Friday, May 31, 2024

Are the nones athiests?

The Pew Research Center survey of last summer has focused some attention on the beliefs of the nones and whether, indeed, they are of no faith or consider themselves to be “atheists.”  It was a prior Pew study that indicated the surge in the number of those who were self-declared “nones” -- those who do not identify with any particular religion.  In fine-tuning some of that data with a new survey, it appears  that not as many of those nones would also fall into the category of “atheist.”

In the study, only 4% of US adults call themselves “atheist.”   While this is more than the study 16 years ago, it is still very small.  Men are slightly more likely to call themselves atheist than women and the younger (those under 49) also more likely to define themselves as "atheist."  Of these, some three out of four self-identified atheists said they had no belief in God or a higher power -- the traditional definition of an atheist.  But among the other quarter of respondents, there was some belief in a higher power.  Regardless, the vast majority of US atheists (98%) agreed that religion is “not too” or “not at all” important to their daily lives.  Curiously, nearly 80% of US atheists admitted a “deep sense of wonder about the universe” that causes them to wonder.  Of these, however, only 36% reported that this led them to ha greater sense of peace.

Within the 4%, there was nearly universal agreement that “religion causes division and intolerance” and encourages “superstition and illogical thinking.”  Nearly three-quarters thought religion did more harm than good to society but 40% or so thought religion helped society give life meaning and value, particularly in the encouragement to treat others better.  What is also significant is that many atheists were well-informed about religion and answered better than most people in questions about religion. They knew constitutional limits to religion and they also knew what Easter was about.  There are fewer atheists in America than in Europe and this accords well with the general more religious character of American society.

4% is not a huge number but it is not insignificant.  Lutherans number somewhere between 12-15 in America (though less if you count the numbers of members Lutheran congregations report).  So there are about the same number of atheists in America as their are Lutherans.  That should be a wake up call.  If you listed only confessional Lutherans, the atheists would outnumber us perhaps 3 to 1.  This means you would more likely encounter an American who did not believe in God than you would one who confesses the faith embodied in the Lutheran Confessions.  Ouch!  Happy Doubting Thomas Day!

Thursday, May 30, 2024

The ingredients define the soup. . .

We live at a time when the line between love and hate has grown very thin, indeed.  To some, it is the very same emotion -- only directed differently at different times toward different people.  You can only hate those whom you first loved.  We see that in Judas who must have loved the Lord at some point.  He certainly followed our Lord's call and rose to the esteemed position of treasurer of the band of brothers.  We all know that the one who handles the money is pretty high up on the totem pole.  But at some point that love faded and was replaced with distance, resentment, bitterness, anger, and betrayal.  It may seem like something odd or strange for Judas but it is more normal than anyone cares to admit.

Lovers and husbands and wives burn with passion for the other until they don't.  Something usually intervenes to raise questions where there were answers and doubts where there was confidence.  It is not that love fades like a deep color left out in the sun but it becomes its opposite across the fine line that once kept them apart.  We are disappointed.  Things did not turn out like we wanted or had hoped or thought was going to happen.  Disappointment gave way to some distance and the longing that once led us to be familiar becomes contempt that finds no room for forgiveness or love anymore.  Then it becomes resentment and that resentment embitters until nothing is good and everything is bad -- like those who tell you everything is gone wrong when everyone knows it is not everything but certain things.  The anger burns where love once burned and then betrayal kills what brought them together.

It happens to Christians and their God as well.  We think everything is grand in the beginning until we find that God did not do what we wanted or say what we think He should have said or give us what we desired or, worse, He forgave those we judged unworthy.  Then we cannot stand the Church or God anymore.  Love crosses the line and hate is born.  We resent the whole idea of Church and God until the things that once comforted us not offend us.  We stop going as if by somehow punishing God with our absence He will have to change and become like the God we want.  In the end, we are left with the bitter stew that poisons our lives with anger.  That anger shows by how easy and how we relish judging others, how smugly we point out their hypocrisy, and how easily we see the speck in the eyes of another but cannot see the log in ours.  

This is the recipe for a bitter soup that makes us sick with its poison and kills us by keeping from us anything good and salutary to life.  What we should eat to live and nourish us ends up killing us.  We cannot find joy so we cannot share it.  We cannot stomach disappointment so we disappoint.  We cannot outright offend God but we can resent Him until we no longer care about offending Him anymore.  Then  it is our sport to see how many we can taint with our judgment and how many we can deem unworthy or unrighteous or unredeemable.  Then we have come full circle and moved Jesus away from the judgment seat in order to occupy the throne for ourselves.  Its power we manifest by betraying all that we once know and counted upon and stood for -- then Satan has done for us and to us exactly what he did in Eden.

There is an ingredient that redeems the bitter soup so poisonous to us.  That ingredient is forgiveness.  We have it not in our larder but Christ has it and gives it our freely only to those who do not deserve it and those unworthy of its mercy.  But where mercy reigns, disappointment, bitterness, resentment, anger, and betrayal surrenders.  His blood is the higher power that is greater even than our smug and safe little circles of judgment and justified evil.  Of course, the problem is that we have grown accustomed to the bitter taste of the soup of life we make and the taste of mercy, while sweet, it must be learned by the eating.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Multiculture is no culture. . .

In the grand egalitarian scheme of things, multiculturalism honors every deity held in esteem by every people -- the more the merrier!  Even in some Christian schools (even some Lutheran ones!), the presence of a diverse student body and the attention to various calendars creates a no-win situation.  On the one hand, if you are a Christian (Lutheran) school, should you not honor the one and only culture of Scripture and the God who is the author and actor in its story?  Of course, you risk offending those who do not share in that Christian culture of identity, belief, and practice.  Or do you suggest that every religion is equal and every god has a place at the table and presume that not only the Christians but every other religious adherent is likewise watered down and religious lite?  Unless it is merely the honoring of a legacy or history, what god wants to be merely one of many gods and what god wants to share the glory with every other deity that passes for a religion?

It would seem to me that the best choice is not to honor the student but to honor the character and identity of the institution.  If it is a religious school, honor the religion that claims it and orders its life.  Those on campus who are not of the religion of the school are not there to take down that religion.  I suspect that all of them are there because somehow they got the money and grades to get in and they want to leave with an impressive piece of paper on their wall (sometimes useful for gainful employment and sometimes not).  I would further suspect that these diverse religious populations tend to be significantly smaller than the group that owns the property and runs the institution and perhaps the greatest percentage of the study body is not all that into any religion.  What good does it do to play with the faiths of others as if you were ordering food at an ethnic restaurant?  For everyone who is acting the part of being religious, there are those who truly believe their faith.  Does it make anybody happy to turn any religion into a watered down imitation or parody of itself?  

If the students on campus are so moved and want to practice their faith, hey, its a free country.  But to try and sponsor such events as if multiculturalism were a really good thing ends up only diminishing every faith and makes all of them seem rather petty and insignificant.  While his might not be recognized by a culture determined to make gender a decision, the people running these institutions should know the difference.  In the end, multiculturalism treats every religion and ethnicity as if it were the soup du jour or the daily special at the diner.  Who wants their faith and culture treated in this way?  Who would allow outsiders to parody and stereotype their faith and call it virtue?  As a Christian I am offended and I would expect that anyone serious about their religion would be likewise offended.

It sounds so good and noble and all but in the end it makes a joke out of that which ought to be the most serious thing in our lives -- this we believe, teach, and confess.  While this is most certainly true of Christianity (and Lutheranism), it should be no less true of other faiths. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The curse of being normal. . .

There was a time when Christianity was exceptional, when it was filled with mystery and awe, and when it drew the notice of the curious and bored.  There was a time when Christianity stood out and did not fit in, like a square peg, it did not fit in the round hole of predictable and ordinary life and thought.  There was a time when Christian worship was about that which could not be held or seen -- known by faith but judged an even greater reality than the rest of life.  At some point in time, most of this disappeared both from within the household of Christian churches and people and in the view of those on the outside.  Christianity became normal.  I long for the time before this happened.

Blame or reason cannot be laid at those outside the Church -- either critics or admirers.  They did not do it to us.  We did it to ourselves.  We became enamored of the idea that God could be explained and so faith could be explained.  We ended up with a faith that was not an encounter with the mystery of God but a rational conclusion to a series of logical proofs.  We turned faith into something ordinary and God became just as ordinary -- a convenient refuge in an emergency and a pursuit when the material was found wanting but not an end to and not even the definer of life.  Church became more and more about us and less and less about God and so Christianity became a rather pedestrian religion, a normal faith in normal things.

We decided that even though Jesus insisted His kingdom was not of this world, ours would be.  We would build a kingdom for God by taking over governments and governing.  We would build a better world by force, if necessary, so that God would be impressed with our efforts and we could be judged an earthly success as well as a heavenly one.  Then, when we were in charge, we manifested a decidedly earthly wisdom and spirit in how we administered the power we had been given or simply grabbed.  It was the exchange of one set of ordinary things and people for another and the world hardly noticed.  Though I am sure that God has noticed.

Gone are the days when we actually believed that standing in the House of God was standing on the holy ground of God's presence.  Now we sit back in cushioned seats, sipping our designer coffee from our special mugs, waiting to be entertained or for self-improvement tips for our lives -- if we come at all.  We sit back in our neighborhoods and workplaces doing the same thing -- without any real sense of vocation or purpose larger than the next moment, the next thing on our screens, and clock out time to pursue our leisure without constraint.  We seem proud of the fact that Christians are just as sinful as those outside the Church, divorce at the same rate, cohabit as frequently, and have kids with the same problems as those without Christian faith.  Perhaps we forgot or maybe we just did not want to be the Church -- the called out to stand out.  In any case, the world looks at Christianity and, at best, sighs with boredom.  At worst it blames Christianity for all the problems inside us all.

I think about the worst thing that happened to Christianity, to Christians, and to worship is that we became normal, average, ordinary, and nothing special or different from the landscape around us.  I fear that this was the point where the children raised in the Church began to ditch her and the world began to ignore her and we started yawning in the face of God.  Maybe at some point, Christians and their churches will begin to be not normal, not average, not ordinary, but something as special as the places where God is at work bestowing the miracle of His gifts in the mystery of the means of grace.  Until that happens on a large scale, make sure it is happening in your congregation.



Monday, May 27, 2024

The mystery is the unity. . .

Sermon for the Holy Trinity (B), preached on Sunday, May 26, 2024.

In our world today the byword for everything is diversity.  This diversity is not simply a celebration of difference but the promotion of such difference.  In fact, it is the presumption that diversity by itself is a cardinal tenet of human rights and authenticity in people and in our institutions.  We have all become blank canvases in which we paint the picture of ourselves and repaint it as often as we want.  The job of the world around us is to celebrate every incarnation of ourselves and our truth and our identity and cheer us on.  I do not need to tell you this.  You already know it well.  Diversity is good and uniformity is bad.  That is the shape of things in our world today.

In contrast to this, the confession of the Holy Trinity is not about diversity at all.  We are not confessing three Gods or three persons who share part of the Godhead or persons with competing wills and purposes.  The great mystery of God is not the Three Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  No, the great mystery of God is that the Trinity is unity.  The Father is not the Son is not the Spirit – as the Athanasian Creed takes pains to point out.  But the confession of the Trinity would be a lie about God unless we accompanied this with the Unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This Unity is revealed in the love of the Triune God for us sinners.  This is not a celebration of diversity or even distinctions as much as it is the joyful confession of love in the shape of a family.  When God sent Adam out to name creation it was so that Adam would realize he was not a family but alone.  From that realization, God reflected on earth the familial shape within the Trinity.  It was not good for man to be alone because God was not alone.  Because God created man with a will, the man that God made had to realize this before understanding and appreciating the blessing of family.

The Trinity is Unity.  That is the mystery revealed in Christ.  The Father is the source of love.  From His love, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father.  In love the Spirit proceeds to reveal this love to creation.  All manifest this love for us sinners, for you and me.  In this saving work, we see the Unity of the Trinity displayed.  The Son comes with the words of the Father.  The Spirit makes known the words of the Son.  There is no competition in love.  There is no pride of place or jealousy or envy.  Love perfectly unites the Son and the Spirit in the fulfillment of the saving will and purpose of the Father.  That is the mystery of the Trinity.

When the Church confesses the doctrine of the Trinity we are not looking for distinctions between the persons but celebrating the unity of the Trinity.  It is not then about a law laid down but love manifest from the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Sure, in the words of the creed there are teeth.  Any who will be saved must so think of God.  This is not about putting God into a box.  Rather it is about the marvel and joy of sinners who by the power of the Spirit see the love of God at work in Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

When the Church confesses the doctrine of the Trinity, we are not trying to explain God or to cut God down to a size that fits our reason or understanding.  The Trinity certainly defies understanding.  But who wants a God who can be understood?  Such a God is not a God at all but only an extension of our own reason and selves.  If you want a God you can understand, go to the Pantheon or Olympus.  There are explainable deities.  But if you want a God who loves with the perfect love that saves you, then the Trinity is exactly that God.  Trinity Sunday is not about explaining the mystery of God anymore than it is about understanding it.  On this day we join with the Church that has gone before us to confess the God of love – the Father who is love’s source, the Son who is eternally begotten in love, and the Spirit who reveals this love that we might believe.

When the Church confesses the Trinity, we are confessing what Scripture says.  Instead of bending God to our wills and making Him a creature of our imagination, we confess what God has said about Himself in His Word.  It may make your head spin but it warms your heart to speak of the Father from whom all things come, the Son who rescues and redeems those captive to sin and death, and the Spirit who fills our minds and hearts with this glorious knowledge by faith.  This is not a mathematical formula.  This is not some philosophical proof.  This is the Church, hearing the Word of God and then speaking that Word back to God and in witness to the world.  This is God manifesting the love within the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to you and me – sinners and enemies who have been saved by grace.

To think rightly of the Trinity is to believe, to submit both mind and heart to the Scriptures and the Spirit.  To think rightly of the Trinity is to worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  To think rightly of the Trinity is to preach this pure Gospel of love to a world which has lost hope of ever knowing such love and lives in the darkness as the blind feeling their way through life until death.  To think rightly of the Trinity is to rejoice in the love of God that has saved you.

Let me say one more thing.  If you are not sure the Trinity is correct or whether it even matters at all how we define God, think about this.  What kind of God allows His Church to get His very identity wrong?  If God is all powerful, then He has had every opportunity to correct the error of the Trinity and rewrite the creeds to reflect this correction.  But He has not done so.  The Holy Trinity has been confessed in preaching and teaching, in creed and confession, in worship and in catechesis down through the ages to the present day.  The authority of the Church hinges upon this doctrine of one God in the Three Persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  If we have gotten this wrong, we have gotten nothing else right.

In the end it is this simple.  To think rightly of the Trinity is to believe the Gospel. To think wrongly of the Trinity is to reject the Gospel.  You cannot pick and choose between the Trinity and the Gospel.  They go together.  No where is this more profoundly revealed than in the Gospel reading for today.  Its shape is distinctly Trinitarian.  The Father sent His one and only-begotten Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.  The Spirit begets us into the family of God, born not of flesh and blood but of water and the Spirit.  We do not enter the Kingdom of God as individuals but as the members of the body, the family of God, to be joined to God and call Him Father, to know Jesus Christ as our brother, and to live in the blessed unity of the family of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.  

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Don't explain God today. . .

It is always bad when we go beyond what God said to explain what God was trying to say.  It gets worse when we presume that we must explain God in simplistic terms to make Him and the Christian faith reasonable, understandable, and comprehensible.  Who wants a God who can be explained -- well, those who want to predict Him and therefore control Him might.  In the Athanasian Creed, God is not so much explained or defined as we admit what He is not and who He is not.  But who God is and what He does lies in mystery -- not a puzzle to be unpacked but an awesome truth which we confess and in which we marvel at the mercy.  So read the creeds today and keep yourself from the great temptation to crack His mystery and make Him more like us and therefore able to be manipulated.  Just confess what we must all confess in order that we might be saved.  It is enough.


Saturday, May 25, 2024

My battle with silence. . .

Everyone of us says we love silence -- especially silence in worship.  But all you have to do is program in some silence and you find how uncomfortable it makes us.  If the pastor says we are going to take a minute of silence, about 30 seconds into it we are fidgeting and looking around to see what is going on.  Maybe we are not programmed by God for silence.  Maybe it is a discipline learned and appreciated more after learning it.  I wish I knew.  I will admit that I have a battle with silence.  Sometimes I love it and sometimes it drives me crazy -- and I am talking about silence in worship.

From the still small voice to a thousand other moments in God's dealings with men, we know that silence is filled by God.  He fills it not with sound but with Himself.  I wish I could say that I had learned to love silence in this way and because God fills it.  I am not there yet.  Sure, I hate the noise level of most churches where people are assembled in worship.  It is noise largely unrelated to worship yet not quite unrelated to our life together as God's people.  Fellowship is noisy by nature.  Conversations are seldom as quiet as we think they are.  I am not talking here about the cell phones that go off or the mechanical noise of things dropped but the ordinary noise of life -- a hushed conversation, a child singing, and the like.  It is hard to see that these are really an enemy of the purpose of our gathering together but neither are they primary.  Is it better to have silence if it means we do not greet one another or acknowledge our life together in Christ?  What is the trade off?  My mind is definitely conflicted.

One thing I do wish for is at least a few solid minutes of silence before worship.  It would be a start if the pews would be silent or at least quiet for the minutes before the start of service.  It would help the people of God to be devoted to prayer for those moments before the Lord's name is invoked and sins confessed and praises sung and prayers prayed.  Yet even that seems too hard a thing.  It is almost a relief to me when other noise covers our busyness -- the bells ringing, the organ prelude, the hymn introduction -- and brings us to attention.  At least then we might look up away from ourselves and seemingly ready to look to the Lord.  The typical reality is that we are so busy that without a bell ringing or the organ intoning the first hymn we just might not even know that the service is beginning.  It is my conflicted opinion that I still have not resolved.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Hierarchical bad, democracy good. . .

I suppose you have heard the dust up over calling Christ King.  It seems that we insist upon hearing everything through the lens of our offense anymore.  So there are those who are all riled up about Christian nationalism and Jesus called King.  It is weariness.  We do not seem to listen past the first comment we can latch on and be offended by -- so thin is the modern skin.  This one, however, unpacks a host of sacred cows that probably deserve to be debunked.

You have to love the Churchill quote from way back in 1947:  ‘Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’  From time to time we are reminded of the faults and failings of democracy and sometimes we are forced to admit with a sigh that is it the least worst of all the poor choices of governments available to us.  Once we thought kings ruled by divine right and popes recognized kings.  Then kings stopped depending upon popes for recognition and eventually governments stopped recognizing kings as rulers.  It is how it goes.

That said, it is worth remembering that everything in the Kingdom of God is hierarchical and not egalitarian nor democratic.  The government we struggle with in politics is even worse as an ecclesiastical form of government.  The classical form of orthodox Christianity is most certainly undemocratic.  Everything about the God whom we know by revelation and everything about this God makes it clear that the world is neither democratic nor egalitarian.  It is hierarchical hard as that is for us to swallow.  This is not about some patriarchal preservation of power to an elite group but the shape of God's self-disclosure and His order.  The simplest Christian confession attests to that -- Jesus is Lord.  As we confess the creed, informed as they are by Scripture, we confess a hierarchical structure in which we are on the bottom -- except when it comes to the beneficiaries of God's mercy when the last are truly the first.

Of course we abhor this structure and inherently distrust all forms of hierarchy.  We prefer to shape God according to our sense of what is good and right instead of admitting that things are as God defines them. We jealously guard our rights and none more sacred than the right to vote -- on everything from what we believe to whom we will call Pastor.  Voting has replaced prayer and self-interest governs it all, it seems.  We do not want nor do we feel the need for anyone between us and God.  The modern creed says, “I don’t need any mediator between myself and God and I don't need Church and I don't need to confess my sins to anyone, and I don't need to do any good works, either.”  Our access to God is without interference, without mediation, without hierarchy, without sacrament, ultimately without any need for anyone else -- and the online version of Christianity and worship has only brought this to its logical conclusion.

 “Salvation by grace through faith” was once a phrase that meant something noble and lofty -- the triumph of God's redeeming love and work.  Now, it has been transformed into a doctrinal tenet in support of radical individualism -- me and Jesus against the world.  In this pseudo Gospel, grace has become an entitlement program and the law has become like the old saying about children -- it ought to be seen but not heard!  We can nod to its goodness without paying any attention to it.  Furthermore, the mission of the Church has become the enforcement of social mores that change according to the times and its domain is largely the improvement of humanity according to the sacred cows not of God but of our own enlightened ideology.  The freedom of Christ has become mere license to feel, think, and do whatever we please.  This is the liberal and progressive way but conservatives and traditionalists are not far behind.

God must tolerate democracy but He surely does not submit to it.  He most certainly refuses to submit to it in His Church.  We do not vote on truth or doctrine or practice as if preference rules but not because we do not want to -- God will not submit to it!   Even conservative churches who ought to know better find it hard to set aside the language of rights and the protection of a democratic character to the institution that is Christ's Church.  In my own tradition, we elevated this to a term of art -- the voters meetings in which the majority always rules -- even when what is voted upon is contrary to God's Word!  God does not require our consent to exist nor our approval to order His ways upon us.  We do not deserve it but He is merciful and slow to anger -- much different than the old man who writes these words.  Perhaps it is time we remember that God's mercy must not be mistaken either for His approval of our designs or His willingness to leave it all up to us.  Faith if it is anything is at least obedience to the King of Kings that trusts Him more than our own desires, inclinations, or wills.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Minnesotans and Religious Liberty. . .

A few months ago (yes, I am behind in my reading), the Federalist had an article which described a new law in Minnesota that effectively infringes upon the religious liberty not only enshrined in our own constitutional law as a nation but also, at least until now, in the Minnesota state constitution.

In 2023, the Minnesota Legislature and governor added a new category of so-called human rights, “gender identity,” to the Minnesota Human Rights Act. They included no corresponding religious exemption, however, demonstrating their intent to deny religious freedom to Minnesota citizens, churches, and schools and to engage in persecuting Christians and some other religious bodies....

In an attempt to correct this egregious law, Rep. Harry Niska, R-Ramsey, in this current session introduced an amendment to correct this violation of First Amendment rights....

However, in February and then again in March of this year, the Niska amendment was voted down in House and Senate committees, leaving the nullification of religious liberty in effect....

Minnesota government has crossed the Rubicon with this law. With similar laws in the past, the state has protected religious liberty by including an exemption clause. No more.

What shall we do? Christians cannot comply with this law since we are to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). First, we need to pray to the one true God to remove this persecution from us and to guide us to deal with it in accordance with His will.

Second, we must lobby our legislators and governor, asking them to remove this religious persecution and to follow the U.S. Constitution....

Third, if no exemption is adopted, we should then file suit against the state to repeal this unconstitutional law....

Last but not least, we will put our trust in the God of heaven and earth, being confident that He will always be with us and looking forward to the day when He welcomes us into His victorious kingdom.

As you may know, Minnesota is the home to many Lutherans and to many Lutherans of all kinds.  It is in the heart of the Midwest and yet politically and socially the state has become very progressive.  Minnesota and North Dakota are the only two states in which Lutherans are a plurality of the population and would presumably be a large voting block except for the division between more conservative Lutherans (LCMS, WELS, ELS) and more liberal (ELCA).  In any case, the move by the legislature to violate religious liberty and turn back attempts to restore it may end up in the Supreme Court.  It is one more way in which we see how what cannot be accomplished politically has been co-opted judicially and this is a sad state of affairs when such ideology eclipses stated right.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The threat of debt. . .

I saw this and had nothing to say.  It is mind boggling, to say the least.  I wish there was some way to put this into perspective.  Without that, it is but a statistic without much to communicate except the threat itself.

How did we get here?  What will it mean for the shape of our lives?  Is it possible to turn this around?

I guess the Psalmist was spot on in telling us not to put our trust in earthly rulers or kingdoms.  That said, the worst thing that probably could happen is nothing because then we will go on trying to be the masters of our own destiny while finding it impossible to exercise a modicum of self-control.

As much as I lament this for us, I lament it even more for those who come after us.  We have not been very faithful stewards and, as Scripture reminds us, the very mark of stewardship and its success is faithfulness.  Lord, help us.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Profoundly evolving. . .

So, if you can believe it, an Italian bishop has written a preface to Via Crucis di un ragazzo gay [Way of the Cross of a Gay Boy], a new book by Luigi Testa, an Italian law professor.  Apparently the bishop found the book compelling and worth the read.  But who is surprised or shocked by what comes forth from this Pope or those like him among the Roman prelates.

“We have a profoundly evolving understanding of sexuality, much richer, freer and more open than was given in traditional societies,” Bishop Savino wrote.  He concluded:  "The Church is either inclusive or it is not! The ongoing synodal process may help us grow in this inclusiveness to the extent that we are willing to heal many lacerations. They often concern the most intimate sphere of the baptized, that is, the emotional dimension. Let no one, therefore, be scandalized by this via crucis: it is the way of Jesus who, wanting to love everyone radically and definitively, pronounced the least understood of the beatitudes: “Blessed is he who is not scandalized by me.”

According to the bishop, the Church has a profoundly evolving understanding of just about everything -- sexuality and gender may be just a portion of that.  The danger to Rome lies in the evolutionary understanding of God's revelation and of His truth.  If everything is evolving, preservation is less important to the nature of the faith than is the task of staying ahead of that evolution.  Indeed, this is exactly what some voices, including often the current Pope's, have been saying for a long time.  It is the Roman Catholic version of the typical Protestant idea that you must change to survive.  The problem with that scenario is that what survives may not look like or sound like or accomplish anything that the Lord desires.

Indeed, the bishop has decided that change is the nature of and mark of God's own identity and being.  "Yes, dear readers: God surpasses us on every side, he is newer than any trend or doctrine, he gives us this time of ours as kairos in which to open ourselves to his life.”  God is so new that it is a task merely to keep up with His evolving changes in doctrine, truth, and practice.  The scandal lies not with those who depart from the yesterday, today, and forever faith but with those who fail to be made new by every iteration of that faith.  It is as if God were merely a mask, a changing mask, and the task of the faith were to keep up with His costume changes.  While that might fit in well with tenor of the times, it has nothing in common with the God of the Scriptures.  Perhaps the bishop is telling us that in order to keep up with God, we just might have to jettison the anchor of His Word.  The oddest thing in the world is that the people who suggest this sound so erudite and sincere in their delusion.  No one is as blind as the ones who refuse to see.  Perhaps the day will come when such folk will find Jesus Himself to be an enemy of His cause.  It might be that the heaviest weight Jesus must carry is our own unfaithfulness to His revelation and truth.


Monday, May 20, 2024

Unity and love. . .

Sermon for the Day of Pentecost (B) preached on Sunday, May 19, 2024.

The promise of Pentecost is great but as we look out on the world today we see little of its promise and too much confusion, sin, division, and complacency.  What seemed simple in Jerusalem to disciples marked by a flame of fire and stirred up by the Spirit to witness in languages they had not learned has given way to a Church that looks more like the world than Christ.  In fact, we could say that the world has taken up residence in the Church and we seem to be okay with that.  We would rather surrender the integrity of the Scriptures and the truth that sets you free rather than suffer for the sake of it or stand out as those who are different.  We saw what the world did to Jesus and we would rather not have it happen to us.

The boldness that characterized the faithful in the beginning has given way to a softness that is afraid of being singled out, rejected, or hated for the sake of Christ.  Even more than this, we are afraid that people will not think us nice or friendly or welcoming or kind if we hold to and proclaim the eternal truths of God’s Word.  We have contented ourselves to use business practices and marketing strategies instead of the preached Word of God to plant and grow the Church.  We have made the Church more about how you can help yourselves than what Christ alone could do and has done in order to save us from sin and death.

If there is to be a Pentecost spirit among us, we cannot soften the hard edges of God’s Word for the sake of peace or substitute programs for the essential ministry of Word and Sacrament or allow ourselves a little false doctrine in order to make the pews full.  But most of all, we need to see ourselves as sinners, to hear and heed the call to repentance, and to see how much we need the Savior whom the Father has sent.  For the work of the Spirit on a larger scale happens only because the work of the Spirit happens in each of us, convicting us of our sin and forgiving our sins through the blood of Christ alone.  

The Church is not a political movement.  The Church is not about achieving a success which will impress media and boardrooms but is the voice of Scripture in proclamation and the hand of Christ in service.  Our world banters about such things as hate speech and follow the science and cancel culture but our cause is not the public square.  It is the heart, born anew in baptism to become the tabernacle of the Spirit, who brings forth the Christ in us that we might be saved and that others might be saved through our witness.  Our credibility the fruit of numbers but of faithfulness – of sinners, redeemed, restored, and forgiven.

The power of the Church is the Word of God.  The mark of the Church is love.  How easy it is to forget this!  The power of the Church is and always will be the Word of God.  If there is a crisis in Christianity, it is because no longer have any real confidence in God’s Word.  If we are silent before the world, it is because we no longer believe that this Word will do what it says – sustaining us to eternal life and turning the hearts and minds of others so that they will know Christ as Savior and will come confessing their sins and rejoicing in the cross.

The mark of the Church is love.  The reality is that everyone I know is hurting.  Every family is dysfunctional.  Everyone is angry and bitter.  We complain and commiserate about everything in our lives.  This has become our character in the Church as well.  Some of us slide in and exit quickly to avoid talking to people.  We live our own comfort zones and the Church becomes a fortress instead of a sending station.  We consume worship without being deeply involved in the lives of those around us.  We talk about people but not to them.  The mark of the Church is love but love cannot exist when we work to build walls around us or divide the Church into us and them.  We need each other.  We need to love one another.  We need to be loved by others.  This is also the Pentecost miracle worked by the Spirit.

As true as it is that we are called to bold witness before the world, we are also called to compassion and mercy, kindness and friendship, empathy and sympathy, hospitality and welcome, genuine affection and care.  Our Lord does not give us a choice but calls us to bear one another’s burdens and share each others joys.  None of this happens overnight.  There was a rocky road to the welcome of Gentiles into Christ’s Church.  There will be rocky roads to come.  But do not be quick to judge.  Be patient.  Be patient with yourself and the work of the Spirit in you and be patient with others and the work of the Spirit in them.  None of us are a finished new creation but the Spirit is at work in us bringing to completion what Christ began.  To forget this is to deny the truth every bit as much as denying Christ.

Encourage one another.  The mark of the Spirit and His love is that God is always at work encouraging you.  His Word encourages.  The font encourages us with the remembrance of our own baptism.  His absolution encourages the sinner.  The sermons encourage us to hear and grow in Christ.  His altar encourages us with the body and blood of Christ as the food of body and soul to everlasting life.  God is all about encouragement.  God’s people need to be about encouragement.  We need to be builders who build up and not a people who tear down in pride.

We speak a better word than condemnation because that is the better word that was spoken to us in Christ.  Encourage one another to wisdom and faithfulness.  Speak words of encouragement to those struggling, praise to those who are doing well, rescue to those who have fallen, and joy to those who are sorrowful.  There are some churches who do this well but who encourage people by denying the Gospel.  We do not need to hide or soften God’s truth to encourage.  It is precisely truth that encourages us most of all.  Lies, half-truths, falsehoods, and fake words can build up no one but even the call to repentance can save the sinner.

Luther says in the Catechism to put the best construction on everything.  Think about this.  God knows your worst secrets and still He loves you enough to send His Son for you.  Why is it that we whisper secrets about others and take some sort of satisfaction in their pain or shame?  That is not the way of love nor does it encourage.  So it cannot be the way of the cross either.  The Pentecost message is of the God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.  This God takes no joy in the death of a sinner but desires that all be saved and come to the knowledge of Jesus as their Savior.  The Pentecost preaching of the Church is that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved.  We need to hear this.  We need Christ.  We need each other.  None of us is strong enough to go it alone.  Together we are stronger than we are alone.  Therefore, let love bind us up as one so that we may boldly manifest the good news of the kingdom to the world.  This is our Pentecost today.

Too precious. . .

A very long time ago I received a call to a parish and was there meeting with the church council and elders and vacancy pastor.  In the conversation I noted that the parish offered the Sacrament but once monthly.  I asked about that practice (now well into the days of much more frequent communion).  The vacancy pastor and a couple of the elders were quick to jump on that and insist that if you had the Sacrament more frequently -- God forbid weekly -- it would become common and ordinary.  To reserve it is to keep it special.  It was clear after this visit and many such conversations that not only was this parish not ready to honor a new pastor (their old one lived across the church yard after serving there more than 25 years) but they were not ready for this pastor.

Of course, now more than 30 years later you would be hard pressed to find a Lutheran parish in the US which only offered the Sacrament of the Altar monthly.  I am not sure, however, that the old idea of rare meaning special has entirely disappeared.  My suspicion is that it does survive here and there.  That said, the first question you might ask is if the Lord ever intended the Lord's Supper to be special in that way.  I think not.  This was not a new Passover that He instituted but something He marked with the word often and endowed with the promise of His anamnesis and the forgiveness of sins.  Unlike Passover which came but once a year, Jesus expected the New Testament of His body and blood to be, well, ordinary -- at least ordinary in the sense of usual!  Yet it is our great tendency to take what God gives to us to be ordinary and regular and make it special by our disuse of His gift and grace.  Of course, Satan is right there cheering on the whole idea that we value God's gift so highly we never use it.  Whether out of fear of misusing His gift or dishonoring it for making it normal in our life together, by making it so special that it is odd or rare or unusual, we distance ourselves from the gift our Lord meant for us to know intimately and frequently.

The Jews did not speak out loud the name of God because it was too special and so substituted Adonai (Lord) whenever they encountered that name in Scripture.  Perhaps it was originally out of deep piety and respect but eventually God's name became alien and strange to His own people.  Constantine is said to have postponed his own baptism to nearer his death -- a common practice of his day.  Perhaps originally it was out of a deep piety that Christians were not baptized until shortly before their death so that they would not despoil the grace of God with the stain of sin but eventually baptism became merely an entrance rite into God's family and no longer a possession and reality daily recalled and appreciated.  Eventually baptism was a private rite for family and not celebrated within the life of all the faithful -- further cementing how its special character was strange to our daily lives.

By the time of the Reformation communion was exceptional and not regular -- a few times a year or at least at Easter.  So when Luther said four times or else he was not setting a high bar but challenging the people to keep regular what Christ said should be frequent -- lest the Sacrament become so strange and abnormal in our life together that we did not desire it much at all.  It became about as much trouble as dusting off Grandma's china and setting the table with it once or twice a year and then relegating it to be appreciated by the glass of the cabinet.

So it is that while Lutherans will still admit that private confession is a thing, it is not normal or ordinary or routine.  It has become special, too.  So special, in fact, that nearly 99% of our people neither desire it nor have ever experienced it.  We keep it in theory but not in fact or reality.  How sad it is that the very grace which Jesus deemed important enough to be the first word to His disciples after His resurrection has become the alien and strange practice of the very few!  Yes, of course, we have a general confession and absolution but this is what ought to be abnormal and the private confession ought to be the real normal in our lives together.  There is something remarkably different between admitting you are a general sinner or a sinner in general than naming the sins that haunt your conscience and trouble your heart.  Some of those reading seem to protest too much here.  Well, let me make it plain.  Either private confession is ordinary and normal and routine or it is like Grandma's china that we never use but insist we love and cherish above all other dishes.  Hogwash.  You cannot appreciate the Sacraments of Christ in theory but refuse to practice them and claim to honor them or the Lord who gave them.  

After my mother died I walked around the house to look at her stuff.  Her wedding china was in the china closet.  It had been purchased at some cost so many years ago.  It would not fetch much on eBay and not simply because people are not into china anymore.  No, the reason is that the gold on the rim has worn off in many places and the dishes have been well used.  My mother bequeathed to us not a treasure to be sold but a treasure of memories of meals eaten and fellowship cherished over that china.  I rather think that the Lord intended the same when He gave us His Word, the water of our baptism, the voice of absolution, and the Eucharistic bread and wine of His flesh and blood.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

A series of not so random events. . .

Which comes first?  The chicken or the egg?  So it is that we oft spend too much time delving into the timing of things rather than the appreciation of what God has done.  To us, the things of salvation may appear to be a series of random events, unrelated to each other, and without place or purpose in the larger scheme of things.  God is like us -- mostly reacting and not proactive.  God creates and sits down to rest and appreciate what He has made and man screws it up so God goes back to the drawing board.  The law offers a righteousness of obedience but man screws it up and so God goes back to the drawing board.  Jesus comes with salvation and life by the cross and empty tomb but man finds it hard to swallow so God goes back to the drawing board.  In the end, it appears as if things were an afterthought or a back up plan to the intention of God.  The almighty Lord seems to be constantly fixing what has gone wrong.

That would be a mistake.  God does not plan and react with back up plans and detours to make up for what has gone awry.  His omniscience is not the passive knowledge of one who knows what it going to happen but the very aspect of His divine love providing for what will happen with grace upon grace, mercy upon mercy.  He depends not upon us as a GPS reacts to our twists and turns on the highway.  No, He is the God who uses His knowledge for one purpose -- to rescue, redeem, and restore the people lost to Him.  Pentecost is no different. What Christ has done is not some addendum or correction to the story God had meant to write but the story itself.  The work of the Spirit is integral to that story and the Third Person of the Holy Trinity is as essential to the work of redemption as is the Redeemer Himself.

The paschal mystery of Christ’s passion, death, resurrection, and ascension does not exist in some plane of its own but as the focal point of all that went before and all that is to come.  The Spirit whom the Risen Lord promises is not some replacement for His own presence but the divinely ordered new creation by water and the Word.  It is not a choice between baptism and preaching but preaching that leads to baptism.  The God who reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not simply showing us the mystery of His identity but expressing that identity for us in the work of our salvation.  Now, at Pentecost, the Spirit is given so that this work of salvation may draw us into the very inner life of God as much as we are able in this mortal life until the new heavens and new earth take the old limitations away and we know fully, face to face.

Neither does the work of God in the Old Testament exist in some plane of its own -- distinct from and unrelated to Christ's incarnation, obedient life, life-giving death, and glorious resurrection.  When Christ opens the Scriptures to His disciples, He does not do so to explain the workings of God but to reveal them in their perfect unity, all working for us and in us that we might be His own now and forevermore.  Pentecost is part of that revelation and part of that one fulfilling purpose of God.  The Spirit is not optional anymore than Christ is optional to that purpose.  The sacraments are not optional anymore than the Word is optional to that work.  On Pentecost we see the integration of the Trinity in the work that has been largely focused upon Christ and the will of the Father who sent Him.  But going forward there is a blessed unity of God and His work that is our great delight and the mystery we meet both with awe and faith.  God has hungered for us and our redemption and now the Spirit fills us with the hunger for Him and the things of His kingdom.  For now we know in part but we still know.  Then we shall know face to face but what we know is not different.  It is the fullness of what we already know now.  Thus the Spirit brings God's life to work in us for this moment and for eternity.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Why build a castle?

Some miles down the road from where I serve there is a castle being built.  It is meant to look like a castle -- at least a fairy tale image of one.  It is not being constructed as a dwelling place or domicile but as a venue.  The people building it are expecting folks to be attracted to the castle when considering where to book wedding receptions, anniversary parties, retirement celebrations, and all the other kinds of things venues book.  Furthermore, they expect to stand out of the crowd of other venues and attract people because it looks like a castle.

Oddly enough, Christians seem to think that if your building looks like a church, it is the kiss of death (or at least being out of step with the times).  How strange it is that people are investing good money into a facility that looks like a modern day version of a medieval castle because they think it will contribute to their success while Christians are building structures that look like malls, strip malls, and other public buildings -- but not like churches -- in the presumption that this will contribute to their success.  

I fear that Christians seem to be trying to prove something that they should not prove and one that will contribute to the decay of the faith rather than its growth.  By building something that looks like anything but a church it is saying to the world around the facility that it is not a church.  Is that what you want to say?  People will book trips to Europe solely to visit castles but I have yet to see folks willing to spend a small fortune to visit the latest iteration of a strip mall.  Could it be that we are confusing people outside the Church?   Could it be that we are confused in the Church?  Why else would we be constructing plain, generic, boring structures under the guise of erecting a House of God?  Either we are one or we are not.  The Temple in Jerusalem was by God's own design and it was meant to stand out and apart from every other structure in the city.  Did God have a change of heart and suddenly decide that He thought His House should look anonymous and blend into the landscape?

Sure, a congregation should be known for more than its facility but at least the facility ought to say that it is Church, this the House of God, and this the Gate of Heaven.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Forgiveness is not the right thing to do. . .

Growing up in a small town in the Midwest, I learned that there are a ton of things you do because they are simply the right things to do.  You do not reason your way to doing them nor do you seek some personal gain by doing them.  You do them because they are the right thing to do.  This included telling the truth, being responsible for yourself, being accountable for what you say and do -- all the way to holding open a door for a woman.  These things, whether popular or in style, are the things you do because they are the right thing to do.

Like nearly every child of my era, apologizing for what I did or said wrong was one of those right things to do.  My mother, like most mothers of that era, forced me to say "I am sorry" even when I was not.  It was a learning experience that was designed to teach me what the right thing to do was and to convince me to do it.  I am not trying to throw my mom under the bus on this.  I did the same thing with my own kids.  I tried to teach them that such things were beyond rational justification or virtuous identity.  These are simply the things we do because they are the right things to do.

Forgiving those who so confess is often put in the same context.  You forgive because it is the right thing to do.  Here is where I must raise an objection.  Forgiveness is not the right thing to do -- it is not a new law that we must keep.  Refusing to forgive is not a moral failure nor is forgiving a moral virtue.  Forgiveness is not the right thing to do but it is flowering of Christ's life in us.  We forgive because we were forgiven.  Christ's life planted in us in baptism bears the fruit of forgiveness.  This is not simply a private matter.  Matthew 18 removes this from the matter of a private relationship.  We do not get to choose to make this public.  Sin and forgiveness is by nature public and not private -- no matter how we think of the matter or what we desire about it.

To say that forgiveness and the refusal to forgive are not private matters is to acknowledge that these are inherent to our life in Christ.  When our risen Lord visited His Apostles after departing the tomb and having conversation with Mary of Magdala, He turned disciples into bishops and endowed them with an authority which they exercise not privately according to their own will but in His name.  So when He said to them, “Whosoever sins you loose are loosed, and whosoever sins you retain are retained,” Jesus was taking forgiveness out of the realm of morality just as He was taking this out of the realm of worthiness or the sincerity of their repentance and making this the reflection of Christ's life in us.  As we have been forgiven, we forgive.  While this has profound particular meaning for the Apostolic ministry given to the Church, it also has a profound and particular meaning for the Christians who forgive one another in family, friendship, and fellowship. 

When Peter had the courage to ask the Lord how often he should forgive his brother who sins against him, Peter seemed to see forgiveness as the right thing to do.  But even as the right thing to do,  it must surely have limits or boundaries, right?  Jesus stamps down this idea with some new math of the Kingdom.  Seventy times seven.  Either Jesus means for us to keep a count and when we get the magic number then we get to refuse to forgive OR Jesus is saying that forgiveness has no limit.  It is not the right or moral thing to do but the most unreasonable and shockingly excessive mark of Christianity.  As far as the East is from the West, so that the sins which were scarlet might be white as snow, as often as you sin and ask for forgiveness, the cross avails.  How magnificently shocking!  Mercy forgives not because of anything gained by anyone but purely because of Christ who became nothing for us -- that we might be forgiven, sure, but also so that we might forgive in His name.

“The mutual conversation and consolation of brethren” is Christians taking the forgiveness they have received (the gospel itself) with them out the church door each week and into their homes, workplaces, and neighborhoods.  Christ goes with them.  As they talk around the dinner table, shine Christ's light on one another, share God's comfort, and give witness to the Gospel, they do this not because it is the right thing to do but because this is who we are and how we live out our new lives in Christ.  The Pastor does not absolve because it is the right thing to do but because this is Christ work and Christ working in and through him.  This is true also of the forgiven who walk out the door each Sunday with the grace of forgiveness not only on them but to work in them and through them.  Don't forgive because it seems to be the right thing to do.  Forgive because it is what Christ has done for you and gives you the gift of doing for others.  And this is the character of our life in Christ.  

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Offline. . .

As I have oft said, online is a misnomer -- at least when it comes to worship.  Online is really offline.  I would not presume to say it is entirely without value but the reality is that worship is not meant to be mediated.  Screen or whatever other mechanism that replaces being together around the Lord's Word and the Lord's Table vitiates what it means to worship.  You can watch it and appreciate it in some way but you cannot participate nor can you receive the gifts of God via the screen.  While it is certainly true that we tend to live our lives in isolation from one another, that cannot apply to worship.  It is possible to sit at table in a restaurant at the same time while each of the diners is occupied by their screens and it is possible for the diners to take their food into different rooms to eat.  Yet even if they are watching the same thing on their screens or eating the same food, they are not participating.  There is no koinonia in the Word, the body, or the blood of the Lord.

I write this as one whose parish does have services online -- not live but recorded.  The point of this is not to replace or even compete with in person worship but to offer a witness to the larger community of who we are as a congregation and to provide those without any access to be in person something of value, though not a replacement.  The screen has value for some things but it is of limited value and it cannot replace what the in person gathering of God's people -- nor would I want to proclaim the Gospel to those on screens whom I do not know and cannot see!  In fact, I would suggest that watching a sermon online is not quite hearing the Word preached.  Not of no value but not the same as sitting before the preacher and having the preacher stand before you.

Recently I heard of marriages that took place with a pastor in one place and the couple in another.  Is this legal?  I have no idea.  But this is not what it means to gather or invite God's blessing upon a couple's life together as they stand before the Lord in His house.  I understand that sometimes meetings must take place via screens and that sometimes via conference calls information must be distributed but as one who has sat through more than my share of them, it does not replace meeting together.  There is no personal dynamic via the screen.  It may be an emergency fallback for limited value but it cannot replace what it means to be together in the same place -- not for worship and not even for meetings.

When our children were distant from grandparents or from us and we took advantage of Skype to do more than converse over the phone, it was a wonderful gift and blessing.  But only a fool would suggest that it replaced the in person hugs, smiles, frowns, and conversation.  It was a step up over watching a movie or hearing a voice but it did not in our hearts replace the longing to be together.  It should not for the people of God.  That there are people who have become satisfied with online or congregations who presume to provide pastoral care for their people online is both a sad state and an indictment against what has come to pass for membership within the body of Christ in a particular place and pastoral care.  No one should boast in this and we should all repent of it -- from the people who are content with this as their church to the churches who are content to call this faithfulness to the pastors who do not challenge these practices.  Online is not online at all when it comes to our life together;  online is offline.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

A culture of shoppers. . .

We are a culture of shoppers.  We are a people who love choice.  We assume that the exercise of choice in the culture of shopping that defines us is a matter of our wills.  The reality is that most of our shopping and most of our choices are not so much willed or even chosen after reflection but impulsive and made in the moment.  Even the drug makers have learned this and bypassed the physicians who prescribe and made their advertising pitch directly to the consumer.  Sitting in the restaurant we look around at what others are eating and often insist that we want what they are having.  Choice and decision are the marks that we use to define what it means to be free.  

Once the culture of shopping and choice gave birth to self-service supermarkets.  We graduated from the general store wherein the shopkeeper put together the box of our goods from the list we supplied to the Piggly Wiggly where we walked down the broad aisles and picked off the choices from the shelves.  Soon the catalog sources became the anchors in malls and then strip malls.  Even medicine has provided physicians (or PAs) on line to handle ordinary things and we shop for a diagnosis and treatment at our convenience -- visiting the doctors only when we must.  Then Covid hastened our move from in person choices and shopping in stores to online purchases or shoppers who packed our orders and put them in our SUVs.  But the principle remained the same.  Shopping is our culture and choice our God.

So it is no wonder that the same principles that govern our retail habits would eventually govern our religion habits.  Covid is not quite to blame but it surely hastened the pace of this evolution.  Turn it on and survey the providers and choose one.  If it turns out to be different from what you expected, there are always more choices.  Shopping is as much fun as the eventual option you settle upon.  The style is at least as important as the substance.  Religion becomes less a matter of belonging and participating than watching.  Community was not personal as much as it meant people watching the same thing on their own screens.

The difficulty we face today lies in religion which cannot be satisfied by screens, sacraments which cannot be bestowed digitally, and community which cannot be fulfilled by distance but a people who have decided that they will remain shoppers, wedded to choice, and the online platforms are their preferred media.  While this is true for those who claim to be Christian, it is also true of those who were once active Christians and those who never were.  Add to this the presumption on the part of these religious consumers that they know what Christianity is and they are not looking to have their minds changed.  It is a combination of what is the substance of the faith and how it is received that combine to confuse and confound those outside and inside the Church today. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

There is still time. . .

There’s still time to join us for the 2024 LCMS worship institute July 9–12 at Concordia University, Nebraska.


The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod -- LCMS Worship -- 2024 Institute on Liturgy, Preaching and Church Music


MAY 14, 2024


Registration closes on Friday for 2024 Institute on Liturgy, Preaching and Church Music

July 9–12, 2024   •   Seward, Neb.

Registration closes on Friday for the 2024 Institute on Liturgy, Preaching and Church Music set for July 9–12, 2024, at Concordia University, Nebraska (CUNE), in Seward, Neb.

The Institute, which is being presented by LCMS Worship, returns under the theme of “Songs of Deliverance: Psalms in the Great Congregation.”

With the Psalter as its focal point, this conference will feature fresh and perennial topics on music, leadership, preaching, pastoral care, art and spiritual growth in Lutheran worship.

Participants will be able to choose from a variety of instructive and interactive sessions addressing practical topics of interest to musicians, pastors, teachers, interested laypersons and many others. We’ll also take up a challenge together: pray all 150 psalms.

Registration is open through May 17 at the adult attendee rate of $400. Two-day, one-day, and full-time student registrant options are also available.

More information, including how to register, is available at





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