate programs more and more to women.  Even reproduction no longer needs a man to participate except as a sperm donor -- which has become a typical term for what we once called a dad.  Watch any major news program and you find that more and more of the anchors and reporters are women.  This is not about balance but about a genuine disdain for masculinity.  The men are there for comic relief and to be supportive of the female leads or they are there to show that there are some men who not toxic and more friendly to women.  We celebrate the first woman to do this or that but have we considered that we have not simply opened the door to the best and most qualified person but set the stage for a future in which men are not invited unless they are emasculated men?  The media know where culture is headed and are in front of the curve instead of being behind it. 

Gender dysphoria and the rapid advance of transgender from the fringes to the center of things is a consequence of how uncomfortable our culture is with masculinity.  Parents seem more and more hesitant to guide their children and instead seem to look for signs of confusion in their children, especially male children. It is as if we have decided that masculinity is a disease to be treated.  Feminists long complained about the way we groomed our women to need men and now find themselves at a time when they might want to give men a second look but have trouble finding men who are not simply large boys.  So now we have men who think that they are women, that their biology is at war with their hearts, and, though we cannot really define what a woman is, we know that being a man is not anything all that good.  Is it no wonder that our children are confused?  Is it no wonder that a psychological disorder is now being proclaimed as the ultimate courage -- to look at your body and say this is not who I am?  At the same time, we have opened up to women all the traditional roles assigned to men -- including mortal combat.  We want our women to be strong and our men to be weak.  And then we say we have a problem with boys.  Boys are not causing the problem but suffering because of it.  Before you rush to judge me, I am not at all suggesting that it is the masculine nature to bully or dominate or that these things should be overlooked for the sake of boys being boys.  What I am saying is that the deck is stacked against our boys and stacked against our boys becoming men and against our men growing up into the role and place God prepared for them.

Monday, August 29, 2022

The Myth of Self Love. . .

I read it all the time.  I hear it all the time.  It sounds more and more reasonable every time I read it and hear it.  You have to love yourself first.  First before you can love another as spouse.  First before you can love God above all.  First before you can love your neighbor.  You have to love yourself first or you will be no good to spouse, family, neighbor, or God.

The sentiment is good.  We have all known folks who seemed intent upon making themselves doormats for all sorts of abusive people who used them up literally!  We have all known people who wasted their lives loving people who could not love them back.  We have all known those who do not seem to have any self-respect and will literally do anything to be loved, to be recognized, and to be accepted.  But I am not at all sure that urging them to love themselves will repair the damage or lead them out of the abyss of their poor choices and empty souls.

The fact is that we love ourselves more today than ever before.  We pamper ourselves with things we cannot afford.  We consider ourselves worth the best -- from the newest and best of the technological toys for sale to the way we think we ought to be treated.  The advertising pushes this self-love on us all the time.  It is nearly impossible not to feel pushed to love ourselves first and before all.  But this is not Christian. . .

If the Law were all there was, love your neighbor as yourself might seem to imply, even require that we love ourselves first and most of all in order to be equipped to love others.  But this call to love others as you love yourself is no promotion of self. Love one another as I have loved you, says Jesus, tying the commandment's use as guide to His own example.  He does not abrogate this Law but fulfills it and defines it that we may be no longer mistaken by its intent.  Our Lord does not practice self-love but sacrificial love for the sake of others.  Love for God and for neighbor comes not from me and how I value or view me.  No, it comes from Him whose love is servant love, suffering love, and even dying love.  He frees us not for ego but from it.

It is one thing to challenge those who surrender morality and integrity in order to find love, acceptance, and fame.  It is quite another to encourage self-love as the preliminary requirement of love, acceptance, and fame.  Our self-esteem does not come from looking in the mirror, from the approval of others, or even from the mountain of accomplishments we have to our credit.  Our self-esteem is rooted and planted in the sacrificial love of God at work in Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection.  Not with silver or gold  but with His holy and precious body and blood given and shed for us -- this is the price our Lord has placed upon us and it is what He expended that we might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom.  This is the value He has applied to our lives and from this value we learn who we are, what we are, and what we are here to accomplish.  Unworthy though we are, God has esteemed us worth nothing less than the priceless body and blood of Christ given and shed for us.

Robert Schuller is surely one of the modern fathers of this self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-love movement but he is not alone.  The fact is that too many popular preachers today have incorporated the tragic dead end of pop psychology into Christian theology as if it is God's will and intent for us to love ourselves first and foremost before and as the means to love Him and love others.  Baloney.  To this false and misleading dream of self-love that gives birth to love for others and for God, the Law must be spoken to kill the lie and silence the liar who speaks it.  What is love?  Not that we loved God but that He first loved us -- the love we know from the cross.  

We are not called by God to preserve ourselves or to save ourselves from sacrificial service but to give ourselves up for Him, for our spouse, for our children, for our neighbors, and even for the stranger on the street corner.  Ours is not a self-love with safe boundaries that make sure we are always taking care of ourselves first.  Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.  It seems to me that the myth of self love hardly ever leads to having any love for others and almost always means that we are too busy caring for ourselves to care about God or anyone else.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

What does it mean to actively participate in worship?

Lutherans often turn up their noses at the Latin Mass presuming a sense of superiority because ours is in the vernacular and has pretty much always been that way (even though Luther loved the Latin and believed it would continue).  We sometimes presume that to participate in worship mans to understand everything that takes place.  I am not sure that this is a tenable position and am confident that what happens in worship is not primarily targeted toward our understanding anyway.  But Rome does not seem to have much patience with the Latin anymore anyway so there goes one of our favorite complaints.

Some Lutherans turn up their noses at ceremonies in the Divine Service believing that only those things that are understood (and, for many, appreciated) are worthy anything.  The rest falls somewhere in the category of vain words and empty gestures -- the stuff that falls under Jesus' complaint against the worship He encountered among those who were known for their zeal.  This is a red herring as well.  We teach our children to do things all the time but know that their understanding may not come for a long time and their zeal for such things may never arrive -- still it does not keep us from teaching these rituals to them.  I am not sure that the value of ceremonies is simply that we get them or appreciate them.  They teach without words.  That is enough.

I grew up in an age in which to actively participate in worship meant giving people equal time and exposure in leading parts of the Divine Service.  Although my congregation never did it, at the time I would have jumped at the chance for a youth Sunday in which the kids did everything on Sunday morning.  Then I was really participating because I was large and in charge.  What we thought as youth eventually became the cause for putting women in leadership roles on Sunday morning as well.  Unless you have your shot at the center stage, you cannot really be participating, can you?  Unless you are doing something, you are not doing anything.  Or, are you?

Some would point to the postures of worship as the areas of participation for the majority of folks at the Divine Service.  All the sitting, standing, kneeling, speaking and singing of the Divine Service is our participation, right?  While these things help us to participate in the Divine Service, they are not the actual participation.  They aid us to participate more than just standing or sitting there the entire time with a blank look on our face does but that is not really what it means to actively participate in worship.  I figure you can guess what I think about comfortable seats with cup holders so that we can watch as spectators what others do in worship.

Active participation is not getting something out of it either.  I can well recall somebody wrestling with a small child during church and then saying offhandedly to someone in the Narthex "I don't know why I came to Church today -- I got nothing at all out of it!"  Okay, I understand what she was saying and her kid was a holy terror that day but getting a little tidbit of information or a help to make your life better or some insight into something you had wondered about or any other such thing is not what active participation in the Divine Service is.  Active participation is not the feeling that it was worth it to be there or it made you think about something or feel closer to God.  These things are nice enough but that is not what it means to actively participate in the Divine Service.

To actively participate in the Divine Service is to believe.  Faith is what makes active participation in the Divine Service happen.  By faith.  

  • By faith we hear not simply the voice of the pastor but the voice of God declare our sins forgiven.  
  • By faith we meet the Lord on the holy ground of His presence but as His bidding and invitation.  
  • By faith we listen to the Word of God read not as a record of the past but the living voice of the God who works through that efficacious Word to do what that Word says in you and among you at that very moment.  
  • By faith we hear the voice of the preacher address us with that life giving Word to engage us with what God has done to save us and what God is doing right now to make us into the holy people He has declared us to be.  
  • By faith we confess the creed not as some personal statement of opinion but as our voice added to the manifold voices of the saints before us, echoing with St. Peter, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!"  
  • By faith we worship God with the songs that proceed from our lips and the tithes and offerings we bring forth with our hands knowing that this is what God has called us to do and the Spirit is empowering us to do -- in response to His gift and grace. 
  • By faith we hear the words of our Lord and trust that because it is His Word and He is still speaking it, that bread is no longer mere bread but His flesh and that cup is no longer mere wine but His blood.   
  • By faith we come to kneel at the altar and receive upon our lips His body and blood hidden in bread and wine -- the meal that bestows not what we think or want but what Christ declares and for the forgiveness of our sins and as the foretaste of the eternal in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in His kingdom without end.  
  • By faith we depart from the Lord's House not with a little tidbit of truth but with the Lord tabernacling within us in our communion in the holy things of His Word and Table.  
  • By faith His blessing attaches to us and to all  that we endeavor to do as His children from this place forward throughout the rest of the week.

This is our active participation -- believing in it all and trusting that God has been in this place and we have dwelt with Him as the recipients of grace undeserved and life beyond imagination. Active participation is not about what you do but what God does for you, to you, and through you and your trust that it is as He has said, He does what He has promised, and the future He has prepared will be yours in His time.

To actively participate in the Divine Service means to believe.  Faith is not incidental to it all but the object of all that God is doing -- to build us up in this faith and preserve us in this faith until He has finished all things and delivered us into His heavenly kingdom forevermore.   

Saturday, August 27, 2022

This is not Christian. . .

The loudest voices always seem to be heard.  If you do not believe me, just turn up the volume as you scroll through social media and you will hear people shouting at you.  It is true nearly everywhere else as well.  Those with the loudest voices must be heard.  Or, maybe not.

The world is filled with loud voices trying to define Christianity.  The world has rejected not so much what the Scriptures say about the faith but what the loudest voices have to say about Christianity.   The problem is that what most of those loud voices say is not an accurate reflection of what the Scriptures teach.  We are facing an epidemic of misinformation about what the Christian faith is and what orthodox Christianity confesses.

What is being sold as Christian is not only not Christianity, it is not even really a religion.  Religion has always included the encounter with the transcendent but what is being sold as Christianity today seldopm even references the transcendent or God for that matter.  Religion has become less about man meeting God and God interacting with man than it has what works to make it through the day getting what you want (or make it through life getting what you want).  What passes as Christian is more political than transcendent, more therapeutic than redemptive, and more about making yourself happy than holy.  In the end, what the world knows of Christianity is a sham, a sad and dangerous betrayal of what Scripture says, creed professes, and confessions declare.

While this is certainly true of the West, it is less true of places like Africa where the once dependent mission fields are rapidly turning their back on the churches that planted them because the churches that planted them no longer believe, teach, and confess the Christian faith.  What is killing Christianity in the west is the detachment of Scripture and truth from the faith.  It is sort of like the impossible burgers that are being sold as burgers but have no meat.  Call them what they are but don't call them a burger.  It is the same with non-alcoholic wine or beer -- it is what it is and it may be fine to drink but it is not wine and it is not beer.  You may like the taste but it will not give you the kick the alcohol does.  Christianity lite may fit the taste buds of the moment but without sin and death, the cross and resurrection, there is no kick to it.

Christianity in the West has become a different faith but presumes the same vocabulary, the same rituals, and the same buildings as its past.  That is the dangerous lie that is killing us.  It is a fake Christianity using false advertising to insist that this is the real faith.  In reality, it has nothing to do with Jesus and nothing to do with sin and nothing to do with death and nothing to do with the resurrection.  It is a religion of feelings, for feelings, with a means of grace that offers feelings.

In this religion there is a hatred that masquerades as love -- the hatred of God's creative order and redemptive work.  Love is not truth or redemption but acceptance and tolerance and even the celebration of the whims of the moment.  All of this comes face to face in the celebration of transgenderism.  If being male or female is merely a feeling or a judgment you make about yourself in a given moment, then the most basic shape of everything in the world is disrupted.  When a candidate for the Supreme Court says she cannot say what a woman is or is not, she is admitting that nothing is true or real except that which we feel.  So the God of Christianity has been kidnapped, undergone plastic surgery, and come out as a God who has no concern for truth except the truth the individual defines, no concern for holiness except being true to yourself at the moment, and no concern for life except you being happy.  How does this square with the Scriptures or what the Church has confessed and taught through the ages?  It does not.

We live in an age in which not only the people outside the Church do not have an accurate picture of what Christianity is, the people in the pews are being fed a lie about the faith and they no longer know the true God or the order of all created things or the redemptive love of the God who saves.  How is it that some churches are more concerned with getting someone's pronouns correct than calling sin a sin, acknowledging its consequence of death, and speaking forgiveness to the sinner and the resurrection to the dead?  Christ has become a caricature more than God in flesh and the Gospel a positive principle that affirms.  We are not simply dealing with a Christianity in error but Christianity which is not Christian anymore.  This is the destiny to which Christianity is headed.

Rome has its Francis and synodal way and bishops looking for a kindler, gentler Christianity.  Lutheranism has whole synods that have long ago left behind the truth of the creed for a more compelling idea of a better world through social justice instead of the cross.  Evangelicalism is surely headed down that same path with a soundtrack of contemporary Christian music that has nice words and a good beat.  Conservative Protestantism is but a bus stop away from disappearing as they distance themselves from their own denominational identities.  Missouri is in for the fight of its life and many are not sure we have it us to win this battle not for the Bible but for the faith itself.  

I have not given up on God.  I am coming to the conclusion that the larger church structures may indeed be what the Psalmist had in mind when he warned us against putting our trust in earthly rulers or kingdoms.  Like the dark moments before the Reformation, the Word is still working and the Spirit working through the Word.  The numbers may decline -- if God wills it -- but the Church will not disappear and we will find ourselves more like the pioneers forging a path through the wilderness than churches casting a large shadow over the world.  But that is okay.  God never promised that we would be more than a minority or more than a small minority.  Like Elijah we are tempted to despair but God has seven thousand who have not bowed their knees and an Elisha waiting to take our place.  But it will mean that we cannot count on things looking the way they look today and it will be harder and harder to remain faithful to God and to His Word as the world and this fake Christianity grows increasingly intolerant of orthodoxy.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Children are a blessing from the Lord...

Do we believe what the Scriptures say about children?

  • Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
    (Psalm 127:3-5).
  • All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children. (Isaiah 54:13).
  • Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations. (Jeremiah 1:5). At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-3).  
  • I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth (3 John 1:4). 
  • But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16).
  • “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:37)
  • When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world (John 16:21).

Children are a heritage from the Lord, the more the better!  Peace is His gift to the children He knit together in the womb of the mother.  Children are greatest and great the children who walk in the way of the Lord.  Children belong to the Kingdom and our service to them is to God.  The cry of childbirth is joy.  I could go on but I will stop here.  Perhaps I have forgotten to include the best and your own favorite verses on children.  These words are not just nice words.  God means them.  I am not at all sure we do anymore.

We live in a world in which being pregnant is considered a burden and a problem -- something that needs to be fixed by getting rid of the child in the womb.  In our age, having a child is about the last thing you want to result from sex.  At this time, people are working feverishly to try and figure out how to save women from children and men from having to support the women with child.  A significant number of our population is living in pain because some of the freedom to dispose of the life once conceived might be restricted here and there.  The left accuses the right of only caring about babies and the right insists that we do not only care about babies while I wonder why it is so wrong to care about babies in the first place?

The lie has become the only truth to be tolerated -- and that lie is that sex was never about love, love was never about marriage, and marriage was never about children.  It was only about the pleasure and desire of the person and not about the intended fruits of it all.  No one should be expected to restrict sex to love or presume love leads to marriage and the fruit of marital love is a child.  That would be a burden too great to bear.  So the job of the world is to make sure people can do what they want, when they want to do it, without ever having to deal with the ordinary consequences of it.  Is it any different to want a cheeseburger that offers no calories or cholesterol or sodium from wanting sex without commitment or consequences.  There was a time in which the appeal of sex was the child but now that same baby has become the poster child for inconvenience, a drag on somebody's style, and a mistake to be corrected.

Abortion drove the nail in the coffin but the box was already full of the stench of death when it became possible to do what makes babies without ever having a second thought about babies being made.  Lest we blame it all on those godless heathen who live detached form the borders of our parish, Christians have been learning to mouth the mystery of the ages in secular terms for so long now that few of us see what is wrong with lightening up on all the pro-life talk to focus on more urgent needs of the Kingdom.  Ouch!!!

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Thursday, August 25, 2022

I am nobody's idea of a pastor. . .

I must confess that I am always disappointing people.  I am hardly ever the pastor they want and nearly always the pastor that disappoints them.  God is far easier to please than most folks.  That is because at least I can count on God's forgiveness.  I am not sure that people either want to or will forgive as He has forgiven them -- at least when it comes to pastors.  So my calling is not simply to fulfill the Biblical criteria or satisfy the Good Shepherd under whom I serve -- it is also to satisfy any and every expectation.

When the world looks at me, it sees a peculiar fellow dressed equally peculiarly (at least for those who wear a clerical).  I am an anachronism -- I believe things science must have disproved by now and do not believe things everyone else around me does.  I hold a morality hopelessly out of step with the modern world and I expect the supernatural of word and mercy over the practical of getting what I want.  I am the man in black (sorry Johnny Cash) who preaches a Gospel that has not changed in two thousand years and who still expects the people to be accountable to their higher power.  People in the world are sometimes threatened by me, sometimes attracted to me, and always disappointed in some way or another.  On top of that, society is sure I am a pedophile waiting for the opportunity to abuse the innocent.  

To the liberal Christian, I cannot possibly be so naive as to believe the what the Bible says and must be a thoughtful, erudite, skeptic in order to be authentic.  I am kind of a Santa dressed in black who fulfills everyone's imagination, dreams, and identities -- in the nicest way possible, to be sure.I must never say an unkind word. I am a boy scout in pursuit of that which is tolerant, indulgent, generous, and kind (which really means I defer everything to everyone else). 

On the other hand, however, the conservative sees me as must be a paragon of virtue, right doctrine (as they define it), and total moral purity in word and deed. I must never have a lustful or dirty though (unless it is a really funny joke)  I must be constantly in prayer and also be a spiritual warrior–always on the lookout for the devil and always ready to fight the good with every denier, blasphemer, and lover of evil.  If I screw up, I exasperate God and must live with the constant fear of disappointing Him and them.

The call of God is not to please either but to faithfully proclaim His Word, speaking the truth in love but neither shying away from calling evil what it is.  When, at the end of the day, I am left with the long list of my failures to do what is right and to do what is wrong, God is there with the cleansing power of Christ's blood to wash me clean and the righteousness of Christ to clothe me again.  The problem is that we no longer think this is enough and have come to think of pastors as therapists, social workers, life coaches, program directors, entrepreneurs, motivational speakers, and a whole lot of other things not in the Biblical job description.  Whether liberal or conservative, we are likely to blame the pastor for the failings of the church to grow or change the world or convert more people than we are to trust that the Word of the Lord will accomplish God's purpose in sending it forth through that pastor.  Maybe it is the destiny of pastors to disappoint the world in their calling to do God's bidding.  And maybe that means also disappointing the Church and those in her from time to time.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Blown in the wind...

The prophet must have been looking forward to the present when he warned: “He who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind.”  Hosea could not have foreseen the future but God surely did and He has warned us of vanities that are empty and wind that sows only destruction.  But we did not believe Him.

As I find myself nearer the end than the beginning or even the middle of my stewardship of this holy office, the amount of wind that regularly blows is more than I ever could have imagined.  The whirlwinds created by such blowhards and their blows is more than I could have ever envisioned.  And with it the errors that pass as correct, the wrongs that parade as right, and the evil that is regularly called good all combine to create a real uncertainty about the future.

While I have every confidence that God is God and we are not (and this is a good thing), I also have every confidence that we have not yet seen the worst that man can invent or distort or abuse.  Every gift we seem adept to turn into a burden, every blessing into a curse, and every grace into a new law.  We cannot decide what it is that makes a man a man or a woman a woman and so our children live in the ebb and flows of our confusion, left to sort for themselves answers to these questions.  We love the vague and fuzzy speak of the woke world in which words mean what we mean at the moment and change meaning at our whims.  We have decided that reason is a hindrance and have cast off all semblance of sense and we have rejected tradition and the counsel of our sainted elders as worthless drivel.  

Is this new?  I think not.  The Christian has warned for a long time that history is not reaching an apex of accomplishment, achievement, erudition, and education but marks the decline of our nobility and our utility.  Those who had hoped that the Church would give birth to a better world, a kinder society, and a tight rein upon our unbridled passions had hoped in vain.  Yet our Lord and His disciples warned us two millenia ago of this.  We were warned not to trust in earthly rulers and kingdoms and to keep our distance from their false wisdom.  We were urged not to feel too comfortable with a culture clearly at war with Christ and given an urgent appeal to stand up and stand out no matter what place we called home.  But somehow we missed the memo.

Yet the answer is neither despair nor defeat.  God has promised that His Word shall endure to the end and with it those who love and live by that Word.  We are not some delusional culture warrior who thinks that we will win and save the world from its divinely appointed end nor are we some naive soul who believes that more time will fix the ills around us and in us.  We have seen the enemy and he is us. But before you let that sink in too far, we have also seen the victor whose crown will not be diminished or dimmed by the likes of this world and its stain of sin.  We have also seen the Savior and he is not us.  He is the Son of God living in the womb of the Virgin and living out the righteous life we could not -- until He offers that life up for us all on the cross.  Yes, things are bad but we have a mighty Savior who is bigger than our sin and more powerful than the threat of death.

Man is blowin' in the wind but Christ is not.  He is planted into the ground as a seed to bring forth our new and everlasting life and our lives as a new people created in Christ Jesus for the good works that glorify Him.  The woke will win their battles and the transgender armies will prevail here and there.  At the ballot box and sometimes in the public square our voice will not count or will be silenced by those who fear the clash of a stronger idea.  But God holds this mess in His hands.  He cherishes our broken and failed lives enough to die that we might live.  He is hidden in a world where everyone shouts out their own cause but He will create the silence in which no one dare speak and then our voices will proclaim Him.  This is our faith.  This is our God.  What will win?  Not some foolish optimism that things may and shall improve nor some doomsday surrender to the forces that seem too powerful to ignore.  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Christ our Lord.

Faith is hard.  But the alternative is harder.  Like blessed St. Peter of old, we do not know where to go.  Christ alone has the bread of life.  Like the hungry in a bread line, we come to receive the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation and to pray, that through these means of grace, we shall not be lost to sin or fear but remain steadfast and firmly planted on Christ alone.  In our weakened states, the Spirit speaks through our groans and sighs and connects us to life that is the Light of the World. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Confused. . .

Scripture is filled with posture words.  Sit, stand, kneel, bow, and the like...  It is curious, however, how many of these words find us in only one posture.  We tend to sit.  Sit while we listen to the Word call us to stand or kneel or bow.  Sit for prayer and singing as well as for listening.  When I raise this point, somebody is always ready to say to me that the posture words are just words -- symbolic language -- and that Jesus wants us to be comfortable.  Most of us are most comfortable sitting.  If you have a church with kneelers, you find many who think kneeling uncomfortable (either physically or just because they do not like the idea of it).  If they see a pastor bow or genuflect (God forbid!) they find it objectionable -- usually the word is too catholic.  I am confused by this because most of these people insist that they are people of the Word.  They pay attention to that Word, study it, and hear it gladly.  

So when the pastor crosses himself or bows his head at the name of Jesus or genuflects at the incarnation in the creed, among other postures and gestures, people may not like it.  But they cannot say it is not Biblical.  No, in this the pastor is being very Biblical -- seeing these words are not symbolic but literal calls to do what the words say.  When Elijah complains that he is all alone and God says that there are 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal, is this merely symbolic language or does it literally mean that they bowed down to worship a god who is not the Lord?  When St. Paul says to show concern for the weaker brother when eating food sacrificed to idols, is St. Paul speaking of a symbolic eating or does he mean to chow down on the pulled pork of the pagan temple fundraiser?   When St. Paul talks about every knee going down and every head bowing at the name of Jesus, is St. Paul speaking only symbolically or does he literally men bowing the head?  When David showed forth his repentance, did he wear symbolic and imaginary sackcloth and ashes or did he wear literal sackcloth and ashes as the sign of his repentance?  I could keep on going but I will stop here.

Lutherans of the Missouri stripe ought to be careful or we will give out a confused message.  We say words matter, Scripture is God's Word, and that its literal meaning is not to be denied or rejected in face of some spiritualized interpretation of the text.  We are proud of this.  Well then, why are we so hesitant to bow the head at the name of Jesus or kneel in confession and prayer or genuflect at the incarnation in the creed, etc....?  What are we afraid of?  Do we think it presents a clearer witness to hear the call of Scripture to do these things and for us to remain seated instead?  I am confused about how much we are to see as literal and how much is symbolic and imagined when it comes to the postures of worship.  Instead of parsing out the words, would it not simply be easier to do what the words say?  If some of us are doing these things as outward piety without an inward faith to guide them, will we learn the posture of the heart should also be the posture of the body better by sitting for everything?

How are we in danger when we hear the words of Scripture and practice them?  Are we not more in danger when we presume God does not really mean what that Word says and it is not only better for us to be comfortable than it is for us to heed that Word?  You know who gets most confused by our failure to do what the words say?  Our kids.  They get it right.  Once when an acolyte watched as the pastor genuflected in the creed and at the elevation in the Words of Institution, he said, "If the pastor is doing it, shouldn't we be doing it too?"  He has got a point.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Christ the way. . .

The Sermon for Pentecost 11, Proper 16C, preached on Sunday, August 21, 2022.

The way is not some small metaphor in Scripture.  It is a profound thing.  Jesus says that He is the way, the truth, and the life.  That is familiar verse and we know it well but what it means is not quite so well known.  We keep thinking that Jesus is like a GPS – He gives directions.  We treat His Word as if it were the voice of our GPS telling us where to turn in life and what the speed limit is on our morality and when we shall arrive at our destination.  But Jesus never promises to show us the way.  He never ever speaks of Himself as One who reveals anything but Himself and the Father.  Jesus comes that we might know God.  Let that sink in.

The promise of Advent is that a messenger and prophet has come to prepare the way of the Lord.  This does not mean someone who has come to tidy up the lives of messy people or sweep up the dirt of the world.  No, this is not about cleaning up the city and its people so that they will impress the great one when He comes.  It is about preparing the Lord’s way – calling a people to repentance, to abandon their trust in themselves and the things of the world, and to look to Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophet’s promise.  It is the Lord’s way that all of the past and its prophets looks and we were taught to look for Him to come.     

Jesus insists that HE is that way.  The prophets prepared us not for a better life or more things in life but for one life and one thing.  They pointed to Christ and His cross.    The prophets did not promise one who would dish out advice but the One who would deliver sinners into the hands of a merciful Father.  Jesus IS the way.  He does not point to the way.  He does not give out travel advice or suggest routes to destination.  Jesus is both the destination and the path of the journey to that end.  We have got to stop thinking of Jesus as the giver of advice or the great counselor or therapist or life coach.  Jesus has only one concern for you – that you know Him as He has revealed Himself for now and for everlasting life.  That seems terrible exclusive and rude in our culture of many ways, many paths, and many destinations.  It seems odd for those who think of the journey as its own destination or reward.  Jesus has nothing to do with such things.

Jesus is the way.  No one comes to the Father except through Him – well, everyone goes to the Father but those who do not come through Jesus enter into judgement while those who come in Christ are immediately recognized by the Father as His own, covered with the righteousness of Christ and bearing His name.  
The most profound sense of that term the way in Scripture is Jesus.  He is the way, the truth, and the life.  He and He alone.  He is our path and He is our destination.   

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus insists that He is no broad boulevard to be followed but a narrow way.  That is offensive to us.  We live in culture in which every truth is captive to the individual and few things are true of everyone and most things are true only of the beholder.  Jesus will not have any of our grand experiment of individual truth and reality.  There is only one way and Jesus alone is that way.  He is the way and He is the destination.  Scripture does not merely show us Jesus – Jesus is that Word speaking – Jesus, the Word made flesh for us and our salvation.

There is another mention of the way in Scripture.  It is from Acts 24.  There it is recorded that Christians were first called the people of the Way.  This name given to Christians identified the people of God as those who lived in Christ, through Christ, and by Christ.  Because of this, they lived for Christ and not for themselves.  The world had not known such a people so dedicated to another.  What stood out to the many was the devotion of the few to the one Lord Jesus Christ.  It is for this reason that the first name of Christians was people of the Way.

It is often said that people come to church for a variety of reasons.  Some come because they grew up going to church – as if church were merely a tradition or a habit.  Some come because they are lonely and the church accepts just about anybody.  Some come because they feel guilt and shame and want to bury those feelings once for all time.  Some come because they think church helps them round out their lives or achieve their goals.  Some come because they think the church is a community of good people and they are arrogant enough to judge themselves good enough.  All of them are wrong.  People come because Christ is here, the Spirit calls them, and forgiveness cleanses them.  Luther says that in the catechism.

Sometimes we do not realize why we are here.  The Spirit has not emptied our hearts and minds of all our delusions and we are tempted by the flesh.  But the Spirit is working to fill us right here, and right now.  God is working through His Word to vacate the demons from their dwelling places within us and set us free.  God is even now working in us that which is well pleasing to Him – a people of repentance who love the Christ who forgives them and a people of righteousness who strive to walk in Christ the way.

Sadly, we too easily forget that Christ does not simply meet us where we are.  We forget that He brings us to Him, to the new birth of water and the Word, to the new life death cannot touch, and to the new love that lives to serve.  The way has become merely a metaphor when it is really absolute truth.  Christ is the way of truth and the way of truth is Christ.  We acclaim Him Lord not because we need to claim us or He needs our agreement to be Lord.  The Spirit reveals Him to be Lord because He alone is holy, righteous, and having salvation and teaches us faith.  

To walk in Christ means to follow His Way and His Word.  That means we do not live by our feelings or by our desires or even by our wants.  We live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.  How foolish it is that we think morality is the domain of the person.  How do I get to judge who is a person and who is not, whose life matters and whose does not, what sexual preference fits my mood, what gender identity feels right at the moment, to have sex without marriage and marriage without children?  Is Christ merely God’s stamp of approval upon my chosen path or is Christ the path that compels me to lay down all desires, wants, feelings, needs, and hungers?

People say it all the time and actually mean it.  God would not want me to be poor so I can steal; He would not want me to be unhappy so I can do what I want; He would not want me to be alone, so I can indulge my desires; He would not want me to be without so I am justified in keeping my money for myself.  What a lie and yet we have told it to ourselves so often that we believe it.

No, my friends, Christ is the way the prophets looked to prepare, Christ is the Way the Truth and the Life, and we are people of the way in Christ.  Our words are about Him and our works make known His love and mercy to those still in darkness and death.  The way is narrow – Christ has forged its path and now we follow where He has led the way, He is the first of many to follow, and so we live not for ourselves but for Him who loved us even to death on a cross.

In the holy Name of Jesus.  Amen

Why study the Bible. . .

Bible studies can be good and salutary and sometimes they are a disaster.  It all depends on why people are studying the Bible and how that Bible is being studied.  We all know that even if we do not admit it.

There are some who study the Bible the way they would pursue a hobby or special interest.  They want to find out everything they can about it.  They are curious and interested but in so many ways the Scripture they studies does not impact greatly their faith or their lives in Christ.  It is information for informational purpose.  We learn many things like this today.  It is information that lies largely passive within our minds.  This information does not impact who we are, what we believe, or how we live.  It is just information.  This is not Bible study.  The devil probably knows the Bible better than the average Christian and perhaps even more than the exceptional one.  But that knowledge does not serve any useful purpose except to twist and distort in order to trap the weak in faith and cause the strong to stumble.  There is no gain in studying the Bible in order simply to learn about it.  We study Scripture to listen to the voice of God, confident that in that voice the Spirit is at work, for the purpose of strengthening our faith in this mortal life and keeping us holy and blameless to eternal life.

There are some who study the Bible the way we might approach a mystery or a puzzle.  They are sure that there are hidden meanings in Scripture that are at least more interesting and maybe even more profitable than hearing what the Word says.  They approach everything in Scripture as if it were not what it says.  They delight in unlocking the mystery but they are not ready to say Christ is the key to the Scriptures or its central story and focus.  In the extreme this is Gnosticism but it is also an ordinary way so many look at Bible study.  Again, the problem here is that the story of Scripture is not many stories loosely connected but the story of Christ from beginning to end.  The Bible does not have a hidden agenda other than making Christ known so that Christ may be known.  If you cannot begin there, maybe the end result of your study will not bear the fruit God has appointed either.

There are some who study the Scripture as if doctrine were something bad and diversity was a higher purpose.  They love to find in Scripture questions without answers -- except for the suggestions of individuals who see in those Scriptures what they want.  The familiar question in this kind of Bible study is what does that mean to you?  But of course, if might mean something very different to me.  Who is right and who is wrong?  If there is nothing but opinion, there is nothing left in Scripture.  The Word of the Lord is filled with Thus saith the Lord and none of this is meant as a starting point for speculation but all of it is meant as authoritative for doctrine, reproof, correction, learning, and growth in faith.  If leaving the Bible study means taking your doubts home too, perhaps that study is not beneficial.

There are those who study the Scriptures as if they were any other book -- except that they just might grant to any other book and any other author more credibility than they give to the Bible.  The skeptics love to pit passage against passage, author against author, and word against word.  They seem to take strange delight in trying to undo any historical or factual assertions in God's Word.  It is all symbolic and not much of it is truth.  Like Jefferson of old, they would love to condense Scripture into a more manageable book with saying that usually end up moralizing more than saving.  If your goal is to find loose ends that threaten the unity and message of Scripture as many books all speaking of the same Christ, then just maybe you are getting it wrong int he first place.

We study Scripture to grow our faith and equip us to live holy, upright, and godly lives in Christ,  We recognize the Word of God as the very voice of God.  We do not give it meaning but it shapes us with the power of its truth and the Holy Spirit.  We acknowledge that this Word is living and active -- not a tame and weak Word but wild and powerful --- doing not our bidding but God's bidding for us.  We study the Scripture to find out what God has said and done and these form the doctrines that order our days as well as our eternity.  We study Scripture not to find a way out of the words that conflict with the will, desire, and purpose of the sinful self but to control that sinful self better and giving the devil less leeway in our daily lives. We study the Scripture because it is efficacious -- it accomplishes for us what it says to us.  This is no small matter.  When we realize this, we also begin to realize how we are not the judges of the Word but are convicted by it, that our reason is not some sacred power over God's Word but itself transformed by that Word for God's eternal purpose, and that our awareness and esteem of God's mercy grows every moment we listen to His voice.

Bible study is good and salutary but it can also be dangerous.  The danger happens when we treat it like any other book, its message as if it were only information, and presume to place ourselves above that Word with opinion, doubt, and feeling.  Honestly, some of our Bible studies are not helping us or helping the work of our Lord and the problem is not God but you and me.  If we get this right, we will be blessed everytime we open God's Word but if we get it wrong we will be led astray.

There is one more thing to be said about Scripture.  The Word of the Lord is not directed primarily to individuals but to the Church; it is not a private Word directed to a person but a liturgical Word that is heard first in the assembly of God's people around that Word and His Table.  The study of God's Word flows out of its primary context as the liturgical assembly hears His call, is gathered by the Spirit, and listens to the Lord addressing His people.  The voice may be the pastor's but the Word is always the Lord's.  God's Word is studied first as it is preached into our ears within the Eucharistic assembly and from there it lives in us and is reflected upon and meditated upon long after the last echos of that liturgical assembly have gone silent.  Furthermore, it directs us back to the weekly gathering -- the holy rhythm from God to us and us back to God is God's purpose in speaking to us in the first place.  

Studying the Word in a group or alone is no substitute for our weekly gathering around the Word and Table of the Lord.  In fact, except in emergency situation, the liturgical setting is not simply the first in time in the week but the primary context in which God's Word is heard and the people of God respond with faith.  I fear that much of Christendom and some of Lutheranism with it has forgotten what it means to be captive to the voice of God's Word.  I worry that we may be reading the Scriptures but missing the whole point of its study.  I lament that some have decided that a less than weekly Eucharist is salutary enough for them and Bible study is more about what they want to get from Scripture than what God wants to say to us through His Word.  Scripture warns us against those who do not rightly handle the Word of truth and I am not sure we are paying that much attention.  For what it is worth, these comments do not hing to discourage our study of His Word but only encourage it for the serious endeavor that study is.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

It is only politicizing if. . .

It is old news.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi received Holy Communion at a papal Mass at the Vatican at the end of June.  Of course, this is the same Nancy Pelosi whose public support for abortion rights led to her being barred from receiving Communion in her hometown of San Francisco.  According to witnesses, she received the Sacrament at St. Peter’s Basilica, at a mass presided over by Pope Francis for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.  Now, mind you, she did not receive it from the hand of the pontiff but from one of the many assisting priests.  Earlier in the day she med with the Pope and she and her husband received a blessing.  According to the news report, it is not common for Pope Francis to administer Communion, as he has sought to avoid politicizing the sacrament.  The media and Francis are accusing Archbishop Cordileone of politicizing the Sacrament.

Okay, so I understand.  It is only politicizing the Sacrament if and when a bishop or priest (God forbid a pope) actually expects a communicant to believe, confess, and publicly hold to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.  It is NOT politicizing the Sacrament if you flaunt your disagreement publicly, use all the forces at your beck and call to work against the teaching of your own church, and condemn the bishops, priests, and doctrines that hold life as sacred from its natural beginning to its natural end.  That is, of course, how many see it.  Politics happens only when you expect fidelity with the teachings of your own church and not when you publicly and regularly disagree with your church's teachings.

Now, no Lutheran would do that.  Right?  No one would suggest that close(d) communion is political and open communion is faithful and loving?  Right?  No one would dare suggest that those who practiced online communion are being pastoral, loving, and faithful and only those who were against such emergency practices are being rigid and uncaring.  No one would dare suggest that disagreeing with the Biblical pattern of male and female, the estate of the family of a mom and dad and their kids, and the Scriptural teaching on homosexual practice is being politicial.  I did not think so.  Those who open doors are always pastoral and those who expect repentance and submission to the Word of God are hard and unloving and uncaring people who do not represent Jesus.

That is how it is framed.  It does not matter how hard or how long Pelosi has disagreed with, flaunted that disagreement, and worked against the teachings of her church, she was never being political but the stiff necked bishops and priests who would deny such a politician the Sacrament are definitely being political.  It does not matter how many Lutherans abandon Scripture, Confession, and our doctrinal resolutions and statements, they are never the political ones but those who believe such things ought to mean something are being political and politicizing the faith instead of proclaiming it.

My point is this.  How do we ever win an argument with the world and those who live on the worldy fringes of the faith when the only pious path is to disagree with offensive Scriptures, ignore offensive confessions and creeds, and practice against them?

This is not about Pelosi.  This is about the pastor who shows up and tells a congregation that their practice of allowing the communicant to decide if they want to commune and what they are receiving, not worrying about the church to which they belong or if they receive to their harm.  And the people who complain about him and the bad politics of faithfulness.  This is about the pastor who shows up thinking that since we claimed a hymnal as our own and published it with all the official imprimaturs that maybe we ought to at least use what is in it as the minimum of our liturgical practice and the people who say that is not loving and not how Jesus would do it.  This is about the congregations served by less than faithful pastors over the years who have learned the bad habits of unfaithful practice and confession and would rather continue in them than learn the truth.  For whatever reason, we have surrendered the higher goal of faithfulness for the lesser cause of expedience.  Faithfulness, in this equation, flows from a loveless heart and expedience exudes caring.  This may be true in the imagination of the world but if you read about the churches in Revelation, you might be surprised. 

Saturday, August 20, 2022

The Church of the Holy Meme. . .

I know that there are folks who were not raised in the Church and did not learn the faith from catechesis in the home or the congregation.  They kind of presumed a Christianity which was less learned than observed and, by observed, I mean people, conversations, and social media.  They are not in the Word of God but they think they know God anyway and they are not doctrinal because they believe all truth except the subjective to be presumptuous.  Their God is learned and their faith practiced more from social meme and anecdote than Scripture, creed, or confession.  They are becoming the norm among those who are caught up in the buzz words of the faith but not quite confessing Christians.  They are also bringing up the curve in denominations in which truth has been surrendered to individual judgment and catechesis replaced with observations along the way.  They belong to the Church of the Holy Meme.

Facebook and the other pieces of social media are certainly filled with religious content thought it is not quite Christian.  That would be news to those who post and repost and share the memes that have replaced Scripture, creed, and confession.  They are sure that their point of view is not only true but really more than the truth of those who spend time in Scripture or know Christian history or sit in the pews every week.  You can give them the words of Jesus directly from the Bible and they will insist that either they were read wrong or they could not possibly mean what they say.  To counter the Word of God, they tell you a story or repeat the latest thing to go viral on the internet.  

What do I mean?  I have read posts from people who insist Jesus is number one in their life but that no real God would send people to hell for not believing in Him or by judging their best was not good enough for this cold hearted deity or by doing what seems right to them but is explicitly condemned in Scripture.  My God would not do that, they say.  In that, they might be correct -- except that their god is no God but an idol of their own imagining.  That is the great temptation not only of those whose God speaks in memes but for every authentic Christian as well -- it is the first and greatest commandment that is the most difficult for the orthodox and for the erring.  We have not progressed much from Babel or from the golden calves of gods we could equal or even control.  

This is why it is so difficult for us to do true Christian apologetics.  Unlike a pagan world which has no idea of who God is, we face a culture which is pretty sure they know who God is, what God would say, and how God would act.  They are more than confident that they are putting the right words in God's mouth even though they have only the barest passing acquaintance with the Word of God in Scripture.   Perhaps there is some legitimacy in the call to surrender the social media to those who have placed their holy technology in the pantheon of the many and various deities.  Perhaps many of the media are so tainted by the prejudice of superficial knowledge that parades as deep that we have little or no chance of really engaging our lost and secular culture.   I could be swayed on that point but I do admit that God has promised to work through His Word no matter whose voice says it.  At this point, however, I am weary of the strange, odd, and offensive things placed in God's mouth who do not even know Him well enough to call Him by name.  Maybe you have come to the same place. 

Friday, August 19, 2022

The Nicene Creed. . .

When Lutheran Service Book was being finished, there was a proposal to change the wording of the Nicene Creed.  A study document was widely distributed throughout the Synod and with it the changes in the wording that were being tried out.  The individual "I believe" was to be replaced with the corporate "We believe."  Some clarifications in the wording were offered for antiquated terminology that were preserved only in the creed and not elsewhere in conversation.  Catholic replaced the term Christian.  On the whole it was a solid study document and not one prone to the pitfalls of those who had changed the wording of the Nicene Creed (such as eliminating became man with the replacement with became fully/truly human).  As I look back on the study guide, I am more and more impressed with it.  But, as we all know, the Synod at the last minute decided to use the old wording from LW (and TLH).  It was a political decision that masqueraded as theological.  Change is always hard -- even salutary change.  For a church looking to end the divisions that had become normal between those who fought over which hymnal to use, it was understandable.  But it was not our finest hour.

Knowing as I had that the changes in wording would become problematic, I had us jump ahead of the game and begin to adopt the proposed wording before the book was printed.  In this way, the changes would not color the people's view of the whole book.  This was something that hindered the predecessor hymnal, Lutheran Worship.  A decision there to thinker with the words of the Divine Service from The Lutheran Hymnal had left a bad taste in the mouth of many when its words and music had become the norm for our congregations and our people for more than 40 years -- two generations in fact!  Then when the book came out with the wording from LW, we had already been taught, learned, and accepted the proposed change.  So what to do?  In the end I choose to leave the proposed wording -- easy enough since we print out the liturgy anyway.  I had thought that work would begin on a new hymnal by now (16 years after the introduction of Lutheran Service Book) and that this would come up again.  But it is pretty clear that many of us in the Missouri Synod do not have the stomach for another worship book or for the tweaks that would build upon LSB.  In fact, I doubt that any new worship book for the LCMS will come out in the next 16 years either.  We do not seem to have the pocketbook for the cost of such a project or the will to wade into the inevitable controversy of making choices that not everyone sees as beneficial.  So maybe my choice was a foolish one back in 2003-2005.  It has stuck out a bit to those who visit or join.  I do not think it represented anything but a salutary attempt to teach what I thought was the direction of our church body.  Some may disagree.

So I think the time has come to bite the bullet and go back to the printed wording (with the exception of retaining the original word of the creed, catholic instead of Christian.  It is not because I think there is something wrong with what we have used -- Synod did not find it doctrinally wanting in any way when it was first proposed.  But as the days come when my time winds down and others will replace me here, it will be easier for us to go back than to retain this small difference.  Rome changed its creed in 2011 but Wisconsin retained its own 1993 version in its new book with only a minor edit.  So beginning soon, I will be teaching the creed anew on Sunday morning.  It will be somebody else's job to deal with a hymnal change and any wording that is changed in it down the road.  

If you want to know what I am talking about, refer to the Lutheran Hymnal Project, Field Test Materials, published in 2003, the Nicene Creed Proposal, pg. 32-36.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Taming the wild. . .

It occurs to me that we as people have worked pretty hard to tame everything that is wild.  This is especially true of life.  Covid did not cause it but it hastened the idea that we can make life safe, secure, and without risk.  It is the great deception of the time that we will venture forth again when life is safe by behavior, mask, vaccine, or immunity.  Maybe some have grown weary of the wait but others are still holding off for that day when it will be safe to meet people again.  It is a day that will probably never come -- not because we do not try to make that safe day possible but because you cannot tame life.  

Every pastor has sat with parents who now live with the emptiness and numbness of a life that was there and gone in the womb, with the moms and dads who traded their hopes for the pain of a child still born, with the family who heard cancer from the mouth of a doctor while looking at their toddler, with the family who was informed by the trooper their teen did not survive the accident, with the soldiers who stood at the door with words no parent wants to hear, and with the news that your son or daughter took their own life.  And there are a thousand other terrible surprises parents find and pastors try to help them pick up the pieces.

We want to tame the wildness of life with pills that fix every disease, cures for every disability, surgeries for every tumor, answers for every despair, and a way out for every dead end.  It does not work that way.  Life is not safe, not secure, and not insulated from the hard, the painful, and gut wrenching.  It is still wild and nothing we can say or do can tame it.  What we cannot, God can.  Ours is not some tame God who reasons with sin or makes peace with death.  He does the unthinkable.  He comes as wild as life to tame life for us by giving up His life to redeem ours.  He is not passive but actively puts Himself in our place to save us.  He enters death not as the unwitting but as the determined and when the stone is rolled away He shows His wildness.  He is not safe but He is merciful.  That is the lesson of Narnia.  He is not tame but His wildness accomplishes salvation for a people who can do nothing to save themselves.

We struggle to tame God, to make Him predictable and therefore controllable.  Instead, He uses His wildness to do what we cannot and then invites us to see what He has accomplished for us and trust Him in life and in death.  We continually use our technology and education to try and render life safe and easy and to remake God into a toothless lion who fills the image but can do no real harm to anyone.  But God is dangerous -- as the devil well knows.  But His wildness is used for merciful purpose and He saves us in the violence of cross and the coldness of the grave.  Once we begin to get that, we can settle for no casual encounters with an easy God anymore.  It is nothing less than reverence before the God who is beyond our imagination and yet whose mystery is for merciful purpose, redeeming those who cannot save themselves and who would not if they could.  Sunday morning is not some family room or den where we can let it all hang out, where everything is good, and life is answered with safety and security.  It is holy ground on which we stand only in Christ to receive the gifts of Christ that actually deliver what they symbolize and do what they promise.

That is what is behind liturgical worship -- God is not safe or tame but He is merciful when we meet Him where He has promised to be found!  There in the means of grace, we meet the wildness of His mercy not to condemn or punish but to seek and save.  In that moment, it is not about making sense but about the delight of a merciful God who has become our Savior -- without any worth or merit on our part.  Within the awe over such mercy, faith lives, survives, and flourishes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Tax the Church!!!!

Although I am rather irascible in my old age, I have mostly avoided getting too upset by the trite and banal of social media.  Oh, I read some of them -- especially in the wake of the Roe decision overturning the law that found a right in the constitution to murder the unborn.  Some of them were creative barbs against conservative churches that have long labored against the poorly decided 1973 case.  But not most of them.  Most of them were the predictable and deceptive simplifications that offered no opportunity to respond.  I am talking about the ones that claimed it was not about babies but controlling women or the one that insisted men should not be making decisions about women's bodies or my body, my choice or a hundred others like these.  The people who promoted these are in love with the sound of their voices and throw words around as if that was all you had to do to debate.

I was impressed by those who said Tax the Churches -- if they are going to be in politics then they ought to pay the freight for it all...  How foolish!  These are people who do not know a church from a cult and who have never ever examined the books of a typical church opposed to any right to abort.  Who in the world do you think is buying all those disposable diapers and formula and offering baby clothes, toys, car seats, and the like to mothers who do not have them or cannot afford them?  I have yet to hear of a liberal congregation that supported the pregnant moms who decided to keep their babies.  But I know of plenty of conservative congregations that do.  My parish contributed to this cause over $5K in June alone!  Not to mention volunteers who work there.  If you tax the churches, you are taking away money that could be used for such worthy causes.  Most congregations (well, really, nearly every congregation) are not like Trinity, Wall Street, sitting on billions in endowment.  Most live from offering to offering and accumulate little as a cushion.  This is not because they are not prudent but because they believe the purpose of the offerings to do the work of the Kingdom.

Most congregations are like mine -- they take battered women to motels until there is room in the shelter and pay for medications and help with utility bills and give rides and help people sort through the maze of support agencies in town.  Pastors like me are not social workers but they do the work of loving the neighbor.  The folks in the pews make it possible with gifts of money, food items, and hours volunteering.  We work with Habitat for Humanity and give away washing machines and dryers and fridges and the like to families who are hurting.  We may not be counselors or therapists but we counsel anyone with the Word of God and listen to every complaint, excuse, hurt feeling, and chip on a shoulder -- not as sob stories that we must endure but as people who do care for and work on behalf of their neighbors.  We do not pay all our staff, the ones we do pay we do not pay well, and, last time I looked, our pastors were not getting rich on the backs of the offering plates either.  When our facilities need improving, volunteer labor and the less expensive materials option is usually chosen first. In our schools, ninety percent of the tuition goes for salaries and supplies for the students -- we are not making a killing on preschools, elementary schools, or the occasional high school.  So tax the churches and see what happens when the gifts and volunteers have to shift to survival mode in the congregation.  Who will stand up and stand for the many who look to churches for food, medical care, lodging, essentials, and a refuge in time of need?  Oh, that's right.  The government.  Yeah, and how has that worked so far???????

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

A new Reformation?

At the ELCA Churchwide Assembly August 8-12, 2022, in Columbus, OH, Presiding Bishop Eaton mused Is it time for another Reformation?  Perhaps she is correct but the reformation she envisions is not a true reformation of the faith, a return to the sources, a new commitment to orthodoxy.  No, what she is talking about is restructuring the way the ELCA governs itself.  In other words, shuffling the deck chairs on a sinking ship.  The root problems of the ELCA have ended up being expressed in a strange structure but that is not where they started.  The reformation that matters will not happen by tinkering with bylaws and a constitutional amended here and there.  It requires nothing less that a review of all that has been said and done since 1988 and squaring that with Scripture, repenting where it has violated Scripture's clear Word.  If that were to happen, there just might be hope for the ELCA.  But it won't.

The ELCA has structured itself not simply with synods and bishops and assemblies and rules.  It has structured itself so that it no longer lives by the Word of the Lord as the sword of truth and life.  Instead, the ELCA has time and time again replaced the clear Word of God with positions that accord with the prevailing views of liberal Christianity and a progressive culture embarrassed about talk of sin and redemption.  So what will happen?  The structure designed for a church body nearly twice its current size will be thinned out and flattened but you can be sure that the sacred minorities will retain both their influence and their bureaucracy while the rest of the church's mission will be rearranged around these essential causes (sex, gender, race, social justice, and climate change).  And the bleeding will continue until another reformation is required because even that structure is too cumbersome for those who will be left in a graying and white church body that so desperately wants to be seen as relevant by everyone except the God whose judgment matters.

Lessons learned here about but chief among them is that the renewal of the faith begins with the Word of God, with creeds and confessions faithfully written, and with an urgent commitment to uphold them when unpopular and rejected by the world around them.  The Church is not failing for lack of accommodation but precisely because the causes du jour of culture and society have replaced the Gospel as the beating heart of Christian truth and life.  Jesus is not an idea and love is not a concept and this life is not our primary focus.  Learn that and any apostate church just may have a future but cling to these ideas and there is no tomorrow except a continual downsizing and reformation of form instead of faith.   If you embody the Word, you don't need to listen to it, apparently.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Word like fire. . .

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 15C, preached on Sunday, August 14, 2022.

When Jesus stood in the Jordan River to be baptized by John, it did not seem right  to the Forerunner.  At first he demurred.  Better Jesus to baptize him than he to baptize Jesus.  But Jesus would have none of it.  It must be done to fulfill all righteousness.  Before the cross, Jesus would see John the Baptist beheaded and the mighty voice crying in the wilderness silenced by death.

James and John were not above asking Jesus for the privilege of place, sitting at His right and left when He came into His glory.  Jesus asked them if they were able to be baptized with the baptism with which He was to be baptized.  Of course, came their answer.  James was the first of the apostles to die a martyr’s death but not the last.  His brother John watched as they all were killed for the sake of the Kingdom.  Who is in a hurry to die?  Are you?  Of course not!  Think how hard we all tried to keep death at bay during the Covid pandemic.  Nobody wants to die.

Jesus finds no pleasure in death but He is ready and waiting for the death that He came to endure.  He is itching to light the fire of His own demise because of what that death will accomplish.  His soul is ravaged by the distress of one who does not wish to die but who does wish to see the fruits of His death accomplished for sinners great and small.  Jesus will not be waylaid from His walk to the cross, will not be distracted from the purpose of His incarnation and life, and will not hide in fear of the terrible cost that bears such wondrous fruit in your salvation and mine.

Our Lord knows that His death is a stumbling block for many and source of division for even more.  How many people are broken on the rock of doubt and fear, grasping so hard onto this life that they have nothing left to hold onto eternity?   What our Lord has accomplished for is done.  The cross will hold no more victims.  The only victim whose blood can cleanse us from all sin has already been crucified there for you and me.  Our believing adds nothing to what He has done, nor does our unbelief take away from what His death has done.  But without faith to grasp hold of this miracle, its benefits, fruits, and blessings are not ours.

All depends upon faith.  Faith by which Abraham when He was tested was willing to give up His only son Isaac.  Faith by which Jacob blest his sons as he lay dying. Faith by which Joseph passed on the legacy of God’s acts on behalf of His people even as he made provision for the place where his bones would lie.
Faith by which Moses led a fledgling people from slavery to the land of promise, forsaking all privilege in order to stand with the people of God.  Faith by which the Passover first was kept and kept still until Jesus fulfilled its promise with His own body and blood.  Faith by which the people of God passed through the sea on dry ground while their enemies were swallowed up by the water.  Faith in the persons of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel.  People who stopped the mouths of lions, quenched fire, escaped the sword, became mighty in battle, received their dead back, suffering torture, mockery, chains, and prison.

All of these received what they were promised.  So what about you?  Is the kingdom the urgent cause of your living and the hope of your dying?  Surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, will you not also cast off every hindrance and weight and sin to run with endurance the race set before you?  Looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, will you turn away from every tempting allure and every challenging obstacle in order to follow Jesus?  

Jesus was ready to rain down fire because He was so passionate for you and for the salvation He would accomplish by His death and resurrection.  For the joy that was set before Him in YOUR salvation, He endured the cross, despised the shame of the world, and ascended in glory to the right hand of the Father.  Will you now grow weary of the burden of faith in a faithfulness world?  Will you exchange His gift of eternity for the passing pleasure of a moment?  Will you hide your sins from His cleansing blood or risk the shame of confessing them so that they might be forever gone?  Will you become fainthearted for the fight the first time it costs you something because you stand with Christ, in Christ, spattered with His blood, that cleanses you from sin and becomes the clothing of your righteousness?

The cause of Christ has never suffered an abundance of people willing to endure whatever comes because they have been forgiven their sins and long to live with Christ the life Christ has prepared.  No, the cause of Christ falters from a people who are not sure that giving up anything of this moment is worth holding onto eternity, not convinced that their sins require a Savior who must suffer and die, and not willing to risk any of the world’s disdain in order to die with Christ and life with Him forevermore.  Considered Him who endured from sinners such hostility so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted but run with endurance the race of faith before you.  Jesus is right.  We spend more time talking about the weather than about Him or the forgiveness, life, and salvation He has won for us.
It is to our shame that we let so much come between us and the salvation that God has freely given even though it cost our Lord everything in suffering and death.  But worse than this shame is our loss.  By our fear of standing in Christ and with Him, by our willingness to surrender our faith to fear, and by our judgment that the way of Christ is too hard or costs us too much, we cast aside what Christ suffered to give us freely, in love, to save us.  

Will we pass on to our children a fragile faith that gives up in the face of any opposition or will we give to them the legacy of the faith, the saints, the martyrs who were willing to shed their blood for the sake of Him who shed His blood once for all on the cross?  Children are crying to know that faith is worth dying for as well as worth living for.  Will we teach them this by example or only by words?

Jesus is a stumbling block, obstacle, and scandal.  Either He will set us free forever or the weight of His suffering will come down upon us and crush us for our unbelief, doubt, and fear.  My friends, I do not say this because I like speaking in this way.  I say this because we must hear it.  It is every bit as much the message of Scripture as the comforting passages we long to hear.  And the object of both is nothing less and nothing more than your salvation, the forgiveness of your sins, the rescue of your lost life, and the resurrection of your body dead in trespasses and sins to the life that sin, shame, and death can no more touch.  Long for this gift and yearn for this grace for this is the only thing that you can possess and enjoy in death.  Jesus lives to bestow upon You all that He has won.  Live to grasp hold of this blessing and it will be your joy in sorrow, your presence in loneliness, your hope in the face of trouble, and your life in the face of death.

In the holy name of Jesus.  Amen.