Saturday, September 30, 2023

Walk it off. . . man up. . .

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     I saw a meme once that said when I was a kid I died once and my mom told me to walk it off.  This is something I take personally.  When I was 10 or 12 I was helping my uncle stack hay and was on top of the stack with a pitch fork.  At some point he got a little close with the load of hay and I got a little close to the edge of the stack and some hay gave way and I dropped 15-20 feet to the ground.  Though I had enough sense to toss the pitch fork, I still ended up with the wind knocked out of me.  My uncle was worried and took me back to the farmhouse and called my mom.  Is he still breathing? she asked.  Assured that I was, she say I would be fine.  Walk it off.   Man up.

We live in a culture of offense today.  It is not that we are really offended but only that we love to play the victim and we love to cater to victims.  It is no less noticeable in the Church.  We are told constantly to dumb down worship so that the stranger will not be offended or to skip preaching and teaching on sensitive topics lest the hearer be offended or to cater to the schedules of those who are too busy to come to worship on Sunday morning or catechism class on Wednesday evening.  In particular, we are warned that not everyone likes chanting or incense or vestments or the ceremonial of the liturgy and it would be better not to offend them and omit such things than to go ahead knowing that some will not like it.  We have become a church of minimums -- the minimum you have to do to belong, the minimum you have to attend to be a member, the minimum we do in terms of music, liturgy, ceremony, etc...  It is as if we are saying how little can you believe or practice that belief and still be guaranteed a place in heaven.  Apparently what it required is very little.  We keep members on the rolls who have not darkened the door in a decade and we tell new people that if you love Jesus you can skip over all those parts of Scripture you have doubts about.  We would rather not offend than even be faithful.  

The truth is that anything and everything can be misunderstood or taken deliberately as an offense -- simply because we know that playing the victim works.  We are all victims of somebody else's sin but we may not quite see ourselves as sinners.  We know that most folks deserve what they get in  life but we deserve less of the bad and more of the good that comes our way in life.  We find the cross a scandal unless it is the empty cross, relieved of its stain of blood or hint of suffering or power of death.  We prefer a gospel in which there is no debt of sin to be paid, no punishment because of sin to be endured, and no death to be overcome.  We would rather be true to ourselves than to God.  If God's does not like it, then that is His problem.  If you will not cater to my ideas, then that is your problem.  We have forgotten Luther's words about putting the best construction on what others say but we expect others to cut us some slack when we offend.  It is a world of landmines and everyone of us has big feet.  Yet it is still someone else's fault when it blows up underneath us.  We are so happy to be victims that we raise our children to be even better victims than we are.  How pathetic!

I recall an old cartoon which shows the clergy surrounding the man being ordained.  The kid sitting in his pew with his father asks what they are doing up there.  The dad whispers, They are ordaining him to be a pastor.  In other words, they are removing his backbone.  Ouch.  But is it true?  Have we learned to cater so well to the peculiarities of faith and piety of our people and their busy schedules that we have compromised the very Gospel itself in order to make our peace with them and their stressed lives?  Have we justified their victimhood by presuming to make changeable what is eternal and thus making the eternal less than the temporal?  Maybe it is time we said to people it is time to walk it off and man up.

  • Walk it off and man up. . . to the promises made when you brought your children to baptism...  
  • Walk it off and man up. . . to the cause of catechesis and the study of Scripture to grow in faith...
  • Walk it off and man up. . . to adjusting your schedule to the church's schedule of worship...
  • Walk it off and man up. . . to the piety of prayer and study and good works and almsgiving...
  • Walk it off and man up. . . to the vows and promises you made in marriage even when it gets hard...
  • Walk it off and man up. . . to the call to forgive as you have been forgiven...
  • Walk it off and man up. . . to the disdain, rejection, and persecution of Christians by the world...

Many years ago I was visiting a shut in who was hard and hard to get along with.  She had endured a long and difficult life, part of it with the shadow of Nazism and the experience of two world wars.  You have no idea how much I have suffered, she would say.   Why, even Jesus did not suffer as I have.  And there you have it.  Christians have it harder than Jesus.  Perhaps we need understanding more than saving and a God who sees how much we have suffered as victims and will make faith easier on us.  Instead of following Him, it would be only fair if Jesus would follow us around for a while.    What do you think?

Friday, September 29, 2023

Life is hard. . .

Many years ago I was talking to a couple parishioners about their absence from worship.  It turned into quite a conversation.  They were suffering the bruises and hurts that can be typical of life.  They basically said that life was hard and it was the church's job to make them feel better about it all and find some modicum of happiness.  I get it.  Really I do.  Life in this modern age is not quite easy for pastors either.  We are all looking for a slice of the happy pie and for someplace to turn where we can feel better about it all.

Of course, the problem is that what makes like hard cannot be wished away.  To be faithful the Church and her ministers must speak the hard and blunt truth of sin and its consequences.  Sin is not some small thing added onto life's problems but the beating heart of all that is wrong within us and out there in the world where we live.  Added to this tension is that God has not delivered us from living within this tension of not being of the world but nevertheless living in the world.  What we all shudder to admit is that this living in the world while having, as St. Paul says, our citizenship or commonwealth in heaven is its own burden.  Bearing the cross is our lot but we don't have to like it and sometimes we just want to lay it down for a while to be amused or entertained or distracted from it all.

Honestly, if this is what you want from the Church, you will not find it in a faithful Lutheran congregation served by a faithful Lutheran pastor.  Our refuge is Christ whom we know and from whom we receive gifts of unimagined grace and favor through His Word and Sacraments but we cannot escape talking about sin.  We are a people who have been redeemed but who live in the not yet of God's final completion.  Happiness is what the world talks about but we talk about our contentment resting in the hands of a gracious God whom we know through the face of His one and only Son.  Within this mystery the cross is both the cruel image of sin's cost and the blessed comfort of Him who paid it willingly and gladly that we might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom both now and forever.

Life is hard but relief cannot be found in amusement or entertainment or distraction.  Happiness is fleeting and it is more work to sustain the moments of happiness than it is to rest the ache of our discontent upon Him who loved us more than life and loves us now with everlasting life.  Evangelicalism has somehow become attractive but it cannot offer us much more than the old moralism which presumes that things are not good because of something we did and they can be improved also by something we can do (and it is the preacher's job to tell us what to do to make things better and make us happier).  Our joy is not in extending the small joys of this life or multiplying them but in Christ our Redeemer.  He is not a path to our joy but that joy incarnate.  The relief which we seek is not a decision or a choice but Christ whom we know by faith.  

Anyway, life is hard enough as it is.  Why stir things up?  The Church’s job is, after all, to make people feel good and be happy.  Or is it?  Calling people to repentance is surely stirring things up yet this is the Church's vocation in the world.  Addressing sin with the remedy of absolution surely stirs things up yet this is the Church's vocation even among the faithful.  Admitting that death is not a friend to the suffering or something with which we may make peace if it waits long enough and comes peaceful enough is surely stirring things up but it must be done so that we are pointed to eternal life.  Challenging the dualism of the age that sees the flesh as a container for the spirit gladly jettisoned in order to find oneness with all things is surely stirring things up but it must be one to proclaim the resurrection of the body and the new heavens and the new earth of God's design.

The problem is not that we want to be happy but we choose to be happy with things which can never be trusted to make us happy or keep us happy.  The problem is not that we find the cross and self-denial hard but that we would trade such difficulty for the fragile easy of amusement, distraction, self-indulgence, and desire satisfied.  It is precisely what happiness is that needs to change within us by the transformation of mind and heart under the direction of the Spirit.  It is precisely desire that needs to be challenged because it remains the enemy of contentment and peace and not the means of them.  

Don't choose a church that promises to make you happy today but cannot provide you with eternity and don't leave a church because you find life hard now and you want to find an easier way.  These are the devil's lies to which we are so susceptible.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Life worth living?

According to new government data, it seems that some 49,500 people took their own lives last year in the U.S., the highest number ever recorded.  The suicide rate has become more common now than any time in the past 75 years!  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted the concerning numbers so we presume that there is some level of accuracy in the report. The largest increases were seen in older adults. Deaths rose nearly 7% in people ages 45 to 64, and more than 8% in people 65 and older, white men in particular.  Suicides in adults ages 25 to 44 grew about 1%. The new data indicates that suicide became the second leading cause of death in that age group in 2022, up from No. 4 in 2021.  Suicide rates increased 37 percent between 2000 and 2018, decreased 5 percent between 2018 and 2020, but returned to the peak rate in 2021.

While the causes for this increase are probably complex and variable depending upon the age and race and economic status of the one choosing suicide, there is certainly one obvious reason.  It has become normal.  Where once suicides were not spoken of except to marvel at why someone would choose to take his or her own life, today it has become almost routine for people to choose suicide over a life of pain or sorrow or even simple boredom.  Who is so cruel to believe that life is a gift even when that life is filled with suffering or want?  The more we normalize suicide and the more we offer the potential of a life-ending choice that comes also with a lack of pain or trauma to the actual act itself, the more people will choose to end their lives when they believe those lives are no longer worth living.

Add to that the sense of helplessness that accompanies the lives of many who face chronic pain or limitations due to disease or frailty and it is easy enough to get the picture.  So who feels bound to continue a life they have deemed not worth living? The more that we promote the idea that there is no shame or cost to the choice of surrendering your life, the more those who find their current lives less than optimum will consider suicide.  The problem here is not simply putting away the guns but addressing the pain and despair that make suicide look like an attractive choice.

There is no more uniquely suited group to offer hope and help to the despairing and those in chronic pain than the orthodox Christians and their churches.  It is not a matter of what can we do but what will we do.  The Gospel is strong enough to offer rest and respite to the wounded in spirit and those who suffer pain in mind or body but as that Gospel is increasingly surrendered to the woke new ideas that are concerned with less than the eternal tomorrow, the harder it will be to slow or stop the rate of suicide in our land.

Overall, more than one in five high school students surveyed had seriously considered suicide within the past year, up from 16% in 2011. Some eighteen percent said that they had a plan.  This was true for nearly every demographic group across America.  Clearly suicide is claiming younger victims and it has become one of the leading causes of death for those across the age spectrum.  Added to these statistics is a report on overdose deaths, with nearly 110,000 Americans dead in 2022.  The bleak outlook on the state of affairs across America and throughout the world have combined to bring us to the point of despair -- where we often become willing partners in the pursuit of a quick, easy, and painless way to go -- running perhaps less to death than from life.  Not only that but the more that we redefine yesterday's sins as today's edgy behaviors, the more the rate will continue to be sought out for those who have lost the idea that life is precious and given by God as a gift. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Growing Up Classical. . .

If you ask anyone of my generation, they learned their music from the cartoons.  And the music they learned from those cartoons was in great measure classical or opera.  Who can forget Bugs and Elmer Fudd while the Barber of Seville played a supporting role in the humor?  Who can forget Bugs at the piano playing Liszt?  It all reached its zenith in Disney's magnificent Fantasia but that work hardly stands alone in the history of cartoons and classical music.  It was the way we learned it without even thinking about the music itself.  The scores became ingrained into our minds and we were attracted to it immediately.  The love stayed as we grew up and listened to classical radio stations (usually public) on our car radios.  But, as you might have noticed, it is not the same today.  Not only do the cartoons use contemporary sounding commercial music but the radio stations have not so slowly disappeared from the radio dials across America.

One place where you continue to hear classical music is the movie theater.  Some of the most poignant moments in cinema history have been accompanied by the classical greats.  From the opening of Strauss in 2001 A Space Odyssey to the stark battlefield scene in Platoon with Barber right down to the classical pieces composed for the screen by such as John Williams, music is not background but part of the script and a key player in the end result.  They are vastly different in style and sound -- from Raging Bull - Intermezzo from Cavelleria Rusticana (Pietro Mascagni) to There Will Be Blood - Violin Concerto in D major (Johannes Brahms) to Apocalypse Now - Flight Of The Valkyries (Richard Wagner) to Five Easy Pieces - Prelude in E minor, Op. 28 No. 4 (Frédéric Chopin) to Philadelphia - La Mamma Morta, from Andrea Chénier (Umberto Giordano) to Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation - Turandot (Giacomo Puccini) -- and that is a very short list from the top of my memory.  

Alas, classical music is disappearing from the ears of our children, youth, and young adults.  It has been replaced by an ever changing sound track that will probably not endure as these musical giants from the past (and present) have provided a music that spans the generations.  I lament the loss not for myself but for those who come after me.  It is not a matter of appreciation as much as it is exposure.  Sometimes, however, I wonder if we are even listening anymore and the muzak has become merely background noise.  That which can and does and should enliven and ennoble us leaves more than silence in its loss.  We are the poorer.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Stoic Humanity. . .

At the end of the movie Moonstruck there is a view of the house and a focus on the ancestors whose photos hang on the dining room wall.  They look like a hardened people.  They do not look happy.  They look almost angry.  But they are not.  They are stoic people who lived through the turmoil of war, the pain of want, the constant threat of death, and with an understanding of how fragile life really is.  You look at the photo for yourself.  If you old enough, like me, you knew people like this and not from a photo.

I think of my Aunt Anna and Uncle Hieronymus.  They were a stoic people whose faces seemed upset but they were not.  They had gone through a hard life and had learned that to endure was its own victory.  They did not search for things to give meaning to their lives nor did they instinctively judge their lives by what made them happy or sad in a moment.  As a child growing up I wondered why they were hard but I have since learned that their stoic lives did not prevent them from being kind, loving, and generous.  My Uncle Roney made sausage that we called Roney Bologna.  Long after Uncle Roney died, we picked up Aunt Anna for church every Sunday.  She suffered through my loud mouth and my driving -- neither of which she truly appreciated.  I was not sure she even liked me.  Then one Sunday she asked me to come into the house with her after Church and she handed me a small package of Roney Bologna that she had found cleaning out her freezer.  It was the last tie to Uncle Roney and his beloved sausage.  She knew how much I loved that Roney Bologna and it was her joy to give that last sausages to me.  I was overjoyed but also deeply touched.  Her face seldom broke into a smile but her heart was generous and giving and she expressed a kindness and love I surely did not deserve.

At the time I thought she needed to lighten up, to chill out, and let go.  All the Uncle Roneys and Aunt Annas just needed to to get in touch with their feelings and they would be happier and their lives better.  How wrong I was!  I should have learned to be more like them.  We all should.  We live in a world where people are so in touch with their feelings that these feelings are like a prison holding them captive to every wind of change -- happy or sad, angry or chilled.  We have lost touch with the kind of stoic endurance which once marked the shape of people and kept them going in times of trouble and trial.  Instead we are always upset, always offended, always fearful, always angry, and always impatient.  We judge everything by the moment and we are never as happy, healthy, wealthy, or excited as we want to be.  We are forever fighting boredom or anxiety or want as if these were the worst things that we could ever endure in life.  

The generations of those who went before us may not have left us a legacy of smiling faces but they surely left us an example of what it means to endure through real problems, challenges, and trials.  I wonder what Uncle Roney or Aunt Anna might think if they saw how upset people today get when they are addressed with the wrong pronoun or angry over the slowness of the internet or fixated by the screen instead of the person.  The pollsters tell us how depressed we are and how we struggle to find the strength and courage to endure the news on TV or the unfriendly words of our social media friends.  We are a mess and but the mess is largely of our own making and it is made worse by how deeply we are in touch with our every feeling and emotion.  Not even God is immune from our impatience or boredom or desire to make Him conform to our preference.

I have been thinking a lot of Uncle Roney and Aunt Anna.  I think I need to be more like them and less like the generations around me.  Maybe we all do.  For all the time and effort we spend getting in touch with our feelings, it has not helped the quality of our lives all that much.  Feelings are not all they are cracked up to be.  There is something to be said about endurance, the stoic endurance of those who know their lives are not the sum of what has or will happen to them but defined by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus and the eternal future He has prepared.  It should not be a surprise to us that as Christianity has become less and less a part of our identities and lives, we have not found happiness, contentment, and peace but just the opposite.  Uncle Roney and Aunt Anna were, if anything, faithful Christian people and this was the key to their endurance and their peace.


Monday, September 25, 2023

Focus on the wage and not the labor. . .

Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20A, preached on Sunday, September 24, 2023.

What gets us in this parable is the obvious injustice of how long the laborers worked and how much they were paid.  Sure, the Lord said the parable but that does not mean we have to like it.  And that is the problem.  We focus on the labor and God focuses upon the wage.  Because the wage is the same, it is inevitable that the hours spent in labor do not matter.  That is what gets us most.  We believe the hours spent in labor should matter and they should matter in the size of the paycheck.  Anything else is just plain wrong to us.

Lets unpack this a bit.  We generally see ourselves as those who enter the work force in the morning hours – who labor in the cool of the morning and throughout the heat of the day right down to the end of that work day.  Is there anyone in this congregation today who would admit to not being a hard worker?  Everyone of us presumes that we have worked harder and longer than everyone else in God’s vineyard.  But have we?  Is our presumption correct or is it false?

In Jesus’ estimation of things, those who have labored longest in the vineyard are the Jews.  They have the history, the law, and they prophets.  The Jews agreed with Jesus.  You are right.  We have been here the longest and deserve more than anyone else.  If you want to find yourself in this parable, you are the johnny come lately workers who enter the field when the day is nearly done.  Gentiles all are the latecomers to the Kingdom of God and those who have labored the least in the vineyard.  The Jews would agree.  Gentiles are the last and the least of those in the kingdom of God.  Unless I am mistaken, and since I am related to most of you, that means you and me.  We are the last and the least in the kingdom of God.

We focus on the labor.  We live in a capitalist society.  It is a principle of our economy that those who work hardest and longest get more than those who work less.  That is the theory at least.  And how is it working?  You tell me.  Do the ones who work hardest and longest always get ahead of everyone else?  Is the economy fair to those who work hard and long?  Some of those who work hardest and longest end up with nothing at all.  You know this is true.

God however focuses not on the labor but on the wages.  This is not because God does not care how hard or how little we work.  It is because works cannot purchase salvation.  No one gets into heaven because of works – not the laborers who were there from the beginning and not the ones who came last into the workforce.  God did not save you because of what you did or what you could have done or what you would do for Him later.  The labor does not matter – well, except for the labor of Christ in His obedient life, life-giving death, and glorious resurrection.  His is the only labor that counts.  Your labor cannot purchase your salvation.  The only thing it can do is help your neighbor.  We focus on the work but God focuses on the wage.

The wages of sin is death.  That is what we earned.  Those who worked in the kingdom of God from the beginning and those who slipped in just before the whistle blew to end the day.  Our labors have earned only one thing – death.  None of us have any right to pride in the kingdom of God for we have nothing to be proud of.  The only thing we contributed to our salvation was the sin for which Christ paid with His life and the death which He died so that we might live.  There are no bragging rights in the kingdom of God.    It is always and only grace.  By grace you have been saved.  Grace does not come in different sizes.  It is one size fits all.  It is always bigger than our sins and more than we deserve.  The fruits of the cross do not some in different portions but the same for all – the Jew who was in it from the beginning and the Gentile showing up just before quitting time.  One denarius.  One grace – big enough to cover every sin and big enough to rescue every one dead in trespasses and sins from the grave.   We focus on the labor but God focuses on the wage – the gracious and generous wage of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

But there are some other things we ought to notice.  Everyone works.  Whether early or late, everyone works.  God does not countenance laziness.  Work is a joy.  The work of God’s kingdom is joyful.  The good works you do for your neighbor are a source of joy for you and for your neighbor.  You do not do them to earn your salvation but that does not mean they are not important.  Yes, you will labor in the heat of the day and work will cost you pain and suffering.  So what?  Those will not work will not eat the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  
So do not presume that because Christ’s work has worked your salvation that you can be lazy and slack off in the kingdom of God.  You work not to earn y our salvation but because Christ worked to save you and if you are grateful to Him, you will join Him in the labors of the kingdom – mercy, compassion, service, sacrifice, intercession, and witness.

Second, do not compare yourself to anyone else.  You are not righteous because you may not be quite as bad as somebody else.  Righteousness is not relative – because sin has passed to all, no one looks better or worse than another.  We are all sinful by nature, in thought word and deed, by the evil we have done and by the good we have not done.  The earthly treasures that moth, rust, and inflation destroy are but temporary treasures.  Those who end their lives with the most stuff still die.  So what does it matter?  Learn like St. Paul the contentment with much or little – you know, the contentment of faith.  If you compare your lives and lot with others, only discontent will result and it will kill your faith, rob you of your joy, and embitter your heart to the grave.

Each of you will give account before God.  God will not ask you what your neighbor did or did not do or how much more or how much less you had than your neighbor.  He will ask only one thing.  What did you do with what you were given?  Though we immediately think that this is a question about money and things, it is not.  God has given you a treasure far more valuable than money and stuff – that is the forgiveness, life, and salvation purchased and won not with silver or gold but with the holy and precious body of Christ in suffering on the cross and His blood shed for your sin.  What are you doing with THIS treasure?

Jesus has called us to work in a vineyard not a factory or a shop.  Vineyards tend grapes to produce wine – the wine that gladdens the hearts of people.  The wine that gladdens our hearts is not the stuff that comes in a brown paper bag but in the silver cup with the words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”  You cannot possibly earn this reward no matter how hard you labor but God gives you this gift that you could not possibly earn out of pure love.  By grace you are saved.  Stop looking at yourself and keep your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our salvation.   Amen.

A curiosity. . .

Though the bishop in the Roman Catholic Church is supposed to occupy an office of some stature, the odd thing is that it has become merely a subservient office to the pope.  It has become more politicized than ever in part because this pope (along with some help with those before him) have undermined the episcopal office and turned it into a mere franchise manager on behalf of the big guy in Rome.  It is one of the reasons why Rome is in trouble, I think.

Consider the age thing.  It is presumed that bishops can no longer function after age 75 as if some sort of physical or mental impairment happens about that time in his life.  So, it is presumed in the Roman Catholic Church that such a bishop, upon reaching the age of 75, is compelled to offer his resignation to the pope.  It is up to the pope, who in nearly every case is much older than 75, gets to decide then if the guy has the mojo to go on.  Or, in more realistic terms, if the pope wants to appoint a new guy who will be more beholden to the theological and social leanings of the appointer.  That is the big rub.  The pope can go on until he dies or, in the case of Benedict, resigns, but the bishops who administer a much smaller chunk of the pie are past it at age 75. 

I am told that there is a little fuzziness in the rubric requiring the offering of the resignation.  It may be that he is compelled only to consider it.  I do not know the canon law but have read different takes on the rule.  In any case, if a bishop were to think about resigning and decide against it, that he had more years of service in him, what would the pope do?  I suspect the current pope would call him in and give him a dressing down and even have a prepared resignation letter for him to sign before he leaves.  In other words, the bishop has become in Rome a mere figurehead for the pope.

Now if you wish to argue, consider the state of those bishops who have pushed back against Francis.  Some of them are facing episcopal reviews of them and their service and may well be forced out.  Though in some cases it might be due to incompetence, the majority are reflective of a pope and papal machinery that cannot countenance disagreement -- even one in which the previous position of Rome is what they are holding.  Such is certainly the case with the Latin Mass.  Again, I have no horse in this race, but it certainly seems odd that not only did the pope decide to restrict the Latin Mass more but took some of the form and privilege of deciding when and where away from the diocesan bishop and reserved it either to himself or those in Rome who do his bidding.

That is not the kind of bishop any Lutheran longs for.  It is certainly not the kind of bishop that reflects history.  It is once more an evidence of a corporate structure instead of an ecclesiastical one.  For what it is worth, in this respect the authority given to District Presidents in Missouri's version of Lutheran jurisdiction is actually closer to the early church than Rome's practice today.  Now to be sure, we do not elect those charged with ecclesiastical supervision for life but vote every three years on them and some of our districts choose to have term limits but it would be hard to categorize our DPs as lackies of the Synod President (presiding bishop, if you will).  I would never suggest that our system is perfect but only that the evolving system in Rome continues to diminish the bishop in stature and authority in ways that increasingly make him a mere functionary of the pope.  The Orthodox ought to have problems with this and so should any thinking Lutheran.  This is exactly the reason why Luther found the papal office as it was and as it is to be suspect.  It certainly does not encourage anyone to think more highly of bishops and ends up doing the exact opposite.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

The focus of preaching. . .

One of the strengths of the historic, one year lectionary was how it brought the important doctrines of the faith before preacher so that he might bring them before the hearers.  Now, to be sure, this was not simply something in the lectionary but the focus of preaching in general.  It was doctrinal.  It was not academic nor was it an exposition of something theoretical but doctrine in the sense of what we believe, teach, confess, and live.  Doctrinal preaching is sometimes like catechetical preaching except that the guiding light for that preaching is not a topic but a text.

When the three year lectionary was introduced, part of the impetus was to expose people to a broader perspective of Scripture.  It was and is a laudable goal.  While some texts were chosen either because of the lectio continua (as in the case of Epistles) and some were simply different accounts of the same miracles, sermons, or teaching of Jesus, others were chosen because of the world in which we live.  In a less than salutary way, this might mean political and social movements to be addressed.  In the Revised Common Lectionary this is more of a problem than it is in the version in Lutheran Service Book.  However, it is not the calendar that has shifted the doctrinal preaching to textual exposition.  It is the perspective of the preacher and the hearer that has reduced the doctrinal content of what goes forth from the pulpit.  This has had disastrous consequences in the life of the Church.

I would posit the thesis that the reason why the people in conservative churches are also enticed by the gender, sexual desire, equity, justice, inclusiveness, and climate debates of our age is because we have not preached doctrinally.  To preach doctrinally is to approach the texts in terms of doctrine.  It is not simply what the text says but what it teaches.  This does not put any constraint upon the text nor does it impose any blinders upon the preacher.  It simply asks the question:  What is our Lord teaching here?  The doctrines of the Church are not subject to change even though they are certainly ever being applied and sharpened upon the iron of challenge and controversy.  The question can never be what is Jesus saying to us today but what did Jesus say and still says and how does this impact what we believe and how we then live?  

If we have problems with such things as closed communion, for example, it is because we have suffered a dearth of real doctrinal preaching on the Sacrament of the Altar.  The texts of both the historic and three year lectionary offer us ample opportunity to address this so we cannot fault either for this.  We can only fault ourselves as preachers and as hearers.  We are less interested in doctrine and it shows.  When the faithful positions of the Church are affirmed by a nominal majority in convention or passed overwhelmingly only to be ignored in practice, part of the reason has to be that we have not preached the Word as we should.  We have not preached doctrinally.  

Jesus has said nothing for a moment that He has not said for eternity.  His Word endures forever -- every jot and tittle.  His Word is not new because it has never been said before but because it is the Word of life that speaks life to our death and hope to our despair.  We do not make that Word new but the Spirit does.  When we speak that Word faithfully and address the hearers with what the Lord teaches in that Word, the Church is built up and the hearer edified.  More than this, we are equipped to stand upon the Word amid the challenges and disputes of culture, society, and even government.  Without this, the Word of Jesus is merely a momentary voice that has no roots in the past or power to address the future.  It is captive to the moment and so powerless to address us except in the realm of our feelings.  When the preacher approaches the text asking what is Jesus saying to us today, doctrine is cast aside in favor of novelty.  Strange, given that the Lord insists His Words are not His but the Fathers and the Spirit insists the only agenda at work is to bring to our recollection what our Lord said.  We strive for novelty while the Lord is working toward consistency and constancy.  This is the realm of doctrine and it is the fruit of doctrinal preaching.

I hope and pray that we as preachers remember that we are not approaching a new text looking for a new way of preaching it but addressing the familiar words of Scripture, hearing the familiar voice of the Good Shepherd, and preaching the faith that does not change but will always endure.  Our people deserve such attentiveness to doctrine so that they may be rooted and planted in the Word of God and not left without anchor amid the winds of change and chance.  This is how what happens in the Divine Service is catechesis as well as the service of God's gifts to His people.  They happen at the very same time.  

The charge laid against the evangelical preachers of today as well as the moralistic preachers of today and other eras is not what was said only but what was not said.  To preach as the Osteens of the age preach or to preach moralistic sermons that are about behavior is to strip the text of doctrine and to make it about me and what I am doing and what I am feeling in the moment.  Worse, it is to deprive the people of God with the anchor in His Word and truth and to leave them exposed to the exploitation of wolves within the flock as well as the enemies without.  To preach the faith is to preach doctrine.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

The change in the skyline. . .

The city where I live is know for the spires that dot the downtown.  We had for many years a Rivers and Spires summer festival.  We are not a village but the 5th largest city in the state and moving toward taking out Chattanooga at some point.  The skylines of the two cities are very different.  We have no skyscrapers or buildings higher than 4 or 5 stories.  Our skyline has a distinctly horizontal look to it -- except for the spires of churches and a building or two on the Austin Peay campus.  Chattanooga and the other larger cities in Tennessee have skylines that look like what we have come to think of for modern cities and the spires that are there are hidden or so small that they are not noticeable in comparison. 

A few months ago a windstorm (I am not sure it was finally qualified as a tornado) took out a steeple in my hometown of 700 or so people.  It had stood since the early 1900s on top of the Swedish Lutheran congregation, on hill, above nearly everything else in town.  When it fell, there was some concern that it might not be able to be rebuilt -- you know how building standards have changed since it was first erected.  I hear that they are, indeed, planning to restore it.  Another spire will rise again.  Even Notre Dame will get its spire back (even if the interior will look like a slug!).

All of this made me think how different the skylines of cities are today than many years ago.  Before the advent of the skyscraper and modern building technology, what dominated the city skyline of nearly every city in the Western world were spires.  At that age and time, the faith was as dominant as the spire across the cityscape.  Everyone saw life through religious eyes -- Christian eyes.  The change in the skylines of our cities and towns reflects another change.  Religion and specifically Christianity, have been moved to the fringes of life in general.  The spires no longer dominate the skyline and Christianity no longer dominates our culture and society.  In fact, it is often viewed as an enemy of humanity and the illusion of progress we perpetuate.  Which are the dark ages?  The ones in which the footings and foundations were laid so that steeples and spires might rise over the grand cathedrals of the cities or the cities of today with their bland concrete, glass, and steel boxes?

The modern skyline may impress us with our might but it can hardly be called beautiful.  So often the beauty has to be searched out in the shadows of these mighty structures we have erected to become the mundane prisons of home and work.  You can find them by looking down instead of up.  Strangely, it was once just the opposite.  You had to look up to see beauty reign over the ordinary and harsh reality of life.  Now it is the opposite.  Boxes upon boxes cut up into boxes inside -- no, give me a spire and steeple and an interesting building holding them up.  Any day of the week!  These reflect hope and beauty into the city and that is certainly a commodity in short supply today.  Perhaps the change in the skylines and the banishment of Christian truth to the fringes are not unrelated.  The next time you survey the skyline where you live or work, how many steeples and spires do you see?  And what does it mean?

Friday, September 22, 2023

Unconstitutional. . .

A Roman Catholic couple living in Massachusetts took the Commonwealth to court for effectively banning them from participating in the Commonwealth’s foster care program.  Burke v. Walsh is the claim that although Mike and Kitty Burke desired to foster and adopt children, officials of the Commonwealth refused to allow the Burkes to foster any children because of their religious beliefs about marriage, sexuality, and gender.  And all of this in spite of the fact that Massachusetts is in dire need of foster care families!

Mike and Kitty Burke are a Catholic couple from Massachusetts who have long wanted to become parents. Mike is an Iraq war veteran, Kitty is a former paraprofessional for special needs kids, and together they run a business and perform music for Mass.  Mike and Kitty began exploring becoming foster parents through the state’s foster care program, hoping to care for and eventually adopt children in need of a stable, loving home like theirs.  Over 1,500 children are currently without a foster family.

The application process included hours of training, extensive interviews, and a detailed examination of their home. The couple successfully completed the training with high marks from the instructors. But  during their home interviews, their Roman Catholic views about sexual orientation and gender dysphoria became intense. Even when they said they would love and accept any child, no matter the child’s future sexual orientation or struggles with gender identity, they said they would continue to hold personally the positions of their church.  Because of this, the interviewers deemed “Their faith is not supportive.”  DCF officials prevented them from being licensed.  While the denial was certainly consistent with the views of the Commonwealth agency and perhaps even expected, it was unconstitutional.  Massachusetts law, like every state law consistent with the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, protects the religious liberty of foster parents. 

Why would a Missouri Synod Lutheran be interested in this?  Because we are in the same boat.  If it is a choice between maintaining the faith of the Scriptures and our Confessions or denying them for the sake of satisfying the regulations of this or any state, we are put in an untenable and unconstitutional position.  Everybody with half a brain knows this.  Yet this has not and will not keep the liberal and progressive positions of state governments and their agencies from attempting to violate said religious freedom.  This is the battle we are in.  We cannot expect to be treated fairly by bureaucracies populated by those who take such positions antagonistic to the orthodox and catholic faith.  The challenge here is not to maintain an idea but to confront the opposition in practice faced on a daily basis by those who hold to the faith of Scripture against liberal viewpoints of many civil servants and state agencies.  

I do not believe we face an organized opposition but I do believe that state agencies and federal agencies have become populated with those who are products of liberal educational institutions and whose positions on such issues are to the left of even the mainstream of the US population.  I do believe that this has become the de facto perspective of a majority of those who occupy the higher positions in such agencies as well as the bar they have set for those interested in working in such agencies to the point where the collision of faith and culture, values formed by the Scriptures and the orthodox Christian faith against the values of our educational institutions and policy makers at large is inevitable.  This will not be the last of such conflicts and the Supreme Court will have its work cut out for it as they remind such militants that such animus against religion is unconstitutional.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Queer New Creation. . .

The conversation began over the issue of the ordination of women.  The other party was an 80 something fellow who spent his whole life in Lutheran education, from childhood through most of his career as an educator.  The passage in question was, of course, Galatians 3:28.  The question on the table was how this elimination of distinctions accorded with God's new creation and the once assigned roles in creation.  

Another conversation began differently but ended up at the same passage.  In this case a person was lamenting how a family member had been secretly cross-dressing and is now more openly coming out as transgender and how to deal with it all.  Again, the individuals involved were well schooled in Lutheran educational circles from childhood through adulthood.

Now it would seem that one of the drumbeats of the Queer Crowd is the whole idea that gender as a construct of the old creation is being replaced in Christ by the new creation of fluidity and change that no longer gives deference to such things as genes, chromosomes, or reproductive organs.  Again, the passage cited is Galatians 3:28.  Transgenderism is itself the mark of the new creation of Christ's promise that is just now being set free across the landscape of God's creation.  It is then no misreading of Scripture nor does it need any exegetical assist but the full embrace of God's new thing that now replaces the old.  Indeed, the redemptive message of Christ is queerness.  Released from the constraints of the old creation the spirit of the person is set free to embrace their identity without conforming either to society or Scripture's old laws and is finally at liberty in Christ to embrace their full, new identity -- wherever that leads.

I guess it sort of explains how the sex issues took over the agendas of the progressive churches, doesn't it.  But the whole focus on identity and gender in particular is now being taken up as the Gospel focus.  Queer theology is therefore no longer seen as a specialty or speculative theology but a liberating theology and, perhaps, the primary liberation of the Gospel.  Christianity has always been queer but the liberation of the old barriers of freedom placed upon humanity could not be cast off until Christ came.  He is then not simply the Messiah but the androgynous and trans prototype of the new humanity.  The church then becomes the means by which the people of God both acknowledge and explores queerness as sacred.  Queering the Bible aims to create biblical commentaries through the lens of queerness and transness.  Lest you think I am speculating here, I got much of this from denominational websites, like the Presbyterian Church!  

This alternative telling of the Gospel is not seen by progressives as an option but as the main thrust of what the Gospel itself is.  According to this narrative, God created queer people first and women before all others. It was a straight man who first ate fruit from the Tree Of Phobos, starting a generational cycle of phobia and hate. The church was founded as a social tool to control the masses, teaching people to be innately ashamed and afraid of their own basic natures. In an act of infinite love, God sent Their only child to cleanse the earth of confusion and fear. Jesu, the genderqueer Messiah, has come to save the straight phobes from their wicked and hateful ways. 

My friends, the very Gospel of Christ's death and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins, for the end of death's claim upon us, and for the promise of new and everlasting life is being replaced by this gospel of queerness.  It is not that we can remain silent and simply let bygones be bygones because the very Gospel itself is being replaced with this invention of the autonomous self and the individual and their feelings as the only barometer of truth and reality.  It is not simply a question of allowing such folks space and room to exist but of the way this queer gospel has already taken over many churches and not only supplanted but ended the voice of God speaking His Word to His people.  For those churches, we orthodox and traditional Christians who listen to the Scripture as the Word of God are already marked as the antiquated dinosaurs of the old creation who must be silenced first and eradicated from respectability so that we become the pariahs of our day just as they felt they were in theirs.

Christians need to pay attention to this.  As I began, it was Lutherans who had already been influenced and led away from their solid foundation by the prospect of one single verse, ripped from its context, and robbed of its intended meaning.  Scroll down the pages of Christian social media and you often find people questioning or challenging what they were taught and what they once confessed as truth from God's Word even to the point of suggesting that what they were told was never actually true and that the queer gospel, even in its remedial forms, was legitimate though repressed through the ages.  This is not about hate nor robbing anyone of their civil rights but the hijacking of the Gospel itself, thus depriving the people for whom Christ died of their salvation, comfort, and hope.  The cause will not surely be aided by becoming the very hateful people these progressives are now labeling us as but neither will the cause of Christ be advanced by being silent about what is at stake.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Let it go. . .

We once more commonly prayed:   

Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears unto our prayers; but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty. O holy and most merciful Savior, thou most worthy Judge eternal, suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from thee.

But it does often come down to a final moment or so.  The rich man who came to Jesus had all his ducks in a row until our Lord asked the man then to give away all that he had and it was too much.  Curiously, it happens in nearly every congregation.  A member or family within the parish is there all the time until suddenly they are not.  The hours of their later year see them fall away.  It sort of reminds you of how Tolkien described how Frodo found it hard to let go.  Frodo's life and destiny lay in his heroic purpose as the ring-bearer whose entire journey in life was finally fulfilled when, at the end, he was told to through the ring into fires of the Mount of Doom. 

If you’re a reader who appreciates Tolkien and his trilogy Lord of the Rings -- or you just like to hear a sermon and prayer with  just a movie-goer), then you know that the central, heroic character, the young Mr. Frodo, ring-bearer, fails to throw the Ring into the fire.  When it was all theoretical, it was easy but as soon as it became personal, it became a problem.  The fire had consumed every scrap of goodness and destiny.  But he was there -- still awaiting their fulfillment of his purpose.  The whole future hinged upon Frodo but he was not there alone.  The Lord was there but Frodo had held onto the mystery of the magic he had held in his hand and was not ready to let it go.  And then another one entered the story primarily to finish what Frodo could not.  He was not the hero people had been rooting for or expected.  He was, instead, a pitiable creature who acted not with finesse but brute force.  Gollum bit off Frodo’s finger not for the end but  to claim it for himself.  Then an accident saw the ring slip from his hand, fall into the consuming fire and he ended up saving Middle Earth in the end.

Frodo’s failure lies at the heart and core of the intersection of reason, feelings, and truth.  In his failure to hold onto the ring at the last, he was providing for the last minute to stand with the weakest of the weak and rest upon God's promises.  We do need e think to ourselves that a life-time of struggle can be undone in a single moment. It is, I think, a terrible notion of free-will and the power of choice.  Instead it is a testament to destiny -- not one in stone but one that marshals the hidden reality of who we are and whose we are.  Frodo was right there and was a moment away from finishing the awe-full reality of his destiny until he was not.  He could not let go.  His heart had become consumed by what was not his.  Though the world parades the myth of progress, we see the failure in the hour of trial and Frodo's heart betrays to all what had been hidden therein.

Frodo undoubtedly had prayed that in the hour of destiny, his will would not fail him but it did.  It failed.  He failed.  He could not let go of what was in his hand.  Will we be where he is?  Frodo was not worn down by a last minute challenge but the growth of the betrayal of his heart that had begun so long ago he had not noticed it until finally he could not overcome it.  I wonder if Tolkien had in mind the solemn words of Jesus:  He who endures to the end shall be saved.  Or maybe he had prayed himself the prayer with which I began this modest meandering thought.  In either case, Frodo's witness of warning stands for us all.  . . . spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty. O holy and most merciful Savior, thou most worthy Judge eternal, suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from thee. . . 

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

The sin of indifference. . .

While there is no shortage of things to blame for the ills in the lives Christian and the Church, perhaps the most common sis that characterizes our culture and the Church today is acedia. Acedia has curiously  been identified as the “noonday devil” in the writings of Evagrius of Pontus (345-399, one of the Desert Fathers).  “Acedia” is from the Greek, akèdia, meaning “lack of care” or indifference.  It comes at noonday when the energy of the morning wanes and the enthusiasm for the afternoon flags.  It is not simply a matter of the body or the mind but of the spirit -- a spirit of restlessness that translates into a lack of real concern.  The soul finds itself weary of and worn down by the commitments of life and even the demands of holiness.  So the spiritual life suffers every bit as much as productivity.  It is a kind of spiritual malaise which prevents the person from addressing both their identity and advancement in the spiritual life nurtured and nourished by the Word and the Sacraments.  St. Thomas Aquinas said acedia was a “sadness about spiritual good.”  It is when the ultimate purpose and outcome of our baptismal life takes second place to the present life and its demands, goals, joys, and trials.  It is the sadness and despair of the soul manifested in the rich man who was told by our Lord to sell everything he had and give it to the poor.  Acedia is when we compare the laudable goal and purpose of our baptismal lives of faith in union with God in Christ with the goods we have, enjoy, but must surrender for the true treasure of His grace.

We live in a time in which such spiritual indifference and restlessness pervades the Christian life.  We refuse to take refuge in God's promises and so we are consumed with the pressing stresses upon our daily lives and the fruit of it all is more than we can bear.  Our hearts are empty of joy and we struggle to get through day much less endure the struggles and sorrows of this mortal life knowing that God is with us and Christ present in us, for us, the through us.  It is not quite that we have lost our faith but we have lost a sense of purpose and our confidence in God's outcome and His promises wavers in the face of such pressures.  We become apathetic about the reality of God in our midst through the means of grace and indifferent to His work among us because we see only with our eyes and not with faith.  It is the worst kind of sloth -- not simply the lack of industry but of endurance in the faith who for the joy set before us bear our crosses and war against our weakness and battle against our enemies as children of God.

In part, it is because we are more aware of what is wrong than of the right that God has bestowed upon us in the present gift of baptismal life and faith and in the eternal gift of life that death cannot overcome and the blessed reunion with those who have gone before when what God has begun in us is finally finished on the day our Lord appoints.  Christians are not immune from acedia.  In fact, it may be one of the most profound and powerful of the ailments of the faithful and the faith.  It is the withering in us of what God has begun because we see what is not what should be -- even in ourselves -- and not what God has promised or what God is doing in us, for us, and through us.  

Almighty and everlasting God, give us an increase of faith, hope, and love that we may trust the testimony of Scripture concerning You and obtain what You have promised; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Forgiveness IS mercy. . .

Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 19A, preached on Sunday, September 17, 2023.

When Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” do you suppose Peter was asking just for information?  Do you suppose that Peter was asking for a friend?  Do you suppose that Peter was asking a theoretical “what if” question about forgiveness?  I do not believe that Peter had just been wondering about this and then got up his nerve to ask Jesus.  No, I wonder if something had just happened – Peter had been wounded by the words or actions of another, a repeated wound, and Peter had enough of it.  He was not looking for an answer to forgive but a reason not to forgive.

Certainly you might expect there to be situations, more often than not, where it is not simply justifiable but actually the godly thing to withhold forgiveness.  Lord knows, people say they are sorry but we know they are not.  We can pretty much count on them doing the same sin against us again.  People are quick to ask for forgiveness but slow to show signs of change.  And we all know that real remorse means you stop doing the sin, right?  I thoroughly get where Peter is coming from and so do you.  There has to be a time when you draw the line and not because you are mean or self-righteous or anything.  No, it is because the sinner has sinned one too many times and doesn’t seem inclined to take it seriously or really try to stop.  Peter was expecting Jesus to admit that there is a time to draw the line and stop forgiving.

But Jesus did just the opposite.  Jesus did not simply move the limit higher, He made it as if there was no limit.  For Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”  You count it up and see how hard it would be to crunch those numbers and keep tally of the times you have forgiven.  In fact, Jesus is saying to stop keeping score.  Forgiveness is not the reward for those who have done something to deserve a second chance, forgiveness is mercy for those who should get no more chances at all.  Now you can argue with me but you are really arguing with Jesus.  And if you think you can argue Jesus out of His answer, well, you are a bit bolder than I am.  

What Jesus says is entirely impractical, unreasonable, and a step too far.  But this is coming from the one who while we were still enemies and sinners marked for death, became flesh, lived righteously, and died obediently for unworthy sinners.

We are always looking for reasons why we should forgive but our Lord cannot find a reason not to forgive.  Even those who put Him on the cross were not singled our for retribution but received the undeserved pardon of Christ’s word from the cross: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.  You and I are always looking for reasons not to forgive and we have plenty of them, good and reasonable and legitimate reasons why we should not forgive a cheating husband or wife, a son or daughter living a ruinous life, the one whose gun killed our innocent loved one, or the one whose drunken escapade ended the life of a family member.  The list goes on why we should not forgive and why it is perfectly understandable why we do not want to forgive.  The problem is that there is no Biblical reason for it.

Jesus might have explained it to Peter: “Peter, we are, after all, talking about your brother in Christ, someone near and dear to you.  Do you want to burn your bridges?  After all, isn’t the Church a Kingdom of forgiveness for sinners?”  But Jesus does not explain Himself or even explain why to forgive.  He simply lays it out.  Do the math, Peter.  As often as your brother sins against you and asks you to forgive him, that is what you do.  Righteous anger or not, big sin or small, half-hearted repentance or full, God’s answer to sin is forgiveness and the answer we ought to have for each other is the same – forgiveness as often as it needs to be given.

The truth is we live in a hard age.  In politics and religion, work and play, we are divided and bitter.  We actually enjoy living with outrage and we get our kicks off justifying why we cannot forgive or work together.  It infects the family and the Church.  People walk out that door every week unsure whether they will return because they are angry that someone said something wrong or did not say something right to them.  We look for a reason to stop forgiving but God is always looking the angles so that forgiveness keeps on giving.  It is the triumph not of reason or justice or relationship but of mercy and mercy alone.

Long ago brothers ganged up against the brother whom they thought was being treated differently.  They watched as their father gave him gifts they did not receive and allowed him freedom from his chores that they did not get.  Their brother was probably a brat.  After a while, they had enough.  They came up with a plan to kill him or at least to make him go away for good.  And it worked.  Except that every day their sin haunted them in the sorrowful face of their father.

You and I would think the brother justified in getting revenge upon them for selling him into slavery and depriving him of his father and family.  Even Joseph had thought about what he might do if he ever had the chance.  And when the chance came, God turned Joseph’s heart.  Though they deserved nothing of his kindness, he forgave them purely out of mercy and not because of anything in them.  Forgiveness is never theoretical.  It lives in the reality of bitterness and anger and dispute and hate and self-righteousness.  We do not place forgiveness there but God does and it is the only reason why we are saved.

If you are going to draw the line with forgiveness, you better to be ready for God to draw the line in front of you.  For the measure that you give, you shall receive. Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  No, there is no logic or justice to it all.  There is only mercy.  Only the cross.  Only the Savior.  God is not giving our explanations or justifications or reasons.  God is only giving out mercy. And those who know this mercy, well, they live by it too.  We do not walk together because we agree or all get along or never argue.  We walk together because God has forgiven us and that just about says it all.  As many times as you have sinned against Him, He has forgiven you.  This is not about reason and not about who deserves it.  It is about one thing only.  Mercy.  And the face of mercy is Jesus.  Amen. 


It is often presumed that in order to believe that there is a God, that Scripture is an accurate record of this God’s self-disclosure, and that we know this God by faith and not by reason or our senses, is in and of itself a definition of insanity.  How can you believe in something you have not seen?  Why would you surrender your reason, senses, and all your being to believe that which is, at least in the eyes of the world, something imagined and not real?  It must be insanity!  Or is it?

Is it reasonable and rational to believe that all that you see and all that you do not see simply came into being as a series of unpredictable accidents rather than by design?  Is it reasonable and rational to believe that man was the fruit of a once and never repeated since mutation?  Is it reasonable and rational to believe that life is random and disordered – without design, plan, or purpose?  Is it reasonable and rational to believe that society’s order of marriage, family, home, and community are mere choices and not part of mankind’s essential identity and being?  It is reasonable and rational to believe that children are an accidental consequence of this order and not the purpose and design of the home or that the lives in the womb are different in essence and value than the lives of those born?  Is it reasonable and rational to believe that procreation is an accident of sexual desire rather than the intended purpose and fruit?  Is it reasonable and rational to believe that male and female are imagined identities disconnected from or perhaps even alien to the genes and reproductive organs of the body?

That is the question.  Which is more unreasonable and requires more faith?  To believe what Scripture posits as the truth of our origins, the shape of our identities, and the purpose for our living or to believe the imagined answers given by science still open to change or feelings which have no basis in fact or a guessimate on the basis of observation?  You tell me.

Is it reasonable and rational to believe that mankind is basically good except for a few bad apples or bad moments or that sin has corrupted us all?  Is it reasonable and rational to believe that because of some yet unexplained magic our bodies give out at different ages and for different reasons or that death is the natural outcome of a natural life or to believe that death has corrupted our natures and forced death upon us because of our sin?  You tell me.

Is it reasonable and rational to believe that death ends us randomly and is no respecter of persons or that death or that is a rude and disrespectful curse laid upon us – an unintended outcome of a intentional choice to be our own gods?  Is it reasonable and rational to believe that death liberates us to a vague and nebulous spiritual existence that is more than an imaginary reality but less than a physical one or to believe that God will raise us as once He raised Christ from death to life everlasting?  You tell me.

The reality is that it takes more faith and not less to not believe.  It is not weakness that compels Christians to believe in Scripture and in Jesus but a judgmemnt of what is real and true against what is not.  It is the most reasonable and rational thing on earth to believe in God and confess Him as Scripture and Creed confess.  Sure, it takes the Spirit working through the Word to bring forth this faith in us but it is not quite a war against earthly wisdom or knowledge.  It is, in truth, not the end of learning or the end of teaching to meet before the Cross and confess Jesus but the start of wisdom and understanding.  In the beginning, it was presumed by those outside the Church that the apostles were either drunk or disillusional.  They were neither.  They were addressing the world with the only truth worth of being called reason -- hidden in the foolishness of God.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Favorite collects. . .

Collects are wonderful prayers for the Divine Service, appointed for each Sunday, feast, and festival, but they could do well as a prayerbook for the faithful.  Indeed, it is not without a little excitement when one of my favorite collects appears on Sunday morning.  One of those prayers of the day that I love is the ancient collect (dating from at least the to the first quarter of the 4th century and the Gregorian Sacramentary) that has come to be appointed for the Third Sunday after Trinity.  I guess I forgot to post this closer to the day when it was prayed in the liturgy but that is no reason not to explore it a bit in depth here and now.

Historically, the collects in the English speaking world have been informed more by the good work of Thomas Cranmer than by any other individual.  Certainly it was the wisdom of the wise when Lutherans were looking to translate the ancient collects from the languages of the continent and chose instead to borrow liberally from Cranmer's work.  That said, the ancient sources of the collects betray the careful craftsmanship of others whose names are not known to us.

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ's sake our Lord. Amen.

"Finally" was Cranmer's perhaps less literal way to accentuate the strong division between "temporal" and "eternal".  

The collect now prays:

O God, the protector of all who trust in You, without whom nothing is strong and nothing is holy, multiply Your mercy on us that, with You as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Its more modern Roman source in Latin:
Protector in te sperantium, Deus, sine quo nihil est validum, nihil sanctum, multiplica super nos misericordiam tuam, ut, te rectore, te duce, sic bonis transeuntibus nunc utamur, ut iam possimus inhaerere mansuris.
There is a bit of a confused history here because earlier missals also include a phrase while later Roman missals seem to have excluded it.  We have preserved in translation the earlier version that does indeed keep the poignant phrase:

sic transeamus per bona temporalia, ut non amittamus aeterna.
A somewhat literal translation though less elegant would pray:

O God, guardian of those hoping in You, without whom nothing is efficacious, nothing holy, multiply your mercy upon us, so that, you being our helmsman, our commander, [our guide and our guide with different aspects to that word guide] we may so make use of things that pass away as to be able to cleave to those that will endure.

The prayer has phrasing and focus that remind you of 2 Cor 4:13-18.  It has been used in various places in the Church Year.  In the Gregorian Sacramentary it was used for fourth Sunday after Pentecost. The Sarum Missal.  The initial phrase is the same as in a collect in the Gelasian sacramentary and the Gallican Bobbio missal.  It will be used in the Lutheran Service Book lectionary for the Proper 24 in Series A, so we have something to look forward to -- and I am already excited and looking forward to October 22.