Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Great Quote from Luther

"Where these two teachings, the Law and the Gospel, stay bright and clear and are correctly understood, there the sun and the moon, the two great lights which God has created to rule the day and the night send forth their rays. There light and darkness can be distinguished. There Gospel is the sun; the Law is the moon. The moon looks like a red-hot kettle when the sun does not shine on it. Without the Gospel the Law is ugly and terrible. But when the sun shines on the moon, the moon has a bright, white light. The moon rules the night; the sun rules the day. The Law serves this temporal life; the Gospel serves eternal life. As long as these two lights shine, one can distinguish day from night, light from darkness. But when these two lights are gone, nothing but night and blindness and darkness prevail."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Danger of the New

A friend got me thinking on the Eastern Orthodox - and basically here is my quick and dirty take on Eastern Orthodoxy. For the first 800 years of Christianity in the East, they have very strong logical approach. They want to answer and define questions. This is why you have controversies in the East that never arise in the West (and are in general befuddling to the typical Westerner). But then, after 787 and 450 years of bloody theological fighting, the East says, "Enough! We will say nothing new about Jesus! Only repeat what has been said."

They became afraid of the new. New expressions lead to chaos and anger. . . and as a result of this, the end up having more and more of their creative energies expended upon mystical expressions and the like and move further and further away from precision in language. And of course, this can lead to wonky things.

However, they missed the point. The danger was not that an expression is "new" - but rather that it is wrong. That it is not faithful.

Likewise, Lutherans can be very traditional, very distrust of anything that is new. This isn't the way it should be. We shouldn't drink every glass of koolaid offered us, but rather we should with patience analyze and determine if something is good.

We acknowledge that the Church needs reform, needs to be restored - not to some mythical purity of the past, but needs to be restored and called to repentance because it is full of sinners who will wander according to their sinful nature. Simply trying to do what we did yesterday is not the repentant nature of the Reformation.

Do not be afraid of the new. . . rather repent of sin and constantly seek out error, and repent of it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Yesterday's Sermon

Don't ask me why I forgot to post this yesterday. . .

Trinity 17 – September 26,th 2010 – Luke 14:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Pride. Pride can be a horribly bad thing for a person. It’s pride that keeps a man from asking directions when he is lost. It’s pride that keeps so many silly feuds and spats going long after they should have been resolved and mended. It’s pride that makes a one person avoid another, instead of simply being able to give the simple, polite apology that is needed, keeps one from forgiving someone else. Pride can ruin relationships, bring sorrow and misery and loneliness. We know this – sadly we’ve probably been bitten by pride in our own lives. That’s bad enough, but what is worse is when we are acting prideful in front of everyone else, and that pride is undercut from us, and we are knocked down a peg, and brought to shame. This is what we see in our Gospel lesson this morning.

So, our Lord is dining with the Pharisees, and they have basically brought Jesus there, in their own pride, to watch Him, to keep an eye on Him, to see if He is going to misbehave. This is a very prideful approach – if I were to invite you to an event just to chastise you, ask you a question just so I could mock your ignorance, it would be the height of pride. But, while these Pharisees had been eying Christ, He had been watching them as well. We hear, “Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor.” What’s the old line – the hunter became the hunted? Here they were expecting to critique Christ, and He is going to critique them instead. And Jesus notices something – that these people end up jockeying for position, that they in their pride are very concerned about receiving their proper due, of having people laud them and notice them – they want to been seen as being one of the good folks.

So Jesus speaks. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.” Imagine walking into a wedding reception, and just sauntering up to the head table, taking a seat, and then, when things are filling up, and almost everyone is there, having the father-in-law come and say, “Hey buddy, you’re at the head table, get on out of here so the bridal party can sit there.” Can you imagine the shame that this would be – everyone looking, watching, waiting for the bride and groom, and then there you go, traipsing along to the back corner of the room trying to find an open seat. Now, of course, this isn’t speaking to mere seating in a dinner, but to all aspects of your life. Whatever it is that you brag, that you boast about – you can always be taken down a peg. And that is humiliating, that is shameful, that is hard.

But, of course, there is the other side of this coin as well. The parable continues, “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.” So let us say you act with humility, act in an unassuming fashion, that you don’t try to draw attention to yourself. And then, the Groom sees you, smiles, comes and greets you, pulls you up front so you can meet his bride. Wouldn’t that be so much better? In fact, wouldn’t that do a whole lot more for your image, if you were being image conscious? I’d rather be suddenly and unexpectedly praised instead of publicly humiliated. So again, if you act with a little humility, it will be better for you, better for your fame, your friendships, your reputation, just how you get along in the world. For as our Lord says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

So. Is that it? Shall we just call it quits 5 minutes or so into the sermon having gotten our handy party tip of the week? No, for the point of this text isn’t merely the practical benefits of humility for ones social standing. No, there is a theological point here. Consider when Jesus tells this parable. What happens at this very same dinner immediately before this? “One Sabbath, when He went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him carefully. And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy.” So, there Jesus is, invited to dinner, and there is a man who needs to be healed. And remember, the Pharisees are watching Him. This is no accident that this man wanders in, this is a test, this is the Pharisees in pride desiring to complain about Jesus. If He heals the man, they can complain. If He doesn’t, they can treat Him as weak and powerless. And what of the man with dropsy – a gross, nasty, painful disease? What would he be doing in all this, other than just standing awkwardly, knowing he doesn’t fit in, doesn’t belong at this party of the hoity-toity and well to do? How awkward for him, how cruel. So, what will Jesus do? First thing, He turns the tables on the Pharisees. “Jesus responded to the lawyers and the Pharisees saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’” This is fantastic – Jesus sees that this is a set-up, and so He throws the ball back into their court. Alright fellas, you are so smart and so wise, tell Me what I should do. And they remain silent, otherwise they walk into the trap that they had set. And so then, “Then He took him and healed him and sent him away.” And then Jesus has pity on this man, and He heals him, gives him that wonderful blessing, and then sends him back to his own friends and family. Just sort of simple and matter of fact – because the whole situation is just sort of matter of fact. “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?” Duh. You help people. You care. You show love – that’s what you are to do. Don’t work and be greedy on the Sabbath, don’t focus on gain, but be generous with your love. And the Pharisees are brought to shame, and in their pride, they are cast down.

This is part of the lesson – that when we act in pride, God will lop us off at the knees. God will humble the person who exalts himself. If you want to with your actions make a big deal of yourself, if you want to act the proud fool, God will eventually demonstrate that you are merely a fool with nothing to be proud over. However, there is the beautiful part of this. What about the times where you realize that you are sort of lowly and helpless? What about the times when you are downcast, downtrodden? That is when Christ Jesus will come and will lift you up with His most precious Gospel. The man with dropsy, that is the picture of who you are Are you ill with temptation, are you sick to death of your sin? Christ Jesus speaks a Word of life and forgiveness to you. The sin that clings to you, that is forgiven. The taint that infests you, it has been washed away in the waters of Holy Baptism. Christ didn’t come to deal simply with social problems and physical troubles, but He came to win eternal life for those made weak and lowly by their sin. And how does Jesus win you this salvation? Does He come sauntering into the world displaying princely might and saying, “Alright you scum, listen up cause there’s a new sheriff in town”? No. Jesus saves those who are humbled by their sin by humbling Himself, by being born of a virgin in a meager stall, of being raised in a simple family, by living a live of holiness that never aggrandized, never gained Himself anything, by riding into Jerusalem on the back of a borrowed donkey, by remaining humble as insults and accusations are hurled at Him, by remaining humble as He is mocked, as the crown of thorns is placed upon His head, as the nails are driven in to His hands and He is left to hang and die naked on a cross. This is how Christ humbly comes to save you who are humbled by sin.

And then, on the third day, our Lord rises to life. The Father sees His humility, His humble and perfect obedience to the Father’s will, and Christ Jesus is raised to life and elevated and glorified. After His resurrection, there is no more suffering, there is no more humiliation. He reigns in glory now. And here is the beautiful thing. He invites you to the eternal wedding feast – the eternal celebration of the love that Christ Jesus has for His bride, the Church. That wedding language wasn’t an accident. And Christ Jesus sees you, sees you here in His Church. If you are haughty, if you are proud, too busy to tend to the things of God… eh, nothing for you. But you here, you who take the place of humility, who gather here and confess your sins, what does Christ Jesus say to you? Your sins are forgiven. You are even raised unto everlasting life in the new heavens and the new earth. Our Lord says to you, “Friend, come up higher, come here to My table and join with Me in My Supper, My precious Body and Blood, given and shed for you.” He calls you up to these great things. This is His great love for you.

And so, my dear friends, abandon and forsake pride. It does you no good in life, in your relationships, but only brings pain, disappointment, isolation, and embarrassment. But more than that, do not let your pride keep you from confessing your sin, for Christ Jesus has died to give you forgiveness, and in His love He promises that you who by faith in Him know that you are humble will be exalted by Him forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and Holy Ghost +

Sunday, September 26, 2010

When did Diversity become a Value

When did Diversity become a value in the Church? It was something that was acknowledged - yes, we are diverse, just as the parts of a body are diverse, but the focus was never, "see how different our hands are from our eyes". The focus always was rather on our unity, that we who are many are made one in Christ. The true wonder is that we are united - that we confess not the Holy Diverse Christian Church, but the Holy [c]atholic Church - the Church that is not merely a collection of diverse parts, but the Church that is 1 in Christ.

I don't know if one can try to celebrate the diversity of the Church and still focus on Christ... we may be different, but Christ is One, and He draws us unto Himself, makes us become part of His body, joins us unto Him.

Focusing and celebrating diversity is sort of like celebrating the fact that you used to be single after you are married. This implies that something is highly wrong with how you few your marriage.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Further Proof

That Jonathan Fisk is the most awesome Pastor in the LCMS

Pride and Luke 14

Luke 14 - the text dealing with the healing of a man on the sabbath and the parable of sitting in the place of honor at a wedding feast - deals with pride. There is the pride of the Pharisees thinking to test Christ, the pride of the man who exalts himself.

But do you know what true pride is? How it is subtle and pervasive? Jesus tells the parable of where you sit, how you act when invited to a wedding feast, but how many will simply skip the feast of the Lamb this week?

And I'm not just talking about those who sit at home. I'm talking about how many congregations will decide that being invited to the feast of the Lamb would simply take too long to have happen every week. At least the boorish man in the parable was at the feast -- we in our pride think we do not even need to come.

There is no scheduled communion this Sunday at my congregation. Lord have mercy upon us, and upon me, a sinful man.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Some Thoughts

Reading the 1 year series and preparing a sermon is sort of like greeting an old friend, and yet, the thoughts and conversations lead to insights that you hadn't had before.

The more I understand God's Law, the more I understand how short of it I am; the biggest mystery of heaven will be that this dross will be burned away.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Today's Sermon

Trinity 16 – Luke 7:11-17 – September 19th, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
So what is the point of the Christian Church? What’s the reason we here at Zion exist – what are we all about? When it boils down to it, what makes this place different from the rest of the world, what makes us stand out from every other social organization, every philosophy, every aid organization on the planet? Our text today. Our text today, Jesus raising the Widow’s Son, shows clearly and precisely what this Church is about, what we are focused on, why we exist. If you want to understand what it is to be a Christian, you ought to look and learn and understand this text. So let us look.

“Soon afterward [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and His disciples and a great crowd went with Him.” First off, this verse is the very description of what the Church is. There you have Jesus – He is the center and focus. And who is with Him? The disciples, the ones He is training to be Apostles, training to be pastors. Who else – the great crowds, the hearers, the laity. That’s the Church. The classic idea of what a Church was had nothing to do with property or constitutions – it was simply this. Do you have someone preaching Christ, and do you have people hearing the preaching of Christ? And what do we in the Church today do? Whether you’ve been charged with teaching and preaching Christ as I have, or whether you’re one of the listeners of the crowd, either way, we follow Christ – we go where He goes, we study His Word and listen to Him.

But why do we listen to Christ? What are we hoping to hear, what are we hoping to see our Lord do? You’ll get a lot of different answers – especially if you watch the TV commercials for Churches, if you look at the billboards. Some places offer acceptance and welcome – which is good, or at least can be good, I suppose. There are some things we aren’t supposed to accept because they are bad for us, please don’t accept poison this week, physical or spiritual poison, but acceptance is something that these places offer. Some places offer fun and excitement – again, not necessarily a bad thing. But sometimes fun isn’t all its cracked up to be, and sometimes we get more excitement than we want. And of course, sometimes you hear that you ought to go to a specific Church because it is the big, important church, the rich church, the one where you can meet the best people, make the best connections. Again, networking isn’t bad. . . it just isn’t the point. Nor are the groups and programs a parish can offer – good things, but not the point. No, if you want to know why the Church follows Christ, listen.

“As He drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.” As Jesus and the Church approach Nain, what do they see? A funeral procession. Death. A man lying cold and unbreathing upon a funeral bier. A mother burying her only son. A mother who is going to be condemned to a lifetime of begging because her son was the person who took care of her, the only one left in her life. It’s a horrible scene, a tragedy, a horror. There are fewer things that they could have come across that would have been more sad, more pity-inspiring than this. Not only is there death, but even then the normal order of things in this fallen world is reversed – the parent buries the child – it’s backwards.

This funeral procession is the picture of sin. Do you want to know what sin is – what sin means, what your sin means? Look at this funeral procession. Your sin turns everything upside down. You were created to live loving your neighbor, yet you sin, and you hate, you harm, you hurt, you ignore your neighbor. Instead of being a blessing to them, you curse and swear at them when they annoy you. You curse them with your words, with your thoughts, with what you do and what you leave undone. Utterly backwards from what God had created His world to be. And sin unleashes havoc and chaos upon creation, and nothing holds together. God had created man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. . . now things are backwards because of sin. Of course they are – sin turns everything on its head. Now, the breath of life leaves our bodies, and then they fall apart into dust again. Sin turns everything upside down. And please understand – I’m not simply talking about “big” sins. Get rid of any sort of comparison, any sort of “well, I’m not perfect, but so and so is really bad.” You know what that’s like? That’s like saying, “Well, my cousin had a 50 megaton nuclear bomb explode at her house. . . the bomb that is going to explode at my house is a only a 1 megaton bomb, I’m so much better off.” It makes no difference to you – sin is sin is sin. It kills you, destroys you, turns your life inside out, and the only question is how many people get hurt in the blast radius. Don’t let Satan trick you into minimizing the impact of sin – the wages of sin is death.

“And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’” Think how bold our Lord is here. Walks up to a woman at a funeral who doesn’t know Him from Adam and says to her, “Do not weep.” Of all the people there, she would have the reason to weep! Her life is in shambles. But Jesus can walk up to her and say, “Do not weep,” because He has compassion upon her. Now then – this is what the Church is looking for. This is why we follow Jesus. Because He has compassion upon those whose lives are in shambles. So, what about your life? Everything going perfectly well? And don’t think in terms of “Oh, how are you – oh, I’m fine, what about you”. How about it? See any shambles in your life lately? If not it’s simply because you’ve got your head in the sand. We in the Church are honest about the problems we face in life – and while programs and networking might alleviate some of the problems – they don’t fix them. While fun can help us forget our troubles, while acceptance can help us pretend they don’t exist – they don’t fix them. But here we see Jesus, and He has compassion, and because He has compassion, He is bound to help – and He, He is the one who can fix things, fix things for this shattered family in Nain, fix things for us gathered around Him in the Church.

“Then He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” Jesus does the unthinkable. He gets in the way of death. He walks up and touches the bier – and again, for a moment, think like a 1st Century Jew. To touch the bier, the open-air casket, was the height of uncleanliness. You basically wouldn’t be able to hang out around anyone for a few days after this. You didn’t do it – if you were a good Jew, you didn’t mess with dead bodies. And yet Jesus just strides on up – touches this man’s bier – speaks a Word of life to him, and this young man rises. And that’s what the Church wanted, needed to see. Christ Jesus raises this man to life.

You realize that this miracle, this raising of this one specific son, points forward to the greater miracle, do you not? Our Lord Jesus Christ isn’t astonishing in that He merely touches caskets – but when He wants to stop death, stop the funeral procession of the entire world in its tracks, He does so fully and completely. He goes to the Cross – and by dying there it is as though He tackles death, drives death to the ground as He is carried Himself on His own bier to His own tomb. The crucifixion is like the biggest, most violent hit you’ve ever seen in a football game – Christ Jesus takes death on and drives it down into the ground with His own death. And then, on the third day, on Easter Morning – Christ stands up, and Death remains defeated and broken, lying in the dust, never more to arise.

This, dear friends, is what the Church is. This is why we exist, why we are gathered here this morning instead of sleeping in our beds or hanging out reading the paper. Because we know our own sin, and we know that this sin turns everything upset down, and we know that our sin brings death. But we are gathered here around Christ Jesus, who was crucified so that He might take on death for you, that He might slay and defeat death for you, and who rises to life victorious for you. This is what the Church offers. Life. And not just a better life now, not just the trappings of wealth – that’s not life. Your life isn’t your stuff, your job, your brief span here in this fallen world – you were created to live eternally. Adam was made to live forever. . . and sin, his sin, our sin, would thwart that, would ruin that. But Christ Jesus steps in, and He dies to defeat death, and He rises to life to give you life. Because Jesus is raised from the dead, you will live forever. Everyone, every man, woman, and child on this planet, that ever has been or ever will be will be raised on the last day – some to paradise, some to judgment. And the wondrous thing is that Christ has called you to follow Him, to be gathered around His Word, to be joined to Him by Baptism, to be strengthened and kept a part of His Body by receiving His own Body and Blood in the Supper – and why? So that your life everlasting will be with Him, in the joys of the new heavens and the new earth – so that you will be with Him forever more. So that you will always have life, and have life in abundance – a glimpse, a taste of it now, but forever in fullness with Christ, at His side in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

This, dear friends, is why we are here. We are those who are gathered around Christ Jesus, and we are focused on the life that He gives to us with His death and resurrection. He has forgiven your sins, shed His blood for you and risen from the dead for you, and He brings you with Him to the joys of eternal life. Here in His Church, we look at Christ, we receive His gifts of His Word and His most precious and Holy Body and Blood, and because of this, we confess with the Church of all time – I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. This is yours in Christ. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Master of another

What is the single biggest reason why there are troubles and discord and strife. When people receive power, they use it to force other people do act in the way they want rather than using power as a way of better serving others.

Think about it. How often do people try to use force to make other people do what they want? I don't like this - I'm going to take it to the voters, and if me and my buddies all have our way, you won't be able to do that! Wait til my guy gets elected President and then he'll make those guys do what I want them to. I've been called the pastor here, and so we are going to do things how I want them done!

And of course, let's not even get started on civil politics with this.

What this boils down to is this - we want to be the master of our neighbor. We want them to respect and obey us. We think our neighbor should fear and love us so that they do what we want even before we ask (or more likely command).

This is the way of death.

You are not God. You ought not expect to treated as though you were God.

Rather, you ought strive to be like God, who humbled Himself, becoming nothing, suffering. And why? So He could tell the Pharisees, "All right, here's how it's going to be now - I'm the new sheriff in town"? No. To bring salvation.

If you are trying to force someone to do what they don't want to... be very, very careful. Are you speaking with God's authority that He has given to you, or are you letting your own whims and wants and desires turn you into a tyrant?

Us vs. Them

A Theologian can never afford to have an "us vs. them" approach. The Church is never to think of the lost sheep as "them".

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Therapy vs. Gospel

If you want to understand the difference between a Gospel approach to preaching and a Therapeutic approach to preaching -- look at a funeral sermon. What's the point? Is the pastor trying to guide you through the process of grieving, or is he proclaiming that because Christ lives, so too shall this person live? Is it reminiscing about the life of the deceased so that we can all smile, or is it proclaiming Christ's victory over sin and death so that the deceased has life everlasting?

What is your preaching trying to do - comfort with earthly wisdom and reason, or to show people Christ and let His presence and salvation comfort them?

A preacher doesn't *do* much. He shows Christ - and Christ does everything.

Monday, September 13, 2010

It's the budget, stupid

Back in 1992, there was a catch phrase that arose against President Bush, who went from a 90% approval rating a year before the election to being voted out of off. He had been befuddled about why things were turning against him, and the snarky answer was, "It's the Economy, Stupid".

So, now the LCMS has a new president, and for many of us, things look highly rosy. I myself love the new theme ( as explained by Rev. Esget) and think it is a wonderful focusing tool. But, to be honest (and cynical), what is most likely to be important? Not theology, not wonderfully deep and rich worship, not fantastic items coming out of CPH -- nope. The same thing that tends to drive parishes. Budgets.

How many difficulties, how much dissatisfaction come about simply because of budgets? Let's hope for some good fiscal sense these next three years.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Trinity 15 Sermon

Trinity 15 – September 12th, 2010 – Matthew 6:24-34

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Two masters, two powers contend for you, for you attention, for your life. On the one hand, you have the world, with all its vaunted pleasures. You have power and might and money and fame – all of which are wrapped up into that wondrous Greek Word – Mammon. That is one potential master – and mammon is a hard master. If you have power – there’s always someone else who is gathering power and undercutting yours – so Mammon would have you strive more and more. Or if your master is your might – if you enjoy being the big dog. . . age comes, and some young pup comes into his might, and your might is shattered. Money – ah, yes, strive after more and more, work harder and harder – that’s what you must do for this master, that’s what must happen to serve money. And what happens? You work, you slave, and its never enough. There’s always more to be made, and even then what you have made slips through your fingers. And fame, fame is fleeting – the famous folks of today become the jokes of tomorrow and are forgotten the next year. Mammon will make you work, sweat, and toil, and give you nothing in return.

There is another master – Your Lord Christ Jesus. He is the One speaking to you today, calling out to you, teaching you with His most precious Word. And He warns you away from the dangers of Mammon – do not serve mammon – for No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” If you follow after mammon – if you lust and crave after power and wealth and strength – those thoughts will dominate your life, they will overwhelm you, they will control you, and they will fill you with emptiness. Christ Jesus warns you against this – Mammon is a cruel master.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.” So what is our Lord doing today, what is He teaching us? Is this some sort of Law guilt trip – is Jesus standing there, wagging the finger, you had better not be anxious, I don’t like anxious people? You know – I’m anxious more than I like to admit. There are times when I do worry about money, or fame, or power or might, or any of these worldly things. I see what I don’t have, I see what others have, I see doubt and fear in the future, and I become anxious. Is Christ our Lord telling me that because I think, I feel these things I’m not really a Christian? Is He going to say to me, “You were too anxious – get out of here you bum!”? No. Listen again to what our Lord says.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.” Therefore – Jesus says because you can’t have the two masters, I tell you. Jesus tells you – and if Jesus is speaking to you, who is your master? Christ Jesus is. Jesus Christ, the Son of God is your master – and He tells you not to worry – not as a harsh command, but as a warning against the wiles and tricks of Mammon and the world, and as a comforting promise. You see, the world loves to trick you, to tempt you, to drag your eyes off of God and onto itself. Hear what our Lord says, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Aren’t you more than just stuff, more than just Mammon? Isn’t your life, your existence, more than just your next meal? Of course it is – that’s a blessing meant to serve you, not rule over you. Your body is more than just clothing. Yet Mammon, yet stuff will try to draw your attention – and how will it do this? By making you anxious. Think about it – when you are anxious, what are you focused on? Stuff. Things. Cash. Fame. What so and so thinks of me, what so and so said to what’s-his-face. Isn’t your life more than that? Of course it is, for you are a child of God, purchased and won by Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection – God Himself has said that you are so valuable that He Himself will suffer for your sake simply so you can be and exist forever – long after all this Mammon around us is broken and decayed and burned away in the fires of the last day you will live on eternally with Christ. That’s your importance, that’s what you are really worth – that is how Your master Christ Jesus loves you.

Yet when you are anxious, your fears try to tell you that Stuff is more important. That’s what worry is – it’s simply Mammon trying to weasel itself back into a position of importance – anxiety is just an attention grab by the junk of this world to try and enslave you to misery and fear and hard labor in Mammon’s service. So when Christ Jesus tells you not to be anxious, He is warning you that anxiousness is a sign that the world is trying to twist you, trying to enslave you – and you aren’t the world’s slave – you belong to Christ Jesus, He is your Master.

And He is a good Master. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.” This is a beautiful promise from your Master. He is good and kind and loving, and He will provide you with what you need now and what you need for eternity. And then we get this long passage explaining this – “Look at the birds of the air: they neither reap nor sow nor put into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Or the grass of the field, adorned most beautifully. God cares for them – and you know that He cares for you much more, for you are of more value than them. How do you know? Did the Father say, “Jesus, we need to win salvation for the ducks – therefore, go, become a duck, born of a virgin duck.” No – who for us men and for our salvation – God does this all for you – that is your value, your value to Him. And He will care for you – This is a promise – God will provide for you now, and He will see you through your days of this life and see you safely unto Your heavenly home – and you can take it to the bank. No fear, not worry, no lack, no illness, no sign of age, no struggle, no hardship you face in this life can change the fact that Christ Jesus has died for you, that He has risen for you, and that He gives you eternal life.

And this is why your Lord says to you, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” We know this verse – we probably could sing a little song right now where it uses the old fashioned ye – seek ye first. Familiar verse. But what is our Lord saying to us here? Well first, let’s consider what our Lord means by the Kingdom of God. We shouldn’t merely think of a kingdom as a place – that’s how we in English tend to think – the Kingdom of Denmark is a place, a country. But the Greek Word here has a different focus – a Kingdom is Greek isn’t primarily lines on a map – a kingdom is wherever the King reigns. Wherever the King is and rules, there His Kingdom is. And so, our Lord says to you –seek the Kingdom of God - look for where I, Christ Jesus, am reigning. Why? Well, if Christ is reigning, if He is ruling – then He is your Master, and you are free from the fears and anxieties of Mammon. So you are to seek the place where Christ reigns – you are to seek Christ’s righteousness.

Where does Christ Jesus demonstrate His power – where does Christ Jesus take His righteousness, His perfect and holy life and blood, and pour it upon you? In His Word and in His Sacraments. Wherever the Word of God, wherever His Gospel is proclaimed – there Christ Jesus is present to be your righteous and powerful king, declaring you forgiven. Wherever there is one who has been baptized, wherever one has been washed in the Blood of the Lamb, there Christ Jesus dwells, filling with forgiveness and life. Wherever Christians are gathered around the life giving Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, there our Lord shakes the powers and very gates of Hell itself with His forgiveness, with His life, and with His salvation. Whenever you seek Christ’s righteousness, His forgiveness for you – the powers of sin, of death, of the Devil, of the world, of Mammon are broken, and you are freed from them.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Of course all things will be added unto you, for Christ Jesus, Your Lord and Master, has risen from the dead, and you shall follow your Master and be raised to everlasting life. This is your promise, your inheritance, your possession – all the joys of heaven, all the joys of the new earth, the new creation that is to come, all these are yours right now. They have been added unto you. Again, this promise, this truth cannot be shaken, cannot be destroyed by the world. It’s as Luther would have us sing in a Mighty Fortress – and take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife – though these all be gone, our victory has been won. . . the Kingdom ours remaineth. Christ Jesus is your Lord and Master, and He loves you, and whatever you see in this sinful, messy and messed up world, He still reigns, reigns not only in heaven, not only in the world to come, but right now, reigns in your life by forgiving you, wiping away your sin, giving you strength and courage to endure in the face of all the junk in this world. God His children ne’er forsaketh.

And so my dear friends in Christ Jesus, when you are oppressed by the world, and Mammon comes creeping around your door, trying to stir up covetousness and then anxiety – remember the promises our Lord Christ Jesus has made for you. You need not worry about these things, you need not run after them. Your care is in His hands now – and He will preserve you throughout your days in this fallen, broken world until the last day when you shall rise to new life and enjoy the fullness of the new heavens and the new earth, with joys added unto you that you cannot even conceive of or understand. And why can you be sure of this – because Christ Jesus has risen from the dead, won your forgiveness, reigns and rules from the right hand of God the Father right now, grants you His mercy in His Word, in Baptism, in His Supper, and He shall come again to give you the gift of the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting – this is His Kingdom, and of His Kingdom there is no end. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Respect for the Office of those with whom you disagree

My friend and former dormmate Rev. David Juhl gives an excellent account of how pastors ought respect one another. Let me throw my own two cents in on this.

There are pastors who do things that I disagree with. Things that I think are foolish. Things that I would never do. However, I'm not going to quick to criticize them for their actions (now, I'll criticize a theological position up and down, but actions are something else). Why?

That person is called to be a pastor at that congregation. I'm not.

Simple as that. Why do we forget the whole doctrine of the divine call whenever someone does something in the exercise of the office that we don't like? Pastors in other parish face issues and situations which we don't - we need to know why they are doing something.

Sure, I don't like your communion policy - but why is it that way?
Sure, I wouldn't have let X go on - but why did you let it?

I need to be humble in how I view other pastors - and if they in their own weakness do something foolish, I should restore and correct in a spirit of gentleness, not a desire to shun the impure.

Because if I respect the Call, then I have to show respect to the man who is called. Otherwise I call the One who called him a fool.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Learning from a Down Economy

A down economy teaches and reminds Christians of things that Lutherans have traditionally taught... but recently in America almost merely in an academic way.

The World is Very Evil.
Moth and rust destroy here.
Wealth and Mammon do not last.
Trust not in Princes, they are but mortal.

I mean, we have "life-changing" financial seminars going on that are basically... live within your means... save some money instead of spending it all...

We should also learn just how blessed we are even now. So much of what we must give up is mere luxury.

This is not to say that people going through economic hard times aren't suffering. Folks are losing many things that they had worked hard to build up, places of memory, signs of achievement - and I have sympathy whether you were a $2million a year white collar worker or $20K a year worker... it doesn't matter what you had - if you have less, it hurts.

But we still have so much - and maybe this will be a harsh teacher to make use learn lessons we need to know.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Improving in Preaching

Do you want to be a better preacher? Do you want to improve? What do you do?

Consider a man who has a car. It doesn't run well. If he slaps a fresh coat of paint on it, will it be a better car? If he changes the interior, reupholsters, will it be a better car? If he adds a kickin' stereo, maybe even some hydraulics, it might look cooler, but will it be a better car? No. He needs to tend to the engine.

If you want to be a better preacher you might throw on some witty turns of phrase, you might get some fresh, heart warming stories to tell, you might even get some new sermon structures, forms and patterns that will seem new and interesting. You may even (in most of your cases - "God Forbid" - because I know what Lutherans are like) try to be hip and cool and connect that way.

But none of this really makes your preaching better.

What drives a sermon? Law and Gospel.

Want a better sermon. Be more blunt in your Law. Be honest about how often Christians sin - be honest about how this world is fallen and broken even though we try to pretend we are all Ozzie and Harriet, all Ward and June.

And of course - use this Law to sharpen a greater and greater focus upon Christ Jesus and His redemption, His forgiveness, His rescue.

The more one proclaims Christ Jesus as Savior, the better the preaching. He is the engine which drives everything. God grant that I learn this more and more.

Don't Turn the Church into Mammom

I saw that Peter Sellers would have turned 85 yesterday. Now, I will admit, I love the move Dr. Strangelove (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb). Fantastic film. And the drama, the action is set off by the crazy actions of an army officer who is determined to protect our "Purity of Essence" - who is convinced that we are being poisoned as part of a vile Communist plot, and so he starts World War III. His fears, his anxieties overwhelm him, and chaos ensues. His zeal goes awry, becomes fear of corruption, and brings ruin.

So, consider your own zeal for your Church - whether it be the local congregation, the Synod, Lutheranism throughout the world. You should love it, you should rejoice in it, you should defend and support it -- but you should never be anxious about it. Why?

Because that turns the "Church" into Mammon. Instead of being focused upon Christ and His Righteousness, you become worried about stuff. The local congregation - instead of rejoicing that it is the place where Christ declares His righteousness to you, you can be worried about its growth, it's prestige, it's survival. Yet, is Christ ever join to stop bringing His righteousness to you? Do not worry and turn the Church into Mammon.

Or what of your zeal for Synod? Do you worry about it's direction, it's reputation? Are you terrified that's it's "purity of essence" might be shattered? Then you have turned the Synod into Mammon. If the Synod falls. . . yes, it's sad, but that just means you organize with faithful Lutherans somewhere else. . . sometimes you leave Germany and head to the new world. Christ still rules His kingdom and gives you His righteousness. Do not worry and turn the Synod into Mammon.

Or what of your zeal for Lutheranism? Do you worry about how impure we are - that there are pietists in our midst, that some people think that "those" Lutherans are what Lutherans are? Does the worry that our name and identity is being sullied worry you. . . and oh so piously, for if our name is sullied how will people come to Church? Which of you by worrying can add one more person to the elect? So do not worry - Your Heavenly Father knows all these things, and the Church throughout the world is His.

The Church is not our possession to fret and worry about. We dwell in God's Church and live there - and we may live without fear for our King, Christ Jesus reigns. He protects all things for us - we don't have to be filled with anxiety and do anything foolish and out of fear either for our congregation, our synod, or even the name "Lutheran".

And He shall reign forever and ever! Amen.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Watch the modifiers

Much attention is paid to the verbs in theological statements. This is good - see who is doing things. However, there is another way to check yourself - pay attention to your modifiers. Check where you adjectives and adverbs are placed, because they put emphasis on things.

Consider these two statements:

John *passionately* loves his Lord.
John loves his *gracious* Lord.

Passionately works as an adverb drawing attention to John's love, how much, how sincere his love is. Gracious works as an adjective, drawing attention to the Lord whom John loves - perhaps even explaining why John loves and is able to love his Lord.

Of course, the great wonder only comes when you flip subject and object - Jesus loves His John. But still - check the adjective and adverbs.

Diversity? What about Catholicity.

I have seen more and heard more from various Synodical muckity-mucks the importance of Diversity. I have a question. When did Diversity become a value of the LCMS? Now, diversity is real - I'm in Oklahoma at a rural Church - which is quite different from my church in Palo Alto which is different from an inner-city Church in Chicago... and then there are various cultures and all that sort of thing.

But that isn't the focus - our focus has been catholicity (i.e. "universal") - not just that we are diverse - but that we who are many and different are brought together in Christ - that the many grains have been brought together in one loaf, that the many members are part of One Body - Christ's Body.

Our focus used to be catholicity - that even though we are different and scattered all over the world we are joined together in Christ. There is one faith, one baptism, one table. . . so on and so forth. Our goal was trying to express that catholic, that universal nature - that wherever you went and whoever was there, you were still in the same Church.

Now, we want to be different. And what is sad? Diversity focuses on us. Catholicity focuses on Christ.

Then sings my church, the cult that follows me, how great I am, how great I am. And you too, and you, and you, and you, and you.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Humans are often saddled with worry. We can be worried about many things - our health, our wealth, our family, our friends, our reputation, our church, this and that.

Whatever we worry about, our worries aren't really about that thing - our worries stem from our desire for power. That's the first and greatest sin - you will be like God. We hear that and think, "Ah ha! Then I will have power to make things be how I want them to be." Sinful man lusts for power.

And then, we see that we don't have it. And thus, we worry. My body fails, and I can't fix it. The economy goes in the tank and the creek is rising - and I can't fix it. My family is full of people who are off doing foolish things - and I can't fix it. My friends keep making a mess of things - and I can't fix it. Vile rumors are spread about me - and I can't fix it. The Church is beset upon all sides by the tyranny of wicked men - and I can't fix it.

Our Lord tells us that we are to seek first His kingdom. You know - Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you (how many of you started humming while reading that).

He doesn't tell us this to give us power. He doesn't tell us the secrets to how we can get all the things we want added unto us. He tells us to turn away from worry, from our sinful desire for power and simply let God be God, let God reign in His kingdom -- and He will care for you in a way that is good for you. Not necessarily what you will, but in the way that He wills for you, which is good.

We want power - we don't have it, and so we worry. Beat down your desire for power, look to Christ, delight in His righteousness for you and His forgiveness, and it's not that the worries you have will go away - it's that you will learn to worry about them less.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Law Kills, but why?

The Law kills. Anytime you preach the Law, anytime you correct and admonish, you kill. You break. You destroy. That's what the Law does.

So the question becomes, why are you using the Law? Why is this the theological tool you bring forth?

If it is because a person is doing someone that annoys you and you wish to smack them down... that is an erring use of the law. If it is because you want them to know how lousy they are... that is an erring use of the law. If you simply know that they are bad and ought to be killed... that is an erring use of the Law. (Caveat - unless you are in the kingdom of the left, in which case, the law is simply meant to punish)

The Law kills, but it kills for one reason - that the person hearing the Law might be resurrected by the Gospel. The Law is always to meant to lead to repentance, lead to the proclamation of the Gospel.

So - why do you preach the Law? IF it's because X annoys you, that's a false reason. If it's because you want to correct society and make it nice, not really the job of a theologian. If you preach the Law because you love the one in err and would have them turn away from their sin so that they might behold their Savior Christ Jesus both now and forever - then you have done well.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Today's Sermon - Trinity 14

Trinity 14 – Luke 17:11-19 – September 5th, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
This lesson should be quite familiar to you, for you hear it twice a year. You hear it right around the time school begins, and then you hear it again on Thanksgiving day. It is the story of the 10 lepers. Isn’t that how we normally think of it – 10 are healed, but only 1 is thankful. And yes, on Thanksgiving Day that will be the angle we look at this text from. However, really, this text isn’t primarily about the lepers, and it isn’t first and foremost about thankfulness or our lack thereof – it’s about Jesus – who Jesus is, what He does. So, let’s look at this text and watch with care our Lord and see what we learn about Him here today.

On the way to Jerusalem He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. This is actually important – when Luke in his Gospel says that Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem, this means Jesus is getting ready for Palm Sunday and Holy Week, that our Lord’s passion is coming closer and closer. This happens but days before Palm Sunday – and so Christ’s focus would be clearly on winning us salvation – He’s on that task, on target and focused – He is on His way to Jerusalem. “And as He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’” So, Jesus is focused on salvation. He’s journeying, He’s probably tired and worn out from the road – He’s just entering a village to get some rest – and what happens? Lepers show up – lepers. Dirty, filthy, unclean, nasty looking. And they cry out for mercy. Have mercy on us.

Now, consider for a moment your own life. It is the end of a long day, and you have things to do, you have big, important things on your mind – and then, just as you are ready to rest, someone comes up and wants something. What is your reaction? How quick and ready to love the neighbor in that situation are you? The old sinful flesh likes to rise up then and there, doesn’t it, grumble and complain? But, what does Christ do? These people are calling out to Him when He most certainly is tired and has other things on His mind. Does He brush them off? Does He say come back tomorrow? No – He cares for them.

Now, we learn from this. Of course, we learn that Christ’s attitude is to be our attitude as well. We learn what we ought to do – and in reality, we learn that we fail. Whenever we compare ourselves to Jesus we are simply going to see how we don’t measure up. If anything, when we compare ourselves to Christ we realize we look more like those scrubby lepers, disgusting and wretched. So, consider this. Have you felt worn and weary? Have you looked at your life and been disgusted by what you see? Do you know that you are unclean – an utter mess? You are – if you aren’t sure if you are, compare yourself to Jesus. Are you as holy and good and righteous as He is? Then you’re a mess – and don’t try denying it, ain’t none of us here going to buy it. Each of those 10 lepers knew every other one was a leper, and every one of us knows we all are sinners right along with all the other sinners. And we know that we need Christ, that we need His healing, His forgiveness, His mercy.

But here is where Satan can creep in. Do you ever feel as though – well, you know, you really shouldn’t bother Jesus with that. Well, ought you really pray again about this, I mean, come on, Jesus has to have other things on His mind? Are you going to bring yet another problem and burden to God – sheesh! We can be so ashamed of our problems, of our sin, that Satan tries to isolate us, tries to separate us from God. The Devil is a liar and a murderer, and when he stirs up these thoughts, he is lying to you so he can try to murder you. In our text, does Jesus ever hesitate in helping these lepers? Does our Lord cop an attitude? Does He throw up His arms, make a big sigh, come on people I was just getting ready to have dinner and wash my feet, why are you bugging me now? No. Simple as that. There’s no bad reaction from Christ – He’s not bothered or annoyed by this in the slightest – having mercy is what He came to do, so He delights in getting to deal with these lepers. Learn this, know this – Christ delights in dealing with you. Christ Jesus delights in having you pray to Him and bring your burdens to Him. Christ Jesus delights in having His Word proclaimed to you, enjoys having you receive His Body and Blood in His Supper for your forgiveness, for the strengthening of your weary faith, for your healing. That’s why He had the Apostles and prophets write down the Scriptures, why He has sent you a called and ordained Pastor, and had one here for over 100 years. This is what He delights in.

And as our Lord delights in mercy, He heals these lepers. “When He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’” If you were a leper, you were banished from the community until your disease cleared up – and when it cleared up, you could present yourself to the priests, who would then declare you fit for returning to the community. So when Jesus says, “Go show yourselves to the priests”, He is making them a promise that they will be healed. And so, they go. And the wondrous thing is, they aren’t healed yet when they start walking, but they start heading into town anyway, and then what happens? “And as they went, they were cleansed.” Simple as that. As they are going, they get healed. No big production – simply Jesus says it, promises it, and it happens.

Now, consider how our Lord deals with you. He has promised you forgiveness. He has washed you in Holy Baptism, so you are clean. He has spoken life and salvation unto you in His Word, He has given you His Body and Blood as the promise and token that you will rise again on the last day and have eternal life. Now, note two things. First – none of this is showy. God works through simple means. When He healed the Lepers there was no song and dance – when He heals you, it’s not that spectacular to look at. In baptism, you are joined to Christ, adopted by the Father to be His own redeemed child, made an heir of heaven and eternal life – and what do we see? Eh, a splash of water. In the Supper, Christ Jesus gives you His own Body and Blood, joins you together with all the saints of all ages, we participate for a moment in the joys of heaven and are prepared for them – and what do we see? Eh, a small wafer, a sip of wine. In preaching, in absolution, I as your pastor get to declare to you that you sin is forgiven, that Satan’s power and hold over you is completely broken because of Christ’s death and resurrection, that you are now holy and blameless in God’s sight on account of Christ, that you will rise to life everlasting – and what do we see? Eh, a short balding guy with a lisp. Jesus doesn’t make a big production of things. Why? Because that way they are repeatable. Is there someone new to the faith, does a baptism need to be done – we don’t need some weird, precious substance – look, here is water, what hinders us from baptism now? Nothing. Simple. Or do we need to be refreshed by Christ, forgiven and prepared for life now and for all eternity, could we use His supper? Eh, look here, Pastor’s got some bread and wine – let’s have the Supper. And seriously, should any of you ever desire the Supper, if you’ve missed communion, or even if it’s just been a bad day and you need comfort and forgiveness – let me know, all that is needed for this great gift is just a bit of bread and wine. Simple to receive. Or even with a pastor preaching – God keeps raising up new ones – so that if something happens to me, God will send you someone else – simple things. God gives His mercy to you in simple things. He doesn’t make stupid demands of you – He didn’t tell the lepers to do 100 pushups first, or to go travel 1000s of miles – simply go, and I will heal you. Likewise, in your life, simply come, hear His Word, receive His Supper, and you have God’s forgiveness in full.

Which leads to the second thing. As those lepers started walking, they looked down at themselves, and they saw their scabs, their sores, their illness. Yet their Lord Christ Jesus had told them to walk, and so they walked to go see the priest, and on the way they were healed. Likewise, dear Christians, when you look at your life now, when you see the problems and temptations that you face – they seem to stick around. You know, I expect that the burdens and trials you faced yesterday are still going to be here tomorrow. If you are struggling against a temptation now, probably you will still be struggling with it tomorrow. This healing of Christ’s, the forgiveness we receive – we don’t always see it right away. We don’t always see the life we have in Christ – and Satan wants to have us see our sin and say, “Eh, guess it didn’t take for you – give up, despair, curse God and die.” In contrast to Satan, I say to you – when service is done, head on out those doors and live your life – but live your life remembering the promises of God to you. Christ Jesus has given you His promise of life and salvation, and you shall have it. You have forgiveness now, and you will grow, you will see that life creep out in part now, but you will have it in full for all eternity. Now, you’re in your sinful flesh, and one burden, one temptation gets licked, well, another one pops up. That’s the burden of life in this sinful world – the problems of a decade ago, well, they might be gone, eh, then you have new ones. Or even if these old burdens linger on – it’s horrid, it’s difficult, it’s annoying. But Christ’s promise to you still stands. You are forgiven. You have life in Him. He works in you now, and He will on the last day call you forth to new life, and then you will see yourself healed, fully clean, fully redeemed and ready and prepared to spend eternity with Him and the family of God, and eternity where your praises will not be lacking, where you will be joined with all the saints of all ages in rejoicing before God and delighting in whatever it is that you’ll be doing in heaven, putting your restored and sanctified talents to good work there.

Christ Jesus is good. He is never too busy for you, for He is eager to save, eager to forgive. His promise of life and salvation is yours, and He wants you to know this always, to remember it always, to receive it often so that you might be always confident in Him. Satan will do his damnedest to make you forget this, but the love of Christ for you is more powerful than Satan, and His promises hold true now and forever more. Rest secure in Christ our Lord, for He reigns now and forever more. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Saturday, September 4, 2010

What does "Sin Boldly" mean?

Luther has a famous (and much maligned quote) - "Sin Boldly, but believe more boldly still."

What does this mean? Does it mean that as Christians we can simply go do whatever we want? Does it mean that I should and can give in to whatever sins I desire? Does it mean I should flaunt my sin?


It means this. Everything, every single little thing you do in this life, is sin.

Every single thing you do in this life falls short of the glory of God.

But you say you are a good person? But you say you do good things? I ask, do you do them perfectly? Is your heart pure?

When I preach a sermon, part of my heart desires that I receive praise and glory - for I am a sinner.
When I love and care for my neighbor, part of my heart wonders how they will love me - for I am a sinner.
When I do any good, or more accurately, when God accomplishes any good through me, I am still what I am - a sinner, tainted to the core, corrupting all things.

The good that I want to do, I do not do, and the wickedness that I as a Christian do not wish to do, I still do. The taint always remains. I place my hand upon my chest and I believe what Scripture says of it - that in sin my mother bore me, and that my "life" in this world is nothing but a slow march towards the wages of my sin - that my imperfect lungs will cease one day, that my imperfect heart will fail in its beatings.

Everything I do is sin - no matter how hard I strive, no matter how many new rules I add, no matter how much more holy or more righteous I appear than my neighbor. I am a sinner, and I can do nothing to change this.

What then shall I do? Shall I simply try harder? Shall I set a more rigorous discipline - shall I shy away from blessings because I in my sin will abuse them? Shall I let this awareness of my sin paralyze me, keep me from acting for fear, for the knowledge that all my actions when left to themselves are acts of death and destruction?

No. I will sin boldly. I will go out and I will live, I will strive to do good, to show love, to enjoy the blessings of God... even knowing that every moment of my life and every act thereof is full of sin.

I will go and live boldly and without fear, and thus I will sin boldly, for I believe boldly. My righteousness has nothing to do with me, but rather it is Christ who is righteous for me.

Every moment of my life is sin - every moment of His life is perfect - and He gives this life to me.
My life is doomed to death - His life survives beyond death and to all eternity - and He gives this life to me.
Every fiber of my body is tainted with sin - His Body is pure and without spot - and He gives His Body to me.
My blood is corrupt with also sorts of wickedness and filth - His Blood washes away all sins - and He gives His Blood to me.

I love the phrase sin boldly not because it lets me do what I want - I love it because I know that I will never in this life be able to do what I want - that is be free of sin. I love the phrase sin boldly not because it gives me license to sin, but reminds me that every moment of my life is sin, no matter my intentions or desires. I love the phrase sin boldly, for it teaches me to always turn away from myself, for I am utterly sinful and depraved, even for all my growth, and makes me to look to Christ Jesus who is my life and my salvation.

I love the phrase sin boldly because it is only in the salvation of Christ that I am free to live without fear, to live boldly, because otherwise I am trapped by my sin, trapped by my futile efforts to rise above my sin, or to hide my sin, or to pretend that because my sin is less obvious than my neighbor's that it is not there.

In myself I see nothing but death and sin, but I will be bold, for in Christ I see nothing but life and mercy and salvation.

Or to paraphrase Gerhard, everything in me damns me - He still is Jesus for me.

Sin Boldly, but Believe more Boldly Still.
Weedon gives on his blog the following Gerhard quote:

The very foundation and principle of a holy life is godly sorrow for sin. -- Blessed Johann Gerhard, Sacred Meditations III

Allow me to provide a corollary. The very foundation and principal for pietism is a smug sorrow over the sins of others.

Just a quip

The exercise of piety does not make one a pietist; the disdain for the neighbor's lack of piety does.

Likewise, the doing of good works does not make one works righteous, assuming that you have more than your neighbor does.

Friday, September 3, 2010

You Can't Fix Things

People like to fix things, problems, and ultimately, other people. Sometimes you can fix the first two, but many times you can't, and even if you can, your fixes might unleash other problems. And as for fixing people. . . that doesn't work.

Why do we like fixing things. Well, then we are active, we are creative, we are restorative, we get to be the hero. But some things you simply can't "fix".

Don't be a hero. Don't try to fix things. . . simply show love to people in the middle of things. That might help, it might alleviate things, it might even "fix" things, but don't have that be your goal. That goal is results based, and you don't get to control the results - the ends don't justify the means. Just go show love.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Or a shorter version

The pious, faithful man called out to Christ, "I believe, help my unbelief."

The arrogant tract writer said, "I believe, save me from my neighbor's unbelief."

Be a pious, faithful man.

(But, but Luther condemned others! No, Luther condemned anything that obscured Christ - not because he was strong, but because he knew he himself was weak, and that without Christ to constantly aid him, he would be swept along by these wiles. There's a difference. Learn it).

What am I talking about?

You see the corruption all around you, and people don't care. The ones in power - the so called teachers of the Church - they are indifferent, they hold to their man-made theories and toss their pathetic books of pap back and forth - while all around, filth and chaos and anarchy, where no one does what is right.

Here is what we will do - you and I, we are sane. We will get together, form together, make an organization, and we will call people out. Oh, we will stay within the Church, we won't supplant, but we will just band together on our own and shout for them to get better. And of course, those not holy enough, those not pure enough, the people who just don't get it and cling to the muck and the mire -- we'll just leave them out.

So - who am I?

A. Jakob Spener speaking about the Dead Orthodox in the 17th Century.
B. Too many Confessionals speaking about the Contemporary Crowd today.
C. Both.

If you said C, as David Scaer would say, "For once in your life you are correct!"

Now, I'm sure objections could be made -- the pietists were wrong and we are right in our desires to fix the poor _______ practices in the LCMS. Well, so what. Spener had a very pious desire to fix the indifference to morals in his day, just as your desires are very laudable. But if he is wrong in going about it, why do you follow in his footsteps?

Where did Spener err? Was it in his desire for morality. . . no. It was his lack of trust in the Word of God. Instead of simply preaching the Gospel, pointing to Christ, delighting in the realities of who we are in Baptism, extolling the life we receive in the Supper, instead of these things - let's form holy clubs. Let's lay down the law. Let's circle the wagons (damn the anachronisms, full speed ahead!) and make things better - and form a group to do it.

So, what will it be, oh "Confessional" Lutheran? Will you too organize, make a petition, a new litmus test? Will you urge people to preach against the vile woes of the neighboring congregation (where they aren't really converted to truth Lutheranism)? You, oh Missourian, are of your father Spener! You too would build with the law!

The Law kills. This isn't bad. There's a lot that needs killing down here amongst us sinners - including my own sinful flesh, my own sinful heart, my own sinful dreams that I am going to be the one whom others will rally around, that I will be the one to write the theological shot heard round the world, that I will write the missive that will convince every one else to kick those wicked bums out.

God have mercy on me! Save me from my wicked desires -- and instead, make me to be not a corrector, not a judge, merely a confessor.

When the nobles and theologians signed the Augsburg Confession, they did not do so saying, "Sign this or else we will fight and kill and maim you," They signed it saying, "This is truth - and if you would have me not confess it, you can cut off my head." When Chemnitz and Andrae worked on the formula at the bequest of their princes, they did not say, "If you don't agree with this, to hell with you." They didn't send angry missives to Sweeden saying, "Why aren't you people signing our thing." No - they simply said, "On the basis of what the Scriptures teach, this is what we must support and must reject about these topics."

Or in other words - they confessed. They spoke the Words of God's truth, and then let the chips fall where they may.

Sometimes those chips fell nicely. 1530 was a good time. 1580 was good too. Sometimes, the chips didn't fall so well. 1555 was a bad year. The 1620s were horrid. But it was only when simply confessing the truth wasn't good enough - when we either abandonned the truth with our variata (a la Melanchthon, or if I were in a different synod, like your father Schmucker), or when we no longer trusted the Word to do what it said (a la Spener, or what ever group it is today that rants and raves), when we trusted ourselves to bring about unity and perfection on earth - it was ruined.

This is why Luther would have pastors pray that God be with them, for we are unfit for this office and without Him we will most assuredly bring it all to utter destruction.

Abandon your dreams of purification! The Church Militant has never been, for war is messy, war is hell. Abandon your dreams of power and glory - glory isn't winning a following, it is to bow your head before the axeman, before Caesar, your lips still confessing Christ and no other.

Go and speak Christ. Confess that you are a poor, miserable sinner. Cry out and extol all that Christ has done for you. Cling to that and nothing else - and maybe, maybe you will like Igantius of Antioch begin to learn what it is to be a Christian, maybe with Luther you will learn to beg as befits you.

Lord have mercy upon us!

To Be an American is to be a Heretic and Tyrant

Here is what Luther says about heresy:

(From a sermon in 1521 on Luke 17) The word “heresy” comes from the Greek language. "Airein" means to choose, select, and separate. Therefore heresy means a separate, selected, self-made, individualistic doctrine and manner of faith and life, apart from the commonly accepted ones. . . . therefore the word “heretic” really designates a person who is self-willed in matters pertaining to God, a queer fellow (Sonderling) who knows of something better and chooses his own way to heaven, a way the ordinary Christian does not travel. This vice the last of the doctors [of the Church] call singularitatem, capitositatem, etc., singularness, bigheadedness.

Now, what does this mean? It means that each and every American is, at his very core (use of the word intended) a heretic, and not only are we heretics, we are raised from childhood onward to believe not only that we have a God-given right to be a heretic and choose our own will, but we have come to understand that is our patriotic duty to become a tyrant as well, forcing the whims of our personal heresy upon our neighbors.

Don't believe it? Ever call for a vote to force another person to cave to your whim? Ever done so in the Church? Ever move beyond the Scriptures or the Confessions which expound them? Ever demand some point of your own order that did not point to Christ as the Savior of sinners, of whom you are chief?

Then you, my friend, are a heretic. You are a tyrant. You would wrest peoples' eyes off the Word of God and Christ Jesus and onto your own dreams. And God be merciful to me, I am one too.

We are a nation that values choice over revelation - whether it is our choice for freedom to do that which we are not to do or our choice for order and regulation that will force our wayward neighbors to be "good" as we see it. We are a nation that values our own hard work over the salvific work of Christ. We are a nation that demands to be given luxuries for this life while spurning the things of life eternal.

And the arrogance of it all - half of us think we are God's favorite nation.

So, how about it? Can you be bigheaded? Can you be singular - in terms of your lament that you are the only one who really gets it. . . how the fellows in your circuit and district are less than you (well, maybe not so and so, but sheesh!)?

You are a queer fellow, demanding your own desires. I know you are - I do it too, I see it in myself, and I see my vileness dimly reflected in you. Repent, pray, and be focused upon Christ Jesus, whom you do not choose. No, He has chosen you for salvation and forgiveness and redemption. Simply be forgiven and delight in His good will for you.

The ever present Eyeore

So now, we have a new President in the LCMS. Matthew Harrison is officially our President as of right now. So, what shall I do? The same thing I did for all my liberal friends from college when Obama was elected and took office.

Guys - ain't much going to change.

Seriously - it's not as though this Sunday when I head to Church there will be a sudden uproar for every Sunday communion simply because Harrison is now our president. Hordes of deliquents aren't going to return. The folks clamoring of entertainment that makes them feel morally superior and spiritually enlightened aren't going to suddenly say, "Hmmm, let's sing the Te Deum instead." District Presidents aren't suddenly going to say, "Oh man, AC 14, that's brilliant, I finally get it, I ain't authorizing anyone to do anything!" (well, some do, or at least do so most of the time, thanks be to God."

Or, if you are one who is on the other side of the aisle - squads of jackbooted-cassock wearing thugs aren't going to bust into your sanctuary and smash your drum kits. The power to the overhead projectors won't be cut-off by secretive missives from St. Louis. You won't be given a letter saying you have 10 days to join the NALC or LCMC or ELCA or else. . .

No, things will continue as they have for the past month, the past year. Maybe we'll talk about some different things. New folks will be worried about the top coming down on them, new people will be upset because the top folks haven't instigated the purge and vengeance they've long wished for - the Synod will not be suddenly recreated in anyone's vision.

Relax. It's not that different today than it was yesterday. And if you want it to be different - go read the Scriptures and teach them -- I have Psalms today. Go look at the confessions -- when was the last time you read the Apology. . . just sat down and read it? Or the Large Catechism?

Then there may be a slight difference - maybe not the one you were expecting -- a change and growth in you, rather than someone else fixing other people. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, study things yourself - and pray for mercy for all of us sinners, for we try our damnedest in our arrogance and pride to bring it all to destruction, no matter who is the President.

Now pray, and get back to work.