Friday, March 31, 2023

The Prayer of the Faithful. . .

Growing up with the long General Prayer, it was certainly known ahead of time -- printed in the hymnal and all -- but it was not quite the Prayer of the Faithful.  After all, the faithful had not formed the petitions and they were general and repeated so perhaps they became the prayer of the faithful by default.  I well recall the desire both from the liturgical movement (those voicing the prayers) and the folks in the pew for petitions which were more reflective of the changing concerns of the day and of those assembled.  It was not without some anticipation that the idea of bids and of the spontaneous petitions of the faithful erupting from the assembly.  Of course, that did not quite work and certainly did not improve the prayers.  They may have been in the voices of those assembled but they were stilted and hesitant.  In the end they were replaced by the written petitions of the one leading the prayers (or purchased from some source or eventually downloaded from official and other websites).  Our own church body has prayers of the faithful written for every Sunday, in both responsive and ektene format, for the one and three year lectionary -- got that covered I guess!  But still, I am not sure we have improved the praying or the prayers.

In the earliest Church the prayer of the faithful happened about the same point in the liturgy as it does today, following the homily (even before the Creed became part of the ordinary) and it is well attested by the early fathers.  The prayers were antiphonal -- presider and people and then deacon and people.  Eventually they became more formal and less spontaneous and the people responded with an acclamation.  This continued into the 9th century.  As the Kyrie litany at the beginning of the liturgy expanded, the petitions here diminished -- along with the expansion of those petitions in the canon of the mass.  So it was a restoration of an earlier practice.

The problem is not so much the history.  The problem is the writing.  The problem is also in the praying.  The writing is often so confused that the poor people are not sure what they are being asked to give their amen to or the one offering those petitions has not bothered to read them in preparation for the liturgy.  In either case, it is a disservice to this important part of the liturgy and one easily rectified by careful preparation.  Even if you are using a pre-printed source for the prayer of the faithful, it is wise to read them through and edit them to fit the needs of the people assembled and to fit the reading of the prayer by the one offering the bids.  It does not hurt to offer vocal inflections that mirror what is being prayed and one of the problems I have found (while sitting in the pew or assisting as others lead the bids) is that the voice is wooden, without much inflection at all, and, quite honestly, sounds as if the one praying is bored with his own words.

In Lutheran Service Book there are plenty of individual collects, larger prayer forms, responsive and ektene examples, and good introductions for praying.  The problem is that for too many pastors, the hymnal is not something well read, well known, or well used in his own devotional life.  Don't be a stranger to the book that is supposed to be a central piece in the devotional life of the individual as well as the assembly.  So if you are reading, do your homework.  Work to make the petitions reflective of the assembly and what is going on in the overall life of your people.  Work to rehearse the prayers so that how you say the words does not impede the praying of the faithful but encourages it.  Work to prepare them ahead of time so that, if people ask, you can print them off for the faithful to use at home as well as in the Divine Service.  There ends my thoughts for today.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Sexualized children. . .

In case you have forgotten, in 2011 CNN strongly condemned the TLC network’s show Toddlers and Tiaras because it sexualized young girls. The show had a cult like following but was relatively tame in that girls were dressed up to look like older girls and women as beauty contestants.  There was no overt sexualization of the girls but it was inappropriate and in bad taste and pointed out the illness of moms and dads living out their dreams through their children.  Not good but not the worst thing either.  Nothing in comparison to what we have going on today.  In typical media morality, it presumed to say that “Everyone in society suffers when children are sexualized, but those hurt worst are the children themselves.”

Funny how that was so bad but now we have graduated to having drag queens read to children the same age, teachers who encourage these same aged children to being to explore and define their sexuality and gender, and the classroom has become the arena for discussing everything from sexual desire to the convoluted alphabet soup of the non-binary.  How is this overt sexualization of children now authentic concerns for education but throwing a gown, a swim suit, and a tiara on a hair-sprayed, made up girl harmful to the children themselves?  Now the point is that I am not in favor of any of it.  It am not suggesting that Toddlers and Tiaras is benign.  I do not think that there is any place for the sexualization of our children whether by dressing them up for us or teaching them to think in adult categories of sexuality.  Both are an abuse of children.  In every case, we are robbing our children of their childhood and forcing them to think and act like adults -- adults who are not thinking rightly or acting very well either.

The sad reality of our time is that the sexual identity has become the most important identity for anyone and the goal of education is to aid and assist the children in exploring and defining their sexuality.  What is abuse is that no child does this on their own but only under the influence of others.  Adults have already done a pretty good job of screwing up childhood already.  We have decided it is more important for moms and dads to be happy than the children in their care to be safe and secure.  We lie to ourselves all the time in saying happy divorced parents are better than less than happily married ones.  We have decided that quality time over quantity justifies putting ourselves, our careers, and our goals ahead of the responsibility we have to the children in our care.  We have have surrendered our children to the screens and failed to instill values and faith in them.  We have indulged them in every techno toy without even admitting or addressing the dangers to them such access to the internet and the tutelage of media may incur.  Why do we think we are helping our children by thrusting them into the hypersexualized world of adult desire, entertainment, and perversion?

Like somebody once said, I know why drag queens want to be around small children but what I do not know is why we want our children to be around them.  Substitute nearly anything from our over sexualized culture in the place of drag queens -- including plain, ordinary, heterosexual sexual behavior.  None of it belongs there.  Children should not be pawns in a war over sexual desires and gender identity nor should they be used for our own curiosity or entertainment.  But that is what our educational process has decided to do -- to do battle for their cause in the classrooms of our youngest and most vulnerable children.  Why are we not as concerned about this as we once were about a poorly conceived and tacky TV show a generation ago?  That does not justify the show from the 2000s but only points out how flawed our judgment has become.


Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Individual hosts? Individual cups!

Every time somebody promotes the one cup of the chalice, somebody else counters with the many hosts (not wafers) instead of the one loaf.  What is so tiring is that this is comparing apples and oranges.  There were no individual cups until the 20th century and even though each at the Passover had their own cups, Jesus gave them His cup.  So, take a look at this.

At the Last Supper, Jesus “took bread.” But what bread?  No matter how many paintings have a loaf or how many clip art images have a loaf, we all know that this bread that Jesus took was the unleavened bread of the Passover.  There is a distinct difference between that unleavened bread of Passover and a loaf, less so between the unleavened bread of Passover and the individual hosts ordinarily used in the Divine Service.

Of course, there is evidence, not necessarily from the earliest custom, for the Church to use what we might call a loaf which was distributed in bits torn from the loaf.  That this was normative is simply untrue.  Christians typically used what the Passover required.  Unleavened bread was the norm (at least in the West, where this has pretty much been true always).

The individual hosts are said to have been invented in the 7th century.  The legend says a pious monk who had apparently given up a fire for Advent was left with the problem of preparing the bread for the Christmas Mass.  As was typical of the time, this ended up being less a mechanical dilemma than a spiritual one for the monk -- can you bake bread in an over and not be also warmed by it?  A blacksmith formed some broad iron tongs with baking plates that enabled him to bake the bread without being also warmed by the fire.  You guessed it.  What emerged were not loaves or even buns but flatbread -- like the Passover bread.  The tongs kept the bread flat and the baking resulted in a cracker like consistency.  You might have expected his superiors to be disappointed with the result but apparently they liked it.  It was easier to use and had a longer shelf life than the loaf.  Within years, everyone was using what the good monk invented.  At least that is the mythology.  What is true is that by the end of the 8th century, individual hosts or larger hosts broken into smaller hosts had become normal.  Alcuin of York spoke in them favorably at the end of the 8th century.  The practice developed a theology.  Later it was noted that the Old Testament explicitly forbade leavened bread for sacrifices. So now we had a practice and a precedent.  The innovation became an industry.  Molds were produced to produce these hosts in masse.  Some voices were not pleased.  Some "traditionalists” apparently wanted to continue leavened loaves but in the blink of an eye, chronologically speaking, these hosts became the ordinary bread of the Sacrament.  

In contrast, the individual cups that have become normative outside of Rome were never conceived or desired until the early 20th century and then by those who had issues with wine, preferring the new found invention of grape juice and thus queasy about the lack of alcohol to act as a cleansing agent in the passing of the cup.  Again, industry marketed what the people wanted and we ended up being driven to individual cups by fear of touching the same chalice more than by anything else.  A hundred years later, the pandemic only sealed the concerns of people for a safe way to commune without touching.  That said, there is no evidence that individual cups are safer and at least as much evidence that they may be touched by more hands (the usual suspects in the transmission of anything) and therefore less clean than the chalice.  But that is something to which I have written in the past.  Suffice it for now to admit that individual hosts and individual cups are not of the same origin or kind of innovations, nor are they equivalent.  Jesus Himself took the bread and broke it and gave His body to the disciples; He did not take the cup and turn it into many cups when He distributed the blood to those same disciples.  One thing I will say, the hermetically sealed versions mass marketed to those who have no regard for what the Sacrament is have no place in our churches.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

What education?

"The modern man says, ‘Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education,’" according to G. K. Chesterton.  He is on to something but then, again, he usually was and is -- for his wisdom remains ever relevant in our changing world.  Nothing has changed so much as education -- what it is, what it teaches, how it teaches, you name it.  It has all changed and is still changing.

I wish I could say that Christian colleges and universities have fared better amid the changes, the stops and starts, the dead ends and detours, and the ups and downs of it all.  I wish I could say it but I am more and more convinced that the fine line between a Christian college and a secular one long ago disappeared.  The numbers of distinctly Christian institutions of higher learning declines as those with a heritage or legacy seem intent upon surrendering everything of their once clear Christian identity for the sake of survival.  I am not convinced that survival requires such abdication but it seems most schools do.

Many of those institutions, dare I say most, who insist to their churches that they provide an overtly Christian education are instead merely providing one with some Christian flavor and a nuanced taste at that.  It seems universal for such institutions to claim that they produce leaders but it is also nearly universal that they no longer form such leaders with a distinct Christian moral character.  The curriculum long ago had to be modified to make sure it passed muster for the accrediting agencies, was marketable, and was more or less consistent with the educational standards of secular universities.  It is not a secret but neither is it one that we regularly say out loud.  The chapels on such campuses are testaments to when the Word of God stood along side textbooks and the students and faculty shared a common faith, with common values, for a common purpose.  Is it still that way?

Education has become one of the most important gods of the pantheon of the modern mind but what constitutes education is no longer a definition to which we can all agree.  It is not merely a matter of marketability and the prospect of finding a job at the end of the long dark tunnel of classes, tests, and student loans.  The battle before us goes to the very core and center of who we are, why we are here, and what virtue is.  The alphabet soup of degrees behind the name once stood for something but now they have become the minimum requirements for entrance to just about any career and especially one that has nothing to do with your major.

We no longer expect our schools to produce people of good character, good intellect, and good purpose.  In fact, we worry that the good folks we send to them will come out having their character, intellect, and vocation removed and in their places an enlightened understanding that almost certainly disdains the past, questions the faith, and is willing to tear down the present to get to a future.  We send young men and women with faith to places that say they will honor that faith but then seem to delight in tearing apart the very fabric of what it means to believe.  Conviction has been replaced by question and truth has been dismantled into something week, adaptable, emotional, and experiential.  And this is true of schools with Christian identities, pasts, and associations almost as much as it is true of any schools.

If we wanted to rip the faith from the hearts and minds of our children, we could have just as easily done it without also burdening them with crippling student debt.  It is as if we have gotten to the point where we feel no choice but to pay the so-called professionals to undo what we parents spent 18 years doing.  This is true without doubt of the secular schools but it is also increasingly true of those who claim to be Christian.  Just look at the curriculums, the reading materials, and the power of students to demand they be taught what they want.  It is more than enough to scare you.

In the end, it might simply be easier to surrender our existing institutions to create new ones without the burden of having to live on the fine line between some Christianity and none.  At least then we might be free to use what resources we have to establish schools who will not compromise with the values of the world and who will not tear down the faith we parents worked so hard to plant.  Anyway, that is what I am thinking today....

Monday, March 27, 2023

Lazarus rises so Jesus may die. . .


Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (A), preached on March 26, 2023.

In one short sentence that is one of the most profound moments in all of Scripture, Jesus weeps.  He weeps for the loss to Mary and Martha His friends.  He weeps for what death has stolen, His own friend as well as a brother to a family in grief.  He weeps for all that death has stolen from all humanity even though death came into the world by the will of man.  He weeps for all the future that death has taken and for the marks of death in the lifeless flesh and the broken hearts we all know.  Jesus weeps like we weep when death takes from us those whom we love.  It is a rude and unfeeling person and God who would tell us ‘don’t be sad.”  But God refuses to allow us the hopeless grief that is only loss.  Jesus weeps even as He knows He will call Lazarus from the grave to live so that He might enter that grave to die for Lazarus, Mary, Martha, you, me, and all sinners.

Lazarus will live again.  Jesus will join back together the soul to the body and give that body the life that sin had taken away.  Jesus will cast off the clothing of death and the tears of grief of Lazarus and his family.  Jesus will roll the stone away and empty the grave.  Though everyone will rejoice, it does not mean Lazarus will never have to go through this again.  He will rise to live again the old life that is still in the shadow of death and the grave.  Lazarus empties one grave so that Jesus might enter the grave in which death itself will die and tears of grief will forever be transformed.

The next time Lazarus dies, Jesus will not restore his old life to him but will give him the new and everlasting life that proceeds from His own time spent in the cold darkness of death and His own mighty resurrection to empty death of its power once for all.  For that to happen, Jesus must die.  Indeed, this miracle is not merely some sympathetic act for the sake a family with whom Jesus was friendly.  This will become the reason why Jesus dies.  For while Mary and Martha and the disciples are rejoicing that Lazarus is back, the Pharisees and chief priests and the Sanhedrin are meeting to figure out what to do about Jesus.  They have decided that it is expedient that one man die for the many.  It will be an act to solve all their problems and in this Satan is an accomplice, almost giddy at the delight of seeing the Jesus who raises the dead killed and put into his own grave.

In this, the enemies of Jesus are correct.  If they let Jesus go on like this, everyone will believe in Him and the Romans will come and take everything we know away.
But they are wrong.  Putting Jesus in the grave where Lazarus had been will not end what God is doing nor will it relieve the religious leaders of the Jesus’ problem and keep things as they are.  Lazarus returned from death still subject to death but when Jesus rises from the dead, Lazarus and the whole world meets Him who has power to end the reign of death once for all, for you and me and for all sinners.  

Do we weep still?  Of course we do.  Like Jesus we know that those who die in the Lord live and wait for us to be with us together in God’s presence forevermore.  But death is still hard and its pain overwhelming.  Even for those who know that Christ is raised and that we shall be raised with Him.  But we do not weep as a people without hope, without an end to the tears, and without the beginning of joy everlasting.  In our sorrows we cannot forget that the devil will not have the last laugh, that Satan’s plot has been undone, and that the grave will not win – not for Lazarus and not for your loved ones who die in Christ and not for you who live in Christ.

Do you believe this?  Mary and Martha wept honest tears of sorrow over their brother’s death.  Jesus was calling them to look past the tears and the pain and the loss and to see the day when Jesus would enter where Lazarus had been, to trust that His death ends death and His resurrection opens the door of death so that it no longer ends our lives but begins our eternal lives.  Jesus was calling them to take their vision of death and replace it with the vision of Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life.  This is not simply about a healing that could have taken place but a death that would marshal the enemies of Jesus to their plans to put Jesus to death and about His own life which would end the reign of God once for all.

The devil put all his resources in arranging for Jesus’ death.  He laughed when Lazarus walked out because he knew he would put Jesus where Lazarus had been. But the devil has nothing left to laugh about.  He has nothing left to use against you.  Your sins have been forgiven by the blood of Christ.  You were lost but have been found by God’s grace and all the prodigals are welcomed into the arms of the waiting Father. You who had no name are named in Christ in baptism to belong to the Lord and you have been moved from the lower seats to the places of honor at His banquet table here in Holy Communion and there in the Marriage Feast of the Lamb without end.  That devil invested everything in death and now he has nothing left.  The sin that caused death has been forgiven.  The pain of death has been answered by the resurrection.  That is our comfort and our peace.

My friends, I cannot tell you not to weep when death comes near.  To do so would  contradict Jesus Himself.  But I can tell you this.  Do not grieve as a people without hope.  Do not grieve as those who surrender to death.  Lazarus walked out of that grave so that Jesus might walk in.  But just as the stone was rolled away for Lazarus, the stone was rolled away for Christ.  He rises not simply to console us in our sorrows but so that through Him we might be reunited with those who have gone before and rest in Christ and be joined to the Father and the Spirit in Christ forevermore.  This is no consolation prize to make up for what death has stolen, this is the end to death forevermore.

In a couple of weeks we will celebrate not the return of the dead Christ to the old life still lived in the shadow of death but the resurrection of Him who died that death might die.  In that respect, this news is not a seasonal greeting which we share but the constant confession we repeat for every Lazarus among us who dies and for every eye filled with tears and for every heart stung by grief.  Jesus knew that when He raised Lazarus, it would seal the deal for His own death upon the cross.  Yet this He is willing to do out of love for you and me and all those who, like Lazarus, are laid in the grave.  Do you believe this?  Death is always a test of our hope and the crucible on which the genuineness of our faith is revealed.  Thanks be to God who gave Lazarus the victory and gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Truly He is the resurrection and the life.  In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.

Trends. . .

Trends over time are revealing for the shape of our culture and our nation.  The general public finds it harder to say that extra-marital sex is always wrong while at the same increasingly favoring same sex marriage, and legalizing marijuana.  There is some significant support for abortion for any reason and less support for restricting pornography.  

It would be a surprise if these trends were not also reflected in changing Christian responses to the same issues.  In fact, it is already a given that some churches are trying to get out in front of the pulse of the general public on most of these issues (though less for the legalization of marijuana and approving of pornography).  We all know which churches these are and they have made no secret of their support for free access to abortion, same sex marriage (and the whole alphabet soup of gender), and for the normalization of nearly anything and everything sexual so long as it is consensual. 

One of the real questions that remains, however, is why anyone needs a church which is but an echo of their views and the prevailing views of culture -- an echo which is always behind the move of the general public's evolving views.  Do we really need a church whose only use and value is to tell us what we have already said?  Such churches have become like the politicians who have to poll the public to find out what they are for and what they are against.

My point is that echoing back the voice of the public hardly requires all the religious apparatus of church.  I guess we already knew that since those churches that are nearer the pulse of the public are already shrinking faster than nearly every other Christian denomination.  I am not judging them irrelevant but the culture has already made that judgment with a yawn.  Nothing is more boring in a church than one whose voice is only your voice on time delay.  But if you have any hint of uncertainty in your position, I suppose it might be comforting to have the illusion of divine approval to reassure you.  Sadly, it would seem, too many of our churches are willing to be only that -- a tardy echo to what the world has already decided and moved on.  How tragic! 

Sunday, March 26, 2023

The sin of forgetfulness. . .

Israel's problem was largely forgetfulness.  Because they did not remember what the Lord had said and done, they were led blindly by the influence of others or their own sinful desires and that road always ended up badly for them.  In response, the Lord constantly told them to remember what they had forgotten, sent prophets to recall them to the memory of God's mighty acts, and set it as a liturgical refrain lest they forget again.  Which they did.

There are literally hundreds of texts in which the Lord reminds them that His people forgot.  Here are six typical verses to consider:

  1. You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth (Deuteronomy 32:8).
  2. When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me (Hosea 13:6).
  3. and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (Deuteronomy 8:13-14).
  4. They forgot His deeds and His miracles that He had shown them (Psalm 78:11).
  5. But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel. … They forgot God their Savior, Who had done great things in Egypt (Psalm 106:13, 21).
  6. But they forgot the LORD their God; so he sold them into the hand of Sisera, the commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hands of the Philistines and the king of Moab, who fought against them. They cried out to the LORD and said, “We have sinned; we have forsaken the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths. But now deliver us from the hands of our enemies, and we will serve you”‘ (1 Sam 12:9-10).

Liturgically, the whole of Psalm 136 is a rehearsal of the mighty acts of God on behalf of His people, a reassurance that these acts were done in mercy, and a reminder of the that which is hidden behind everything God does -- His steadfast love endures forever.  It would be difficult to go through that Psalm one day and wake up the next without a memory of what you just read.  But that is what Israel did and what we do every day.

It is the heart of worship to recall what God has done to create, redeem, restore, and renew His people.  Saying back to Him what He has first said to us, we not only glorify Him but we plant anew the record of His deliverance into our hearts and minds so that it will not depart from us.  But it does.  So worship is not an irregular activity but the regular, at least weekly, gathering of God's people to hear His Word, recall what He has accomplished for our salvation in His Son, and reorder our lives in response to His love.  Of course, we do this with songs, hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs of praise and thanksgiving upon our lips and with the tithes and offerings of a grateful heart in our hands.

The New Testament is not without its own call not to depart from the teachings given, to remember what God did in your baptism, to remember by faithful communion in His flesh and blood what Christ accomplished for your salvation, and to walk worthy of this gift and blessing.  It is all because we forget.  Or, sometimes choose not to remember.  The Church Year and the Liturgy exist for the same purpose -- to unfold by season and Sunday the mighty acts of God by which we have been saved, are now being saved, and will be saved when He comes again in His glory.

Much of modern Christianity has forgotten the voice of God in Scripture and it has become a mere jumping off point to manufacture a faith designed and approved by the cultural values of the moment.  We surely know on some level that the decisions we have made to approve the wholesale reconfiguration of marriage and family is not consistent with but in contradiction to what God has said but we trudge on.  We surely know on some level that the choices of sexual desire and gender identity we are making are outside the pale of God's creative and redemptive will and purpose but that has not slowed us down.  We surely know on some level that our callous treatment of the sacred and precious gift of life in the womb and through its natural end is an affront to the intent and esteem with which God holds life but that has not stopped us from claiming God wants death by choice, death to the child in the womb, and reproductive technology that treats life as a product.  We surely know on some level that our peace with death and our quest for a best life now stands in direct contrast to what God did to free us from that death and to bestow upon us a life unimaginable in earthly minds and hearts but we celebrate life and go home content with a memory instead of all that God has offered to us in Christ.  We surely know on some level that Scripture is not just any book and that its meaning is not subject to our own whims or preferences but we plod along as if the Bible were mere mythology for spiritual inspiration instead of the Book of Life to raise the dead in Christ, the living voice of the eternal God, and the very means by which we are transformed for no people with no hope into God's people with an endless hope.  We surely know on some level that sentiment is not a substitute for faith and yet we continue to confuse feelings with God's facts and sincerity in what we want to believe with the confession of Christ, the Son of the Living God.  We forget -- either by failing to listen and repeat what God has done or by intent because we no longer care about it.  So God has to remind us.

That is why the voice of the Church is so vitally important.  We are the voices who cry out to a people prone to forget all that God has said and done.  We cry out in warning when error clouds the truth or hardened hearts no longer repent.  We cry out in comfort when wounds of guilt, pain, shame, and death beg for healing.  We cry out in hope when despair threatens and fear takes captive the hearts of men.  We cry out in peace when bitterness and violence lay all around.  Who will hear unless they are sent?  How will they remember unless they are told again the story of God's love in Christ?  It was St. Paul's question in his own day and it must surely be ours.  We may feel like hiding behind a closed door in a world so forgetful and unfriendly to the Gospel but that is not God's purpose nor our vocation.  Perhaps the worst of the sins of men is to forget the goodness of the Lord who made all things and the mercy of the Lord who redeemed those unworthy of His love.  May the Lord bless us that we may not forget -- not for our sakes but also not for the sake of the world!


Saturday, March 25, 2023

Is the denial of the incarnation the root of all heresy?

Someone smarter than I once said to me that all heresy is rooted in a denial of the incarnation.  While I fear exaggeration often precludes the very clarity it seeks to provide, this is one case in which the statement is truth.  All heresy is rooted in a denial of the incarnation.  So, on this Annunciation of Our Lord day, it is good to read reflect upon the full measure of our incarnational theology.

I was reading in Bo Giertz the other day:  (Christ's Church)

God is in our midst!  Just as Jesus once entered the world as God's outstretched hand, as a visible revelation of God's invisible being, and as an audible message of that which no ear has heard, so God's hand is still stretched out at the baptismal font and the communion rails, and so the Word still sounds, not as a mechanical repetition of what the Master once said but as continually repeated message from the mouth of our Savior... It is the same way with the sacraments.  They are not symbols and metaphors but Christ's way of to deal with us today, just as real and tangible as He once dealt with people on the fields of Galilee and the streets in Capernaum...

The miracle that took place in the incarnation when the Word became flesh continues in the church and the sacraments. He who does not understand the incarnation will not understand the sacraments and he who does not understand the sacraments will not understand what Christ has done for us... Living and genuine Christianity is in its innermost essence faith in the incarnation and the atonement.  It is in its innermost essence sacramental... 
Bo Giertz certainly has hit the nail on the head.  Failure to acknowledge the incarnation is the seedbed to disavowing the sacramental presence of Christ in the means of grace.  You cannot confess the incarnation and reject the Sacraments (means of grace).  They go hand in hand.  One cannot exist without the other and the other defines the first.

It is meaningless to confess God's presence unless you can confess that presence HERE in baptismal water, in absolution's voice, in bread and wine.  To put it as I often do when teaching parents, stop pointing to the sky when you teach your children where God is and point instead to the Word and Sacraments, for these are the places where God has attached Himself, made Himself present and available for us.  We do not need a God out there.  We need a located God -- in the incarnation and in the means of grace (sacraments).  We are not imposing this upon God but He has bound Himself to these external forms out of love for us and to deliver to us the full measure of what Christ accomplished for us and our salvation.  Our God has come to us in flesh and blood, like us in every way except sin, and it began with the visit of an archangel, the consent of a virgin, and a womb filled with the Son of God.  Our God is not subject to our imagination but located in the flesh of the Virgin by the Holy Spirit and in the Word and Sacraments where He makes Himself known to us and delivers to us the fruits of His obedient life, His life-giving death, and His death defying resurrection.

Friday, March 24, 2023

The fallacies of the universal. . .

In what has become a gross and offensive understanding of the universality or catholic nature of the faith, moderns have substituted the go to words of the day -- from inclusivity to diversity.  It is an easy attack on the faith because we have surrendered to the vocabulary of the world for the sake of reducing the technical jargon of the faith.  This means that Christians are even more comfortable with the dictionary of the world than they are of Scripture.  Along with this surrender of the terminology has come the distortion of what words really mean.  Catholicity is one victim of the Church yielding to the rules of culture.

While the substitution of Christian for catholic is not Lutheran in origin but predates the Reformation, we Lutherans have also become sloppy in our use of the term Christian.  Where it once might have presumed all that the word catholic encompassed, today it has become a word we have surrendered to Rome despite our claims to confess the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith.  It has even gotten to the point where some Lutherans find the word catholic offensive.  Again, this is the politics of surrender and with that surrender has come many problems.

Well up into the Lutheran Reformation every child knew the adjectives to describe the Church.  Every child and every adult confessed those words week after week in the Creed.  At some point in time, we began to forget what those words meant.  Some were content to be a schismatic sect without any claims to catholicity at all.  Others surrendered to the idea that catholicity no longer was the mark of one confession but every confession had bits and pieces of the pie.  More were content to individualize the faith so that even the Creed was not a churchly confession but an individual one in which the person defines the words confessed.

At the time I grew up, universal was the word used to unpack the word catholic.  It is still used by some though it might better be said to be whole and complete rather than universal.  Hidden in the universality of the faith has come the modern ideas of inclusivity and diversity.  We have gotten to the point where the Church is not united in doctrine or confession but is an umbrella of many doctrines and confessions that live within a broad parameter of what constitutes a Christian faith.  Indeed, some have decided that this is the hallmark of true Christianity.  It is not one Lord, one faith, one baptism but many views and opinions living together without any real claim to orthodoxy.  We seldom hear about orthodoxy anymore but we hear about the need for the Church to be inclusive of all people and points of view and to reflect the broad diversity heralded by the spirit of the age.

The Church is not universal in the sense that it includes a diversity of views on who God is and is inclusive of that diversity without attaching to any one of them.  That Church that does this is no longer catholic at all and not Christian anymore either.  Our catholicity is not reflected in our embrace of many versions of marriage or many genders anymore than it is marked by our acceptance of many truths about God and salvation.  Being against the current and popular expressions of such hot button issues as sexual desire, marriage, family, and gender does not violate our catholicity but preserves it.  Refusing to accommodate every opinion about God and everything else does not contract our inclusivity but preserves the true inclusive nature of the Son of God who died for the sins of the world, who is no respecter of persons, and whose name is the only name under heaven and on earth by which any who will be saved shall be saved.  

The Church is a communion of sinners who confess their sin and their inability to atone for those sins and who also confess that God has chosen to become their Savior in the incarnation of His Son, in the righteous life lived that all might be declared righteous, in the suffering the paid for the sins of every sinner, in the death that killed death, and in the resurrection that brought new life to those who had only death.  The Church is catholic because she has always been, exclusive to no tribe or continent or age, and because her truth is yesterday, today, and forever the same -- just as the Savior.  The Church is universal not because she allows for many views but because her mission is not to the few but to the world world, beginning from Jerusalem and spreading into every corner of the earth.  The Church is inclusive because she gives the gifts of Christ to everyone who comes without respect to merit or worthiness.  The Church is diverse because she draws across time and geography, race and culture, to make all into one people in Christ.  The Church is apostolic because she hears not only or even primarily the voices of the moment but the voices of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, confessors, and saints who went before her and who, like her, give testament not to view or opinion but by the Holy Spirit to the Word of the Lord that endures forever.

Once we start walking down the path of terms that have been confiscated by an ideology, the Church becomes an ideology, a mere ideology, and has surrendered herself to the prison of the present without anchor in eternity.  Salvation is exclusive -- in Christ alone.  The Church is inclusive in the sense that this salvation is proclaimed not to the few but to the many in the hopes that all who hear might believe and be saved.  But the Church is not inclusive in the way our Woke culture speaks nor can she afford to settle for a crude diversity in which no truth is larger or more profound than any other.  Once we do that, we have betrayed Christ and His Gospel.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

What did you do during Covid?

 Notre Dame in Legos....


It reportedly took 500 hours of work, six months, for Lionel Baudot, a resident of Metz, France, to build this model of Notre Dame Cathedral, entirely made of plastic LEGO bricks. Baudot estimated that the model required more than 63,000 LEGO pieces to complete.  He worked during the confinement caused by Covid, with the help of his daughter.  He worked through 2,610 pages of instructions with 5,384 diagrams to build the model cathedral weighing over 120 pounds.


Wednesday, March 22, 2023

What about veils. . .

Danish painting of Luther preaching, 1561.
While at the Sem (you know which one I mean), it was not uncommon to see veiled women in the Divine Service.  It was not common but neither was it rare.  I could say the same about my own parish.  It is not uncommon for women to wear a veil -- not common but not rare either.  Strangely enough, I heard whispers about the practice from some pastors who saw it in the Seminary Chapel.  To be sure, I have had comments and questions from others within my own parish.

On January 15, 1525, Martin Luther preached a message on marriage. In his sermon he said this:

Women, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife” [Eph 5:22-23]. Again to the Colossians in the third chapter [3:18]. Because of this, the wife has not been created out of the head, so that she shall not rule over her husband, but be subject and obedient to him.

For that reason the wife wears a headdress, that is, the veil on her head, as St. Paul writes in 1. Corinthians in the second chapter, that she is not free but under obedience to her husband. 

 And in the Table Talks of Luther: 

Otherwise and aside from that, the wife should put on a veil, just as a pious wife is duty-bound to help bear her husband’s accident, illness, and misfortune on account of the evil flesh.

If you look at the above painting of Luther preaching at a time contemporaneous with the Reformation, you see all the women with head coverings. It does not appear that it was either uncommon or rare then but normative.  Today they seem odd to us.  But in the larger context of Christian history and even early Lutheranism, they were not unusual at all.  Even in the context of global Christianity they are not uncommon and are more normal than most Americans and American Lutherans might recognize.  My guess is you will be seeing more and not less of them.

Though Luther certainly tied the veil to the submission of women, I doubt that this is the universal context today.  In fact, I think the impetus for the restoration of this older practice may have something to do with the times and the culture.  It is, perhaps, more a witness to the faith in a world which has corrupted and distorted that faith to the point where it is hard to recognize it.  It is not a desire to stand out in the sense that so many in our culture flaunt things but to make sure that the external mirrors the internal. The veil seen in our churches might be a simple sign of identity -- the mark of those who take seriously vocations, roles, living holy and pure lives.  Given how many Lutherans reacted and still react, it is clear that this has hit a nerve.   Oddly, we Lutherans seem to be more threatened by those who want to go beyond the norm than we are the erotic, sensual, and gender bending things we see in our media and on our streets.  What is wrong with us?  Get over it.  If you are curious, ask those who wear them.  If you don't like it, keep it to yourself.  If you are interested both in the reason and the practice, there are plenty to help you decide what you want to do.  In the meantime, let us turn our attention to the bigger fish to fry in the world of faith and piety.

Lutherans are loathe to put rules in place and no one has -- to my knowledge anyway.  So if a woman wishes to wear a veil as an expression of her devotion to the Lord, God bless her.  Why are the rest of us threatened by this?  No one has ever said everyone must walk in lock step.  Indeed, why are we Lutherans threatened by any who go beyond the norm, the minimal, (dare I say it, the hymnal!) -- if people want to cross themselves, kneel, genuflect, go to private confession, fast, etc... God bless them.  It is there in our own history (lest we forget) and it may be uncommon but it is not rare.   Likewise, why is it such a big deal when pastors chant, elevate, genuflect, ring bells, wear clerical collars and vestments, etc...?  God bless them.  No one is making a rule.  Sure, we have our own preferences but it would seem to me that the Lutheran preference is not to put that into stone as command or dictate upon the conscience.  Adiaphora must at least mean a willingness to accept those who go further if it means we must also accept those who do not go very far into this realm of ceremony and usage. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Life after Roe. . .

While we do not talk about it much, our life as a nation and as a larger community was forever changed by the decision of Roe v. Wade.   I do not know if any of the SCOTUS justices had an inkling of the fact that they were making a transformative decision for the nature of our life together as a people as well as our political structures and entrenched divisions.  They should have.  Perhaps they were merely naive and insulated -- while that might work for some decisions of our highest court, it cannot work for those that reach into the very fabric of our values and life.  We all know that.

Roe changed American life profoundly.  For one thing, it solidified the sexual revolution as normative for our culture and society.  The availability of abortion became a routine part of life, a given, that would affect not simply the child in the womb but how we saw sex, love, marriage, and family.  Abortion became a fixture around which people could plan their lives.  No more was there a thought that had to be given to their sexual choices since every choice was believed to be without a do over -- the ability to undo what had been done.  Abortion was supposed to be free, safe, and rare but it became aggressively common -- so much so that in some cities in America the numbers of abortions exceeded the numbers of live births.  The vaunted arguments about rape and incest were statistically insignificant as men presumed they had no responsibility and women presumed that they had no accountability for their choice to be sexually active.  

Roe changed our political lives.  It became the hot button issue that polarized people and parties.  It may have seemed to emerge more slowly as a political issue but that is, in part, that the opponents were shocked and numb that our nation could move so quickly to forsake the principle that life was sacred and our common duty was its preservation.  Just as the debate and conflict raged about abortion, we learned that abortion was but the tip of the iceberg of the privacy rights invented in the constitution and sexual changes that would erupt a generation or two later.  We are as divided as ever over abortion.  The change of the court opinion did nothing to resolve the conflict.  We had no debate and enacted no laws for the SCOTUS took this from us and we are still reeling by the opinions the justices have made on our behalf as if we had no say in this matter whatsoever.

Roe changed the landscape of America's cities, neighborhoods, and schools.  Children began to be seen not simply as optional but excess baggage as sexual maturity meant promiscuity and no limit to what desire could invent among consensual partners who share nothing in common but the want of pleasure.  Our birth rate began to plummet until now we are growing only because of immigration.  School buildings were shuttered for lack of children and even now universities are fighting over the fewer and fewer 18 year olds entering college.  People began to see the cost of children in purely financial terms and some began to complain about why they must share the cost of schools since they had no children in them.  We learned that you could designate children free zones in neighborhoods, businesses, and recreational sites.  Roe has had a profound influence upon the fabric of our American society -- if not exclusively causative, then a primary or secondary cause.

Roe changed the way we look at life.  Abortion became not a tragedy to be mourned or an embarrassment to be whispered about but normal, even routine.  The baby in the womb (who would ever call the baby bump a clump of cells???) is killed and life goes on.  Or, as we learned, a pattern of babies killed as abortion became not an emergency procedure but birth control.  Furthermore, abortion became an entitlement -- a right to be cherished as the mark of absolute freedom.  We looked at the life in the womb as expendable for the sake of pleasure and choice and not simply medical necessity.  Soon, we would begin to see all life in that way.  Every life must be held to a standard of one worth living by those who could sit in judgment over that life.  Every person must be given the right to end their lives as easily, freely, painlessly, and at no cost -- just the way the mother ended her motherhood.  If the people were not able to choose, then it became the right and duty of medicine and the state to make the choice for them to end their lives.  Health insurance was given the new mandate of paying for all of this (along with the government).  Abortion changed much more than the legality of ending the life of the unborn child in the womb.  And we can never go back.  What became a right invented by a court has become a demand of close to half the population.

Though Roe cannot be blamed for the gender alphabet soup that has dominated everything for nearly a generation, Roe opened the door to challenging the biological necessity of the body.   Not only women must have the right to determine the course of their own lives -- everyone must be given the same choice to challenge and define what biology and body once determined.  Perhaps this has been Roe's greatest legacy and the poisoned fruit of what the SCOTUS thought was a more narrow decision of law.  Everyone now seems to believe in the right of choice right down to the argument that neither genes nor reproductive organs are allowed a say much less the final say over being a man or a woman.  The triumph of feeling and its inevitable subjectivity have turned what was eccentricity into normality.  After Roe, women, men, and everything in between would decide by their choice what was true of them, their bodies, their lives, and their futures.  There were no inalienable truths to even aid or assist in this determination -- only the subjective and individual choice.  The worst sin of all -- worse than even the murder of the unborn, is now the failure to be true to yourself (or those who fail to support your chosen truth and self).

For these reasons, the decision to undo Roe has not undone anything which Roe began or hastened or normalized.  The conflict is not over.  The debate continues.  No wonder we still march for life.  In fact, the battle is greater now than when the court first handed down this life and culture changing decision fifty years ago.

Monday, March 20, 2023

How bad can it get?

Sermon for Lent 4 (A), preached on Sunday, March 19, 2023.

e think we have it bad or that things in our live spiral downward but this poor fellow in the Gospel had it far worse.  He was born blind.  Can you imagine the pain and disappointment that attended his birth only to find that he was handicapped by blindness!  As if it were not bad enough, what about a life in which you were the subject of whispers and gossip by those wondering what sin occasioned this blindness – the sin of the infant or of his parents?  When Jesus appears to offer hope to man born blind, the Lord of heaven and earth spits in some dirt and covers the man’s eyes.  Then when it all begins to look up and Jesus has gracious given this man his sight, the man is attacked by the enemies of Jesus, and his parents, and the Lord Himself.  How bad can it get?

The world and probably many Christians are more interested in answers than in healing.  Everyone wants to know why but knowing why seldom comforts anyone. We cannot hear the Gospel without raising questions.  Some people insist that the Trinity does not make sense or creation does not square with science or time lines in the Gospels might not match up perfectly or the details of the Scriptures mesh with other accounts or historical record.  We are forever putting a BUT before faith yet our questions do not affect God in the slightest but distance us from Christ and from the Kingdom.  

You want answers?  Blindness is the result of sin but not individual sins – rather original sin.  There is no healing power in mud.  Jesus is the healing power.  There are no medical answers for Jesus’ healing nor are the reasons to explain why He healed some but not all.  Many, even most of those whom Jesus healed did not have faith beforehand and Scripture does not say if they came to faith afterwards.  Faith is not a choice you make or anyone makes but the Spirit empowered response to God’s works and His Word.  Does that make you feel better?  Probably not.  Then let me heap some more pain upon you.  There are none so blind as those who will not see.  Or, to use Jesus words, “For judgment I came into this world so that those who do not see may see and those who see may become blind.”

In the end this is not about eyes that do not work but hearts and minds that are broken, crippled by sin so that they cannot believe.  Onlys the Spirit works faith but we can reject the Spirit.  This faith is not looking at the answers and deciding that it is credible to believe in them.    
Faith trusts what the eye cannot see, the mind cannot reason, and the heart cannot desire.  Faith is the work of the Spirit.  If you were here last week, you heard it first in that sermon.  So because we are like those who want answers rather than faith and those who want to render faith into a reasonable choice, we must hear it again.  

To modern ears words are like spit – cheap, ordinary, unimpressive.  How can God depend upon words to do His work?  But it is not simply the words but the voice that speaks them and the Holy Spirit that works through them.  Scripture is not just words because the speak of those words is the Word made flesh and the power in those words is the power of the Holy Spirit to kindle faith within us, cast off the works of darkness, live in obedience to God’s will, and keep us to everlasting life.

To modern eyes, water is like spit – cheap, ordinary, unimpressive.  How can God work through water to do His work?  But as the Catechism reminds us, it is not simply water but water with the Word through which the Spirit is at work.  St. Paul points us to this work.  By baptism we die with Christ, joined to His cross, and are raised with Christ, by the power of His resurrection, to new and everlasting lives.  The new life we live is not our life but Christ’s life in us, working in us that which is pleasing to the Father and reflective of our new identity as the children of God.

To modern ears, the absolution is like spit – cheap, ordinary, unimpressive.  How can God work through the voice of the Pastor addressing the individual privately or the congregation in public?  But, of course, it is not Larry Peters’ voice.  It is Christ speaking through the mouth of the pastor to bestow that which belongs to Christ – forgiveness for our sins which He won by His suffering and death and which He alone has the right and power to administer.  Even when Christians forgive each other, it is Christ who is acting in us and through us.

To modern mouths, the bread and wine is like spit – cheap, ordinary, unimpressive. How can God put Himself into bread and wine and why would He work through something as common as eating and drinking?  Here again the catechism reminds us.  It is not merely the eating and drinking but what we eat and what we drink.  The bread is the bread identified by the Word of Christ as His flesh for the life of the world.  The cup is the cup He has set apart to be His blood that cleanses us from all our sin.  What we eat and drink are not what we define them to be but what Christ has spoken and promised.  Again, we eat and drink forgiveness of sins.

What caused blindness?  Illness?  Death?  Why do we suffer so in body and spirit? The offensive answer is sin – the original sin that we were born into and the actual sins we commit in thought, word, and deed.  But where is our healing?  This also offensive.  Like Naaman who thought there were better waters and better ways for his healing, we look at the Word and Sacraments as cheap and easy things, mere symbols, and hardly worth believing.  But these are the means of grace, the very answers we seek and the healing power of God.  We worry that what God offers is not up to our needs but His grace is sufficient.  All we need is faith.

The world is not friendly to Christ or the things of Christ or the people of Christ.  The enemies of Christ and of our faith work together to disdain and diminish what Christ has given and what Christ does through these means of grace.  We are this blind man, living lives that are constrained by original sin to be at odds with the Lord, in love with the moment, and left to make peace with the darkness and death.  We have been this blind man since birth.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  But Christ has done for us what He did for this blind man.

We see with a vision of faith, through ordinary means made extraordinary by the work of God and the power of God.  We have no explanation.  Only faith.  What we witness to the world is not what we think or what we feel but what Christ has revealed through these means of grace.  The fruit of God’s work in us is the same as the man born blind:  Lord, I believe.

How bad can things get?  Pretty bad and maybe worse.  Sin has made us blind from birth.  Though we want an impressive show of God’s power, all we get are His Word and Sacraments.  As the world taunted Christ to the cross, so does it taunt you with the cross of doubt, fear, and a curiosity for answers.  What do we have to say?  It was Jesus.  It is Jesus.  It always will be Jesus.  I was blind but now I see.  In the holy name of Jesus.  Amen.

Participation. . .

There are times when questions come up that are particular teaching moments.  One of them occurred a while ago when someone asked again about getting more people involved in the leadership of the Divine Service.  Participation was defined as leading.  While I do not agree with that definition, I do get it.  It is the same kind of definition we now use politically for representation.  In politics a man cannot represent a woman, a member of a racial majority cannot represent a racial minority, etc...  So the idea is much the same.  In order for people to be equal to the pastor and equal to each other, the leadership of the Divine Service must be diverse or else it is exclusive (in a negative sort of way).

The great mystery is, of course, that there is no way for everyone in the pew to have their time in the spotlight.  When we start parceling out bits and pieces of the liturgy, we only marginally increase the numbers of folks doing something.  We might be able to come up with a half a dozen who might have some role in the Divine Service but what good does that to the rest of the 300 in the pew (in my parish)?  Of course, the answer is nothing.  But somehow those who think that participation equates to some sort of leadership role somehow seem to think it does matter.  But they are mistaken.  Participation does not mean leadership anymore than leadership means participation.  Indeed, the participation that is most desired and needed is faith -- faith to receive the Word and Sacramental gifts of God and respond with praise, thanksgiving, good works, and tithes/offerings.

Once we get this right, the whole house of cards that presumes a right and a need to do what the pastor does evaporates.  Curiously, however, while Lutherans are beating drums for participation, the big box non-denominationals we envy so much have the most passive congregation of all.  Not only do they not lead, they do not even sing or pray or bring offerings or receive the Sacrament.  In many cases, they simply sit there and watch while sipping down their designer coffee.  And those who beat the drum for participation seem to think that a spectator watching on the screen is the same as one who is a part of the worshiping congregation gathered around Word and Sacrament in one place.  There is little more passive than sitting before a screen in PJs with hot chocolate and donuts watching a live stream or recorded service.  

We are funny people.  We do not make sense.  We are not logical.  We just want what we want, when we want it.  Thanks be to God that He has created a Church in which the focus is not on us but on Him who gives His good gifts to unworthy and undeserving whom He delights in calling His own sons and daughters. The pastor's leadership is to convey these gifts to God's people.  He is no more the center of things than the people.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Now eight years ago. . .

After my Dad died, I was left with his request for his son to preach the sermon at his father's funeral.  Dad was not oblivious to how hard that would be but it was his wish.  He voiced it to me and I felt I had no other choice than to do what he asked.  So eight years ago today when he died, I put together some words to preach.  Hidden in them were these paragraphs.

Dad was a simple man.  Early in the morning, in the black recliner, he read the Scriptures, the catechism, the Lutheran Confessions, Portals of Prayer, and he prayed.  I used to sit up at the top of the steps every now and then and watch him.  Every day began this way.  Before any work could begin or even breakfast eaten, he spent time in prayer.

He loved Mom and pursued her when she was not so sure about him.  He and Mom were different and their weaknesses and strengths complemented each other’s weaknesses and strengths.  They lived under the forgiveness of Christ and practiced it freely each toward the other.  Theirs was a love that sustained nearly 65 years of marriage.  He loved his brother and sisters and their families and nothing was better than to spend a Sunday afternoon on a car ride to end up at one of their homes with some chips and dip and maybe a drink or two.  Family occasions were not duties but privileges – the precious privilege of family.

My Dad loved his home.  He loved to welcome people into his home.  Mom and Dad were great hosts who entertained rich and poor, old friends and strangers, famous and anonymous – all with the same affection and warmth.  My Dad loved a short power nap after lunch – sort of a sacred ritual in his whole life.  And, of course, he loved to work – as one who believed that labor was a privilege and the duty of the child of God toward God and neighbor.  Dad found it easier to deal with failure than to live with the regret of never having worked to make it happen.  As a teenager I found his work ethic foolish.  As a 60 year old son, I find it noble and wise and honorable.

Dad did not acquire these traits from rich experiences and they were not inborn into his character.  He had wonderful examples in my Grandpa and Grandma Peters but his life was shaped from the baptismal font, by the power of the Holy Spirit, toward the cross of Christ, and for the glory of God.  That is why I speak to you today.  There is nothing you can know of my Dad without first knowing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  He was a man whose life was lived forever in the shadow of the cross where the saving will of the Father met the love of the Son and the Spirit marked this redemption for Albur George Peters, and for the sake of the whole world. 

Faith is not theory or philosophy.  It is the most practical thing of all.  It is where sinners hanging their heads in shame meet the grace of God in forgiveness.  It is where hopeless lives are reborn to everlasting life by the power of Christ’s resurrection.  It is where the limits of our smartness and our stubborn wills come face to face with the mind and heart of God, relentless to save.  It is where we meet the Lord who refused to surrender us to death, to tears, to fears, to pain, to grief, to sorrows, to disappointed hopes, to broken dreams, to tawdry pasts and to uncertain futures.  So great is the love God has for Albur, for you, and for me...  And just when we think we have given up everything, God points us to the cross where God gave up so much more – so that we might have all of it without cost to us though it cost Jesus everything.

I chose Isaiah 35 because it speaks of Dad – of feeble knees whom the Lord has made strong and its call to be strong, fear not, and trust in the Lord to save you.  And also because in the last hard days of his life, his prayer and ours was for the gladness and joy to begin and the sorrows, struggles, and sighs to flee away.  John 10 was one of those sections of worn pages from Dad’s Bible – a place where he fled for comfort and strength.  Jesus is the door to the sheep pen, the shepherd who calls His sheep by name, and the good shepherd who dies for His sheep.  We all pay attention to that part.  Dad focused also on the other part of Jesus’ words.

My sheep hear My voice and follow Me...   That was Dad and it should be you and me.  There are charlatans and strangers and thieves and robbers who have distorted Christianity and led too many Christians astray.  Where the Scripture’s vocabulary of sin and repentance, forgiveness and life through the cross, and the goal of eternal life have been replaced by selfish and foolish notions of your best life now, where God has become more motivational speaker for people looking for a better life, we have a big problem.  The sheep recognize only one voice – the voice of the crucified and risen Lord and this is the Savior whom they follow – and none other.

The lesson from Revelation is perhaps my favorite.  Those who read strange foreboding things into Revelation have got it all wrong.  John insists that he writes to comfort his people in their tribulations and to encourage their patience endurance in the Lord Jesus.  If you read Revelation and you get no comfort or encouragement out of it, you read it wrong.  Nowhere is this more true than in this passage from chapter 7.  If you have ever watched someone you love suffer, if you have ever waited at the bedside for the end none of us wants, then these words speak to you as they do to me.  In our moments of greatest test, we cling to the promise of sinners cleansed in the blood of the Lamb, serving the Lord joyfully in His eternal presence, where hunger, thirst, sorrow, and tears no longer haunt, hurt, or threaten.

The truth is my Dad is not dead.  Those who believe in Christ, who were washed in baptism, called by the voice of the Spirit in the Word, nourished and fed at Christ’s table. . . well, death cannot claim them and the grave cannot hold them.  Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord, St. Paul says.  When the trumpet will sound and Christ will come again to stand upon this earth and finish His new creation, He will reach down into the dust of the earth and He will raise up Albur George Peters.  Nothing can stop Him.  Nothing will stop Him.  Those who die in Christ live in Him and from death they wait with us for Christ to raise us to immortality and lead us to the place He has prepared for us, the great and blessed reunion with the saints – the bosom of Abraham, as Scripture calls it.  Dad was ready to see this promise fulfilled and in his last days he enjoyed the peace of Christ’s forgiveness and the comfort of Christ’s body and blood.  Would that each of us knew with the same confidence this promise from God and the peace in of His presence in our final hours.
Now Mom is gone -- gone to be with Dad and to wait with him that blessed day when barriers no more divide and God in His great power and mercy will raise up them and all the faithful to everlasting life.  Mom was lost without Dad and I think my brother and I have not yet come to terms with the death of our parents and the end of our lives as sons.  Certain vocations continue even after this vocation ends.  I see now what I did not know before.  Having a couple of grandchildren seems to remind you of the gift God gave you in your family and of the treasure you had when there was a man you could call Dad and a woman Mom.  

It was fitting to me that Dad died on St. Joseph's Day.  He was another man who believed and lived the faith and who became the guardian and protector of a child precious in the sight of the Lord.  On this day I remember and give thanks to God that He supplied me with such gifts in a faithful and pious Dad and Mom and pray that I may be as faithful.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Look at me. . .

Looking back on the vestments that Benedict XVI wore, I was first struck by their stunning artistry only to find that they were old, very old.  He worse these vestments not out of preference for a style but as a visual demonstration of his hermeneutic of continuity.  It is clear from Francis' refusal to wear them that the current pope is saying something essentially different.  Benedict was identifying with his predecessors while Francis is saying quite visually as well as in words -- I am not those who went before me.  Perhaps he is saying even more.  Look at me and do not pay any attention to those who went before me.  Although his stewardship of the papal office is fraught with contradictions and confusion, he as the center, the star, the one in control is unmistakable.  For all the talk of synodality and collegiality among the bishops, Francis does everything he can to make sure no one influences him and he alone is large and in charge.  The vestments he chooses are as much as visual cue to this characteristic as are his words.

The early Lutherans were slow to break with the past in ceremony, vestment, or doctrine.  When they did, they were also careful to insist that it was because Rome had veered away and the Lutherans were making a course correction for continuity and not against it.  The proliferation of quotes from the fathers give the Confessions backup for the claim of continuity.  Indeed, unless the Lutherans were claiming and could give evidence that Rome was the innovator and they were the true catholics, the whole Reformation is merely a vain personality conflict and its doctrine the triumph of reason and individualism.  What makes the Reformation hang together is the almost casual and yet profound insistence that the Lutherans were catholic in doctrine and practice and Rome was not.  As significant as this truth might have been then, today Lutherans have not a clue what to do with it.  On the one hand some are in pursuit of a radical ecumenical vision with their embrace of culture.  On the other, some are perfectly content to be a Protestant sect with peculiar worship styles.  Neither is an authentic voice for what is embodied in the Lutheran Confessions or early Lutheran practice (before it was impinged upon by governments and agendas).

Which, when looking at vestments, is a visual clue to Lutheranism.  The preservation for many years of the traditional mass vestments as well as the mass form (with the Formula Missae more as evangelical rubrics to stand along side the medieval missal) were in the mouth and in the eye the same.  We are those who went before us.  The Lutheran doctrinal and ceremonial ideal is exactly the hermeneutic of continuity (unlike Rome, it is not wedded to a moment in time like the Tridentine Mass but to the whole).  Of course, it is a rejection of the Church as infallible voice above that of Scripture but it is not a rejection of the Church as the Body of Christ visible and present where the true marks of the Church are found -- including catholicity.

When Lutheran pastors use personal style or preference to decide what to wear or they shy away from the logical and normal judgment of the world watching the Lutheran Divine Service (you are catholic!), it is a reflection of their uncertainty and discomfort with that very catholic identity.  It is as well a visual cue that they do not see themselves or who they are or what they do as in continuity with the catholic and apostolic faith and practice that went before them.  It is as if they are very much like Francis in Rome:  Look at me; I am not like those who went before me.  Even those who love Luther, love the Protestant sounding Luther and not the catholic voice -- note the discomfort with Luther's commentary on the Magnificat.  It is as if some modern day Lutherans are out-Luthering Luther in trying to insist that the Reformation really was about establishing a new church!  What they wear or do not wear is part of that erroneous conviction.

What you need are pastors who insist the opposite -- do not look at me but look at the Word I proclaim and the Sacraments I administer and the office I hold.  Some years ago a volume came out with the wonderful title At Home in the House of My Fathers.  Increasingly, Lutherans are having trouble feeling at home in the house of their fathers and because of that they are also making it hard for God's people to be at home in the house of the Father on high.  If the Lutheran Reformation ends up running out of gas, it will not be because the Lutherans confessed the faith of their fathers but because they were not at ease with their fathers in the faith and have decided to make Lutheranism merely a church instead of the church that the Reformers claimed.  When that happens, they deserve to fade away but the faith once and lively confessed will remain because it is the faith of the Scriptures and of the fathers.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Indoctrination and self-serving prejudice. . .

The other day I watched a video of a kindergarten teacher reading a story to her class.  In the story, she asked the children if the character was a boy or a girl.  One young lad seemed spontaneously to offer the observation that the child might be non-binary.  Now this is kindergarten!!  No kindergarten child could possibly know that term or use it unless that child had been indoctrinated by someone and coached to see things in a framework no kindergarten child would or should ever use.  And there it was.   Turns out the teacher is, you guessed it, non-binary.  The teacher lauded the child for the astute answer and encouraged the children to just be children -- while they are working out what gender they might be.  Ah, all is well and good in paradise.

If this is not indoctrination, I do not know what is.  Furthermore, it is not indoctrination of fact and truth but of fiction and fancy.  No kindergarten child should be engaged on this level or encouraged to think about it.  Why can't we allow children to be children?  Why must we saddle them with the adult fiction of genders that are chosen and of bodies that have no say so it that choice?  If this is what education has become, parents should wake up to the new reality and make some hard choices in response to the drivel that is passing for educational theory and practice.  

Then, when I had thought I had heard the worst.  Another video showed the rant of a public school teacher who was offended that a student had misgendered her and that the counselors at the school had played down the offense.  In the end, you could hear the woman complaining that it was not only the student's duty to respect her gender and pronoun choice but such a violation of this right deserved a strong rebuke not only to the student but to the parents.  At that point, the teacher should have been fired on the spot.  Education does not exist to support a self-serving prejudice of feeling over fact and the presumption of this choice as the highest truth.

Although I live in Tennessee where schools are not on the cutting of such things as Critical Race Theory or the normalization of gender dysphoria, the reality is that every school in every state and city will soon have to make a choice between an easy accreditation and a hard fought losing fight to resist the gurus of wisdom who make such awards.  It will not be long before what is optional in the classroom becomes the obligatory and normative indoctrination of the gender alphabet problem on our children at their earliest ages.  Christians will have to decide if they can live with this kind of fake truth in the school or if they must adjust their lives and live with integrity to the higher truth of God's eternal word.

It is not if but when such a conversation as I cited above happens in the kindergarten or primary school near you.  We may not be able to do anything about the school system itself, although I suspect we can do more than we have attempted, but we can do something to make sure that what is moral ordinary there does not the ordinary morality of the truth that endures forever.  At one point in time we presumed that if we isolated the radicals to the halls of academia, the rest of the world (commerce, industry, government, and politics) would be kept safe -- insulated from the foolishness.  When academia ran out of jobs, the crazies entered the marketplace in search of a living.  The university was hopeless infected with such stuff (call it wokism) but we thought corporate America and cultural America could be kept safe.  We were wrong.  As soon as leaving a campus was necessary to pay the bills, corporate America and social and cultural America were infected with the pandemic of progressive liberalism.  Now even Amazon and Google sound like ivy league American exclusivism and wokism.  Government was sure to follow and politics rode this bandwagon from hell all that way to the sea and back.  As they have said, the cork is off the genie's bottle and everything that fan be crazy is.

We will have to find ways to preserve our children from this but, even moreso, to prepare them for what is out there and teach them how to respond.  Even in school districts that have a good reputation, the time is now to figure out what the backup plan is and how to figure out the timetable for what is good, right, and salutary.  The schools that produced the teachers and the accreditation people who certify their teaching have made the public school unsafe at any speed.  It may not be the beginning of the end but it is at least the end of the beginning and the fight is front and center for us all.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Rome is falling. . .

It is common knowledge that Father James Martin, S.J., is a darling of Pope Francis and the mutual admiration society they have has created no small amount of consternation among the faithful.  Martin is an outspoken LGBT advocate within the broader framework of culture but specifically within the pale of Rome.  He has before transgressed the line between denying what the Roman Catholic Catechism says about homosexuality and the whole range of alphabet attractions and identities.  This time he jumped in head first, affirming his belief that two men can enter into a real marriage that everyone [including the Roman Catholic Church] must recognize their union as such.

His remarks were in response to a lengthy essay by Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, who said that no marriage between two men [or two women] can be called a marriage.  Donahue insisted that Pete Buttigieg’s same-sex marriage to his partner Chasten is not a true marriage but rather a “legal fiction.  Father Martin countered simply that “Pete Buttigieg is married.”   The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines marriage as a covenant “by which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love.”  These truths about marriage are not mere religious beliefs, according to Rome, but are “present in the order of nature and can be perceived by the light of human reason.”  Martin is not buying it.

Twitter, Martin's favorite medium, is where he is surprised by the question.  "Surprised this got so much attention. Like it or not, Pete Buttigieg is legally married. You may disagree with same-sex marriage (or not). But @SecretaryPete is married in the eyes of the state, and his church, as much as anyone else is. To claim otherwise is to ignore reality."

While I do not care a whit about Fr. Martin, the inability of Rome to bring public teachers into conformity with established church teachings is not a small issue and not one that we Lutherans have escaped either.  Indeed, this is the great challenge for our age.  Do our doctrines matter or not?  Is everything in dogma a question or are there established answers, based upon Scripture, attested in tradition, and confessed before the world?  Is it beyond expectation to presume that those who wear the collar and occupy the offices of the ministry would preach and teach and witness in conformity with this faith and truth?  

The reality is this.  If the Church cannot get her act together within herself, how can she speak to the world the unchanging truth of Christ?  Such public diversions from established truth in doctrine and in the natural law compromises the authority of Scripture and those who preach and teach those Scriptures even as it confuses and confounds the world.  While their is often mockery from Roman Catholics about sola Scriptura, the reality is that their very intricate systems of bishops and councils on top of which sits a pope is not an effective guarantee of faithfulness.  I would like to believe that public teachers who transgress such basic and long standing positions would be held accountable but, as we have seen, Frank on the seat of Peter has little desire to rein in those who are pushing the boundaries as he has done and still does.  It is always a scandal when pastors and teachers of the faith depart from that faith but it is an especially ironic one when the Pope who is supposed to be the guardian of this truth himself transgresses that truth.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Health passports . . .

Following the G20 meeting in Bali, the leaders of the world’s largest economies issued a joint declaration in which, among other things, they called for the establishment of a global vaccine passport and digital health ID scheme. The statement says, in part: “We acknowledge the importance of shared technical standards and verification methods, under the framework of the IHR (2005), to facilitate seamless international travel, interoperability, and recognising digital solutions and non-digital solutions, including proof of vaccinations.” 

The issue of the Covid vaccines, their safety or not, is beyond the purview of this blog.  What my concern is here has more to do with the evolving restrictions upon travel that the pandemic has brought to the forefront.  Now it appears that the vaccines for Covid (and others as are deemed necessary) will become the price people must pay to have access to travel.  We already saw how this was at work in China as people were restricted from province to province.  Living in Tennessee, we heard the Kentucky governor request and require citizens of that state not to travel to Tennessee (or other states) who were not following the same strict mandates during the pandemic as was Kentucky.  While it may not quite have gotten to the point of troopers at the borders, the rhetoric was pretty high.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, many of the means used to control people's freedom for their own good have subtly become normative in the arsenal of state executives and health departments looking to manage the next great health crisis.  The use of these for global travel politicizes the vaccines and strips the right of choice from people.  They no longer can decide for themselves but must curtail the normal access they would have to travel if they make the wrong choice.

The G20 leaders said: “We support continued international dialogue and collaboration on the establishment of trusted global digital health networks as part of the efforts to strengthen prevention and response to future pandemics, that should capitalise and build on the success of the existing standards and digital Covid-19 certificates.”  Corporations, governments, and international organisations such as the World Bank and World Economic Forum have long promoted biometrics-based digital identity and health wallets — the so-called “digital passports” that, assigned to each citizen at birth, would contain a person’s vaccination status and other health data (such as genetic tests and mental health records), along with other information formerly presumed to be private -- demographic, financial, location, as well as biometric data. Already it is hard to know who has access to your biometric data -- your physician, health insurer, pharmacy, and a host of other interested parties.  Who will know where and why that information is shared -- all in the name of your best interest.

Again, I ask you extrapolate down the road from such rules.  Will there be a time in which other criteria will become as normative as public health to restrict people from travel, to deprive them of other ordinary liberties if they decide to violate the standards set by those who know better, and to presume that people have learned to comply rather than challenge such rules?  My friends, it may be that such a time has already come.