Friday, March 28, 2008

Mollie Sums it up

Back when I was at the Seminary, a lot of folks knew who Mollie Ziegler was - she was an intelligent, single Lutheran gal - every single seminarian's dream girl. Well, she has done well (as well as gotten married) - and she writes - and even gets published in the Wall Street Journal.

I think it's down to one of two things - the theory that Mollie lays out is the political theory - that this is one of the opening shots at silencing those who desire to remain traditional Lutherans. The other theory (which the article will also help explain in a bit) is that perhaps the Synod just wants to sell off the radio station to help cover it's massive debts, partially incurred with the advent of "Ablaze." Have to get that Lutheran show off the air before you can sell it.

Here is a link to her article dealing with Issues, Etc.

Here's a chunk from the middle:

The program was in all likelihood a pawn in a larger battle for the soul of the Missouri Synod. The church is divided between, on the one hand, traditional Lutherans known for their emphasis on sacraments, liturgical worship and the church's historic confessions and, on the other, those who have embraced pop-culture Christianity and a market-driven approach to church growth. The divide is well known to all confessional Christian denominations struggling to retain their traditional identity.

The Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, the synod's current president, has pushed church marketing over the Lutherans' historic confession of faith by repeatedly telling the laity, "This is not your grandfather's church."

Since Mr. Kieschnick narrowly won election in 2001, the church has embarked on a program, called Ablaze!, that has the admirable goal of "reaching 100 million unreached and uncommitted people with the Gospel by 2017," the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Historically the church kept statistics on baptisms. Now, however, it keeps a tally of what it calls "critical events." On March 17 a man reported discussing Jesus with his waitress -- and the Ablaze! count went up by one.

One congregation near St. Louis took a $25,000 Ablaze! grant and used it to put up billboards with kitschy statements purporting to come from the devil (e.g., "JeffersonHills Church Sucks," signed "Satan"). A Michigan mission congregation replaced the historical message of Lent with a speaker series on sex. Following marketing principles, neither congregation uses the word "Lutheran" in its name or advertising campaign.

While "Issues, Etc." never criticized Mr. Kieschnick or his colleagues, its attacks against shallow church marketing included mention of some approaches embraced by the current leadership. It opposed, for instance, the emergent church -- an attempt to accommodate postmodern culture by blending philosophies and practices from throughout the church's history -- and the Purpose Driven Church movement, which reorients the church's message toward self-help and self-improvement.

Monday, March 24, 2008

My post on the whole Issues, Etc fiasco

Last Tuesday the Lutheran Religious talk show "Issues, Etc" was suddenly canceled - immediately, and the host and producer were given their waking papers. This has caused considerable consternation among some because:

1 - Pastor Wilken, the host, is a solid Lutheran pastor - and so the show was by far the best theological thing on the radio, bar none.
2 - The swiftness of the cancellation and it's timing (during holy week, when Pastors are most busy) can lend it an air of being sinister.
3 - Not only was the show canceled, but the archives of the show (which many people who don't live by a station which broadcast the show used to listen via the internet) was taken off the station website until, after many complaints, it was restored.
4 - Whereas many of the scandals of the past have involved individual members of the Synod doing that which is tomfoolish - this has St. Louis officials canceling a solid show, perhaps for dubious reasons.

When asked about the reason for the change the only response given is that there is a desire for a change in programming. Many are skeptical over this being the sole reason - simply because if there is a change in programming, it doesn't generally happen over night. You get two weeks notice, you get a month of shows until it is done. There is a time of transition. There was none here.

There are efforts to get the show back on the air. I will link to one - an online petition found here:

Issues, Etc also produced a journal with articles in it (I end up using these as my backup, read this for bible study Sunday morning if the guest pastor doesn't make it) which can be found here ( ) if you would like to peruse them.

Now - my thoughts.

First - while the answer "We want to change programming" isn't a full answer - it may actually simply be the answer that is correct. This may not be "sinister" - rather, it may simply be a foolish decision to try and make a radio station into something different than it was. The reasoning for this switch may not be a desire to silence the gospel, or that Wilken raises theological issues that makes some in the Synod who are. . . theologically loose. . . uncomfortable. It could simply be a decision based on desiring to change format.

Second - That being said - this disturbs me greatly - more so than anything that has happened in this Synod for the past 3 years - and certainly the most disturbing event outside of convention in the past decade. Why? Often we will hear people get riled up over something that a solitary pastor does that is dumb (and he doesn't get dismissed) - or the solitary solid pastor who is run out of his congregation wrongly (although that has happened quite a few times). Those are isolated instances - whereas this is something that is "Synodical". Is this headquarters in St. Louis shutting down solid theology - is it more than just a simple programming change - and if so, does it mean that I am next? Is the day coming where I won't fit in this Synod anymore - and my congregation will have to change or go? This may not be simply a matter of an individual outlier, but rather a seachange in the Synod's identity.

Third - either way, if it is simple foolish decision or harbinger of my being drummed out - what really is different? Is Christ no longer Crucified and Risen? Am I not bound to continue preaching God's Word clearly? If I lose a tool, my task remains the same. If I am kicked out of a Synod, is not Christ the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow? And maybe - just maybe it won't be a violent removal - maybe a peaceful division of the Synod might come - where this makes it clear that there are two strains of thought and that perhaps there ought to be two actual Synods. I don't know - and I don't have to know - my task remains the same. Preach you the Word and plant it home, to people who like it or like it not.

I so dislike drama.

Weekly Meditations

Well - this week I have restarted my weekly Meditations - an email I send out Sunday Night/ Monday morning that is a brief meditation on the previous Sunday's Epistle or Old Testament. It also gives the daily readings as found in LSB and any announcements or reminders for the congregation.

If you would like to get the Weekly Meditation - e-mail me at zionlahoma @ yahoo . com (without the spaces, of course) and I will add you.

Here is today's (minus the readings and announcements).

Greetings in the Name of our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

It has been a while since I last sent one of these out (looking back it seems as though I got out of the habit when heading down to Houston last summer for the Synodical Convention) - but the day after Easter is as good a time as any to restart this weekly e-mail back up again.

This morning let's look at yesterday's Epistle - 1 Corinthians 15:12-26, in particular verses 25 and 26 which read, "For [Jesus] must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death."

Any reading in 1 Corinthians is going to be interesting, because Paul is dealing with so many random and varied heresies - things that we instinctively know to avoid today. We know this today because God in His Wisdom had 1 Corinthians written. One of these errors. . . and one that is starting to creep up again today is a denial of the Resurrection - people who say that Jesus didn't really rise. This is who Paul is responding to in chapter 15.

Some people just didn't see the need for a Resurrection - after all (they would say), Christianity is about moral living, or how you do here in the world - and as for what comes next - eh, who cares? Even today, how much focus is given in mainstream, American Christianity to using the Church to make you a better person now, to have more wealth now, to be happier now? If you look at a Christian section in a book store, what is there more of - books on Christian doctrine and what we believe - or books that are basically Christian self-help or guides to wealth and happiness. What can you do yourself (following God's advice, mind you), to get _______ now - that seems to be the predominate American attitude.

Contrast that with a verse from the Psalms we quote every Sunday. "Our help is in the Name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth." I love starting the service that way - it reminds us how our relationship with God is established. We don't help ourselves - God is the one who helps us - and He has big things on His plate. He is our Creator, and as such, He wishes to restore us to what He made us to be, what we were before the fall. That means God Himself must fight against anything that would make us be less than what He made us to be. And then we hear from St. Paul - "The last enemy to be destroyed is death."

Oftentimes pictures of the Risen Christ will be called a "Christus Victor" - or Christ Victorious. It is a reminder that in His resurrection Christ has claimed victory over the last enemy - death. God, in His desire and task to restore you to whom He desires you to be has even vanquished death. This is our hope as Christians - that we need not worry about living our best life now - for we know what is to come.

"I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come." Because Christ has risen, we can look forward, we can expect our own resurrection. Because He lives, we know we will have life, true life, freed from all sin, in the world to come. This is our hope and our focus - the battles that Christ has won for us.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Sermon

Easter Day, 2008

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

What does this mean? Mary comes running to Peter and John – They’ve taken the body somewhere. . . and off Peter and John go. John gets to the tomb first, but he hesitates to go in. Peter though just dives on into the tomb, and it’s empty. Not only empty – but tidied up. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. What to make of this, what does this mean? Well, it’s not likely that someone took the body – because if you are taking the body, why do you unwrap all the burial linens and then put them back – and why do you end up folding the head cloth neatly, the part the covered the face? If you are going to abscond with a dead body, you don’t strip it first – and if you are grave robbing you don’t tend to clean up after yourself. What does this mean?

Peter and John give it some thought – they know something is going on, but they don’t piece it together yet. They return home and ponder these things. But not Mary – she is still weeping at the tomb. She gets her nerve up, looks into the tomb again, just to see if anything’s changed – and it has. Two angels are there, just sitting, waiting. One of the Angels asks her, “Why are you weeping?” They’ve taken His Body, and I don’t know where it is. So distraught that she doesn’t pause and think, “Wait, there are two fellows here who weren’t here when John and Peter were, who have suddenly appeared – what does this mean?” She’s frantic, doesn’t piece it together. In fact, she turns away from the angels – and sees a Risen Man standing behind her. She says to Him, “Do you know where they’ve taken the body – I’ll carry It away. . .” Finally, when Jesus speaks, “Mary” – only then does she see, she recognize Him, she knows that He is alive. Then Jesus puts up a hand – wait, don’t cling, don’t hug me yet. I haven’t ascended to my Father and your Father. And so Mary nods and runs off and lets all disciples know Who she has seen.

So what does all this mean? The story is familiar, we know it, we see it every Sunday if we happen to look at this window here. What does it mean? What is the implication, what does the fact that Christ Jesus is risen from the dead mean to us? For know this dear friends – this is not just some nice story, not just some tale that doesn’t impact or affect us. No, the resurrection of Jesus means everything for us. In fact, Paul is willing to say, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. If there is no Easter, everything else in Christianity is pointless. It all hinges here, it all rests on Christ striding forth from the tomb.

What does this mean? Christ’s resurrection means that the fall has been undone. Since Adam and Eve fell in the garden, since they decided that they were not content to simply tend God’s creation and wanted to rule it their way instead, since they rebelled and fell into sin – sin and death has been the way of the world. We’ve been at each other’s throats, cruel, callow, coarse and crude. And then we die. But look and see what happens on Easter. Christ Jesus strides from the tomb, a Living Man! A Man for whom death has no hold! A Man who lives and never more shall die! The Fall is broken, the wages of sin, our sin, shattered. And this is applied to us – because dear friends, we are no longer simply children of Adam doomed to sin – but we are the brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus, we are His family, His line – and we share in what is His.

Jesus Christ has become the New Adam, the One from whom we get our identity. Again, St. Paul – “For as by a man came death, by a Man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.” We have a new and better Adam, a new and better Man who defines us – that is Christ Jesus. What Adam failed in – Jesus succeeds at. While Adam by rights succumbed to death – Christ passes through death and onto life, and our new Adam brings us life. Did you notice the neat little connection in our Gospel between Adam and Jesus? When Mary first sees Christ, who does she think He is? She thinks He’s the gardener – the One who tends the garden. Well, she actually was sort of right – Christ Jesus cleans up the world after the Garden of Eden – what Adam disdained Christ restores – Christ rises and we have paradise restored, given back to us, promised and prepared.

And we wait for it – we who are living now, we wait for the paradise to come. It has been given us, it has been ensured – did you not hear the Word of Christ Jesus. He goes to “My Father and your Father, My God and your God.” What is His is now yours, given to you, promised to you, belonging to you. Christ’s resurrection – that is yours. Christ’s life – that is yours. Christ’s eternal home in heaven – that is yours. He gives it to you freely. The life and salvation which He has won by His resurrection is your new birthright – given you when you were born anew in the Waters of Holy Baptism – when you were brought into God’s family, when you were united to Christ. This is what Easter means. What happened on that Easter morning so many years ago is what your future shall be. You too shall stride out of your tomb on the last day – when Christ returns you shall look upon Him with a Glorified Body just like His and you will go with Him to the Father, to the joys of heaven. This is our hope, this is our joy. Christ paved the way for forgiveness through His Death, and Christ gives us life through His resurrection.

What we also ought to remember this morning, dear friends, is that what we know, what we understand about Easter – not everyone understands. Easter Morning, Mary didn’t get it, John and Peter didn’t get it. How did they end up understanding? Mary understood when Jesus spoke to her. Peter and John and the rest of the disciples understand when Mary announces to them what she has seen and what Christ has said. Paul says that the resurrection is preached. Faith, dear friends, comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word. What Christ did by rising – it doesn’t just have meaning for us, for those of us sitting here in this room today. It has meaning for the entire world, for every man, woman, and child. We know it – we’ve been in it for years and years, we are used to it, we know the story. Easter comes, and the story of Christ’s resurrection is so familiar to us – well, how many of you this past week spent more time pondering what to make for Easter dinner or shopping for Easter clothes than you did pondering the Death and Resurrection of our Lord? It happens. It’s familiar to us – and I would have been able to say the same thing about myself if I hadn’t had to write the sermons for this week – writing a sermon sort of makes you think about things.

What we can forget is that what we know, what is familiar to us, what we can take for granted – isn’t known to everyone. Mary sees, Mary hears – and then she tells. She spreads the Good News. There are many people out there who need to hear this Good News as well – and I’m not talking here about moving to some strange land and learning and new language – I’m not even talking about moving to Fort Wayne and going to the Seminary, even though Jay has and a few of you gentlemen probably could as well – but rather simply this. Your friends, your neighbors, how many people who know you don’t know what Easter means? Even if they know the story, yeah, yeah, yeah – Jesus rose – how many of them know what this means for them, how this impacts them and their life? Faith comes by hearing. Our opportunity, our chance is to speak what we know – and this doesn’t even come from us – it is God working in us and through us. But recognize and remember that people need to hear this. This will change their lives.

But always, always remember that Christ’s resurrection changes our lives as well. What we were, trapped in sin, selfish, self-centered, bound to struggle and fight one another, bound for nothing but an eternity in a tomb – that is now is Gone. You are forgiven, and not only forgiven, not only have you had your slate wiped clean – but you have been given life – life so strong and powerful, Christ’s own life, He who now dwells within you – that even death cannot overcome you, that even those steel vaults in the ground at cemeteries will have to yield and give way to you. And this is not just some future life – but it is your life now. Christ lives and dwells within you – and He uses you. He uses you to tend His creation, putting your time and your talents to work in service to your neighbor. He uses you as His own voice, speaking His Word. He makes you to be ever more and more like Him until that day comes when we see Him face to face and are as He is.

This, dear friends, is what Easter means. It is not just some little old story, but it is the true reality of your life, who you are – for Christ your brother is risen, and so too you shall rise. Christ your brother lives, and so do you now. This is what His Word has accomplished in You. God grant that His Word go forth ever more into the world, even until the day He returns. Christ is Risen – He is risen indeed, Alleluia.

Good Friday Sermon

Good Friday 2008

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

This Lententide, we have seen Jesus do it all. Satan comes to tempt Him – Satan defeated. Be gone, Satan, for it is written, “You shall worship the LORD your God and Him only shall you serve.” Sin comes crouching at His door, the disciples desire Him to treat a woman cruelly, send her away. Rather, Jesus helps the woman and sends temptation on its way. Christ shows love, and yet doesn’t demand praise or thanks. He cares for people, even does miracles for them, and yet does not elevate Himself. They want to make Him king by force and He just slides away. No, Christ is centered, He is focused on His battle to win us freedom and salvation. The Devil is defeated. Sin is conquered. And now, only one foe remains. Death.

Death is a frightening foe for us. It is always there, looming in the distance, or maybe it is not so distant any more for some of us. It’s the inevitable – death and taxes, the two things that always seem to be waiting. Sometimes even we Christians wish to ignore death, push it off into a corner and pretend it isn’t there – tell us, O Pastor, about how to beat down sin, tell us how to resist temptation, how to resist Satan! Those are good things to ask, but there is one other aspect of Christianity that we need to look at. You see, dear friends, we ought not forget how to face death – how to stare it down. Indeed, our faith, the Christian life is about conquering over death. That is why we are gathered here tonight, Good Friday. That is why we meditate on our Lord upon the Cross tonight.

How strange it must have been to be there – to see Jesus Christ, the Son of God, maker of all things – to see this Jesus beaten and lashed, to see Him nailed to a tree. How strange, knowing that He not only didn’t deserve any of this – for we see injustice all the time in this world, but knowing that He could have put a stop to it – that at a simple sign from Him legions of Angels would have come and swept Him away to safety. And yet – there He is. The lash falls. The crown of thorns is placed upon His head. The nails are driven. And we know the why – we know why He is there – He is there in our place – He suffers in our stead – by His stripes we are healed – and sin is forgiven. Yet there He is upon the cross, suffering so. To let so many things happen to Him, it is just beyond imagining, what He endures willingly for our sake, truly willingly, for He could have stopped it at any time. And there is one thing yet that Christ had to endure, had to face, had to defeat. When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished,” and He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit. One last thing Christ had to face down, and that is death.

Do you fear death? Does the idea of it make you uncomfortable? It is understandable if it does. Death is wrong, utterly wrong. We were created by God to be alive, to be living beings – body and spirit joined together in harmony and unity. And [God] breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being. That’s how we were made, what we were made to be. Death does away with that – the spirit torn from the body, the body left to decay, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It is fundamentally wrong, death isn’t just a part of life or any of the things we try and tell ourselves, death is the complete opposite of what our lives are to be – and it is frightening. It leads to the unknown. It means we lose control, that we no longer have any say in our fate.

The cry goes out – It is finished! His Spirit departs. And there, upon the cross, Christ Jesus, the very Lord of Life – hangs dead. The soldiers even check – stab Him, just in case He’s putting on a good fake job. No, He is dead. Christ’s Spirit and Body separated – Jesus’ flesh lifeless. Jesus dies.

But we are not to look at this simply with awe or fear or remorse. As in all things, we listen to God’s Word, and when our Lord speaks we give heed to what He says. And did you note what our Lord said right before He died. It is finished. What do you see when you see our Lord crucified, water and blood flowing from His side? Not just another dead human, not just another Body – but you see, dear friends, that it is finished.

Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. Christ Jesus came down from heaven and took on His Body for a purpose – to win you salvation, to win you life, to free you from your bondage to sin and the Devil. We must remember this when we think of Christ Jesus and why He came down to earth in the first place. Christ’s plan was not to show you how to live – you know the Law. Christ’s plan was to amaze with miracles – oh look, water to wine – that was just the evidence of Who He is. Christ’s plan was not to establish earthly glory or show you how to enrich your pocketbook. He came to free you from death. This is His task, this is His Goal. It is finished. He has done what He set out to do.

But how is that – how is death defeated? We know what death is – it is the wages of sin, our just deserts, what we deserve. Christ didn’t deserve death – and yet death takes Him anyway. Satan cackles with glee and greed seeing the Son of God upon the cross, Satan rejoices that Jesus would suffer so. But Satan over steps His bounds – for Christ Jesus has no sin, deserves no death. And He dies – and He declares out it is finished. And so, Death is finished, dear friends. In claiming the One without sin death forfeited its claim upon you. Death overstepped its bounds, and in so doing lost its power. It has become a temporary thing. When death laid claim to Christ, death lost all claim upon you. And that is the moment – that is what makes this Friday Good. Christ Jesus dies – which means that death is done away with, that it can not hold us forever. Death ends, and we shall be restored to life, body and spirit rejoined – because death bit off more than it could chew when it took on Christ. Death is done.

It is finished. The work that Christ set out to do, to win you, to claim you for eternity is done. And all that remains is the pause – the waiting – for we know that in all things Christ pleased the Father, that God was satisfied with the job that Jesus has done for us. And the Father will show His approval, will demonstrate that what Jesus did was successful, that sin, death, and the devil are defeated. Joseph and Nicodemus hurriedly take the Body to the tomb – but it will not stay there. The women make their plans for proper care on Sunday morning, but it will not be needed. They heard but did not yet understand. It is finished, dear friends – all of Christ’s humiliation, all the things He suffered in our stead – they are all finished – and all that remains for Him is exultation. Wait and see. Amen.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Maundy Thursday Sermon

Maundy Thursday 2008 – John 13:1-15

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. One of the interesting things about John’s Gospel is that it works differently than the other Gospels. Through John’s Gospel we almost get a behind the scenes look at how Christ and His Disciples interacted – how things work. That’s what we see in our Gospel lesson tonight – John putting things in perspective. Do you wish, dear Christian, to understand Maundy Thursday? Do you wish, dear friends, to understand what the Lord’s Supper mean, why it is there, what it is for? Look to the Gospel of John. Why does Jesus do what He does on Maundy Thursday – He acts out of love. Love for the disciples, love for you. Christ sees the Cross before Him – He knows that His time of teaching will be coming to an end, so Christ prepares the Disciples and the Church for life until His second coming.

In the middle of the Passover Supper – in the middle of the evening where the Lord’s Supper was instituted – Jesus does something odd. Actually, the fact that Jesus does something odd isn’t in and of itself odd – God likes to use object lessons that make people think – just read the book of Ezekiel if you doubt this. However, in the middle of Supper, Christ pauses, gets up, and starts washing the disciples’ feet, wiping them with His own towel. And when Peter is perplexed, Jesus says to Him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” So let us pause tonight and ponder and understand what Christ is doing – for indeed, in this footwashing of the disciples we see an analogy for all that Christ does for us, and indeed, how He keeps us in the one true faith.

Know and understand that footwashing was a job for a servant. People wore sandals – walked on dusty dirt roads. Sweat and leather and dirt combine to make a grimy, smelly mixture – and so it was generally the lowest servant who did this. It was the job you didn’t want. You had to be low, on your hands and knees, you had to handle smelly feet – indeed, you had to wipe them off with your towel, so that dirt and smell clings to your own stuff. Is this not what Christ does for us? When Christ Jesus comes into this world, He comes as a servant – and He comes to clean us from the grime and filth of our sin. And how does He do this? He does this by taking our sin unto Himself – the sin that had clung to us, Christ takes upon Himself, and holding on to that Sin He goes to the Cross, so that sin, our sin, is put to the death. He sees our sin and says, “I will serve, let me get that for you, let me suffer so that you may be clean.” Christ is the servant who shows love – Christ is the servant who takes up our sin – even if it means getting down in the muck in our place, even if it means doing the job that we can’t, that we wouldn’t want to do. Understand what you see when you see Christ – you see God willingly become the servant of sinful, dirty man, to clean us with forgiveness.

Peter, good old stubborn Peter sees that Christ is lowering Himself, and Peter gets a little put off. Never Lord! Peter, this is what I have to do. Indeed, as Christians we are defined by receiving forgiveness and cleansing from God. And then Peter chimes in with "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. This is the description of our life in the Church. We have been baptized, we have been cleaned, washed of our sin. And yet, what do we do – we wander the streets of this world, we live out our lives as Christians here amongst our neighbors. And we get dirty. We don’t live as we ought, we fail, we sin, we forget to show love. God knows that. God knows the trials, the struggles you face against sin – and so God says, “Let me help you with that.” It is informative to know that Jesus does this in the middle of the Passover meal – Jesus pauses in the very meal during which He institutes the Lord’s Supper to give this demonstration. Why? Because it explains the purpose of the Lord’s Supper. Luther asks us in the Catechism “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?” to which we respond, “These words, ‘given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” We need forgiveness over and over again. We are clean, we are in Christ, but in the trials of this life, our feet get dirty – and if we don’t get them cleaned, we can start to stink. We can start to get infection, our feet could even stop working and we could waste away. God doesn’t desire this – so He calls us – take and eat, take and drink – be forgiven again, be prepared for your life in this world, stride forth clean and forgiven by Me. We need frequent care, we need forgiveness often – and so Christ leaves us such a wonderful gift in His Supper – See, here I am for you – Here is My Body, Here is My Blood – and now you are clean, you are prepared. The Supper gives us forgiveness.

But our Lord has one more lesson to teach with His footwashing this night. When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you understand what I have done to you? [13] You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. [14] If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. [15] For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Do you understand? Jesus here isn’t instructing us to simply wash each other’s feet. We learn from His example. Just as Christ served and showed love – we too are to serve and show love, even if it means hardship for us. Just as Christ desired that the disciples be forgiven, we too are to cast aside grudges and hurts and seek for our neighbor forgiveness, proclaiming to them what Christ has done. Just as Christ shows love to the disciples, we are to show love to our neighbors. We call this night Maundy Thursday from the word “Maundatum” – command – like the word “Mandate”. It’s a command – and Christ says later in John 13 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” These are our marching orders until Christ comes again – that as we trudge through this sinful world, we show love to our fellow sinners. That just as we receive forgiveness from Christ, we remember that our neighbor who sins against us, who has hurt us is simply another fellow sinner whom God loves, whom God desires to forgive. This is what Jesus teaches us with the footwashing – and this is what Jesus prepares us for and strengthens us towards in the Supper. Hear again the prayer that we often pray after receiving our Lord’s Body and Blood. “We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith towards You and in fervent love toward one another. What Christ desires of us – that we love one another – He provides us the strength and power for in His Supper. What Christ desires for us – that we be forgiven – He gives to us in His Supper.

Learn from Christ’s example, dear friends – how love is to be the shape of your life. Learn from Christ’s example, dear friends, that He knows how difficult this is for you – and learn and see the lengths to which He will go to clean you and support you through the trials of this life. This, dear friends, is the gift He gives to you in His Supper. Amen.

Synergy vs. Workmanship?

So I am reading the book "The Power of the Word" by John Breck - which is an Eastern Orthodox look at the Word of God - not just in terms of "the Bible" but in terms we Lutherans would recognize as "Word and Sacrament" - knowing that a Sacrament is the Word attached to something that is physical.

It is an interesting book - and there is much that I like about it (there is a strong focus on the Word at work in Worship - which is an excellent emphasis). However, what is interesting is that Breck defends Higher Criticism - although he tries to limit the extent to which it is rightly used as a "science" as opposed to flawed interpretations based upon it. These two ideas seemed contradictory to me - that God is truly active in His Word, but then, well, when reading Scripture you might be just getting some wrong junk because of the human author's problems.

He writes something interesting along these lines that gave me pause to think. "The Nicene Creed affirms that the Spirit 'spoke by the prophets,' and Christian faith accepts without question His inspirational activity in shaping both the prophetic word and the written text of Scripture (This does not imply, however, a doctrine of literal or verbal inspiration. The Spirit acts by 'synergy,' i.e. by cooperating with the human agent in such a way that the inspired word remains a human word, subject to the historical, cultural and linguistic conditions of its time)."

This demonstrates what I think is the fundamental flaw I end up seeing in Eastern approaches - synergism. Now, that a Lutheran would be death on synergism isn't surprising. However, this isn't synergism in terms of salvation, it's synergism in terms of action - and I think it denigrates God a bit.

Why do I say this? How do I suddenly become a limitor on God? If there is "synergy" I can only put in what I can put in - I can only pull so much. What of "I can do all things through God who strengthens me" (except escape cultural limitations)? What of worry not what you will say in that hour?

Here's the problem - it's Ephesians 2. . . not verses 8 and 9, but 1 and 10. We were dead in trespasses but now we are God's Workmanship. God's. He makes us into who we are - He makes us beyond what we in and of ourselves by sinful nature are. The Christian life is not a simple matter of synergism - not just we work with God. It's a matter of no longer being us who live, but Christ who lives in us - Christ who uses us to ends and in works which we are not even aware of.

This does not mean that we lose our individual characteristics, for we are workmanship, pots are still separate pots even though their Maker is One and the Same - but the functionality and the value all derive from the working of the Creator. But the focus has to be upon what God does - not just in Scripture or the service but in every moment of our lives.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Pause before the plunge

In many ways, I would love having service every day of Holy Week. For me as a person I think it would be beneficial (corporate worship is just different from personal devotion) and for me as a Pastor I think it would be a wonderful time of preparation - it's amazing how conducting services prepares you for later services. This year I decided to forgo the Tre Ore' simply because I didn't know where my stamina would be at (discretion and valor and all that) - and I know I am going to miss it.

Last week I was running on adrenaline - and so I was incredibly productive. I got Holy Week sermon drafts done. I had a funeral on my day off, so nerves before service had me doing bulletins. Same thing with another meeting on Saturday. And I got stuff done. Yesterday I got the RD for Easter's sermon done. That means this year there is nothing on my schedule until Thursday evening. Bulletins are mostly set up, rough drafts of sermons are set up - and so what I have is time for study and revision. There will be a different benefit this year. Instead of the immersion in Holy Week that I am used to - today and tomorrow - and even Thursday day will be the pause before the plunge.

It will be interesting to spend time in reflective (unrushed) study - study with plenty of time. For Holy Week. This is what I am used to in the summer - it will be interesting to get to approach the passion with the same time frame as one of the Trinity Season. It will be. . . interesting.

Palm Sunday Confirmation Sermon

This past Sunday we had six young adults confirmed. In my previous 3 years (this is my fourth) we had 4 (and also one who studied under me for his family's congregation 30 miles away). We also have had 2 adult confirmations in the past month, 2 baptisms, and we have two transfers in adult instruction, and after easter we will have two adults start instruction.

This Sunday was also the highest attendence on a Sunday since I've been here. The Church was almost full - it was strange to have a sermon of Sunday length (as opposed to a funeral sermon) with that many people to try to keep eye contact with.

Here is the sermon

Palm Sunday/Confirmation 2008 – John 12 and Philippians 2

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

That first Palm Sunday, it would have been a sight to see, wouldn’t it? The crowds all singing and hailing Jesus, the roadway covered with cloaks and coats so that even the donkey Christ was on wouldn’t have to get her feet dirty. The Palm Branches waving, the cheers, the acclamation – it would have been something to see. But what would we have been looking at? What would we be marveling at? The massive crowds? Would we have been glorying in the throng of voices raised high – or seeing the waving palm branches and caught up in that? John records for us “His disciples did not understand these things at first.” Chances are we might have gotten caught up in the moment, not recognized what we were seeing either. The triumphal entry was a time of excitement and joy – but what so few of those people there knew, in fact, what perhaps only Jesus realized, is that the procession of Palm Sunday leads directly to our Lord’s Passion, which we just heard. The road into Jerusalem is the road unto the cross – and as He enters Jerusalem, that is where Christ’s focus is – upon the Cross and the salvation He will win there.

The crowds, they didn’t see the cross. They saw a miracle worker – who knew what else Jesus might do when He was in Jerusalem! The miracle worker who had been working the small towns was making his way to the big time! This fellow can even raise the dead – let’s make Him feel welcome and see what He can do. The Pharisees, their thoughts were on their own authority and pull. “Look, the whole world has gone after Him. We’re finished – no one is going to listen to us anymore! We won’t be the high and mighty of Israelite society anymore, what are we going to do? Roman soldiers, they probably got a little nervous about a riot, things like that happen in Jerusalem. And the Disciples – they still don’t get it. Maybe they think that it’s just about time that their Lord gets the recognition that He deserves.

All of these, all these people focused on worldly things. What cool trick is Jesus going to pull out of His hat? What is this going to do to the social order? We’ll it’s about time that people get a clue and start praising this Jesus that WE’VE been following all along. Miracles, power, respect – but none of these are what’s on Jesus’ mind as He enters Jerusalem. He sees not a throng that boosts His ego, He sees not conspirators or even clueless followers. He sees sinful men, lost sheep, people trapped and bound in sin – people who will be lost to Him for all eternity unless He strides to the Cross and pays the penalty for sin in their place. And so He does. Christ strides to the Cross, ready to win salvation for His people. His thoughts are not on Himself, but rather He desires to show love to others, show love to us, whatever the cost.

With this in mind, dear friends, and especially you, Lauren, Erick, David, Zach, Trenton, and Emily, with your confirmation and profession of the Christian faith just a few minutes away, listen again to what our Epistle lesson says. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. This dear friends, is to be our minds, this is to be how we are to think, how we are to strive to think, who we are to try to be. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. In the waters of Holy Baptism God claimed as His own, washed away all your sins. We know that, but not only that, He claimed you as His own, made you His own dwelling place, made you the temple of His Holy Spirit. Christ dwells in you, and because of this, He desires to train you and teach you to be more like He is. And what is Jesus like, what is this mind that we are to have, how are we to approach things?

Though He was in the form of God, [He] did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped. Jesus didn’t try and take all that was by rights His. Jesus wasn’t concerned first and foremost about getting His due. He’s God, He created the World, by Him all things were made. And He’s suppose to suffer and die? Yet Jesus never protests, never says “I’m God, after all, why should this happen to Me?” He doesn’t grasp on to rights or power or control. Likewise with us – as Christians our first concern is not to be what we can get, not what is in it for us. Our rights aren’t things to be grasped either – we turn the cheek, if 1 is demanded of us, we freely give 2 – because like Christ we don’t cling to what we think we deserve. No, like Christ our focus is to be elsewhere.

But [He] made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant. Jesus didn’t seek to be a big deal – but rather He made Himself nothing – He served. He was content to have His focus be on the other guy. What can I do to serve, what can I do to show love? This too is what our mind is to be like – this is what it means to be an adult, mature Christian – to seek not to please yourself, but to show love and care to your neighbor. Think on Christ’s entry into Jerusalem – even as the crowds were lauding Him – on He goes, right to the Cross for the sake of those very people. And it is hard for us to do this. Our minds like to be self centered – we like to put ourselves first.

Confirmands – in a few moments you will publicly confess the Christian faith. The other adult members of this Congregation, they’ve done the same. When you do so, you are swearing that you will strive to be like Jesus, that you will seek to put your neighbor first, that your first priority will be to show love to your neighbor. That you will try to be the person God made you to be in the waters of Baptism when He claimed you as His own. That, dear friends, is what we all swore at our own Confirmation. We promised to strive and struggle, to always try to show love, to hold on to the Christian faith as we learned it from Scripture and the Small Catechism. And yet we do know what happens. You have learned the Ten Commandments, you know what they say about you – that you have failed. That’s what we come here, why we start our service Confessing our sin, admitting to God “We haven’t done like we ought.” But we also know what God has done for us. And being found in Human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a Cross. That which we struggle to do, Christ does perfectly for us. And indeed, He goes to the Cross for us, pays the penalty for our sin – even shouts from the Cross “Father, forgive them.”

And so, that is why we gather here. We know that God will forgive us, that He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God will with His forgiveness preserve and nurture the life He gave you at your Baptism. His focus is upon serving you, giving you what you need for life. In fact, as we will see and study especially this upcoming Thursday night, He does so through His Holy Supper, where He not only gives you forgiveness for what you have done wrong, but He blesses you with His own strength and life so that you can be more like Him, that your mind can conform and be more and more like His mind – so that you can look and be more and more like Jesus. This is what He desires for you, this is what He began in you at your Baptism, and this is what He will bring about in you with His Word and with His Supper.

Paul tells us in Philippians what our reaction to this is. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the Name that is above every Name, so that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. We just confessed this a few moments ago in the Nicene Creed. It’s what the Church does – we receive God’s gifts of forgiveness and salvation, and then we confess, we proclaim what Christ has done. Lauren, Erick, David, Zach, Trenton, Emily – when are confirmed, you are publicly adding your voice to this congregation’s – you are saying that what we confess here about Christ is your confession, what you believe as well. And that is good and God pleasing – and know that God will support and sustain you in that confession through the Word of life and forgiveness that He brings to you. May God keep you steadfast in His Word, and may God keep all of us who like have made this confession as well, may God keep us all steadfast and united and forgiven in His Word – so that in all things and trials, we see Christ the Crucified as our Lord, and learn to show love to our neighbor. Amen.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The intensity of Lent

I love the intensity of Lent. I love the rush of getting sermons ready, one after another. I love having multiple services to prepare, the fact that confirmands buckle down because they realize 2 years of work is coming to fruition. It's the time of the Church Year that feels like the Gospel of Mark - where we are thrown into our next task instead of leisurely strolling.

There are times when intensity is a good thing. You can't have it all the time, otherwise you break down - but so much happens, so much comes together in Lent, that if you dive in yourself, you see the connections. Palm Sunday leads to Maundy Thursday which leads to Good Friday - it's all interconnected, it's all the same thing. The steps in Jerusalem are the same steps that lead to Gethsemane, the same steps upon the Via Delarosa, the same steps of Joseph and Nicodemus carrying the lifeless Body of our Lord to a tomb.

Lent, especially Holy Week gets rushed - but when you are in it, things slow down - because all that you point to, all the separate things that much be hurriedly addressed - they all are nothing but Christ and Him crucified. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord - The Son obeys the Father's will. He kneels to wash the feet of the disciples - A servant's form like mine He wore/ to lead the devil captive. He institutes the Supper - as oft as ye break this bread and drink this cup, ye do show forth the Lord's Death 'til He do come. He prays in Gethsemane - Learn of Jesus Christ to die. He is mocked and scourged - All this I suffer for your good. God Himself hangs upon the Cross and does not come down -He has for us the Law obeyed and thus the Father's vengeance stayed.

At Lent, like no other time, do we see so clearly Christ Crucified. The intensity, the pressure collapses everything down to this singular point - Christ Crucified. God grant that this is where our focus would always be, in times of intensity or in times of relaxation!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Lent 4 Sermon

Lent 4 – March 2nd, 2008 – John 6:1-15

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

My sermons are short. I don’t expect that any one of you here thinks that there is the slightest possibility that I am going to still be in this pulpit, say, 20 minutes from now. 15 minutes is a long one from me. And as for the Church service, if we go over an hour, that’s a long one. You all expect to be well out of here by 12:30. This is how we think, this is what we are used to, and because of this, we don’t get the full setting of what is going on in our Gospel. After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberius. And a large crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples. We aren’t referring to a short little period of time, no longer than a tv show, but hours upon hours – that’s what these people have spent listening to and following Jesus. They didn’t drive to Church, rather they walked miles following Jesus. They didn’t sit on padded pews, but sat on a rocky hillside to hear what He would preach.

And then, Jesus pauses, and He looks at His disciples and ask, “Okay, how are we going to feed all these folks, since they’ve followed Me out here into the middle of nowhere?” Jesus knows what He’s going to do, but He wants to see what the disciples are thinking. And they are stumped. Well, we’ve got a kid here with 5 rolls and a couple of small fish – but that won’t do much good. And we know what comes next – Jesus feeds the 5000. Has them sit down, blesses the food, and it just doesn’t run out. In fact, there are leftovers, 12 baskets full of leftovers, each disciple gets to lug one around. And the people know what they’ve just seen. When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, “This is the Prophet who is to come into the world!” **THE** Prophet – the Messiah, the promised one. That must be who this Jesus is. And then Jesus just slinks away – Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself. Jesus slides away. I’m not here to get into politics – I’m not here to overthrow the Romans or give you a national health care plan – and so Jesus slides away.

Dear friends, this text is instructive. Do you see how Jesus chooses to care for these people? He cares for them in two vital ways. The first way is that He cares for them Spiritually. Jesus has been preaching, Jesus has been teaching – He has been expounding the Word of God for them – a great and wonderful thing. And they can’t get enough. He goes to the other side of a lake and they follow Him there – give us more, preach more, teach more. A good and wonderful gift. Jesus provides for these people Spiritually. However, our Lord does more than just provide Spiritually. He provides for their physical needs as well. Jesus looks out upon them, sees the crowd that has gathered, and He sees that they are hungry, that their bodies are tired and sore, that stomachs are starting to rumble. And so He provides for them. And He does so without a lot of hoopla. Just has them sit down, blesses the food, and hands it out. Sort of simple and straight forward – I will provide for them. And when suddenly the crowd gets fixated on what He provides physically – this Jesus can mean free food for life – Jesus slides away. I’ve provided, you are taken care of, and that is good enough.

The fourth Sunday in Lent is a pause, a break in the season of Lent. The last three Sundays have seen intense Gospel lessons with Law that comes and smacks us right upside the head. What we see today, what we remember today, is that God indeed understands the difficulties we face in life, understands the intensity with which we struggle against sin and Satan, the hardships we struggle against in this life. We look at this Gospel lesson today with this in mind. Our focus could be on how this is a fantastic demonstration of the truth that Jesus is True God. Our focus could be on how much those people wanted to hear God’s Word – do we? Our focus could be on the disciples’ confusion, and how often we don’t understand what God is doing. Each of those could make a fine sermon, but here, in the midst of Lent, we hear this text for another purpose. Just as God cared for those people in the midst of their hardships, we learn and know and understand that God cares for us in the midst of our hardships, in the midst of our trials. Let’s compare – how does God care for you in the exact same ways in which He cared for those 5000 there?

First, God cares for your Spiritual needs. Lent is a season of spiritual trial. Lent is that long look in the mirror, that time of self-examination knowing that you aren’t going to like what you see all time. The simple fact is that there is struggle against sin – people that you have to love, that are sort of hard to love. Sacrifices you have to make for the sake of your neighbor that you don’t look forward to. As Christ will put it in the Garden of Gethsame, bitter cups yet to be drank. And that’s the way life always is, and sin has spilled out aplenty, and we can see it in our lives easily – families hurting and seemingly broken, friendships that have fallen on hard times, neighbors that scorn and mock. It’s not easy. But know this. Christ Jesus your Lord sees your struggle, knows what you are facing, for He Himself faced Satan’s temptations, He Himself was mocked and scorned, in fact, His brothers thought He was an embarrassment to the family. Jesus understands. And Jesus provides for you what you need to endure, to conquer. He provides you with His Word. And He does always. Has there ever been a time where Jesus has refused to come to You in His Word? Ever tried to open your bible and found out that God glued shut? I didn’t think so. Has there been a time where Christ’s death and resurrection for your forgiveness hasn’t been trumpeted from this pulpit and thousands like it all over the country, where the message of God’s salvation hasn’t resounded? Shoot, we can turn on our radios and hear Lutheran preaching on it. Has there been a time where God has ever said, “Eh, I’m going to ignore your baptism, your on your own again”? No – God continually offers you spiritual care in His Word and Sacraments. That’s what He does. We see this from our Epistle, Acts 2, the day of Pentecost, birth of the New Testament Church. And what do people do? And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Same thing we are doing right now. John was an apostle, and oh look, a sermon, teaching from what John taught us about Christ in His Gospel. Check. Fellowship and the breaking of bread – On the night when He was betrayed, our Lord took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it! Check. The prayers. We’ve done the collect, those words are probably 1200 years old or so, and then we will do the Lord’s Prayer, we know they were saying that one, we end with the Aaronic Benediction, they’ve been doing that since the time of our Old Testament lesson. Check. Same thing, same ways, God is consistent. God provides and will continue to provide for the Spiritual needs of His people. And this He does for you, this is His love for you.

And there is more. God not only provides for you Spiritually, but we see and remember that God provides for you Physically as well. Now if you followed the old tradition of giving up something for lent, of fasting, you’d be noticing it by now – so this point that God provides physically would stand out all the greater. But it is true – has God ever stopped providing for your physical needs? No, He cares for you, and until the day that He calls you to heaven, you can be sure that He always will. Doesn’t mean that there aren’t times where we cease to be satisfied – the 5000 wanted to grab Jesus, make Him King and say to Him, “We want more bread.” There are times where we want to grab on to Jesus and see if He’ll give us more stuff – where we think clinging to Jesus means turning Him upside down and shaking to see if any more loose change falls out of His pockets. When we get caught up in the cares of this life, when we are worried and frantic and nervous – which I know can happen this time of year – crops are in the field and what is going to happen to them, calves are popping out, doing all the taxes for last year, spring and storms are on their way – it can be a mighty anxious time. And we can fret, and we can worry. But when we pause, when we relax, we see and remember that in all times and in all places God has indeed provided for us. Like the 5000 we follow Him and hear His Word – and then we look up and behold, He has provided for us. This is why in Acts the believers could day by day attend the temple together and receive their food with gladness – because they understood that God provides for them. Is this not true in your life? Pause for moment – Has not God seen to it that you are provided for, even in the times when you had no clue how things were going to work out. This is His love for you – this is what He reminds us of in this Gospel text.

With this in mind, we have confidence, even in the face of trials in this life. We follow our Lord’s footsteps as He strides towards Holy Week, and it’s culmination on Good Friday. We follow our Lord to Gethsemane, we too have our trials from Satan and our struggles and our hard times – but all of these, all of these we face knowing God’s love for us – indeed we have seen it all of our days, and we know that come what may, in whatever difficulty we find ourselves in, Christ Jesus is still our Lord, still our God who never fails to show us His love, who never fails to provide us the forgiveness and strength which we need for matters both spiritual and physical. This is His love for you, which endures forever. Amen.