Thursday, November 30, 2023

That which under girds progress. . .

Progress is the idea that the future holds the promise of something better than what we have now.  In contrast, the conservative worries that the future will hold just the opposite and so he conserves or holds onto the past in order to ground the future in something deeper than the moment.  It is a clash not simply of ideas but of worldviews and it is, for all practical purposes, irreconcilable.  

Such progressivism cannot avoid a deep and inherent conflict with Christianity.  This is not because Christianity fails to hold forth the vision of a better future than the present or the past offers but because of who delivers that future into our hands.  In this is the conflict.  The belief in the solvability of all things is a foundation of the modern world and that which under girds the very nature of progress.  The admission that we cannot solve our problems or repair what is key to Christianity.  We are not our own saviors.

For Americans in particular, our culture and optimism has nurtured the young with an expectation of progress and the means to solve the problems before us.  We are in love with technology because it offers us the illusion of a solution that somehow escapes the faults and failings of humanity.  Indeed, our disappointment with the outcomes of so many good intentions and noble ideas leaves us ripe to despair of humanity and to turn to technology, science, and, now, artificial intelligence as the solution to what humanity has failed to fix.  Of course, when this turns out not to be the case and we are also let down by our technology, science, and AI, the result is hopelessness and despair.  It does not take long before that hopelessness and despair creates anger in us and intolerance.  What we want are solutions to the many problems we have identified in our past and present.  What we yearn for is a future of improvement in which tomorrow is actually better than today.  When disappointment looms over the promise, we are left divided and at an impasse.  We blame those whom we think are standing in the way of progress.

Who among us can forget the byword of the 1960s:  “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”  But is is that simple or is it even true?  Much of our world believes it is.  The political divisions that plague us as a nation and as people are boiled down to those who have solutions and those who do not want solutions.  Though Christianity has presumed to be an ally of optimism and the betterment of our world, the Scriptures address the Gospel to a world not improving but deteriorating, not to a world getting better but one in which the rot and decay of sin can only be undone by a Savior and the better life resides not in an earthly utopia but on a heavenly consummation.

Some, perhaps many, Christians and preachers reject this idea and therefore reject the whole idea of repentance.  They would insist that a better tomorrow is the most real and practical definition of the Gospel and cannot understand or abide the idea of cross bearing, suffering, or sacrifice.  God's job is to guide us to build a better tomorrow upon the failures of yesterday and today.  But is it?  We complain that God would not want us to be unhappy and turn that into a license to serve ourselves before any others.  We lament the idea of a constant moral compass and insist that God understands how messy life is and has left it to us to decide what is right for the moment.  Our highest prayer is for God to make us wise enough and strong enough to get on without Him.  As we presume children outgrow their need for parents, we presume that God means for us to outgrow Him.  Progress and the solvability of all our problems support this cause.  God is a God of last resorts and not the present help in time of need.  That is why the whole idea of the cross is so foreign to us.  The cross may be what Christ had to get through but it is not where He is nor could it ever be the means of our redemption.  No, the cross is merely a momentary stop on the way to our own self-sufficiency of judgement and work.  It is no wonder that the Gospel is alien to our present day.  Jesus refuses to urge us on as we make for a better tomorrow and insists that we bring our failures to the cross where He absolves the sinner and raises them from death to life.  The prayer of the faithful is anathema to the progressive:  God, be merciful to me a sinner.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Question of the day. . .

Throughout history there have been moments that could be summarized by a single question.  What is truth?  Where does the authority of the Church reside?  Some of these are questions raised by culture and others consumed the attention of the Church.  It appears that the question of our age has moved from what is a woman or what is a man (occasioned by the trans issue) to what is human?  Part of this is the natural progression of confusion over what other generations might have understood as basic.  Part of this is the fascination with artificial intelligence and its presumption that this will improve us and our lot in life.  But part of this is simply because we lack no common truth or morality and so existential questions become the central issues of the day.

I well recall the video of some man tossing a little dog into traffic and the outrage it created.  All the while, however, our nation was killing babies in the womb at a rate of a million or so a year without the same level of popular disgust.  The strange reactions of some about the women and children killed in the terrorist attacks on Israel is equally difficult to understand -- how can you blame the victims for their suffering or death?  Or I could point to the drumbeat for assisted suicide so that those who can may decide when their lives are no longer worth living and those who cannot will have it decided for them.  The numbing murder and violent crimes in some of our cities is so great and so frequent as to leave us untouched by the horror of it all.  But the crimes of failing to approve the sexual perversions of the day or to dare to misgender someone are practically breaking news.  It is as if we cannot agree on the value of human life but can certainly assign value to other lives or other things as at least equal to if not greater than human life.  In other words, we are not even sure what constitutes human life and therefore do not agree on what should be protected.

As I wrote once before, I am sure that feminism does not know what to do with a world in which a trans person is named woman of the year or competes against women in sports competitions.  What they do not realize is that erasing the distinctions between men and women comes at a cost -- not only to the men and women but to the way we view human life and the value we assign to that life.  The end result of all of this is confusion and incoherence.  Without any agreement upon what it means to be human, humanity itself becomes an abstract idea. Without a commonly shared understanding of human life, what will substitute for life are our ideas, feelings, and desires.  This will turned us all into mere abstractions of the human self and without any commonly held morality or truth, we are all rendered vulnerable and disposable.  One of the terrible consequences of modern day life is not that we are safer or more secure but less.  It is no wonder that we retreat from real human interaction to the safety and insulation of the screens.  

I once thought that the question of our time was "what does it mean to a man or a woman?"  Now I know that this was but a brief moment of pause before we muddled into the bigger question of what does it mean to be human?  Until we can answer this positively, the violence that threatens us at home and abroad will become ever more pervasive as we treat the disposable life by disposing of it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Ignoring God's design. . .

The push to erase distinctions between male and female expressly violate God's own creative design.  When in the beginning He made them male and female, this was not some small detail irrelevant to His work.  God was ordering His creation by design -- male and female are not choices or preferences but the very pattern embedded within all of creation but most especially in man.  

Under feminism the questions began to be raised about the distinctions between male and female and the presumption laid forth that these were artificial distinctions, forced upon women by a patriarchal hegemony.  The goal of the movement was not quite as simple as equal pay for equal work or voting rights or equal access before the law or within the marketplace.  It became evident as the movement matured that this was about erasing those distinctions and the greatest impediment to this was reproduction.  Once there was a birth control pill to prevent pregnancy and a legal framework of abortion rights to end a pregnancy, the real implications of this movement were revealed.  Feminism cast off once for all God's order and put marriage and childbearing on notice that these were merely a woman's choice but a demeaning one which constrained the freedom she should have to pursue her own interests.  However, no one could have foreseen back in the 1960s and 1970s that being a woman would become a difficult question to answer or that it might merely be a feeling within and a gender choice for the moment.  That is what has upset the apple cart and placed the goals of feminism in conflict with the gender fluid movement that has made being a woman merely a feeling or a choice.

This conflict only shows how foolish the original premise was.  Male and female are not interchangeable.  The ludicrous side show of biological males competing against biological females in sports reveals the flaw in the original idea.  Men and women are not interchangeable nor are their particular characteristics the same in home, work, or life.  Of course, it did not take long for some churches to jump on this and ignore the Biblical framework for the pastoral office in order to impose this false but tempting ideal that equal meant the same upon ordination.  Even those who shy away from the same sex marriage and gender blurriness we see now are not ready to give up on the Achilles' heel of the feminist position.  Now we find ourselves in the extreme position of labeling anyone who says that there are distinctions between the sexes that are profound and important as misogynist or guilty of hate speech.  It is offensive to most folks, even Christians, to suggest that each sex is made for the other and for a relationship characterized by interdependence, complementarity within a hierarchy, and yet equality.  Yet the other side of the coin which would test the waters of this Biblical order has proven equally as foolish -- men and women are equal competitors when it comes to sports.

Now we find ourselves in the wake of terrorists who did not harm women and children as the oft described collateral damage but who targeted these in their war against Israel.  What is strange is how silent the liberals are in singling out these victims as signs of the inhumanity of the terrorists.  Instead, some have simply shrugged their shoulders over these victims -- but these are the same people who would have cried out in horror had the atrocities been foisted upon the Palestinians by Israel!  My point here is not political but how the culture wars of feminism and gender have also made women and, in particular, children victims and no longer protected.  The same point could be made by many of the attacks by the Russians in the Ukraine.  The erosion of the Biblical order has come at a cost -- to marriage, to children, and, especially, to women.  And it happened in part by those who insisted this was to aid women!

We are only now learning that God's order, while certainly a victim of sin's corruption in some ways, was established not to enslave but to free so that male and female, as He created them, they would be in liberty to fulfill their vocations.  All of this seems foreign to us today because we presume not only that we know fully what God intended but especially that we know better than God about the wisdom of His intent.  Those who are captive to the Word and will of God know that while we dare not presume we know all that God knows, we are safest and most secure when we know at least what He has revealed.  I am sure that I do not get all the implications of God's decision to make them male and female but I am also pretty sure that I know that this order was not to enslave or dominate but flowed from His merciful purpose in love, to protect, and to fulfill.  Today it is likely we will hear even Christians admit that they do not get what God was trying to do but, sadly, it is often accompanied with the rejection of what they do know of His purpose from His Word.  Somebody is a fool.  Either it is God or we are the fools.  I will leave it to you to render an opinion on which one is the dolt.

Monday, November 27, 2023

We will be judged. . .

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, preached on Sunday, November 26, 2023.

That Christ will sit in judgment over all people is not much of a surprise.  It is clearly taught in the New Testament.  We confess it in the creed every Sunday.  It is not something we need to prove.  It will become obvious no matter what anyone thinks.  But we as Christians know more.  We not only know to expect it, we know who is our judge and on what basis we will be judged.  Nevertheless, there is much confusion or consternation about it all.

The first problem is works.  It might appear that Christ is judging us on the basis of our works.  Even in the Athanasian Creed we say that those who have done good will be raised to everlasting life and those who have done evil to everlasting destruction.  Does that mean that the good works we do count?  After all, we do know that our evil works count.  They counted so much that God had to send His Son in our flesh and blood in order to suffer for those evil works, to pay the price of those sins, and to restore to Himself a whole creation lost to sin and its death.

So if our evil works count against us, does that mean that our good works count for us?  Well, let me remove all doubt.  They do count.  The good works done by the faithful in faith are noticed by God and rewarded by God.  No matter how paltry they are when compared to God’s perfect goodness, God in His mercy has done the unthinkable.  He has promised to reward those good works.  He counts those works personally – as much as you have done them to the least of my brothers, you have done them to Me... says the Lord.

The question is not whether they count but what do they count for?  None of those works count for our salvation.  The cannot.  Entrance into the Kingdom of God is not earned as the wage paid to the good.  Our best good works fall far short of the glory of God.  Put all your good works against the good work of Christ on the cross and you know what I mean.  But because they cannot buy us salvation does not mean that they are worthless or unimportant to God.  He values them not as payment for entrance to heaven but as the fruit of the Spirit’s work in us, bringing forth the new life into which we were born again in baptism.

No good work can purchase an inheritance.  It is already yours because you are an heir.  The inheritance is your gift and not the reward for your labors.  We are given heaven not as reward but because God has named us as His heirs.
You will be judged but you will be judged as God’s own children.  You are in the will.  You can reject the inheritance but you cannot earn it.  The good works you do are proof of faith but it is faith on which you are judged.  You are justified by grace through faith and not of any works you do.  But the good works that are the fruit of the Spirit’s work in you are not without merit or purpose or reward.  They show to the Father in heaven that we are His and they show to the world around us that we are His and they show to the neighbor for whom we do them that God loves our neighbor as well.
Good works are real and valuable not because they win salvation for us but because God IS gracious.  His mercy is shown in that He sees the good we do and rejoices over these good works, as small as they are in the parable of Jesus – a cup of water, a crust of bread, a worn coat, an awkward welcome, and an overdue visit.  These good works are not the things you and I harp about but things so small that when God reminds us, we marvel that He remembers because we have forgotten them.  That is how great the mercy of God is.

On the day when Christ comes in His glory as Judge and King of all, we have nothing to claim before Him except what He has given – His body broken in suffering, His blood shed upon the cross, and His life exchanged for our death.  It is the name of Christ we will plead and nothing of our good works.  We will gladly remind the Lord of the goodness of His promised placed upon us in our baptism, of the absolution that has forgiven our sins, and of the food of the Eucharist that fed and nourished our faith.  We will claim nothing more than the fullness of God’s promise –  you are Mine.

Until that day, we will strive for such good works so that by our deeds as well as our words, we are known as Christians, the sons and daughters and heirs of God. But we will not count on them. We will turn away from the paths of sin and unrighteousness not because we fear His punishment but because we love His will – we want what He wants and desire the good things of Christ and His kingdom.

The faithful are not judged by their works but Christ’s. The same Lord who looked upon us as sheep without a shepherd, the hungry in need of food, the wounded in need of healing, the sick who need to be made well, the broken who need to be made whole – that is Him who will mount the judgment seat.  He bore all our sins so that we can know His favor, so that we can plead His blood, and be saved.

We keep this judgment before us not because we live in fear but because we live in hope – hope for the day when the fullness of Christ’s promise will be fulfilled.  When the graves will deliver up the dead in Christ and the gates of heaven will allow us to be reunited with those who have gone before.  The day of judgment is not a day of fear and trembling but of joy.  The God who saw our sins and took them upon His Son now sees our good works and rejoices in them – even though you and I have forgotten they ever existed.  

What a blessed and glorious day it will be.  On that day, we will not be judged as sinners or as slaves but as sons and daughters of the Most High God.  He who has been pleased to save us by His blood, will welcome us into the reward He has prepared for those who have loved His appearing.  Judgment day is about faith – the faith that alone can produce the good works and faith that rejoices not in those good works but in the best work of Christ for us.

Lord, bring us soon to that day.  In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.

Christians have no odor. . .

Picked up from a variety of sources is this little tidbit located in the student handbook of Concordia Lutheran Seminary in Edmonton (a seminary of our sister church in Canada).

Scent-Free Policy
In response to health concerns, Concordia Lutheran Seminary has developed a Scent-Free Policy. Scented products such as hair spray, perfume, and deodorants can trigger reactions such as respiratory distress and headaches. For this reason, please do not use scented products while working or visiting Concordia Lutheran Seminary. Due to the sensitivity of certain members of our community, students may even be asked to consider changing soaps, laundry detergent and the like.

Now, to be fair, I get it.  I have been overwhelmed by alien scents offensive to my senses.  Most of them have to do with too much adolescent body sprays on guys and heavily scented powders, cremes, and perfumes.  Hardly any of it has to do with natural scents or odors.  What is curious to me, however, is that this merits a policy in the handbook of a very small Lutheran seminary or that the ideal for Lutherans ought to be no scent or odor whatsoever.  There is no such thing as an odor free environment here on earth.  Everything from hospitals to houses are filled with smells -- some pleasant and some not and perhaps a dispute over which is which.

God must have been extremely insensitive to His people for requiring incense in the worship of the Old Testament.  It must have come as great relief that there are no New Testament provisions insisting upon incense.  We can all be relieved that God came to His senses and delivered us from the excess ritual, formality, ceremony, and small that once He deemed to be synonymous with faithful worship.  I guess even God can learn something and we ought to be encouraged to learn some things also -- like how we should sanitize the worship space until we achieve the ideal of no smell whatsoever.  Of course, I am being sarcastic.

I can recall an Easter in which some burnt pork sausages left a blue, smokey haze and a not so pleasant smell over the entire facility -- so, of course, we cancelled Easter breakfast forever, right?  Or when we housed a Korean Lutheran mission and the smells of their potlucks were distinctly different from ours -- so, of course, we banished potlucks from the repertoire of our building, right?  Or when some pesky skunks decided to live under one of our HVAC units -- so, of course, we made sure every living creature on our property was either removed, dead, or descented, right?  But, when a hint of incense remained in the building after Evening Prayer, I was called to account by someone who believed the whole thing toxic and unacceptable.  So, there is apparently a hierarchy of odors permissible.  For Lutherans, anyway, incense is always on the list of banned smells.

In my stilted thinking, this kind of sensitivity borders on being held hostage by terrorists who are offended even by ordinary things.  The Church must always make accommodation but it would be too much to ask the people to find away around it all.  Oddly enough, hardly any Lutheran church buildings are so full on Sundays or there are Lutheran congregations which fail to offer a non-Sunday option that would allow appropriate distance for those who have such a complaint about odors.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Our brief attention spans. . .

We look around us and see the evidence of our short attention spans and our devotion to the utilitarian especially in the buildings we create or, rather, the lack of grand structures born of our own generation to take their place with the noble works of past generations.  Nowhere is this more true than with church buildings.  Ours is an age in which the symbol of our conviction and our dedication is a warehouse style structure that shouts temporary instead of the mighty sanctuaries that once marked Christian church structures.  It is a combination of two ills.  One is our lack of real conviction that would require sacrifice and the dedication of more than a few years.  The other is our brief attention spans that too quickly grow tired of an idea that we might not be able to see through to fruition in our own time.  Both are epidemic problems for more than just buildings.

German poet Heinrich Heine understood this.  Europe is dotted with grand cathedrals and other churches which required generations of effort to see through to the finish.  In our age, the next generation stewards of the dream would quickly abandon the project and tear down what others labored to create.  Who among us would dare to begin a cathedral that would take more than half a millenium to finish?  I dare say none of us.

We lack conviction.  Sure, we have many opinions but which of our opinions would we sacrifice to defend or devote our blood, sweat, and tears to see through to completion?  Where are the deeply held convictions and beliefs that would under gird a project that would demand the attention of more than 25 generations?  Watch our polls and you see that we change our minds, surrender our historic values, and embrace contradictions to our truth in a few decades or less.  Where is our commitment to bring to fruition what our forefathers had begun?  You will not find it in Christendom.  The doctrine of the apostles handed down through Scripture and confession are easily surrendered in the face of modern ideas that have no sanction or stature before God.  Neither would such a building project endure past a few short years before we turn to something not so boring and something more our own.

We also lack the attention span to see such things through.  How many cities have had neighborhoods and streets of character and history replaced by concrete and glass and steel only to be replaced by the something else a few years down the road?  We say we love vintage but it is a nostalgia for which we are seldom willing to sacrifice something of the present or future.  We really love only the idea of it all as much as we disdain the duty and obligation such a monumental structure would demand of us.  It is less a problem in Europe than it is here but it is a problem everywhere.  If it costs us something significant and we will not see it through to the end, we have little stomach for such an endeavor -- whether in church or state, in buildings or ideas.  It is no wonder that pews are empty and we have decided that it is better to fill our lives with the moment rather than wait for the promise of the eternal.  I guess somethings are just important enough to us.

Stated in collect form, the Church prayed not so long ago:

O God, the protector of all who trust in You, have 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, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

The problem with that word "synod"

As any Missouri Synod Lutheran has been told a gazillion times, synod means walking together.  Apparently Roman Catholics are now also learning that buzz word and its meaning.  Of course, we can all agree that walking together is a good thing -- safety in numbers and all that.  We should all gladly affirm that the Church ought to be walking together -- it is pretty clear that this is the intent of God.  We might all be willing to adapt our pace one to another in the goal of walking together -- if for no other reason than for the sake of the weak.  Synod is the easy part.  Walking together is nearly universally affirmed as being the right thing to do.  The problem, as always is where we walk, which direction, if you will.

Synod is but a goofy word and concept unless we are all walking together on God's path.  If Scripture matters, the very notion of the “way” must draw us into the Word.  St.Luke tells us that the Church in apostolic times was called “The Way’”(Acts 9.2).  St. John records that Christ declared Himself to be “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14.6).  In His high-priestly prayer Christ prayed: “Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory” (John 17.24). To be with the Father’s beloved Son, the Image of God (Colossians 1.15) in whom we were created (cf. Genesis 1.27) now and for ever has been the human race’s call since the beginning. The Scriptures warn us that the broad boulevard leads away from God and right into hell but the narrow way of Christ is what leads to God, to His everlasting presence, and to heavenly bliss (St. Matthew 7:13-20).  The problem is not walking together but where we are headed and on which path we are treading.  All the chest beating about synodality and such do nothing at all for us unless we are walking together on God's path.  That is the problem.  Now more than ever, Christ the Way is being divorced from Christ the Word until Scripture is hardly much more than a starting point for a conclusion that comes before the journey.

The pressures upon the Church are not simply our failure to walk together but our failure to walk on the path of God's Word and the apostolic witness of the ages.  Every church body wrestles with the tension of being in but not of the world.  You cannot escape it as a church body nor can you escape it as an individual Christian.  This is what we need to be talking about.  Where are we treading and what is the goal?  

This is what Missouri wrestles with in its diversity of congregational government, worship styles, catechetical substance, confessional identity, adherence to Biblical truth, and common sacramental practices.  We keep trying to make it a broad boulevard or a big tent -- just like the world would have it.  We are listening to each other but we are not listening to God's Word and to our own confessions.  

This is what Rome is wrestling with in its diversity of orders, worship styles, catechetical substance, confessional identity, adherence to Biblical truth, and common sacramental practices.  Rome has learned from Protestants to pay more attention to voices other than God's Word and the apostolic tradition and will end up heading down the same path as liberal Protestantism if they keep to this path.

Whether you are talking about Lutherans who loathe rules and flaunt adiaphora for things that are not really indifferent at all.  We are also talking about Roman Catholics who have traded doctrinal unity for deference to a man called Pope.  Our problem is not that we are not diverse enough but that we are not united as we ought to be in the unchanging and unchangeable truth of Scripture, preserved by apostolic tradition, and the very mark of catholicity.  It is tiresome to hear Lutherans insist that we must preserve the freedom of the congregation (and its minister) to govern themselves as they would, determine their own mission as they will, order their own liturgical life as they choose, and interpret the common Confession as they desire.  

We have a chaos of parishes doing their own thing (not perhaps a majority of individual congregations but certainly the congregations where the majority of our people belong and worship).  The people of my parish are always bringing back horror stories of congregations they visited while away but which looked, acted, and sounded nothing like ours.  This is not about a freedom of ceremonies but a free for all in which no liturgy is as good a choice as a full sung liturgy replete with all the historic ceremonies.  Doctrine is life and what you see and experience on Sunday morning either supports your confession or grates against it.  We are listening to everyone but the Word of God and our own Confessions and so we end up as muddled as Rome (having completed its listening post on synodality in which Scripture and apostolic tradition are but a couple of the many things given weight and value for the shape of that communion's life and future).  We will all end up as empty and bloated with hubris as the Protestants who have decided the Scripture is offensive to Christ the way and culture must have a voice and a vote on what their churches believe and do.  It is not the walking together we ought to be concerned about but which path and toward what goal.  If we get that right, the rest will be easy.  If we get that wrong, we will all end up on a party bus to destruction.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Waiting and watching. . .

So here I sit on Black Friday -- not a day on the liturgical calendar but almost more in tune with the pulse of American people than any day on that churchly calendar. There will be the requisite stories of people up before the crack of dawn, the trolls heading down the internet shopping aisle, and the bargain buys that were snapped up before most folks could purchase them.  In the meantime, the Church Year is soon to celebrate its final day of the liturgical year.

In contrast to Black Friday, the Church Year comes to its close almost with a whimper. The last Sunday after Pentecost (or the last Sunday after Trinity or the Sunday of the Consummation of All Things or Christ the King or whatever you call it) is a small bump on the highway of our lives. Advent begins in a week but it will not be marked by all the busy character of the kick off of the shopping season

The older I get, the more I notice this awkwardness. It is as if the great transition from one Church Year to another has gotten entirely lost in the wake of days filled with overeating, overindulging, and overspending. I worry about this loss and about the way we have forgotten this significant step in the passing of God's timing.

The end of one Church Year is out of sync with our secular calendar and with our own seasonal pulse as the world around us shifts into high gear toward Christmas. The start of a new Church Year is too often lost in the push toward Christmas music, Christmas decorations, Christmas presents, and Christmas parties. Advent is not simply time of preparation but time of waiting. And waiting is the discipline of Christian faith and life. We wait upon the Lord, we wait upon His wisdom and purpose, and we wait upon His time and timing.  I worry that waiting has become a burden to us and waiting on the Lord is no more welcome than a long line before the drive up window.

Thhis is what the end of one Church Year and the start of a new one should be teaching us. We do not direct the pulse of history toward its destiny, God does. We wait upon the Lord -- not as the regretful who lament what we cannot know or control but as the faithful who trust in His providence because we have seen the revelation of His grace and favor in Christ our Lord. We wait upon the Lord -- not as the frustrated who bide their time because someone was late for an appointment but as those place our time in His hands and wait the fulfillment of that which the clock can never measure. We wait for the Lord -- not as the idle who grow weary with nothing to do but as those who have been given a mission and purpose to proclaim the Savior with words that speak of His suffering and death and resurrection and actions that extend the care of His love to those around us.

Those who direct the liturgical calendar have tried to prop up the end of the Church Year by called it various names from Christ the King Sunday to the Sunday of the Fulfillment. It is not the name we need to prop up but the ordering of our time according to the Lord's gift and promise. Its rhythm and pulse, understandably foreign to our consumer culture and secular world, is the different drummer to which Christian people march. What we need is not some artificial elevation of one day or another but a sense of who we are and where we are headed -- which is exactly what the Church Year gives to us.

As we are poised to begin another Year of Grace, we need to be careful lest the intrusion of the secular calendar and its celebrations steal away the spotlight from the liturgical calendar. We need to be careful about the endless string of emphases and theme Sundays that come from the head offices of all the Lutheran jurisdictions. We need to be careful about connecting one Sunday to the Sunday to come and to its Sunday past as links in the chain of a people who wait upon the Lord, who are busy during the wait with His purpose and mission, and who live each day trusting in Him whose promise is fulfilled in Christ, whose grace is sufficient for the day, and whose mercy is glimpsed even in sorrow and struggle, trial and tragedy. We wait upon the Lord...

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Thanksgiving Sermon

Sermon for Thanksgiving, preached on Thanksgiving Eve, November 22, 2023.

I will admit that I tire of this text.  Perhaps more accurately, I tire of the trivializing of this text in which it becomes little more than a prod to gratitude for a people prone to presume that they somehow deserve the good things that come to them.  While it is certainly true that we do presume we deserve the good thing but not the bad that happen to us, this is not simply about ingratitude.  It is about rejecting the God who gives good gifts to His children.

All ten lepers were cleansed, healed if you will.  But how could they know it?  This was not simply about looking into the mirror to see if the sores were gone or taking their temperature or blood pressure or an x-ray or if they felt better.  Jesus had told them to go and show themselves to the priests.  The priests would declare if they were cleansed, and if they could rejoin their families and society.  Healing, in other words, is not something you declare but what is declared to you and for you by others.  God declares us clean.

This is hard to take.  We imagine ourselves to be the arbiters of our destinies.  The world has lied to us so often and we have yearned to believe those lies that we believe them as the truest of truths.  We are who we want to be, we can do what we want to do, and we get what we want.  So the whole idea that our lives or our identities or our happiness lies beyond our control offends us.  

The ingratitude of the nine is shown by their refusal to credit their healing to anyone, much less Jesus.  They went their own ways to pursue their own dreams and desires and while their bodies might have been well, they were not healed or whole by any means.  The key to wholeness and healing is not simply gratitude but the gratitude that is returned to Jesus.  

It is one thing to be complacent about or to feel entitled when it comes to the ordinary things of this life.  It is another to shrug your shoulders at the forgiveness that is free to you but cost our Lord His life in suffering on the cross.  It is another to take for granted the things of God that come to us not by right or merit or worth but only and simply out of His great goodness and mercy.  This is what one leper got right and nine got all wrong.  Their illness was everything when it kept them from what they wanted but their healing was nothing if it required them to kneel before the Lord with gratitude and thanksgiving.  
The ingratitude of the nine was nothing short of rejection of God, rejection of their sin, rejection of their need to be redeemed, and rejection of the Redeemer whom God had sent.  Faith is, as they say, the attitude of gratitude.  The one thing that will destroy a faith is ingratitude and the one thing that will rob the faithful of joy is ingratitude.  It is not a small problem but a huge and profound roadblock to the contentment, peace, and joy we crave but cannot know outside of Christ.

The Samaritan leper could not go on without returning to the God who had made Him whole.  He was asked to go to the priests.  This was unthinkable to him and to the priests but he was willing to go.  Then he realized that Christ was his priest and he could not go on without returning to the God who had made Him whole.  He could not walk away from the Jesus who had visited such mercy upon his unworthy soul and body.  Though he was a Samaritan and the Temple and the priests were not supposed to matter to him, they became the only thing that mattered – even more than the leprosy he had suffered and the healing he had received.  For kneeling before the Lord he saw Scripture fulfilled.  There he learned what it was that St. Paul proclaimed – whether you live or die, you belong to the Lord and this is the only thing that matters.  All of them were healed but only one of them knew the end of his story, the final chapter of his mortal life, and the outcome of his faith.  That was the Samaritan.  He was grateful not because he could finally go back to the things that really did not matter but because he was finally free to focus on the only thing that mattered.

Like Martha who had to be taught the one thing needful, you and I come here in need of the gratitude of faith.  We are but small numbers before an entire nation sits down to a feast that takes hours to prepare and minutes to consume, then to a distraction of a game or black Friday deals.  We are the one who was healed, who cannot live at all unless we live in Christ and for Christ.  Jesus is looking not for a thank you from us but for a life that has been truly healed of all the self-centered foolishness that parades as wisdom and all the trivial pursuits that lead nowhere.  His desire is that we might know who we are through the lens of His love and find the contentment and peace of hearts that rest finally and fully upon Christ.

It is easy to be grateful in general without acknowledging the specifics for which we give thanks.  It is easy to be grateful for the few things that we treasure most of all and which we consider to be extra special blessings.  It is much different to begin the day thanking the Lord for even the trouble it will bring and for His presence throughout it all.  It is much different to end the day commending to the Lord our sins for His forgiveness and His protection from pride lest the things we have done well distance us from Him.  

This is not about perfunctory acts or words without meaning but about faith – faith that recognizes Jesus and rejoices in His gifts and returns to Him what His blood, suffering, and death have purchased.  You.  Me. And the whole world.  For this Jesus is willing to waste His extravagant mercy on a terrible batting record of one out of nine.  We would be stingier with what cost us so much but He is generous.  And from this generosity, comes faith, gratitude, and devotion.  The end result is not a thank you but a different person, created in Christ Jesus for an eternal future.

Thanksgiving thoughts. . .

As we sit before the well stocked table of food we will consume to excess, only to rest up afterwards to shop until we drop, we often drop a few pious platitudes so as not to forsake entirely the spiritual character of this day of thanksgiving.  So instead of leaving you with my own pious platitudes or worse, my own angry frustration, I will leave you with one of my favorite poems on thankfulness -- one written before there was an America and before there was a Thursday in November designated as a national day of Thanksgiving.  Hopefully it will remind us that this day ought to be about more than the food we consume on it or the activities we associate with it.  Thanksgiving is an attitude.  We choose to be thankful.  We pause to notice the things for which we are thankful.  And, if God is good, we will approach the future differently because of it.

GRATEFULNESS  +  by George Herbert (1593- 1633)

Thou that hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more, a grateful heart.
See how thy beggar works on thee       By art.

He makes thy gifts occasion more,
And says, If he in this be crossed,
All thou hast given him heretofore     Is lost.

But thou didst reckon, when at first
Thy word our hearts and hands did crave,
What it would come to at the worst    To save.

Perpetual knockings at thy door,
Tears sullying thy transparent rooms,
Gift upon gift, much would have more,   And comes.

This not withstanding, thou wenst on,
And didst allow us all our noise:
Nay thou hast made a sigh and groan    Thy joys.

Not that thou hast not still above
Much better tunes, than groans can make;
But that these country-airs thy love    Did take.

Wherefore I cry, and cry again;
And in no quiet canst thou be,
Till I a thankful heart obtain     Of thee:

Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be     Thy praise.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Humble thanks. . .

I took a moment to review some stats from this blog and was stunned to find out that on July 31 of this year 111,556 people tuned in directly to this blog and uncounted numbers through other means (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.).  This means that the total number of blog readers has exceeded 5.5 million (on my counters) and continues to grow exponentially as the blog is shared through other means.  It is immensely satisfying and yet greatly humbling.

Let me take this moment to let you know how much I appreciate your faithfulness.  I do not consider myself to be anything but an ordinary pastor who loves his vocation and loves to read.  It is my privilege to serve along side so many faithful pastors whose names are not well known but whose ministry touches so many lives with the saving Word of the Lord and the blessed Sacraments instituted by Christ.  If I am in some small way an encouragement to my many brothers, I am thankful.  If I make you angry from time to time, forgive me the offense and know that my point was not to incite but to wrestle with the problems and resources the Church has for this moment.  So many other blogs have gone the way of all flesh, so to speak, and I never thought this would last as long as it has, but I will endeavor to continue -- if not for your reading then for my sanity.  

For the many laity who read, I hope and pray that you are also encouraged in your baptismal vocation and challenged from time to time to reach deep within the well of God's riches as He daily and richly blesses you and causes your faith to grow and your life in Christ to prosper.  Pastors and people are not in competition but complement each other in the work of the Lord -- within different venues but with equal urgency and blessed result as we abide in Christ and He in us.  

Thank you.  Thank you and God bless you.

The Rev'd Larry Peters+

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Babylon Bee Strikes Again. . .

Article Image
Pope Francis Warns Against Narrow Gate, Says Wide, Broad Road Is Fine
Church · Oct 3, 2023 ·

VATICAN — Pope Francis today released a papal decree warning Christians against going through the narrow gate, and instead encouraging everyone to take the broad road.

"Take it from me - the broad, easy road is just fine," said Pope Francis. "Tell those troublemakers admonishing people to walk through the narrow gate to R-E-L-A-X."

While faithful Catholics still hold to the Church's teachings on homosexuality and gender, even in the face of increasing persecution, Pope Francis has called on them to just chill out and stop being so uptight. "If people are persecuting you, you're doing something wrong," said Pope Francis. "Forget the two millennia of the Church standing its ground -- embrace the culture! I've been doing it for years, and now the Chinese Communist Party loves me, the LGBT community loves me, and all the newspapers and magazines love me. I must be doing something right."

At publishing time, Pope Francis had begun to wonder why there was always a little guy with a pitchfork on his shoulder whispering into his ear.


The sad truth is that the outrageous things the Babylon Bee so successfully turns into humor and satire are based upon real issues, questions, challenges, and responses.  The net equivalent of the slow progress to normalizing the LGBTQ+ agenda that seems to be resistant to conservative challenge and the fast pace by which this occurred within the liberal churches is to replace Jesus' narrow way with the broad boulevard that He warns about.  And it is all being done in the name of Christ.  There is no joke there -- only the cruelest twist and turn of events in which those charged with proclaiming the Gospel have changed it and gutted it of any power to save or redeem anyone.  Whether or not Francis will lead the Roman Catholic Church to officially embrace same sex marriage and the gender confusion of the day, he has already allowed it and given it place and status by making such accommodations the concern of a Synod.  Confusion is just as damaging as apostasy.  In some respects, it just may be worse.  Confusion makes muddy the waters of doctrine but apostasy can be clearly marked for what it is.  When confusion reigns, the true doctrine is itself wounded by the fog of contradiction and conflict and no one knows what is right before God and therefore everyone does what is right in their own eyes.  Even if it is rejected, when true doctrine is clearly marked against that which is false, you know where you stand.  The enemies of Christ do not have to force the Church to betray Him -- only to render the confession fuzzy and to allow error the same status as truth.  It is sort of like when, in the history of Israel's and Judah's kings, good kings failed because they did not tear down the idols but allowed them to stand along side the Temple.  In the end, the people were confused and that confusion allowed them to drift into error.  In this way, confusion can have worse consequences than error.



Monday, November 20, 2023

The talented. . .

Sermon for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28A, preached on Sunday, November 19, 2023.

Most of us reading the parable find the problem with the nobleman.  He gets his three trusted servants together and does not dole out the goods equally.  In this world of equity and justice, this is an obvious failing.  If you put in your will that each of your kids get a different part of the estate, your children are likely to presume that you love them differently, one more than others and two more than the third.  We cannot get past this inequity in the parable.  So we start with a chip on our shoulders.

A talent is not a skill or an ability but a weight of money.  A talent was the equivalent of nearly 20 years wages.  Even among the hourly workers, we are easy talking about more than a million dollars.  So to one, the nobleman gave 5 million, to the second 3 million, and to the third 1 million.  That sort of makes it easier.  The parable is not simply about the different amounts entrusted to the servants but is about the generous mercy of the nobleman – God.  God is the generous one.  No one gets a little but every gets a lot – all more than they deserve to be sure.

The first two put their master’s generosity to work right away.  They invest the money and trade with it and in the course of their business, they increased the money in multiples.  The third is worried.  What if I screw it up?  What if I lose the money entrusted to me?  Maybe the master is trying to trap me?  His worry turns to fear and his fears make him forget his master’s generosity.  Now his master becomes his enemy and the gift and opportunity became a burden.

So when the master returns, he rewards the faithfulness of the two while the third is taken away in chains and thrown into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  We think the comparison between the different servants is about what they did with the money entrusted to them.  In reality, it has nothing to do with what they did with the money. It has everything to do with whether or not they knew the character, the heart, of their master.  The master in this is God.  And the crux of the issue is how well do you know God.  How well do you know your master.

God is not the stingy, greedy ogre we think Him to be.  He is not the unmerciful taskmaster who is always testing us, always trying to trip us up, or always waiting for us to screw up.  The Lord is merciful.  He is gracious.  He is compassionate.

He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  This is His character.  This is the only thing that matters.  Our sins are no match for His mercy.  His goodness supplies us with all that we need for this body and life and for eternal life.   Long before He sent His one and only Son, we were in His debt – a debt that we could never repay.  Now that we know Him as the Father of mercy who has sent His one and only Son to be our Savior and Redeemer and who has bestowed upon us His Holy Spirit to bring forth this faith and joy, we are even more in His debt.

So the day of judgment is not the terrible day of account when we will find out what the bad news is, it is the joyful day that we already know.  Our account has been settled in Christ, paid for not with silver or gold but with His holy and precious blood.  God will not and cannot condemn us for our sin.  He has already laid upon Jesus the sin of us all, once for all time.

What we do with the things of this life is not some precondition upon which eternity hangs.  Because we have eternity, we are free to live fully in this life the treasure of God’s grace He has already bestowed upon us.  What we do with God’s gifts is a reflection of what we know about Him.  So, we give our time to the Lord in worship, in Bible study, and in prayer because we know His mercy and His love that endures forever.  We know the value of His gifts because we know the value of His mercy.  So, we give our abilities to the work of the Lord and not simply in pursuit of our own goals or wants.  We know what God has done and so it shapes what we do.  So, we give our tithes and offerings to the Lord because if God has given us eternity, why would we withhold from Him treasures that we cannot take with us.  We do not despise God’s gifts nor do we value them more than the Giver.  It because they flow to us from His giving love that we value them most of all.

What this parable is really about is whether or not we rejoice at the chance to receive the good things that come to us from God.  What this parable is really about is how we use what God in His mercy delights to give.  The answer is faith.  Faith receives God’s gifts and faith defines how use those gifts and faith rejoices in returning to God what He has so graciously given to us in love.

The truth is that there is little difference between despising God’s gifts and receiving them as if they were a burden or something casual and incidental.  The talent emphasizes the size of His gift but it also reveals the size of the heart that gives such a gift to us.  What we do with the gifts reflects either faith or unbelief.

Faith looks at God the master and God the giver and says “who am I to deserve such blessing?”  The highest worship of God is faith that receives His goodness, gives thanks for all His blessings, and lives a new life that reflects this goodness in our own lives.  God is pleased when we know who He is and when we trust Him.  In the Catechism it is put this way:  We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.  We thank and praise, serve and obey Him joyfully.

The day of the Lord will come.  It is the day of accountability.  Those who find the Lord a difficult master, who reject His mercy and gifts, or who view them as nothing special – they will receive what they have in life – alone to face the empty darkness of punishment that is reality apart from the Lord.  But to you and me, who have known the Lord’s goodness, who receive His gifts with faith and thanksgiving, and who use His gifts for His glory, we have only one thing ahead of us.  “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

It has come down to this. . .

While walking down the aisles of a store a while ago, my wife and I waited upon an older couple talking as they were shopping.  They were not quiet.  The wife was drawing the attention of the husband to some ornaments she was looking at for their gay pride Christmas tree.  With a sigh, we let them pass by and went on looking while her comment stuck in our minds.  Has it really come down to this?

I suppose it was inevitable.  There are "Christmas" trees for just about everything from sports teams to leisure activities -- not to mention the pop character trees dedicated to favorite toys, TV shows, etc.  Most of it is rather benign but this elderly woman was not decorating a tree to an interest but a cause -- and one that was about as friendly to the real Christmas as a slap to the Baby in the manger.  While we can lament the commercialization of the holy day, the take over of the day by a political cause such as gay pride is over the top.

It is not that I do not understand.  Probably they have a grandchild who identifies as gay or perhaps some other letter of the alphabet of sexual desire and gender identity.  She just wants them to feel included when they come to grandma's house.  We all get it.  But really.  Has it come down to trans trees, to gay and bi trees, and to one or more versions of a non-binary tree?  Is this what inclusion looks like or is this something more?

You probably wish by now I had gone to a different store.  I guess I wish that I had as well.  In the end, you know where the world is when grandmas and grandpas are decorating gay pride trees in their condo in Florida or their room at the assisted living center.  It kind of makes me want to skip Christmas.  But that would fit into the agenda of pride tree homes.  Give up the Christ and keep the holiday and then turn it into whatever you want it to be so everyone can feel included.  Well, strangely enough, that is exactly the purpose of Christ's coming -- to include us sinners into family of God and into the promise of the Father.  But Jesus does not do this by pandering to us and our desires or feelings.  No, Jesus includes by taking on the sin of all so that we might be made righteous in Him.  Jesus may meet us in our sin but He certainly does not leave us there.  That should be the message of Christmas and that is the ultimate inclusion.  I am fairly sure that at some point in the lives of these grandparents they kind of knew that.  But now that is not what they think about as Christmas and that, my friends, is the problem.  It was not the Grinch who stole Christmas.  We stole it right out from under the Christ child.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

A couple of good collects and then some. . .

Though we have one more Sunday in this Church Year, it is worth readying ourselves for the end of one Church Year and the beginning of another -- especially since Thanksgiving will sit in between and occupy a goodly amount of our attention.  So here is the old collect, a week early, for your consideration.

We thank Thee, Lord God, Heavenly Father, that in the past church year Thou has preserved Thy Word among us in purity, and by it sensibly quickened our souls; and we beseech Thee, that Thou shouldst gracious forgive us all our neglect, unbelief, and disobedience of Thy Word, and continue unto us this precious treasure with Thy blessing forevermore; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

There is, by the way, a corresponding collect for the beginning of a new Church Year which you might just include in your devotions for December 3.

 Almighty Lord God, who hast by Thy grace this day permitted us to enter a new church year, we beseech Thee grant unto Thy Church Thy Holy Spirit and the wisdom which cometh down from above, that Thy Word, as becometh it, may not be bound, but have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ's holy people, that in steadfast faith we may serve Thee, and in the confession of Thy name abide unto the end; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

Sadly, we hardly note the end of one Church Year and the beginning of another, much less the particular Sunday we are observing.  I have noticed that many pastors do not even mention the Sunday the readings were appointed for when they begin the lection.  

By the way, in reading through the old Liturgy and Agenda (CPH 1936) I noted that antiphons and versicles for the Commemoration of the Dead (p. 110) and for prayers for the Churching of Women.  There is something else I had forgotten about -- There are changeable general prayers for the seasons, festivals, and holidays.  Included in these seasonal General Prayers is one for the beginning of the Church Year and its close, and for the Commemoration of the Dead.

Close of the Church Year:

O Thou Father of mercies, we bring unto Thee this day our sacrifice of praise for the innumerable and inestimable spiritual blessings with which Thou hast favored us in Christ Jesus during the church year now drawing to its close.  Thou hast caused Thy divine Word to be preached to us, which is able to make us wise unto salvation; Thou hast permitted us to enjoy the holy Sacraments for our comfort and sanctification, and hast accompanied the means of grace with the effectual working of Thy Holy Spirit in our hearts.  We bless Thee for Thy goodness and praise Thy holy name; and we beseech Thee, that Thou woulds in mercy forgive us all the sins of the past year for Jesus' sake, and graciously preserve the blessed light of Thy Gospel unto us and all Christendom.  Govern us by Thy Holy Spirit, that, receiving Thy Word with gladness and continuing therein all our days, we may be sanctified through Thy truth, and finally obtain eternal salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

Beginning of the Church Year:

O eternal, immortal, invisible, and only wise God, Thou hast brought us to the beginning of another church year, and we acknowledge with thankfulness all the mercies which Thou hast bestowed upon us from the beginning of our lives to this moment.  We praise Thee for the preservation of our being from day to day.  We thank Thee for food and raiment, for health and strength, for kind friends and benefactors, for peace and protection by day and for rest and safety by night, for the many advantages which Thou affordest us in this favored land, and for all our other blessings.  But, above all, we heartily thank Thee for the gift of Thine only-begotten Son to be for men on earth the Savior from sin; for Thy mercy in having called us to a state of salvation through Jesus Christ; for the Church in which Thou hast placed us; for Thy faithful ministers; for Thy holy Word and the blessed Sacraments; and for the divine life and power dispensed to us from the abounding riches of Thy grace.

Remember for good, we beseecheth Thee, the Church which Thy right hand hath planted, and water it abundantly with the dew of Thy blessing.

Cause the Gospel of Thy dear Son to be preached with wisdom and power, and give us increase of grace meekly to hear and with pure affection to red3eive the Word of the lowly Son of Man, that, accepting Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, our only Redeemer, we may be united unto Thee by faith, and walk in the way of Thy commandments all our days.

Dwell in the hearts of our baptized children, that they may sing hosannas unto Thee; and add to Thy Church daily such as believe and are saved.

Prosper all endeavors to spread abroad Thy Gospel in the world.  Show Thy truth unto them that are in error; teach Thy ways unto the wicked, and let sinners be converted unto Thee.

Strengthen the weak, comfort the afflicted, and sanctify the faithful through Thy truth.

Vouchsafe Thy favor unto our land; and grant that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by Thy governance that Thy people may joyfully serve Thee in all godly quietness.

O Thou God of peace, sanctify us wholly, that our whole spirit, and soul, and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Faithful are Thou, who has called us, who also wilt do it, to the praise of Thy holy name, for Jesus Christ's sake.  Amen

Now tell me that they did not know how to pray in days gone by!

Saturday, November 18, 2023

A petty but not unimportant thing. . .

I suppose I am hopelessly old fashioned when it comes to the appropriate manner of dress.  I long for the days when teachers dressed up (men in ties and women in dresses) and there was a more narrow dress code for students as well.  I am always overdressed when I look at folks around me but strangely I am not uncomfortable by this -- at least not as uncomfortable as I am with what passes for the appropriate dress of one flying, going to the doctor, visiting a store, etc.  When it comes to church, I know that I am swimming against the tide here but allow me one more plea.  Dress up for God's house and not down.  Dress modestly and not to flaunt your bodily assets or your political opinions or your choice of beer.  It amazes me how much more important it is to people to be comfortable than to dress appropriately for what is happening.  Here I can think no further of what passes for taste in dressing for funerals and weddings as well as church on Sunday morning.  Note here that I am not at all suggesting that there must be a dress code but only that when we put on our duds on Sunday morning we should choose from the best of the clothing we have and not the first thing there or what feels most comfortable.  If a suit, wear it.  If a good pair of pants and shirt, wear it.  For men and women as well as our kids the goal should be the same -- to honor on the outside of our bodies the same spirit and attitude of our hearts as we enter God's House. 

Now some are likely to shame me into thinking I am asking too much.  It ought to be enough just to get the folks into the building without also trying to shame them because of what they wear.  My goal is not shame (although it might not be the worst thing to have a little shame once in a while).  My goal here is to acknowledge in dress and behavior the absolute miracle that takes place every Sunday when God invites us into His presence, forgives our sins, addresses us with His voice, feeds and nourishes us upon the food of heaven, and sends us forth with His blessing.  We spend a lot of time talking about this feast, the foretaste of the eternal but the noble feast we experience in the here and now.  We have heard parables about who is invited and their excuses for not attending and even of the one who slipped in without a wedding garment.  But do we ask ourselves if we dressed for the feast?  Of course, this is not simply about external clothing.  It is about the attitude of repentance and the faith with which we enter into God's presence.  It is about the garment of righteousness St. John speaks of (Revelation 19:7–8) and about the clothing of Christ's righteousness placed upon us in our baptism (Galatians 3:27).  St. Paul seems to spend no small amount of ink urging us to walk worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1) and part of this is reflected in behavior and speech but surely dress is not incidental to all of this?

A while ago there was a buzz on the internet about a priest who gently suggested that it is not appropriate to carry coffee mugs into the Mass.  Lutherans ought to think about that as well.  We are not setting up a tailgate party to view the pregame show and the action on the field.  We have been invited into God's presence and promised forgiveness to the repentant, strength to the weak, hope to the despairing, renewal to the weary, and life to the dead.  God's presence ought to call us to do more than slip on a pair of casual shoes but is rather the occasion where we tread carefully on the holy ground of God's presence.  By the way, that priest was universally castigated.  Shame on him.  He should simply be grateful folks are there.  Which, by the way, I am sure he was and is and yet this has nothing to do with the external appearance and demeanor of God's people who come to the Lord first and always in the clothing of repentance and Christ's righteousness and not on their own merit.  So call me petty but next time you are getting ready for church, look a bit more carefully at the clothing you have and what you choose to wear.  The outside ought to be a reflection of the inside.

Friday, November 17, 2023

We know better. . .

Of all the pernicious attitudes of people today, the worst, by far, is the presumption that we know better than those who went before us.  It is not particularly a religious hubris but one common to all aspects of modern life.  We tend to look at the past with a critical eye, judging its sins according to the metrics of the moment, and smug in our conclusion that those who went before us were either evil, ignorant, superstitious, or fools.  Add to that the nefarious aspect of their stupidity and we assign to them guilt for the most precious of the modern sins identified -- phobes of one sort or another and prudes who cannot abide or tolerate joy.  How arrogant we are!

It might be tolerable if the same attitudes had not infiltrated the Church but they have.  The view of modern Christians toward Scripture is laced with the poison of presumption when it comes to everything from race to gender and does not shy away from the animus against the sexual mores of the commandments.  This is nothing less than the presumption that God is such a fool.  Even among conservative Christians this is a problem.  I have heard good and honest Christians insist that Jesus was somehow also locked into the ignorance of His day about such things as mental illness and demons.  Oh, how we love to flaunt our education and erudition over the Son of God!  If only Jesus had known what we know, Scripture might be different.  While we can all hear the progressive faction of Christianity echo this thought, the reality is that many conservative Christians are also so tempted to believe that Scripture suffers from a distorted view of evil, medicine, and sex.  All of them, of course, are the mark of a patriarchal society repressed in so many ways and unable to enjoy pleasure and freedom.  Yeah.  That is the ultimate rejection of the Old and New Testaments, isn't it?  Yet it is hard for us to admit that we do not know better than the apostles, prophets, patriarchs, and evangelists the Word of God but just may be struggling to know as well as they knew Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen.  Our calling is not to understand Jesus in terms of our modern understanding of humanity but to see ourselves through the lens of Christ.

The idea that modern thought is superior to all past forms of understanding reality is not peculiar to our age but is the Achilles' heel of a people steeped in the moment and functionally ignorant of history and human nature.  Every age has vaunted its technology and education as the answer to the foolishness and superstition of the past and as the means to overcoming the injustices these have caused.  The problem for us today is that technological change is so rapid and the change in values and norms for society and culture come at us with the same dizzying pace that the past we are rejecting is hardly a generation old.  For Christianity this is an especially difficult problem.  Modern thought is given equal and perhaps superior place to Scripture and tradition in determining what is normative for Christian faith and life.  Gender identity is but one example of how fast and far things can change from fringe to norm.  While this is certainly true of the progression of sexual desire from aberration to mainstream, it is no less true in many other areas.  This is why liberation has taken hold.  The goal of humanity has become the liberation of man from all oppression, from the past and even from the Word of God, and it must be undertaken so that man has a true and authentic existence.

Christians presume our views upon Scripture all the time.  Even conservative Christians are so tempted.  The challenge for every age and for ours in particular is to retain truth, doctrine, and revelation without tainting these with the poisons of the day.  While the development of doctrine initially was concerned with how unchanging truth and dogma were passed on, it is now common for Christians of all kinds to presume that doctrine does actually change, morphing into something different than it was in another time.  Exegetes complain that we are reading the Trinity into Scripture, for example.  Others complain that we are reading a history of homophobia into the same Word of God.  There is no yesterday, today, and forever Word of the Lord but it is a living and moving reality that is both defined by and speaks to the moment.  The mark of Christian orthodoxy is that we do not invent, create, or countenance novelty.  Of course, neither do we fail to express the unchanging truth of Christ and His revelation in different but faithful ways -- yet what we confess remains forever the same.  

It is for this reason that the early church fathers were important to Lutheranism (and here I am not talking about the Reformation fathers or those who were the fathers of the Missouri Synod).  Our timeline begins at the beginning and we are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition.  No age is pristine or without error -- only Scripture -- but that does not agitate against the catholic consensus that was and remains the foundation of Lutheranism.  So it does trouble me when we as Lutherans are content being Lutherans -- even conservative and confessional ones -- for in so doing we are also doing exactly what we accuse the liberals and progressives of doing.  Lutherans wisely did not hitch their wagon to an infallible Luther but to the infallible Word of God and they refuted as being most repugnant the idea that Lutheranism was new about anything of the faith.  I fear that this may be forgotten in our own age and time when we gladly embrace a sectarian institutional identity over the catholic claims of our confession.  Do we know better?  Better than those who went before us?  The sins of modernity are an arrogance and presumption about how much more we know than those who went before us.  The mark of a careful orthodoxy is a careful and humble appreciation of those who went before us. 

Thursday, November 16, 2023

How odd?

According to an article a few months ago in The Wall Street Journal, there is growing concern that there are not enough donations of sperm to meet rising demand and that the cost of getting pregnant through sperm donation is increasing.  The article reported that in California 60 percent of the applications for sperm to the California Cryobank come from LGBTQ people and 20 percent from single women.  With stricter controls, facilities are rejecting more and more sperm donors with certain risk factors as genetic and psychological screening techniques have improved.  Yes, that is what the article says.  No, I cannot believe that this is a real thing, either.  

Let me put this in perspective.  While many families are choosing not to have kids, it appears those who have no choice but to use fertility clinics and reproductive technology are more interested than ever in having a child.  Who could have predicted that one day we might get to the point where some young men are electing to have a vasectomy to prevent ever having a child while others are spending big bucks for prize sperm in their pursuit of a child?  We abort more children than live births in some cities and in others sperm banks and overrun by LGBTQ and single women who will spend what it takes to have a child.  Wow.  Can anyone say "skewed values?"

The world is upside down.  It is not merely an oddity of the moment but a symptom of the way we have messed with the basic social structures and institutions that we once shared with those of any religion, race, and region.  I wish I could say that this is a momentary description of craziness but I suspect that there will be odder and stranger things to come.  All of this is because we no longer know who we are, why we are here, and what our purpose is in life.  Left without an anchor in God's Word, truth will become ever stranger than fiction and reality further and further from the Creator's intent.  But I will warn you.  This is not the end.  This is the start of a whole new future in which marriage is optional, sex has little to do with children or marriage, and babies are the prize possessions of the moment.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

A principle distinct from the texts. . .

The things I hear from time to time out of Rome seem to indicate that for some, perhaps many, Vatican II has become a principle separate and distinct from the actual texts or pronouncements of the Council.  So, for example, though the Council itself was rather conservative liturgically, the principle of Vatican II gave impetus to a host of changes in the liturgical life of Rome that went well beyond what the documents of Vatican II actually said.  Everyone knows that.  There is very little within the actual documents of Vatican II that could be used to predict or justify the radical reshaping of the liturgical life of Roman Catholicism which was given with the authority of Paul VI upon it.  Vatican II became a liturgical principle not simply distinct from its actual texts or documents but even larger than what was actually said -- overpowering the Council itself. 

Now the Synod on Synodality has continued that same process but with respect to the doctrinal tradition of Rome regarding sexual desire, marriage, children, and family.  There is little within the texts or pronouncements of Vatican II that would pass as a starting point for what the liberal and progressive element in Rome desires but Vatican II has become a doctrinal principle as well as a liturgical one.  This is the way that the liberalization of the doctrine and practice of Rome is being justified.  Rome, once the most clerical of churches, saw the Synod include as voting members nonbishops, including women and lay men.  They were not mere observers or guests but full members of the Synod.  No one in Vatican II would have foreseen such a change and yet it is heralded as a sign of the progress flowing out of Vatican II and used by Pope Francis for the renewal of the life of the Church according to his personal design. Again, the Council has become a principle distinct from and larger than its actual documents.

Lest we smugly presume that this happens only in Rome, the liberal and progressive Protestants have done exactly the same thing with the Gospel.  Where the New Testament has a rather specific and defined understanding of this term, it has become a principle separate from and larger than the texts of the New Testament that speak to the incarnation, holy life, life-giving death, and victorious resurrection of our Lord for the forgiveness of our sins, the imparting of life death cannot overcome, and the gifting of salvation by grace through faith.  In fact, when these churches speak of the Gospel they do not have any reference to Christ crucified and risen but use the term as a generic cause and purpose to undo the injustices of this world and redress the wrongs of prejudice, oppression, and white patriarchy that they have deemed to be the causes of these ills.  

Certainly this is what the ELCA admittedly did when it purposefully disregarded the explicit statements of Scripture, the history of Christianity, and the Lutheran confessional documents to embrace the sexual desires, gender identities, and same sex marriage positions embraced in 2009.  The Gospel was no longer about the cross where the sacrifice for sin was made once for all and became the idea of a new social order that eventually blossomed into economic justice, climate change, and diversity along with the positions of sexual liberation.  These Lutherans were not and are not along.  Indeed, even evangelicals have more in common with the progressives than they do the confession and practice of a conservative church body like the Missouri Synod.

What I am saying is this.  The danger to Christianity has always been to separate the Gospel from the words and actions of the New Testament and to turn it into a principle that could be used for political, social, and economic purposes and an agenda not native to the New Testament.  Once the Scriptures were used to countenance prejudice, slavery, and a host of other ills.  Now they are being used to justify a host of so-called reforms.  All of it is tied then to the Gospel itself and becomes larger than the cross and empty tomb.  When this happens, the Gospel itself is silenced and robbed of its saving voice and replaced either by legalism or moralism -- neither of which can save.  Christ becomes an object lesson and is no longer the Savior and Redeemer whose death and resurrection accomplish salvation.  He becomes little more than a political organizer whose name is used to foment the changes we learned not from Him but from the culture around us (and only one part of that culture).

Rome will be undone by the efforts of those to turn a council into a principle.  Christianity will be undone by those who strip the cross and empty tomb away from Christ and turn the Gospel into a principle used to justify and sanctify the longings of culture and society.  Rome will have to figure out a way to get a pope who will not become and agent of this betrayal and Christians will have to awaken to the truth that the only Gospel that has any power to address us with hope is the one planted in death upon the cross and victorious over death on the third day.  The redress of old injustices and prejudices may not always be bad or evil but when this becomes the new definition of the Gospel and its focus, the Church needs to say clearly as once Jesus said to Peter:  Get behind Me, Satan.