Friday, June 29, 2007
Over at Beisel's blog there is a discussion on "Absolution" - which is what got me thinking (and I'm not posting a link. . . I'm bad with that and that's why the blog roll is there to your left). There is a lot of a desire to make a firm, hard distinction between the Absolution which a Pastor declares and the Absolution/Forgiveness (slashed as there is debate as to what it really is) - which is something that Luther doesn't do.
If I may make an analogy (no, you can never do theology by analogy - oh shut up, I'm dealing with a concept!) As a Father, you have the responsibility of protecting your family. Indeed, you are to provide for and secure your home - and if someone were to enter your house with ill intent towards your family, it would be your duty to prevent this villain from his heinous acts. But you aren't a thereby a policeman - who have been placed into the Public Office (hence - Police OFFICIER) designed for the protection of not just their private property and family but the Public at large. Indeed, the police are to assist and come to your aid in your own defense of your own family and home - but you still have that responsibility as well.
Likewise Fathers and Pastors. There is great significance that Luther designates that the Head of the Household is to teach his family. But aren't Pastors "preachers and teachers"? Yes - but that doesn't mean the laity sit on a block of ice just waiting for the Pastor to arrive and make everything all right. Now, ought a father expect his pastor to be able to aid him in teaching - indeed, might he reasonably expect his pastor to provide a multitude to classes dealing with teaching? Yes - but still, dad's got to see to his own family - that's his job.
All Christians are instructed to forgive. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. And I'm sorry, when Jesus says, "Go forgive" you are supposed to go and forgive people, and it actually is real forgiveness. However, what a Pastor does is different - not in what it is (it is still forgiveness spoken by God's command) - but in scope. A Pastor does this forgiveness publicly - in worship - and also by making himself available not just to a select few but to any and all who desire forgiveness. What we refer to as "Private Confession" is actually an exercise of the Public Office - one of the Public comes to the Public servant of God for aid and comfort (although it is called Private as what is discussed is not to be divulged). All Christians are expected to be able to speak the things of the faith - but a Pastor is to be able to provide assistance in their own speaking (Pastor, a neighbor asked X - what do I say?) and also to be a person to whom folks with question can be directed.
(Now for a bit of deconstruction) - I know many pastors have been sorely abused and treated as though they were of no importance. But the response to this is not to say, "I do things you can't you and in no way do, I am different from you." Being different doesn't command respect. Rather the response should be, "God has placed me into this Office where I am to be your pastor - and as such I am to speak God's Word publicly. If you don't like it, your problem is not with me, but with God. In fact, you yourself agreed publicly that God sent me here when you called me. As such, you're beef isn't with me, but with God - and you need to think and sort that out." Throw them to the word - and let them be broken upon it. If you can't throw them to the Word - then repent of your own actions, for you ought do nothing apart from the Word.
That's easy for you, Brown, at your cushy parish, what have you suffered? Little compared to some - but I have had to teach about respect for the office - which as far as I can tell has been strongly lacking since the 70s when they removed a Seminex guy - and as is demonstrated that they nagged my predecessor into early retirement. We teach, and we focus simply on God's Word. We don't elevate ourselves - rather we must decrease that He may increase. And then let them rail against God if they will.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
I just spent an hour and a half standing out in the rain. Why, you ask? Because I got a phone call at 5:50 from the Sherriff's department letting me know that some kids had driven into our fence at the Cemetery (from the inside) and wanted to know what I wanted to do.
So I spent an hour and half up there. It was sheer stupidity - town kids lost on a country road, looking for a place to turn around - and instead of just doing a three point in the nice, heavily gravelled driveway, they figure they'll just loop around through our completely unpaved cemetery -- thing is, the exit gate was closed - so what do they do? Cut along the side of the fence. . . on the side of an oklahoma hill - that is full of red, Oklahoma Clay - in the middle of a rainstorm.
Into the fence they go. Aparently at 10:30 last night. Long night of waiting for them - as the cops hear that there are people out to vandalize cemeteries, and the cops spotted people at the other one east of town, so la policia are all out that way.
I get there, along with one of the Elders - and the driver is freaked. Did I mention that when the Sherriff's deputy got there he was 10 minutes from going off duty and was just finishing up the paper work from his 11 hour shift? He pointed out that if charges were pressed, they would be felony (the state of Oklahoma does not take kindly to people messing with cemeteries.
So, at the request of the town cop - who was worried that the 3 passengers weren't taking this seriously - more elders show up, we pace, we wait, cops ream them all out - and then they agree to come back and work for the Church to fix whatever (45 minute put the fear into the other kids). So the kid's SUV is still there - with the mud there's no way we can pull it out. It will stay there until it is dry - and then all four of the kids will come and get everything cleaned up and smoothed out and tidied up at the cemetery. If it ever stops raining.
But no one died, no one is in the hospital (at least that I know of), and I'll have a nice story to share when I visit my little old ladies this afternoon. Oigh.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
This is something I like to just keep in mind when I make decisions. It isn't my job to try to be liked or disliked. These are two pitfalls that exist. The first is much more obvious - if I make decisions just so people will like me and think, "Oh, that Pastor Brown, what a nice guy" - I'm not doing what I should. If I'm trying to make people like me - then I'm manipulating them (or one could say seducing them) and the focus shifts to me. Even more insidious is the simple fact that it won't work. Not everyone at a congregation wants or likes the same thing - so if you are trying to make everyone happy, you'll be talking out of both sides of your mouth. Only Christ and His Word is to come out of your mouth, and that straight, right down the middle.
And there is the otherside - a pastor shouldn't try to be disliked. Some people rub us the wrong way. It happens. We are not to act to "show them" or put them in their place. Now, we may act in spite of their dislike (in fact we have to), we may upset people - but that should never be our goal. We aren't children to be poking our brother or sister to annoy them - we should be the voice of logos instructing in wisdom. Which means I can't take anything personally. I must disattach myself from the criticism I receive for doing my duty. Of course, I ought to do that for all criticism that is unfounded, but especially in my office as Pastor.
My job is to serve - not please, not tweak. Keep your eye to the task.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
9 - Sin desires to be lord - love serves the neighbor as though he were the Lord.
Quite often Pastors will make a big deal over the fact that as Pastors we stand and we speak in the stead of Christ - and rightfully so. We live in a land of protestants who deny the power and efficacy of the Word so it is vital for us to emphasize that we speak "in the stead and by the command of [our] Lord Jesus Christ."
However, what we must equally remember is that we are not to be lords - for that is the way it is among the gentiles (and no, Jesus was not giving permission for the Gentiles to lord it over one another). My duty is not to make people do what I want them to do. My duty is not to make my congregation look and act the way I want it to be. Fundamentally I am not in any, way, shape or form try to be master over the lives of the people in the Congregation.
Rather, I am to serve them.. And I have a very specific service - I serve them by preaching the Word and Administering the Sacraments. Now, in such capacity, there are times when I am to tell them that they are doing wrong (I do preach and speak the Law) - but outside of that I may not bind them (I may give advice, which they are free to ignore).
This is a hard attitude to maintain today, especially in the democracy-gone-wild church we have today. The same holds true for the way the people are to view their pastor - the congregation is there to serve and support the pastor so he may go about his task. However, the assumption is sometimes falsely made that if a pastor serves the people, then the people must be the lord of the Pastor (after all, they pay his salary, they can do what they want!). "Let us sumbit to one another out of reverence for Christ." That is forgotten all too often. And Pastors often get beat over the head for this.
So, how ought Pastors respond? I will hear Pastors lament the lack of respect for the Office. Allow me to ask the question. Is there a person who lacks respect for you and your office who has proper respect for other people? The problem rarely is a lack of respect for the "office" - it's a lack of respect. Period. It's not that they desire to be Lord over YOU - it's that they desire to be LORD, period.
This shows the way in which we are to respond. We do not become abusers ourselves, but rather we uphold the dignity of our Office by proper service, and we teach on love and respect - not to ourselves, but to the neighbor in general. Otherwise we just seem self serving - but if we demonstrate that there is a lack of love and respect towards "others" - repentance will generate an increase in love and respect towards the Pastor as well. And also, when you beat the protestant out of the. . . I mean instruct your people on what is meant by the idea of the "means of Grace" and foster an appreciation for these means, respect for the man whose duty it is to deliver these means will increase as well.
This is slow, and one will get kicked in the teeth for it. But one will teach - and that is part of the service we give.
Monday, June 25, 2007
What is not commanded in Scripture may not be commanded; what is not forbidden is Scripture may not be forbidden.
This is simply an extension of the idea of Sola Scriptura - that we place ourselves under Scripture as our authority. If Scripture doesn't say, "You must" we cannot say "you must". If Scripture doesn't say "Thou Shall Not" we cannot say "Thou Shall not." Within this boundary, this set of things neither commanded nor forbidden, there is freedom.
Freedom is not always used wisely. We may debate about how people use their freedom, we may counsel them against using their freedom in a poor way - we may even ask them if they are using the pretense of freedom to hide something which is blatantly contrary to Scripture - but we cannot speak beyond the Words of Scripture, for where Scripture is silence, we cannot speak authoratively - for without the Word we have no authority whatsoever.
This is hard. People use their freedom poorly. People act out of ignorance, people act ineffciently. But the alternative is worse. The alternative is rank legalism where the mandates of men take equal place with the Word of God. And if we look at our history, the road to theological hell was paved with good intentions. Mandating a pennance was at first just to make the Lasped prove their devotion -- soon it was a terror. Allowing the Pope to speak authoratively beyond Scripture looked as though it would establish unity - instead it created tyrrany and split the Church multiple times.
People will use their freedom poorly. Weaker brothers will act out of ignorance, and stronger brothers will act out of misplaced pride. We must allow neither folly to become entrenched and "law". If there is no freedom, there is no Gospel (which is free from the works of the Law), there is no love (for love casts out fear, and if we act out of fear it is not love), there is no worship (for God has set us free to worship Him without fear). Freedom must be maintained.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
We are told in the Scriptures that John the Baptist was conceived right around 6 months before Jesus, so for many, many centuries, the Church has observed today, June 24th, right around 6 months before Christmas, as the day to celebrate and observe the Nativity of John the Baptist. And it is an insightful day. While John’s birth isn’t as important as the birth of Jesus, we see and learn much about the Christian faith from the words that are spoken at John’s birth, the song of Zechariah known as the Benedictus. Let us see what we learn from Zechariah’s song this day.
When John is born, his father Zechariah is silent. He isn’t silent because he is speechless with wonderment at the beauty of childbirth. No, no, Zechariah is silent and has been silent for 9 months because 9 months ago he had run his mouth. An Angel of the Lord had come to him in the temple and told him, that even though he was old, as was his barren wife Elizabeth, that Elizabeth would conceive and give birth to the promised forerunner of the Messiah. And Zechariah drops the ball. Zechariah says, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” How shall I know this – that’s an old way of saying, “how can this happen?” Angel, you are out of your mind. Zechariah disbelieves, he rejects the word that was spoken to him – and it was even a good word, it was good news. Zechariah, God is going to bless you! Yeah, right, and just how is God supposed to be able to pull that one off?
Do you see and understand the disrespect that Zechariah has? He’s not amazed, he’s snide and cynical and disbelieving. And God’s angel calls him on it. “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and bring to you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” A punishment that fits the crime. Zechariah doesn’t believe the Word which was spoken to him, and so Zechariah loses the ability to speak.
So, let me ask the question. How often do we act like Zechariah here? How often do we become snide and cynical towards God’s Word? Are we tempted to disbelieve the promises of God? He will support us, but then bad weather, rough spots in life come, and we doubt and grumble about God. Or perhaps we are more commonly tempted to disbelieve the promises of God as they apply to our neighbor. As my old Pastor in Norman reminded me, forgiveness is a great idea until you have to do it. Forgiving your neighbor is hard, we prefer grousing and hating. Whenever you hate your neighbor, whenever you bear grudges against them, you are saying that Christ didn’t die for them. How can I know that I should love them? Sin is nothing less than rejecting the Word of God – and when we sin, we become silent, we cease speaking rightly of God, we cease telling the good news.
But for Zechariah the day of John’s birth comes. For 9 long months Zechariah has been silent, saying nothing. And the boy is born, and everyone wants the little kiddo to be named Zechariah. And when Elizabeth says, no, no, his name is John – the name given by Gabriel, they ignored her. You name a kid after someone in your family – they’ve got no relatives of this name. Elizabeth must be getting batty. And so Zechariah comes and he gets a writing tablet and writes “His name is John.” And at that moment, Zechariah can speak. Zechariah believes what was spoken to him, believes the Word of God, and his tongue is loosened, and Zechariah may speak once again.
And what does Zechariah say? Listen to his words. Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath that He swore to our Father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. Zechariah’s words are all about what God does. The one who disbelieved that God could give him a child now proclaims what God has done. God visits, God redeems, God raises up salvation, God speaks by the prophets, God saves from the enemy, God shows mercy, God remembers His Covenant – in fact, it’s the Covenant that God swore, God delivers us. What do we do? Um, we are saved. We serve after God has done all this stuff that lets us serve Him. What Zechariah speaks is completely about what God has done.
Dear friends, Zechariah speaks the Gospel. When we use the term Gospel, when we use the term good news, we are referring to those things that God has done for us. If it’s about what you do, it’s not Gospel, it’s not good news. If you are doing it, it’s not news at all, it’s your actions. But we are a church of the Gospel – our focus, like Zechariah’s, is not upon what we do, but upon what God has done. Our focus is declaring what God has done for His people. Now, there is a terrible desire to abandon the Gospel even by well meaning Christians. The Gospel doesn’t seem to have all that much flash. It doesn’t seem to have all that much snazz sometimes. And so, we want to shift the focus onto ourselves. We want to turn Church into the place where you get practical advice, where you learn how to be a better person, how to have a happier life. We want to turn Church into a giant self-help club where we might as well sit around and discuss the latest book on Oprah’s reading list. But Zechariah had 9 months of silence to think about it – he understands what’s going on. The focus is upon God and His Word. Don’t name the kid after me – it’s not about me. It’s about God – hear what He has done. Our words, our focus – it is to be on God. God is the one who redeems His people. That’s what Zechariah shouts out – look, God indeed remembers His promises, look, God is showing us mercy. If we only listened to Him we would see this, we would understand this. Therefore I will speak and proclaim God’s Word so that you might hear and understand.
And then Zechariah addresses his son John. You can almost see old Zechariah holding up his son and saying these words to him – And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His was, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Is this not amazing? Even when Zechariah turns to his son, looks upon his son with that pride that only a father can have – what’s Zechariah’s focus? Is Zechariah’s focus upon John? Nope – John, you’ll be called a prophet – but here’s what you will do. You will prepare the way of the Lord. You will preach about the messiah and forgiveness to God’s people – in fact, your whole life will be nothing but pointing to the coming one, the Messiah who comes after you. And this is in fact what John does – on Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry announces that the Lord is Nigh. When all the world was cursed by Moses’ condemnation Saint John the Baptist came with words of consolation – with true forerunner’s zeal the greater One he named. John’s focus would be upon Christ.
Likewise, dear friends, we are to point to Christ. All our actions are to be ones that point to Christ. Paul when He preaches, preaches about what Jesus does. We here, the same thing. When you teach your kids – you teach them what Jesus has done. When you tell your friends and neighbors, you tell them what Jesus has done. In all things we point to the Cross – see, the promised Savior has come, and He has suffered and died for your sins – you are forgiveness, your sin is no longer held against you, it is destroyed and done away with. Christ Jesus has put it to death. There is salvation, salvation that comes from the forgiveness of sin.
Now, there are times in this life when Satan tries to pull us away from this. There are times when we sin, when we stumble and err. In response to this, God calls you to His house, where He remembers the oath He swore at your Baptism to be your heavenly Father. This is where God remembers that His Son has indeed won your salvation – and so the Father gladly gives you the forgiveness of sin. Indeed, He raises up for you not a horn of salvation, but a chalice full of it, full of the life giving blood of His Son. Everything that Zechariah speaks of here is given to us in God’s House – every promise of life and salvation which we share is dispersed here in God’s House – and indeed we are guided into the way of peace.
At first, Zechariah responded to God with disbelief and was struck silent. This ought to remind us of our own disbelief and our own struggles with sin. However, seeing God’s promise come to fruition, Zechariah with his restored voice gladly proclaims what God has done. Likewise, we join in with Zechariah and his son John and all the prophets, we join in with Paul and all the apostles, we join in with the Church at all times and in all places declaring with Joy the salvation that God has won for us by His Son upon the Cross. God keep our voices strong. Amen
Saturday, June 23, 2007
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost+
Jerry, Jimmy, Verlin, friends and family of our sister in Christ Norma Lee, grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father, and our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. There is a verse in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus says that He longed to gather the people of Israel as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. When you saw Norma Lee care for her family, you understood this image that Jesus uses. In many ways she was like a mother hen, always going around and gathering everyone together in a most warm and amazing way. The amount of care and compassion that Norma Lee showed to during the course of her life is astounding – especially when it involved children. I have heard that if there was a problem, the solution was to go to Grandma’s house – that’s where things would be taken care of. Now, I only came to know Norma Lee when she was a bit older, not as quick or strong as she used to be, but the care for her family, especially the youngest ones, was clear even to me. She made it clear. I can hear saying, “and Pastor, I told them, ‘we’ve got to get those babies baptized,’” and she said it with such love and passion and fire. The love that she showed was warm and intense and sincere – and I hope you know and understand what a fantastic, awesome blessing to have had that love in your life has been. Not all families are blessed with such a woman to knit them together, to bring them together as your family, as indeed this congregation was blessed with our sister Norma Lee. She showed forth great love.
I also want you to understand what that love was, because it wasn’t the typical self-serving love that we tend to think of and see in the world. It wasn’t just some emotion or feeling that sprung up from with her, it wasn’t something she came up with or she was responsible for. There is a reason why when I was thinking of the way in which Norma Lee showed love to you that I was reminded of Jesus’ words. It is because she showed Christ’s love. As Christians, we are to be vessels, to be conduits of love – the love that God gives us in the forgiveness of our sins by Christ Jesus’ death upon the Cross and by His resurrection is to flow through us. That is what you saw when you saw Norma Lee’s love. That is where it’s passion, that is where it’s strength came from – it was a gift of God to Norma Lee, indeed, it was Jesus Himself working through Norma Lee, to show care to you. At her Baptism, God not only claimed Norma Lee as His own, not only gave her the forgiveness won by Jesus, but also made her His dwelling place so that His love would shine out and radiate from her to you. And this is why Norma Lee was so passionate about Church, about being baptized, about hearing the Word – because she knew that is how she received God’s love, and she greatly desired that you receive it as well, that you continually be showered by that same love that God showed her in Christ Jesus.
This is in fact the same love that Christ Jesus is showing to Norma Lee this very moment. Hear again the words of our Lord Jesus from our Gospel lesson. “In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.” The gift of life and salvation that God gave to Norma Lee at her Baptism, the promise He made to be her God has been fulfilled. Just as Norma Lee welcomed you all to her house to show care for you whenever you needed it, God the Father declared her to be His child, and He has called her to His home, to show her love and compassion. Indeed, Christ Jesus has been true to His Word, and He has given His servant Norma Lee rest and care and compassion. Indeed, that same love that Norma Lee showed to each of you she now receives in full in the glorious presence of God. This is why Paul writes to us, “But we do not want you to be unformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.” Norma Lee is with God, and when Jesus returns, she will return with Him, along with her Robert and any and all of God’s saints who have gone on before us, for they are with Jesus always. That is what we believe, that is what we look forward – that is why we confess “And I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come” – for we know that God’s blessings continue on even past our time on earth and on into eternity.
Dear friends, I know that you will indeed miss Norma Lee for what days you have left to you, but know this. Christ Jesus continues to give you the same love that He showed you through Norma Lee, and indeed by the power of His forgiveness He stirs up that same love in you. Moreover, our Lord has promised that He who believes and is Baptized shall be saved – so indeed, because of Christ Jesus and what He has done for both you and for Norma Lee, we are able to look forward to our joyous reunion with her and with all of God’s saints. So then we are right to praise God and give thanks to Him for the gift He gave us in His child Norma Lee.
Thanks to God for Norma Lee
Who always with great zeal
Showed God’s love to her family
Their hurts and wounds to heal
Likewise o Lord now use us
To show to all Your love
Until You choose to call us
To Your great home above. Amen.
Our Lord refers to His way as the narrow path. A path that is narrow is easy to get off of. There are two major ways in which Christians step off of our Lord's path. These are legalism and antinomianism.
The first danger is legalism. This we see quite clearly in Scripture, from the Pharisees to the Judiazers and the like. What happens is that the Law ends up replacing the Gospel as the Christian's love. Rather than with joy clinging to the Gospel, our view of the Law can become warped, and we forget the second use - we forget that the Law shows us our sin. When this happens, we slide to legalism. We substitute rules for freedom - we start mandating that the way in which we happen to use our freedom is the best way and that to be a good Christian you need to do X, Y, and Z - where X, Y, and Z may be not drinking, may be making sure you chant, or may even be simply "knowing" that you are a better person than your neighbor. We abuse the Law, and fall into legalism. Legalism is a rejection of the Gospel, substituting self-righteousness for the righteousness of Christ.
The other danger is antinomianism. This is a desire to do away with anything to do with the Law (one might say it is the extreme opposite reaction to legalism) - and the desire is to assert your freedom over and above any and all conventions and rules. With this, people either become incredibly independent (I can do what I want) or incredibly indifferent (what does it matter, we all go to the same place, after all). The thing that antinomianists forget is that to reject the Law and be opposed to the Law is to be opposed to love. The Law is love - and to reject the Law and treat it as unimportant is to reject Love - and hence also the God who is Love and Who makes us to be like Himself - one who loves. Independence destroys love - for it denies that we are beholden to one another. Indifference destroys love because it does not do.
Christians tend to fall to one side or another - legalism or antinominianism (which I know I am mispelling, I think - bind me by your random laws of spelling, will you Webster? I think not!) for one simple reason. We mistakenly react to a wrong view in the wrong way. We see a legalist, and we reject the self-righteous nature - and we are determined to demonstrate our freedom -- and yet we forget to do so in love. Or we see people using their freedom in ways that probably aren't that wise - and so we make more and more rules to be safe, and we shake the finger and wag our tongues - and we fall to self-righteousness ourselves.
The proper solution to both of these issues is not over reaction (which we sinful humans tend to love) but proper Law and Gospel preaching. As in all things where there is a human fault - yes, demonstrate the Law - say you are not fulfilling your duties, say you are overstepping your bounds -- but then the move must be onto the Gospel. Both these two are the common ways of falling off our Lord's path because they forget that He is the Way we are to be on - and they both slide away from the Gospel that Christ Jesus is our righteousness.
Hence, why we must always pray, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief."
Friday, June 22, 2007
Our Congregation has a tradition of doing a passion story style crucifixion scene on Good Friday. As I am the pastor, I can't do it, because Good Friday Tenebrae follows immediately afterwards. This is good. Because I am one sick puppy, I don't think I could make it hanging on a cross for 30 minutes without starting to at least hum "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" by Monty Python.
Oftentimes we think first and foremost of pointing out to people their blessings, of the good in the midst of bad. And quite often, when people are suffering (and sometimes agonizing over things that are quite silly) our instinct is to say, "It's not so bad."
It is for them. Whether they are lamenting something silly and stupid or something everyone would think is devestating - at that moment, they are suffering. While it is true that even in the midst of sorrows God does continue to show blessing - that may not be the teaching that they need immediately. At first they need compassion.
I love the hymn verse "God said to His beloved Son: 'It's time to have compassions. Now go, bright Jewel of My crown, and bring to all salvation.'" Time for compassion - time to literally share in the sufferings that mankind has - to bear up their burdens. As Pastors, we need to be prepared to show compassion - and then when we have shared in their sufferings they will be ready to hear the comfort in Christ we share. If you do not show compassion, then they can write you off - you don't understand, and so your words are pointless. Show them you know their sufferings and even in the midst of them have comfort.
There is a story which I have heard that a young minister attempted to comfort C.S. Lewis at the death of his wife by saying things we better now. Lewis cut him off saying, "No, this is a tragedy." Lewis was right - it was a tragedy, it wasn't the way things should be. Agree, share in the sufferings - and then point to the Father who out of His compassion sent His Son to make things right. Always share in suffering, as Christ Jesus your Lord did.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
This is one that we need to remember as a distinction between Law and Gospel. Praise has to do with what we do. Fundamentally it deals in the realm of the Law. That doesn't mean praise is bad (there are times for it - this is done well, excellent job) - it just means it works in the relam of Law, deals with what one should do or shouldn't do.
Because of this, praise can never bring comfort. Why? When a person is desiring comfort, it is precisely because all that which they have done isn't good enough. It doesn't matter if you are a good farmer and did everything you could - the crop still failed. What good is it telling me I farmed as best I could. That might elievate some false guilt - but it won't comfort. Grandma was such a nice person - true, but she's still dead, and more over, I've lost in terms of day to day living that nice person. Praise doesn't bring comfort. It might be true, it may be something that should be said for context or understanding, but it doesn't bring comfort.
Comfort, true comfort, only comes from the Gospel. Comfort, comfort ye my people can only be said when pointing not to my actions or your actions, but what God has done. I may be a good man, but I'm not bigger than my problems. You may be well deserving of praise, but that doesn't change the hard facts of wickedness and evil in this life.
That is only done by Christ. Christ is the one who trumps, who triumphs over sin, death, and the devil - over all aspects of sin, death, and the devil - whether it is something small, or something huge. As in all things, the person being comforted needs Jesus. They don't need you, and they don't need themselves (and praise simply points the person back to themselves) - they need Jesus. Comfort only comes from the Gospel.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
I really am coming at this backwards of how I planned it, but it works. Sometimes get can get so caught up in the trials of the day. It's the same old thing. Satan still hounds people with sin and death. Satan still hounds the church with heresies. It used to be Arians, today it is Jehovah's Witnesses. It used to be Nestorians, today it is protestants. It used to be Greeks denying that God created from nothing, today it is our "thinkers" who deny this. It used to be Gnostic cultish offshoots, now it's bored scholars trying out the same Gnostic offshoots.
Satan recycles. Satan throws the same tricks at the Church - and there is no trial which we would face today, no false doctrine or heresy which the Church hasn't seen before. And this is a great comfort. No matter what trial Satan throws at us, we flee to the Word of God. It always is about God and what He has done, and Satan can't change that. We know Satan's ways - they ought neither surprise or shock us - and we know that He is indeed judged, and that one little word can fell him. So we flee always and in all times to that Word. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. Amen.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
"Ablaze!" is the 2nd person singular Imperative of the Latin "Ablazare" - which means "To throw money into a bottomless burecratic pit." As "Ablaze!" derives from a Latin work, it's proper pronunciation would be phonetically Ah-Blah-Zay - with the emphasis upon the last syllable. It sounds similar to how Professor Masaki would respond to a poor piece of art - "It was. . . ah, blaise."
I hope this is helpful. If you find the text compels you to preach Ablaze! to your people, please use the proper pronunciation.
There are three elements that go into good preaching. The first of these is a good understanding of the text. If you don't understand the text, if your sermon doesn't deal with the text, it's worthless. We know this, we focus our studies as Lutherans on the text - that makes sense.
There are two other elements of preaching that we tend not to focus on as much. The first of these is our people. We are not preaching in a vaccuum - we are called not to be generic preachers, but called to a specific congregation with specific people. As such, our thoughts in our sermons have to be tailored to the people of our congregation. God's Word is rich - there are many different ways to go with any text. The question a preacher must ask is "what does my congregation need to hear from this text right now?" This is why the same text may be preached to a congregation year in and year out - they are different and have different needs - not felt needs, but true spiritual needs. This makes your preaching sharp.
The other, and least talked about aspect of preaching is the fact that YOU are the one who is preaching. I love the way Peter Cage preaches. I'm not Cage. I love the way David Petersen preaches - but I'm not Petersen. More over - if I try to sound like Cage or Petersen my sermon will sound phoney - as though it's not from me. God calls YOU into the office to use YOU to preach His Word. Therefore, your sermon should sound like. . . You. This isn't self-aggrandizement, this isn't a pastor-cult thing. This is actually fulfilling the office which you were entrusted with. Use words that you would normally use - don't try to put on airs. Be what you are - a pastor who speaks God's Word to the sheep whom God has entrusted to his care.
Holding to the text makes for a good, solid sermon. Preaching to your people makes the sermon sharper - makes it hit home. Being yourself in the pulpit makes it easier to listen to. It's easier to shut out a generic sermon - preach to your people, and be yourself when you preach.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
June 17th, 2007 – 2nd Sunday after Trinity – Luke 14:15-24
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Now, before we examine our Gospel text in detail this morning, let’s pay attention to where Jesus is at, what He is doing. Jesus is at a dinner, a small feast, dining at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. This is the meal where the Pharisees earlier had come and brought before Jesus a man who had dropsy. And it was the Sabbath day – what would Jesus do? Well, Jesus is not like the Rich Man of last week to let the man on his doorstep suffer, and so Jesus heals this man and challenges the Pharisees. Jesus says to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day will not immediately pull him out?” And the Pharisees can say nothing.
It is after this, and after another bit of advice – sit at the back so you will be called forward – that Jesus speaks these words of our Gospel lesson this morning. And know and understand, dear friends, what Jesus is doing. He is warning these Pharisees – Jesus is holding their pride and disbelief in front of them as a warning – Jesus lays everything out for them this morning. Let us hear Jesus’ Words.
A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.” But they all began to make excuses. This is Jesus’s description of what is going on right then and there. The Kingdom of God throughout the Old Testament had often been portrayed as a feast – a celebration, a time when the hills would drip with honey and wine. And Jesus points out – the Kingdom of Heaven is here – behold, the Messiah is here, now, I AM He. John even came announcing that I was here. And yet – where is the joy? Where is the celebration? In fact, the Pharisees hold back, are cold, reserved, throw up tests towards Christ, keep Him at arm’s length.
The first said to him, “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.” And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.” And another said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” Oh, the Pharisees had their excuses for being wary of Jesus. He might upset the Romans. He might make us seem less important. He challenges our preconceptions. And they all were flat and false excuses. A long planned feast – and your field cannot way a day? It’s one you’ve just bought – it’s not as though there is specific work waiting. A long planned feast – and you have to check your oxen? Didn’t you examine them before you bought them? And as for being married – I can’t come, it’s the woman’s fault. That is literally the oldest trick in the book – that’s Adam’s pathetic excuse in the garden.
No, in the parable the excuses made for avoiding the feast are just as pathetic as the ones made by the Pharisees to Jesus. And what are the consequences of these excuses. So the servant came and reported these things to the his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” The master has a fantastic response to these people who spurn him. You think you are so important – fine, I’ll replace you with the people whom you look down upon. If my feast is too mean and common for you, then I will bring people who appreciate it. And thus, we see what Jesus is doing. As He warns the Pharisees of the price of rejection, we see Jesus bringing Himself to the very people that the Pharisees looked down upon, the poor and lame, the roughians of Jewish society. And it goes further.
And the servant said, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.” And the master said to the servant, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” And the final, blunt, declaration is laid down. Even the strangers and foreigners and passer-bys on the road, even the lowly criminals and robbers hiding behind the hedges would be invited. And those proud people who spurned the master – nothing. Likewise, Jesus warns the Pharisees – look, I am going to invite even the Gentiles and peoples far off into the kingdom – all will come and be united to Me, will be partakers of My salvation. And if you persist in your denials, your rejection of me – you will be cut off, and there will be no salvation for you. A hard statement – but a true one, for there is no room for those who persistently reject Christ, for those who wish nothing to do with Him. This is what Jesus tells the Pharisees today.
So then, how does this apply to us then? What is it that we here today need to hear from our Gospel lesson? Where do we fit into the text? Well, sometimes we want to jump to the idea of folks coming in from the highways and the hedges – we want to look at the Gentiles being in and sit back contentedly and say, “Yep, see, we are right to be here and Jesus likes us.” While it is true that Gentiles are welcome in the Church – that’s not the main point of the text. This text is a warning against complacency, against spurning God’s invitation. So I ask, does that warning have a place for us?
We are in the same position as the Pharisees. Each and everyone of us here belongs to the Church, we are part of it, it is our home – just as the Pharisees were of the house of Israel. And yet, when Jesus came to them, some of the Pharisees rejected Christ, they made excuses – and as such, they fell away. This is what Jesus was warning the Pharisees of – and He also is warning us of the same today. Do not fall away, do not reject what God offers.
Do you make excuses regarding God? Do you make excuses regarding your faith? When Christ invites, when Christ calls out to you, says study My Word, come and worship – indeed, come to the very feast which I prepare for You – do you make excuses and shy away? Do you look down upon what God offers you in His Word and in His Sacraments and treat them as unimportant or ho-hum? This is a difficult thing to think about, but it holds true – our sinful nature despises what God offers us, our sinful nature thinks it has better things to do than receive God’s forgiveness. And this stirs up in all of us – don’t simply think, “Well, I’m here today, what a good boy am I!” How often do the temptations to not be in the Word come up? How often are there things that seem more appealing to do on a Sunday morning? And not just Sunday, how often are our daily devotions and study of God’s Word what they ought to be? How often do we make excuses and not spend time in the Word during the week like we ought? How often do our prayers go unsprayed?
Jesus speaks these Words of warning to us today, dear friends, for Satan desires that we fall away, Satan desires that our eyes be not upon Christ but upon our vain excuses. The temptation to fall way, to abandon the faith – evenly slowly and without thought – to just let it slip away, will always be there. And so God calls us to repentance. Although the Gospel lesson has a stern word of warning in it, it also has beautiful Gospel as well. “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes and bring in the poor and the crippled and the blind and the lame.” Absolutely wonderful. Satan tries to make us prideful, to tell us that we don’t need what God offers us in Church, that we have better things to do. But when we repent, when we look at ourselves and see our sin, our lack – when we see that we are indeed poor of spirit, that we are crippled morally and do wickedness often, when we understand how often we are blind to the needs of others and lame and useless, not showing the love that we ought – or in other words, when we repent, what does God do? Quickly, quickly He invites to the feast. Quickly He offers His forgiveness – come you penitent sinners, come to the altar. Indeed, blessed is everyone who eats bread in the Kingdom of God! Blessed are the sinners who come to the Lamb’s high feast and partake of the very Bread of Life itself, Christ’s own Body. Blessed are those who draw nigh and partake of the very life Blood of Christ with which He bought us upon the Cross. And why blessed? Not because if we show up to Church we’re better people than those lazy sluggards out there – but blessed because we are forgiven, because we are joined to Christ and His blessings.
Luther started off the whole reformation by saying in the first thesis of the 95 theses that a Christian’s entire life is to be one of repentance. That is what Jesus teaches us today – the Christian’s life is defined by the fact that a Christian repents of all the things in life which would sunder him from God, and humbly comes to the feast to which God invites him, comes and receives the blessings of God’s Word and Sacraments. Hold fast, dear friends, not to your pride or the vain glories of your life, but hold fast to God’s forgiveness, which He desires to give you and to which He invites you over and over. Rejoice at His invitation, and receive with thanksgiving the forgiveness won upon the cross. Amen.
Friday, June 15, 2007
When I was a little kid, I would often put on my dad's shoes and walk around in them. I was concerned with how much I was growing, how much bigger I was getting. I was always looking ahead to the next milestone. And this increases as one becomes an older child - as anyone with a teen will attest to. We want to "grow up" - we want to be adults - we want to be the ones who say what we do and when we do it. As a kid when we think of being an "adult" - we think of control and power and independence. In fact, many people spend their entire life in this same tracking, always wanting more power and control and independence .
This is opposite in the Church. I again long to be a child. I long for the days when I would hear the Word and simply believe, when I would hear and simply trust. Now, my reason kicks in - doubts kick in. I chuckle when I hear people talk about how kids have to be very old and mature and intelligent before they can understand the supper - poppycock! While I may not have been able to pontificate on its wonders when I was 7, while I may not have read Chemnitz yet - I knew what the Supper was and simply trusted. Period.
Christ holds up as the image of faith a little child - and rightfully so. I crave power and control and independence - and none of these things are good for me. My lust for power is selfish, my control is hatred, and independence is an excuse not to show love. At least when I was a kid I knew there were things I couldn't do on my own yet. Hence Law and Gospel - to show by the Law that we still do run around like spoiled brats and to show by the Gospel that the old Sunday School answer is indeed the right one. To simply trust in Jesus, that is what I desire. That is hard to do - Lord I believe, help my unbelief!
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Yes - I do use the terminology of growing "in the faith" unabashedly (every once in a while) - and when one grows in the faith and matures - one sees Christ more and more. Look at Paul - our life is lived in Christ - indeed, it is not I who live but Christ who lives in me. As Christians our whole lives are lived in and identified in Christ.
Maturing as a Christian is simply seeing this fact. Like John the Baptist, you see that you must decrease that Christ may increase. And something that will come along with this is the fact that you see that Christ Jesus really is all in all - that the Scriptures aren't just using a pretty phrase that we ignore to go sing songs about what we do for Jesus - it really is all about Christ.
And the beauty of this is as follows: How does one grow in the faith? By the Word - by being shown Christ, by having our eyes fixed upon the author and perfector of our faith. A Pastor's job really is simply - give people Christ. You don't have to plumb the depths of their souls, you don't have to divine their innermost secrets - you give them Christ. And God does the work. This is a comforting thing for a Pastor - you don't need to struggle with what to do - just show Christ. Refine yourself, your techniques, get yourself out of the way so that people see you less and less and see only Christ - but the task, show Christ.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
One of the most profound statements about the life a Christian lives is where Paul calls himself the chief of sinners. Note, Paul doesn't say, "I used to be the chief of sinners back when I was killing Christians." Paul simply says that he is the chief sinner. He also talks about how he is at war with himself, how the wickedness he does not desire to do he does, and how he fails to do the good which he wishes to do.
The more you grow in faith, the more you see sin in yourself. Now, we might ask ourselves, was Paul sinning as gravely as an Apostle as he was when he was killing folks off? That's not the question we should be asking - sin isn't acceptible in any ammounts - so whether they are huge and evil or small and evil - still sin, still bad. How much - that's not really important. Thinking that way makes us self-righteous and proud.
Rather - behold Paul. As he grows in the faith, he sees his sin more clearly. When he was persecuting the Christians, he thought he was offering service to God. That is how wicked and perverse he was. But as he grows in the faith - he sees the sin that he commits more and more clearly. Sure, it may not stand out to the world like it used to - but Paul, knowing God's law and his own lack sees his sin.
Be wary when you don't see your own sin - for that is the a sign that your faith is dying - that you have begun to replace Christ Jesus your Savior with the most common of idols - "I'm not that bad" man. As we grow in the faith, we understand our own lack more and more.
1 - The more you grow in the faith, the more you see sin in yourself.
2 - The more you grow in the faith, the more you see Christ (and vice versa).
3 - In the world, you long to grow up - in the church, you long to be a child.
4 - A preacher's task is this - YOU preach THE WORD to your PEOPLE.
5 - We today face the same problems the Church has always faced (i.e. Satan Recycles).
6 - Praise never brings comfort.
7 - Always look on the dark side of life - do doot, doo do da do da doot (i.e. share in sufferings, don't treat them as petty things).
8 - Christians always tend towards legalism or antinomianism.
9 - Sin desires to be lord - love serves the neighbor as though he were the Lord.
10 - A pastor should never try to be liked or try to be disliked.
Those are the truths of the practical aspects of theology - they will be discussed in due course.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
That being said - when you are physically ill, you generally feel it. You just don't feel right. Does that tend to be the case for those who are Spiritually ill? I really don't think so - at least not to the same extent. Now, granted, it may be easy to see the signs - 1 John and James would have us look at love. The less love being shown, the higher the "Spiritual Fever" (how many enthusiasts are going to find my website now because of that phrase) works very well as a diagnostic.
But what about from the point of view of the person who is slipping. Do we notice on our own? Most of the time no, because one of the first thing any spiritual malady does is try to cut us off from the Word - so we don't hear the law, we cut ourselves off from that mirror that would let us see our pale, limpid life.
This is the importance of the law. Sometimes I am asked why sermons always have to include law. Because when we slip, we don't see it on our own - but God's Law needs to come into play to show us our lack. And this is why a Pastor can never be simply a Gospel only type of person -- because in this world we need the law -- because while we are in our sinful flesh and continually slip and slide we need the law to let us know what our deadened sense of morality can so easily overlook at Satan's prodding - that we are still indeed sinners in need of forgiveness - bigger sinners than we will ever know.
Monday, June 11, 2007
This is the temptation we have to face over and over within the Church. There are the demands that people make, their are felt needs that people want to have fulfilled. We are tempted to sell Christianity, to tie up all the theological loose ends (and end up becoming Calvinists or Armineans). We are tempted to try to match what we do to what people want in terms of music or programs or worship.
The Church must remain what it is - sinners gathered around Christ's Word and Sacraments. If we lose that, we become worthless. The problem is - there is no final episode for the Church (well, there is, we just don't know when it comes) - the Church isn't an 88 episode run and if we can just hold out. . . no, the Church but be what it is on and on unto the end of time.
That's the beauty of the Church - that is its catholicity and apostolicity - that in all times and in all places the Church has given Christ to sinners who need Him - a Church that teaches Christ's doctrine to all. And boy, do we live in a day and age where this isn't appreciated. But it's never been appreciated, and people have always sought to corrupt the Church (look at the history of any century and you can see this in detail). Let's just be who we are in Christ.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Do you take this person. . . until death do you part? Now let us sing - "Who Knows when Death May Overtake Me"? =o) Ah, what a wonderful gal.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit +
Do you know better than God? That is the question that we will ponder this morning. Do you know better than God? Oftentimes we can be quite sure of ourselves, we can be more than willing not only to do what we wish to do in our own lives, but we can be more than willing to tell our neighbor what they ought, what they need to do with theirs. We enjoy instructing others – dare I say in the middle of a sermon that we can enjoy being a bit preachy. That’s bad enough, but does it become worse, dear friends? Are there the times when you see fit to lecture God, times when you think that you know better than God?
That is the situation of the Rich Man in our Gospel today. And as our Lord Jesus describes him, we see and understand what a wretched man he is. “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s tables. More over the dogs came and licked his sores.” Indeed, what a wretched man this rich man is – to let a hungry, sick man die on his doorstep, to lift not a finger. That is wickedness, that is sin. I’m sure we can agree on that. In fact, it is quite vile. And so, I’m sure it is no surprise that when this rich man dies, he ends up in hell – none of us are shocked by this turn of events.
So why is the rich man in hell? Let us think about that. Is it because he is mean and nasty? Is it because he is proud and arrogant? Is it because he was rich, and rich people just end up in hell? The story that Jesus tells continues to center around the rich man – and he makes demands, even in hell – Hey, send that beggar boy down to give me water. Requesting that a person leave heaven to come to hell to satisfy you is sort of mean. Making demands of Abraham is rather proud. But these are all simply symptoms of the rich man’s great sin. Listen again to the end of the conversation he has with Abraham.
And [the rich man] said, “Then I beg you, father, to send [Lazarus] to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them of this place, lest they also come to this place of torment.” But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Did you hear it? Did you hear the root and cause of every wickedness and evil that the rich man produces? How does the rich man treat God’s Word? He treats it with utter contempt. We see that while he is alive – for God’s Word instructs us to love the neighbor, to care for those in need, to give freely of the blessings God has given us. The Rich Man has contempt for that. God’s Word has myriad warnings about the cost of wickedness – there is plenty of warning in Moses and the Prophets – in Numbers wicked Korah and his followers are swallowed alive into hell, what bigger warning is there than that? If you listen to Moses and the Prophets, you know what is going on. But when the rich man is told this – he contradicts Abraham. No, Father Abraham, God’s Word, the Word of the Lord, the Word of the Prophets who spake by the Holy Ghost – this Word is worthless. God’s plan to work through the Word doesn’t work, it isn’t good enough. I have a better plan, I know what will work.
There it is – the cause of each and every sin – what every sin boils down to. I know better than God. God in His Word says one thing, and I will do another, because I know what I should be doing better than God. That’s what all sin is – all sin is a violation of the First Commandment – You shall have no other gods – we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. When we sin, we are showing no fear or respect towards God – we show Him no love – and when we choose our way over His, we certainly are showing no trust in Him either. All sin stems from rejecting and despising God’s Word.
This is not just a problem or a trial for the rich man in this story dear friends, but it is the way in which Satan will attack and tempt you. Satan will tempt you to reject God’s Word, just has he has tempted mankind since Adam and Eve in the Garden. Satan tempts us to treat God’s Law with contempt. Now, I’m sure none of you here would say that you try to treat God’s Law with contempt. But let’s examine ourselves for a bit – and on this, you’re have to do a bit of work yourself – because I don’t know precisely what lurks in your heart, but I know how Satan works, I know how he attacks me, how he has attacked others before me, so I’m pretty sure the old evil foe tries this on you. Satan tends to simply get us to overlook parts of the law, while pointing out how we keep others parts. For example – Let us say that one is generous. Satan has no problem pointing out to you your own generosity – look, you are kind and give freely of what you have – certainly not like that rich man in the story. And we become prideful. But love to the neighbor is not summed up simply by cash – not simply by the 7th commandment. What of all aspects of love? Do you speak kindly of your neighbor? Do you encourage your neighbor? When people are frustrated with your neighbor do you defend your neighbor? Do you place your neighbor’s needs above your own? This is what happens to so many Christians – we see one aspect of our lives where we do well – and we become content – I’m doing well. And we start to ignore the places that we don’t do so well in. And then Satan has a wedge, a foot in the door – and pride and arrogance force love out – to where even that “good” that we do is done out of pride – see what a good person I am – and we are lost. Beware of this dear friends – for God’s Law is beyond our ability to do. We never, never ever are the Christians, are the people we ought to be. There is always room for improvement – and when you fail to see that, when you hear the Law and simply think, “Well, I’m doing that,” then you have despised God’s Law, and are lost.
And our wiley foe Satan also tempts us to show contempt for the Gospel. Moses and the prophets did not speak only Law, but they also boldly proclaimed the Gospel – the Messiah is coming! He shall defeat Satan! He shall Redeem Israel! Or to Abraham today – “And [Abram] believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” God dealt with the people in the Old Testament the same way He deals with us – God tells us what He will do for those in the Old Testament or what He has done for us in the New, and we believe – we hear the Word of God’s promise and it brings forth belief in us.
Yet, just as the rich man contradicts Abraham, do we not sometimes think that God’s Word isn’t enough? Do we not think that simply preaching the Gospel – that simply saying, “This is what Christ Jesus, True God and True Man has done – He has gone to the Cross and suffered and died that I might be forgiven and He has risen again that I might have new life” – do we not sometimes think that simply proclaiming this to our fellow sinners who are in need of forgiven isn’t good enough? Do we trumpet the Gospel – do we hold the Gospel forth like a badge of honor, do we proudly proclaim it? Oftentimes, the answer is no. We don’t trust the Gospel sometimes – we don’t really trust it’s power for other people. We worry about other things – we try to attract people to church in other ways – and the Gospel is pushed off into a corner. I love these advertisements, and by love I’m being completely sarcastic, for Churches that say nothing of Christ. Come here because it’s fun. Come here because we are nice people. Come here because you’ll meet people who can help you out. Come here because it’s the in place to be. Where is the person who sounds like Paul – I am determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified! Where is the person who sounds like John, who boldly says, “We love because He first loved us” – everything is about Him and what He does – it’s not about me! Are we not sometimes tempted to have contempt towards the Gospel and make Church about us rather than about Christ?
But dear friends, we know and have been taught and are continually taught by God’s Word, the Holy Spirit continues to exercise the power of the Word in our Life, and to turn us away from these wicked thoughts. God’s Word is powerful – and it makes us like Lazarus. We see that we are weak and poor miserable sinners – that our vaunted strengths of moral character really aren’t that wonderful, and that sin covers us like many sores. Thankfully, by God’s Word we see that our salvation is not dependent upon our own strength – but upon what Christ Jesus has done. And so we struggle against our sin and look to Christ Jesus for forgiveness. This is what God’s Word proclaims, this is what God’s Word teaches, this is what we train ourselves to love and respect – God’s Law and God’s Gospel, which is His plan for our salvation, and all that we need for that salvation.
Luther’s lasts words still ring true – the words he spoke on his death bed as death drew near. “We are all beggars before God.” Indeed, my dear friends, you are. You come before God as broken sinners struggling with various aspects of your lives, struggling against challenges you often don’t like to admit to yourselves, and certainly don’t want anyone else to see. But God has had mercy on you – God does not simply leave you to die in your sin – but rather His Son has come into the flesh to share in your burdens and win you redemption. God does not leave you lying hungry on His door step, but invites you to His altar to feed not on crumbs that fall, but upon His Word, and indeed feeds you the very Body and Blood of Christ given and shed for you. This is His Will, this is what His Word declares, and this is Your life and Salvation. Amen.
Friday, June 8, 2007
This will be an image of the last day as unbelievers are cast into hell. A lot of times we get the idea of "boy, won't they be kicking themselves for not believing, won't they be surprised?" No - because that would involve taking personal accountablity and knowing that one gets what one deserves. But that's not how sinful man views the Law - it's mandates and punishments. They aren't fair, they aren't right - what kind of mean God are you? How often do we ourselves try to shift blame, how often do we want or expect different treatment from others - and we know better.
The sinful nature sees the acts of God and shouts out "It's not fair!" That's why it's called the "sinful nature."
For example - take Ireneaus (and don't ask me know to spell his name). He writes against Gnosticism very well. One of the things that Gnosticism posits is the wickedness of matter. So Ireneaus defends matter -- and defends it so strong that he starts positing a 1000 year reign on earth just to show how good and proper physical matter is. He goes to far.
Or one could look at the whole Christological debates - or pretty much most everything between Alexandria and Antioch - 1 nature in 1 person, no 2 natures in 2 persons - and thus we get both Eucytches and Nestorius flinging stones at each other from opposite heresies.
The problem is that as a theologian, although you are paying attention to the spirit of day, you are not to be controlled by that spirit but by the Spirit of Christ. Fundamentally, the act of using theology isn't to be reactive, it is to be proactive - where the Word is applied to a problem or issue to heal. The Word of God is creative - not defensive.
Read your emotions, o theologian! Are you seeking to prove your point or to show forth Christ? Are you desiring to show your enemy foolish, or are you showing him love by preaching the pure Gospel? Are you acting as a servant of the Word, or making the Word your servant in smashing the opponent. A theologian who is fighting against something wrong while having a chip on his shoulder quite quickly falls to heresy. This is a danger for us all.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
Now I will talk about Corpus Christi. If you were to ask the people at your church what the day of the year was where we focus on the fact that the Lord's Supper is Christ's true Body and Blood - what answer would they give. Dimes to donuts they would say (if they had an answer) Maundy Thursday.
One of the things that stands out is that we still call Maundy Thursday "Maundy" Thursday. Maundy - from Mandatum - from "I give you a new commandent, love one another." That's the liturgical focus of Maundy Thursday - it's the footwashing day. It's the day where the marching orders for, not our worship life revolving around the Sacraments, but the marching orders for our life in the world are given - love one another.
We don't need to reinstitute "Corpus Christi" as a separate feast. We probably could safely reintroduce it (as long as we don't do something stupid like take the consecrated host for a walk. It is Christ's Body and Blood given for us sinners to eat and drink - not for us to walk like a dog) - but as we tend to focus on the supper in Lent maybe, if we add a celebration, it should be a Maundy celebration - a focus on our duty to love. Maybe we could make some day with lousy saints "Love Feast Day" -- which would be sort of poetically just - with the whole "love feasts" in Scripture being celebration of the Supper and for this day being about vocation, and the fact that we've taken the history vocation (love your neighbor) day and turned it into the Communion day.
Or we could just have the "Feast of Christian Vocation" - that probably sounds better than "love feast day" -- well, or at least less pagan or libertine gnostic sounding (no, do not go back and edit, continue forward at all costs and make this up on the fly!) - or some such thing. And such a day would fit well in the Trinity Season with it's focus on teaching. Either way - teach what you need to when you need to - and let the calendar turn how it will - every day ought to be viewed as the Lord's Day.
There are some books that a Christian should read once a year. "On the Freedom of a Christian" is one of these. Note that the idea that the things we do are to be for our neighbor are not just for our outside life, but even for our life within the Church - yea indeed, for us of the cloth, it is the direction for all our actions as Pastors.
Thus for any action, decision, tact, or direction - be it with what is preached, what is taught, what is sung, what is prayed, what is observed, what is omitted - the question must be "how does this serve the people of my congregation." Otherwise it is vain and arrogant and self-rightous -- be it choosing to do something (and showing how knowledgable you are) or be it choosing to not do something (and showing how unstodgy you are) -- they both serve the self and not the neighbor.
This is why the Lutherans were quick to point out that rites and customs need not be the same everywhere - because in every place there are different people who have different needs (and I'm not talking about felt needs here - I'm talking about sitz in lebin type of needs - are at different places) - and so the pastoral care given must be different in each of those places. Same doctrine, same truth - different application (or aspect of doctrine applied).
Oh, that sounds like situational liturgics! That sounds like situational preaching! Well. . . it is. You, you yourself, are the pastor of very specific and individual sheep - so deal with it. I can't be Peter Cage - I'm short and I'm not preaching to folks in Muncie. I must be Eric Brown - who preaches and teaches and leads the folks in Lahoma, OK in worship.
When we will remember this - it will keep us from going into the self-righteous-prig phase that comes so easily to pastors - and more over, we as pastors will be better able to help and aid one another - not by simply telling them what is best (which happens to be what I do), but by guiding and supporting others in this idea - that every action one takes needs to be for the benefit not of people in general, not of people in the abstract, not of people in some idealized congregation - but for the benefit of those sinners you've been given to deal with. Then we can discuss why we do things that we do (which happen to be different), then we can discuss what might be better, not in the abstract, not in the idealized sense - but right now, right here (or there, if it is your fellow pastor's question) what is the best treatment for the spiritual ill in question. And we can do this without being sanctimonious. We never just simply ask what is best, we ask "What is best for your neighbor". Period.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
In general, I find that the word "could" is one of the least useful in the English language. We use it just to denote the chance of possibility (could the rain wash out the picnic?), or as a trite way to ask someone something without sounding like you are actually making a demand (could you do this?), or, as in John 11, to state something that didn't happen - a contrary to fact statement. A happened, but couldn't have B happened just as easily.
"Could" is a word that doesn't like reality - that shies away from what really happens. It is a word that shows fear (what could the terrorists do next!), that manipulates, and that complains.
We don't deal with what God "could" do. God could do lots of things. God could have seen to it that I had 5 billion dollars, and God could have seen to it that I was never born. As Christians, we don't deal with what God could do - we deal with what God has done - specifically, that Christ Jesus has become Man and has gone to the Cross and has risen again and that He will come again. The Christian life is lived not in a world of posibilities, but delighting in what God has done and what He has promised to do in the future.
Possiblities come and go - let the philosphers ponder them and contemplate parallel universes and the many worlds of "what-if" - we look to what God has done, even in the face of trial, and we look to the promises of what God has said He will do. This is the Christian approach.
Monday, June 4, 2007
Our perspective is quite often limited - and we do not see what God is doing with His permissive will all the time. With Lazarus, Jesus is able to teach directly that He is the Resurrection and the Life. But what is taught with tragedy in our own lives? What witness (and I use this word even though most of the time it makes me shudder) are we able to give in times of tragedy? What people are brought together by tragedy in ways in which they wouldn't have been brought together. All things really do work to the good of Christians.
If only we believed this all the time. Of course, that won't happen until heaven when we no longer had to worry about our sinful flesh, but oh well. Occasionally we need to be reminded that we are not God - that's part of being prepared for trials in life.
Sunday, June 3, 2007
Sunday mornings are actually sort of slow for me. Normally I'm up at Church during the week between 6:15 and 7. On Sundays, bible study starts at 9:30, church is at 10:45 - so I head to Church at 6:30 or so, get ready for the day - come back here, shower at 7:30, and watch Sportscenter and outside the lines at 8 and 8:30.
Well, I was sitting in my office looking at my computer - finding things on the internet - and I looked at the time - it was 7:55 - which meant I needed to hurry so I could get out and watch sportscent. . . and then I remembered that I own a laptop. I've had my laptop for a month. I have wireless internet. I can take my computer out into the front room and surf the net (I've done it before, I'm doing it now) - but I didn't think of it at first. Why? Because it wasn't what I was used to doing.
We are creatures of habit. So are the members of our congregation. There are things in your own life where you don't necessarily adapt to things on the spot - even things that you know in your head are wonderful and nice. Transitions take time. In my Church history study I'm getting ready to write about Luther's return to Wittenberg from the Wartburg. He came back because Karlstadt was pushing not only foolish changes, but changes too quickly. Even the best, even the smartest need time to adapt - and that is something that we need to remember when we get frustrated with people being slow. In many ways I am slow too - and I need to make allowances for them.
Trinity Sunday – June 3rd, 2007 – John 3:1-15
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
And so Nicodemus comes to talk to this Jesus who is preaching and teaching. Nicodemus is a well respected man, a leader of his people – a Pharisee – a well respected laymen, most likely a pillar of his synagoge. And Nicodemus comes to Jesus – comes at night, comes privately, he’s a bit unsure about Jesus and if it turns out this Jesus is a crack pot he doesn’t want to be associated with Him – but nevertheless Nicodemus comes to Jesus and says, “Rabbi, we know that you are from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” You’re from God, Jesus – but I don’t understand what is going on. I’m not sure I get it.
And Jesus replies to Nicodemus – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Seems sort of a strange answer for Jesus to give, doesn’t it? Nicodemus finds it strange as well – born again, what are you talking about? Nicodemus doesn’t understand. Dear friends, we shouldn’t be surprised that Nicodemus doesn’t understand because Christ’s Word teach us something very important. Christ’s Words teach us something that we can forget. They teach us of the depth of sin.
We are a very proud people here in America. We are proud of what we do, what we accomplish. We believe that if we just put our minds to it, we can accomplish anything. We teach our children that if you just work hard, you can be whatever you want to be. And to a certain extent, this may be true. If you work hard at school, you can go to college and study whatever. If you are willing to put in the hours working, you can pretty much get whatever job you wish – effort sells in America, and one of the biggest compliments we can give is to call someone a hard worker. But what we must remember is that while hard work and our own efforts are fantastic for this life here on earth – as regards matters of religion and faith – it’s not about our effort or works. Hear again what Jesus says to Nicodemus. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Jesus there describes two implications of sin.
First, let’s talk about blindness. Jesus says unless something happens to a person – he can’t see God’s kingdom. Of ourselves, left to our own devices – we are spiritually blind. Can’t see, can’t understand what’s going on. Nicodemus knows something strange is at work, but he can’t make sense of it. Jesus here explains why – you have eyes, Nicodemus, but they only see the earthly things, they don’t see the spiritual things. Likewise, dear friends, how often do your eyes see only the earthly things? How often does the old, evil nature stir up in you, and your eyes – well, they see wickedly. How often do your eyes look with lust and greed? How often do your eyes look down upon your neighbor? How often do your eyes even see the things of God and despise those very things of God? By nature we are blind – we don’t see the things of God on our own, they don’t make sense.
And there is a good reason for this. By nature, we are dead. Jesus says, “Unless one is born again.” Born again. That first birth, that birth you had from your mother, that one isn’t good enough. By nature, we are fallen, we are born sinful, in sin my mother bore me. And as such, by nature, we don’t see, we don’t understand – in fact we have no life. By nature we are dead, dead in trespasses. We need to be born again, we need to be given true and spiritual life.
Do you see, dear friends, what Jesus is teaching Nicodemus and us? Do you see the implications of sin? Sin blinds us – sin takes away life – not just this life here on earth – oh, look, I’m breathing life – but our spiritual life, our life with God, our understanding and knowing that the world is about more than just the desires of my flesh, more than just what I want and what feels good to me. Sin cuts all of that off – and because of sin by nature we are isolated and alone, greedy, needy people blind to God, blind to true love to others, left by sin to strive and strive to satisfy hungers and desires that are never filled and sated. Sin is a horrible thing, and it does horrible things to us – and we can’t get out of it on our own.
No indeed, we cannot do anything about this problem on our own. Just as none of us here had anything to do with being born of our mothers, neither do we have anything to do with our being born again. For us to be born again, for us to have life, God must act. And indeed, on this Trinity Sunday, we are taught by Jesus that it is indeed the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who acts on our behalf and causes us to be born again, causes us to see Him and His Salvation, and gives us life.
The Father is involved in your salvation. The Father sees and understands sin, what sin means, what sin has done to His creation. And so the Father makes the plan of salvation. He sees that we sinful men have no righteousness within us, so He sends His Son to be righteous for us. Indeed, the Father says that He will lift up His Son, lift Him up upon the Cross so that there is no more punishment left for man. Indeed, the Father would send the Son to this world to fight against sin and death.
The Son is involved in your salvation. The Son comes down from Heaven and takes on human flesh, takes on a human Body. He becomes Man. And as a Man He suffers, He shares in all the effects and problems and burdens caused by sin – He even takes in full the punishment for sin – He takes death. And because He bore for us the full burden, the full punishment of sin – by His death and resurrection He was able to win for us salvation. Salvation is accomplished by the Son.
The Holy Spirit is involved in your salvation. The Spirit takes what the Son has done and applies to you. Since we of ourselves cannot see, the Spirit gives us eyes to see. Since we are by nature dead, the Spirit breathes into us New Life by the Word of God – that is why we call Him the Giver of Life in the Nicene Creed. The Spirit takes that which Christ has done, and applies to us – takes that life and Salvation which Christ earned and makes it yours, applies it to you.
No where is this working of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit seen more clearly than in Baptism. In fact, it is in Baptism, in the washing of Water and the Spirit where you were born again, where you were born of the Spirit. And how is Baptism done? Note this, dear friends. Baptism isn’t some wild and harsh rite where we must do tons and tons of things to prove ourselves to God – we can’t make ourselves worthy to God. Baptism isn’t about the efforts and works of the person who is being Baptized. Rather, God comes, bringing His Word attached to Water – and what is that Word of God? I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. The Triune God Himself gives New life. God acts in Baptism, and we are born again – The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit apply their own Name, claim you as Their own, and give you Their own life in Baptism – and we are indeed born again.
And this all is done by God, so that you might believe in Christ Jesus – that you might believe that He is the Son of God, and that believing in Him you might always hold and possess, that you might always have life in His Name. God’s great desire, the will of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is that you believe in Christ Jesus, that you repent of your sin, that you struggle against your sinful nature, that you flee to Christ for forgiveness and delight in His life. And so the Triune God works for your salvation – The Spirit giving you Christ’s own Life so that you may be with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit for all eternity.
This is what our God does – this is who the Triune God – the One God in Three Persons and Three Persons in One God whom we confess reveals Himself to be. He is the God who created mankind, and the God who redeems mankind from sin, the God who gives salvation. Indeed, our worship is all about God giving us salvation. It is the Triune God who calls us to His House – not to work – but to have a Sabbath, calls us to rest from our labors and receive from Him the blessings of Life and Salvation. It is the Triune God who calls us His own children and heirs, adopting us in the Waters of Baptism not to be His hirelings, but to be the heirs of all that is His. It is the Triune God who calls us to the Table of the Lord, so that we might receive the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus and receive in the Supper once again the benefits that Body and Blood won upon the Cross, to receive again forgiveness and to have that Life which He gave nourish us. The Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has had mercy upon you and has accomplished your salvation for you. And He calls you to His house to bless you richly. All thanks be to God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the love He shows us, and the tireless care He gives us. Amen.