Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Evenagelism Myth #4 - Results are What Count

One of the things that will often come up, that will be presented as part of an Evangelism Plan is results. The person selling the plan will point to results - why, one church did plan X and they had an increase in attendance of 30%. Behold the results - see the results. This even happens on an informal level - did you hear about St. _____ - they did X and more people came - we should do X too! The focus is placed upon the results.

This is especially true because we are Americans. Americans love results. Think about the typical newspaper - the Sports Section - results. Box scores and stats - results. Or the business section, chalk full of Stock Market results. Movies and TV - what does the box office say, what are the ratings. In fact, this is what has driven our love of reality TV and before that game shows (anyone notice that most reality TV shows are really just long lasting game shows?) - we love results.

Here's the problem - God doesn't instruct us to focus on results. God calls us to be faithful, and God calls us to speak. I can think of tons of examples that can point to either of these ideas - being faithful or speaking about what God has done. I can't think of a single instance where God tells us to worry about the results.

In fact, quite often the faithful could care less what people might see from the results. Consider Joshua. At the end of his life, this is what he preaches to Israel:

"Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

It is a call to be faithful - to listen to what God commands - to remember all the blessings of salvation he has given you (Joshua had just talked about the Exodus). And as for the results -- well, Joshua is dismissive of results. He even says, "I don't care if every one of you here thinks being faithful is lousy - if every result is poor - me and my house - we will serve the LORD. This is a call to faithfulness - even if the results and the times look bad.

Or consider Elijah - after his great victory over the priests of Ba'al (hey, good result there), Queen Jezebel is determined to kill him (eh, not so good result there) - and Elijah runs to the hills and complains to God - " have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away." Consider what Elijah says - I've been faithful, very, very faithful - but the results aren't there. I'm not seeing the glorious revolution and growth. The queen wants to kill me, and there aren't too many people trying to stop her!

Yet what does God say? Does God say, "Hmmm, perhaps we should change our strategy"? "Hmm, maybe we need to be more culturally sensitive and find out what felt need of the people is being reached with Ba'al worship"? Nope.

"Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him."

I love this. Oh, being a faithful prophet isn't giving you the results you wanted, Elijah? Well, here's what you're going to do. Go be a faithful prophet. Prophets anoint - go anoint. Go find an assistant and anoint him, train him. He'll take over for you when you die. And as for results - um, yeah, I think I'll let Jehu and Elisha see the results you want. As for you, just go be faithful and teach.

And there's more - Jonah who is sent to preach, but actually is surprised and angry when people listen. Jeremiah, who preaches faithfully and people decide they want to kill him (not the result the evangelism salesman promises). So on and so forth.

Or even consider the New Testament - What's Peter supposed to do in John 21? Grow the fold? No - feed the sheep. Being faithful and proclaim. Or consider Acts. What was Stephen supposed to do - be faithful - even if it gets him stoned. Or Paul - preach faithfully, even if it gets him arrested and sent to Rome.

In fact - "witnessing" rightly in the New Testament generally led to death. In fact, that's the general approach - be faithful and speak faithfully (amongst your friends for everyone, publicly if you are a pastor) until you die. Simple as that.

The focus, the thrust that God has instructed us deals with faithfulness - to have no other gods - to teach people to observe all things (not just the things that might bring good results). And this is how any program should be judged - does it point us towards results or instruct us towards faithfulness?

A Time for Blessing

It is a time for blessing. No, not that we receive the blessings, per se - but Christians are called to bless those who persecute them. That's Romans 12:14.

Now, isn't that a radically different approach than what we normally think of today? If you ask an American about blessings, the first thing that will jump to mind is all the stuff that God gives us. This isn't bad - I have one pious member, who when I ask how she is doing, will respond, "blessed" - whatever the situation.

However, an oft neglected part of the Christian life is this - that we bless those who would and do us harm. That the person who is cruel to us - we bless them. The person or groups who speak vicious lies for the sake of political gain (let the reader understand) - we are to call upon God to bless them.

It is a time for blessing - but a time to place God's blessings of peace, and love, and charity upon those dwelling in fear, those who are afraid of the simple preaching of the Gospel, those who lack trust that the Word can be effective without my own reason or strength. It's a time for blessing - even a time for mercy.

Lord, have mercy upon us.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Evangelism Myth 3: Biblical "Plans" that Aren't Biblical

In the one year lectionary this upcoming Sunday has as its Gospel lesson the calling of Peter and the first disciples - Luke 5:1-11. This is the familiar, "let down your nets" - "Lord, we caught nothing, but at Your Word" - oh, look, lots of fish - Depart from me, for I am a sinful man - do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men (or the old fashioned "I will make you fishers of men").

It's one of those familiar lessons, one of those familiar stories - one that we know. Sadly, it will provide the jumping off point for another style of Evangelism Myth - Biblical "Plans" that aren't Biblical. What happens is this - the presenter will take and episode from the Scripture and say, "See, this is what we need to do" - where the "this" that he suggests has nothing to do with the text.

For example, I was recently told that I should consider how the disciples did their fishing. They didn't fish one on one - they didn't do "pole fishing". They did "net fishing" - where a few people would get together and they would work together and get lots of people -- therefore, you should follow our plans for exciting group activities where you don't merely get 1 new person to show up to church, you get lots! Yea! Fantastic!

Except. . . this image of "net fishing" meaning that we need to do giant group events has nothing to do with the Scriptures. You want evidence of that? Well, let's actually consider the text. Simon and his friends had been "net fishing" all night - working together - and you know what?

"Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!" Nothing. Zilch. Squadush. And Simon Peter knew fishing - he could plan with the best of them, ran several boats, was successful. And yet, at that moment, all his planning was worthless. No, the keep is that Christ commands him to let down his nets - even when the nets have been cleaned, even when it's the wrong time of day to fish. "But at your word I will let down the nets." And then there is the wondrous catch of fish.

It's not that it was a group activity that let there be a great catch - it's the Word of God. This "net fishing" idea really misses the boat (get it?). The point wasn't the labor of the many disciples, it was the power of the Word of the One True God, Christ Jesus. And that Word is what will catch men - if you want to catch men, you must proclaim Christ Jesus and His Word.

But what is so vile about these types of Biblical "Plans" is that to push the plans, they actually do damage to what is good and biblical. I was told that "Pole fishing" was bad. That it didn't work well. That it was inefficient.

Hmmm. Let's see - isn't Jesus moving away from His preaching to speak and deal with Peter one on one. Eh, that doesn't count. Or Jesus dealing with the woman at the well. That's pole fishing Jesus, You aren't following the "Biblical Plan". Or let's see, what other things do we see in Acts? Phillip and the Ethiopian - eh, that was one on one. Or when Paul and Silas deal with their jailer. . . Acts 17, Paul and Silas dealing with one jailer - oh, good heavens, two people dealing with one - that's pole fishing of the worst sort!

There is nothing Biblical about this plan - rather Scripture is used and abused to make something that is merely a human plan sound Divinely endorsed.

And here's the sad thing. There's nothing wrong with encouraging group activities. You have image to support that idea - that whole 1 Body with many members - your Church should be working together - that way people's talents can support and over lap. But plans for specific things shouldn't come at the abuse of Scripture.

If you abuse the Word of God with your Evangelism Plan, your Evangelism Plan isn't going to center on the Word of God that brings about the catch of men. And that is sad.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Mother of All Learning

So I am working on the Genesis Study that we are using for Sunday Morning Bible Study, and I have come to the part where Isaac, like his father before him, tells Abimelech that his wife is his sister. Now, many of the higher critics will talk at length about how clearly this is not really part of the bible, basically a giant typo where stories get confused because things like this don't happen over and over.

This has given me a few thoughts. First, the assumption that things like this don't happen again and again is stupid. How often do we see today sons repeating their father's mistakes? Hmmm. . . maybe that is part of the point of having this story included in Scripture.

But more than that here - consider the old phrase, "Repetition is the Mother of All Learning". There is an understanding that learning involves being told something over and over again - that a teacher needs to impress upon a student the same point a few times. But note that the Higher Critics are dubious whenever there is a point of repetition.

This means that they really don't understand learning, nor are they interested in learning. Is there a desire to receive the wisdom from those who went before us, or is the modern academic desire to come out with something new and novel? Is the assumption that there is something that I should hear again and again and learn from, or is the assumption that I am the master who discovers new truths that everyone before hand was too stupid to notice?

A higher-critical approach to the Scriptures despises the very fundamentals of what it means to learn - to have things from an expert repeated and impressed upon you. But that is not the goal of liberal thought - rather it is to show one's own self to be the master.

Weekly Meditation - Trinity 4

Greetings in the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord!

Yesterday's Epistle was Romans 12:14-21, and we will focus in particular on verses 14-16 and verse 21, which read, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

St. Paul sets before us a tall task as regards the Christian life with these words. Twice we are told to bless the folks who persecute us, who seek to cause us harm and often do. And our response, even in the face of this torment, should be to bless. That's hard. The others on the list are rough too - rejoicing with others. . . even if you don't like the others all that much. Weeping with others - not avoiding their sorrow but sharing in it. Or think about living in harmony - that means you have change your life to be in tune with others, you might have to play a different note than you would want to so that there can be harmony. Associate with people who you think are worse than you. Avoid conceit, so don't even think that there are people worse than you..

That's a tall order - but that's the Law of God. That is what God means when He says, "Love your neighbor." Not just a superficial love, not just a love in passing, but to honestly, truly, and fully love.

I put three words there - honestly, truly, and fully - because I like baseball, but unfortunately, it seems like I swing and miss and all three. None of us did this list all that well this past week - and the best we can hope for this week isn't to actually do this list rightly, but merely to be aware, to remember that this is how we ought to live and struggle against our own sinful flesh to try to do it.

But here is the beautiful, wondrous thing. Our Lord Christ Jesus has told us that He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. So consider how your Lord Christ Jesus has treated you. You were born sinful, an opponent of God. Did Jesus curse you? By no means! Instead, He came down from heaven and was crucified that you might be blessed! He rose from the dead that you might too rise on the last day and rejoice with Him for all eternity! He shared in your own tears and weeping -think on the bitter tears over Lazarus, the tears that came during His passion. He shared in the tears of mankind that He might with His death and resurrection rescue you from all weeping forever more. He came and He lived in harmony even with those who struck and abused Him. He was not haughty, but came and preached good news to lowly sinners, to those spurned by society - even to you.

St. Paul also gives us a picture here of what Christ Jesus did - He overcame the evil of our sinfulness by the perfect Goodness of His life, death, and resurrection. We now participate in that, we now bear His goodness, we now let it shine forth - now in part as we struggle against sin, but on the last day in full reflected glory.

This week, strive to show love like Christ, and when that is hard, when you fail, remember that Christ Jesus has indeed shown you prefect love, and that He has overcome your evil with His righteousness.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sermon - 4th Sunday after Trinity

Trinity 4 – Luke 6:36-42 – June 27th, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

They are off by one verse. It seems as though everyone and his brother, even the worst, most despicable lout on the planet knows a verse from this morning’s gospel, or at least a quarter of the verse. “Judge not, let ye be judged.” Oh, how wonderful, how neat – and don’t you ever, ever even hint or insinuate or suggest that I’m doing something wrong. . . cause then you are judging, and that means you are a bad, bad person. . . . I should hope by now every one of you here realizes that this isn’t the point of our Gospel lesson – in fact, if there were one verse from here to have memorized, one verse that puts all of this into perspective, it is the very first verse of our text today – “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” There it is, there is the key. Be merciful, just like God is. That’s the key to understanding everything in the Gospel.

When we think, when we talk about God – we need to remember and understand that He is merciful. We need to understand that God’s desire is not to condemn, not to damn, not to punish, but to save, to restore, to heal, to bring growth. God is not petty. God does not enjoy tormenting people or showing them who’s boss – He’ll show you that He’s boss if you demand, if you insist, if you mess around with Him – but that’s not what He wants to do. Think about this – why did God make Adam and Eve in the first place? Was it so He could be mean to them – or was it because He loved them and wished to give them a wondrous garden in which to live? Of course it was because of love. And even when Adam and Eve fall, yes, there are consequences, but before God even addresses the consequences, He promises a Savior. Yes, I will send a Savior for you, but in the mean time, you’ve messed up the world a bit Adam and Eve, and things will be rough – here, let Me make you some clothes. Mercy abounds. Luther would call this showing of mercy God’s proper work – how God prefers, first and foremost to act. Punishment, stuff like that, Luther called that God’s alien work – that which is foreign to Him, that which comes about only because on occasion we need to be kept in check, we need to be reminded of our sinfulness. But overwhelmingly, God wants to show mercy, and even if He does punish, does show us our sin, it’s so we will repent and receive mercy.

With this in mind, hear what our Lord teaches us today – “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you.” Or in other words – your approach to life is to mirror that of God’s approach – you are to strive for mercy. Judging here doesn’t mean simply seeing that something is wrong, simply observing, but rather placing yourself in a position of authority over another. When I consider my neighbor, shall I seek to be merciful to him and aid him, or shall I set myself above him and say, “You are lousy and horrible”? Which of these is Godly? Shall I pray earnestly that my neighbor be forgiven, or shall I call upon God to damn him? Which of these is Godly? Shall I strive to forgive my neighbor, or shall I say, “No, your wickedness is too great, too big even for Christ on the Cross to handle, I will not forgive.” Which of these is Godly? Shall I be generous with my neighbor, freely helping and aiding him with the blessings God has given me, or shall I turn a blind eye to him in his need, thinking God will fail to support me if I use my stuff to aid my neighbor? Which of these is Godly? The whole point of the instruction here is about our attitude and approach – are we to seek God’s mercy, both for ourselves and for others, or are we going to instead delight in pride and condemnation?

Christ teaches us that we are to be Godly, that we are to be merciful like our Father in heaven, that we are to be people of forgiveness – and if not – well – “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” God desires mercy. God desires forgiveness. God becomes man and suffers and dies so that there is plenteous forgiveness. That should be the focus, the center, the approach of our life, and when it is, when we confess our sins there is always overflowing forgiveness for us. However – if we choose that we prefer to angrily judge, God can be the angry Judge too. If we want to damn our neighbor, God can be the great Damner too. If we want to withhold forgiveness, withhold aid and care, God can withhold forgiveness and aid and care too. This is the warning Christ gives us – do not reject the God of mercy and love, for that is folly.

And the key to this, the way in which we are kept from falling into sins which reject and despise God’s mercy, sins of pride, of arrogance, of hatred and disdain is two fold. Listen – “He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they both not fall into a pit?’” The first key, the first thing to remember as a defense against your pride and arrogance is to remember that you are just as blind, that you are just as foolish, that you are just as lousy as your neighbor. Now, do we believe this? Think about the person this week who annoyed you and upset you the most – do you really believe that you are just as lousy and blind and foolish according to your sinful nature as they are? Cause that’s what Scripture says – and it’s the truth. There is a beauty to understanding this truth – it frees us from pride and animosity – it lets us have compassion. When we get dumped on by someone, we shouldn’t become hateful or angry – we should remember that we too are blind, we should think, “Is this what it feels like to other people when I act the fool - Good Lord, have mercy upon me.” We must know our own blindness first and foremost – and we must tend to it. After all, does not our Lord say, “Why do you see the speck that is in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.’”

The second key is to live a life where you receive forgiveness. The only way the log in our eye is taken away is because Christ Jesus Himself took up that log, and was nailed to it and crucified upon it. It is there upon the Cross where Christ wins forgiveness, it is there from the cross where the streams of forgiveness which cleanse us flow from. Christ here is encouraging and instructing you to focus on forgiveness, to see that you yourself receive it, that you delight in it, that you rejoice in it – and when you have, then and only then will you be prepared to help your neighbor rejoice in God’s forgiveness as well. Then you will be able to speak the forgiveness that you have received from Christ to your neighbor. Do we understand that, do we realize how wondrous and how powerful this is? What we have received from Christ, the forgiveness that He has piled upon us, richly, a good measure of it – He has given us the power and authority to speak it, to give it to others. The same flood of love that God used to wash the log out of our eye, the power of His Word, He gives to us to use to cleanse and forgive the speck that is in our neighbor’s eye. We get to be like Christ – we get to be Christians – we get to be little-Christs speaking the Word of forgiveness and life to our neighbor.

Did you not hear what Christ said? “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” You are by no means above Christ your teacher, but when you are trained, when you learn to see things like Christ sees things, when you learn to look at the world through His love, when you desire to show mercy as your Father in heaven shows mercy – then you will be like Christ. You will do Christ like things – you will speak forth Christ’s powerful Word of life and forgiveness. What we learn here in this service, what we receive here, we take out with us and bring to the world. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved – that Word of Christ was given to us, applied to us – and then this week, wherever we go, it is with us, and we may speak it to others so that the Holy Spirit might bring them to belief and forgiveness as well. We complicate so many things in our folly, when we in our sinful blindness try to take charge of things. Dear friends, you need no plan, no program, no massive funding campaign to save the lost. Listen to Christ – by the power of His Word be forgiven, and then you will see clearly to reach out to those suffering from sin, and speak to them the same Word to forgive and restore them.

Be merciful, for your Father in heaven has been merciful to you – for this mercy and love which He has for you shapes and colors everything in your life. It defines you – you are one who has received the Word of life and forgiveness – you are one who now may speak that same Word. This is the reality of your life – do not neglect it for the sake of anger or pride or the desire to rule over your neighbor. Rather, delight in God’s love and mercy to you always, especially throughout this week in the life God gives you to lead this week in the world. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Saturday, June 26, 2010

But where are the Missions focused?

So, my wife and I have been on a 2-night southern Oklahoma, northern Texas road trip. Driving around, I've noted one thing. There are an awful lot of towns that just don't have a Lutheran Church. Small towns, villages, things like that. Places where you might have to drive 30-40 miles to hit the next Lutheran Church - if the locals even knew what a Lutheran was.

Why isn't our mission focused out that way? When was the last time you heard of a mission plant being out into a place where there was no Lutheran presence - rather than just expanding into the suburbs? There are so many areas in the Bible Belt where people probably have never even gotten a whiff of Lutheran theology -- and instead, we plant churches that turn a 10 minute drive one way into a 5 minute drive another way.

I'm not saying the later is wrong - but seriously, when was the last time you heard about a Lutheran Church being placed, a mission being sent to a place in the US where there was no Lutheran presence before? That's the way we used to do it - two or three Lutheran families would move into an area and say, "Time to make a Church." It's a little depressing.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Hotel Room Theology

For your consideration, I present the following placard I found in my hotel room in Duncan, OK.

+ + + + +

Dear guests:

Every day millions of gallons of water are used to wash towels that have only been used once.


A towel on the rack means, "I will use again."
A towel on the floor means "Please exchange"

Please Decide For Yourself

Thank You for Helping Us Conserve the Earth's Vital Resources

+ + + + +

Note how this works. The crux of salvation, the place where the saving of the planet falls -> you. Your choice, your decision. By your works, whether you carelessly toss the towel on the ground, or whether you like a good person put the towel on the rack determines whether or not the vital resources of the earth will be abused! Decide!

Is this not the typical American approach to theology. Your own salvation depends upon you. . . if you decide, if you choose to follow Jesus like a good boy, then there is salvation. If you are a lazy layabout, then there is doom - doom!

It's so man-centric. As though whether or not I have a towel be washed is going to doom the planet. Ut-oh, we are only staying at this hotel a night - did we doom the planet, because everything is going to be washed! Oh wretches that my wife and I are!

We Americans are so arrogant, we have such an ego. We expect things to be about us. In this world, to an extent, perhaps, although we still overestimate our powers. Theologically, apart from Christ, as He tells us, we can do nothing. It is always about Him, what He has done, His love for us. Americans tend not to like this - we want to be the ones with power - power to change the government, power to change the world, power to purchase more and more - and ultimately, power to save ourselves.

But it is Christ who saves us. Ours is not to choose to come to Christ, ours is to receive the blessings He has showered upon us.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

This is a Lovely Prayer. . .

This is a lovely prayer prior to the reception of the Lord's Supper which hails from our Eastern Orthodox brethren.

I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is truly Your pure Body and that this is truly Your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And make me worthy without condemnation to partake of Your pure Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins and for life eternal. Amen.

How shall I, who am unworthy, enter into the splendor of Your saints? If I dare to enter into the bridal chamber, my clothing will accuse me, since it is not a wedding garment; and being bound up, I shall be cast out by the angels. In Your love, Lord, cleanse my soul and save me.

Loving Master, Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let not these holy Gifts be to my condemnation because of my unworthiness, but for the cleansing and sanctification of soul and body and the pledge of the future life and kingdom. It is good for me to cling to God and to place in Him the hope of my salvation.

Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries. Nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your kingdom.

Evangelism Myth 2 = The "Ideal" Myth

There is another Myth going around concerning Evangelism - and this is the myth of the Ideal. I noticed this because I heard a bit of the "Ideal Pastor" myth lately - that if your Pastor is just a certain way, a certain kind of fellow, then people will flock to him.

Oh, it's not said so bluntly as that. It's said under the guise of "leadership" - or that the pastor will be an "example of this outreach lifestyle." What in reality this all boils down to is that an ideal Pastor is supposed to be an out-going, creative person who is good looking, slick, the kind of guy people will look at and say, "Man, I wish I could be like him." In fact, at the TCN the other night, the "Ideal" pitchman-pastor noted how part of the program is that pastors in the program would be held accountable for their health and habits. . . translation - we think fat pastors are lousy pastors, cause people don't envy fat people in America any more.

And this got me to thinking. Am I the ideal pastor in any way? I'm not a stunningly handsome or charismatic man. I'm not outgoing - I'm much more of an introvert. I'm willing to serve and go, but I'm less likely to suggest. And even with things like this blog, I'm not nearly as creative as I am a responder (this is a response to what I have heard, not me just making something up). I'm a shy, intellectual counter-puncher, who likes to analyze and examine things, tinker with them.

(Side note: this might be why I love the Japanese - this is culturally what they excel at. Take something from other people, examine it, tinker with it, improve upon it. And Musashi Miyamoto, the greatest Samurai of all time, basically taught that the most effective way to fight was to wait for your opponent to expose a weakness when he began his attack - or in other words, be a counter puncher.)

So - what does this mean? I'm not the Ideal pastor - does this mean I am doomed, doomed to utter failure?

If I had just considered the plans of men instead of the world of God, yes. However, I much prefer to be in the Word. Consider this - "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone."

Now, consider the typical Evangelism program that comes down the pike. Although they say they will customize it to you, to your demographics, and the like - are they not all pretty much cookie-cutter? They want pastors to act in way X (where X has nothing to do with preaching or teaching), they want people who outreach by doing Y (cause the people in the pew are going to be "ideal" pew-sitters too -- and they may even have a neat catch phrase for what the laity must be like). And if my talents don't lean that way. . . well, we'll just have to put you through training and try and fix you since we are stuck with you.

But thanks be to God, our Lord doesn't work that way. Do you know why I am a Pastor - not because I fit some ideal mold, not because I'm some bureaucrat's poster-boy vision of what the LCMS should look like. No, I'm a pastor because God in His wisdom gave me my talents, and then called me to be a pastor. Let me improve who I am, not attempt to be something I am not.

Likewise the laity. What are your joys, what are the ways of loving your neighbor that you delight in? Go do those! Go live out your vacation. If you like to bake - go bake. If you like yard work - go help out someone with their yard. If you are a nurse - go help someone with health stuff. If you can build - um, I myself could maybe put you to work. But whatever talents, whatever gifts God has given you (and I'm not talking about some "Spiritual gifts inventory" here, which assumes that only "Spiritual" gifts have real value - Hogwash!), go put those talents to use in showing love to your neighbor.

Then, as you do that, as you have opportunity, as God gives you courage (if and when He does), confess your Lord.

That's Scripture's instructions - instructions that are so flexible that they can be applied to us all - even if we aren't the "go-getter" that some slick-haired fellow tells us we should be - even if we aren't as fit as we ought to be. God made you - you are His workmanship, created for Good Works which He designed especially for you? Now, doesn't that give you more confidence than any $8000 Outreach "intervention" done by some so-called expert in Evangelism ever could?

Givin' My Whole Heart?

There is the classic (and poor) question, "Have you given your whole heart to Jesus?" As the folks at Table Talk Radio point out, the answer to that, in and of ourselves is. . . no. We are always sinful people with hearts that are torn and bruised and broken. Thanks be to God that Christ Jesus has given His whole Heart, indeed, given His whole Body over for us upon the Cross.

But yesterday in our Psalms study class, I saw something that just put a whole new perspective on this language.

Psalm 86:11-12

Teach me your way, O LORD,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.
12I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.

Now, let's think about that for a second - it uses that "whole heart" language, language which can be used to throw such a massive guilt trip upon people. But that is no where near it's intent. See what happens -- "Unite my heart". That's where things start. Things start when God teaches us His way, how He does things, and that this way of God unites and heals our hearts.

Our Gospel for Sunday here begins: "Be merciful, even as Your Father in heaven is merciful." The way of the LORD is to be merciful, the Way of the LORD is Christ Jesus (I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. . .) going to the Cross so that He can shower mercy upon us in the Preaching of the Word, in the waters of Baptism, in giving us His whole Heart and Body and Blood in His most precious Supper. When it comes to fixing my heart, God Himself is the One who is active in this, the One who does in. This is a Christ thing, a thing He does.

And then, when we have received this wondrous gift, the heart that He has united and forgiven gives thanks and glorifies His name. We see this now in part, as we struggle through this life of sin, this life were temptation and trial continually shatter our hearts. . . but Christ Jesus continually unites our hearts - Creates in us cleans hearts (if you prefer the Psalm 51 language) -- and then finally, on the last day our hearts will be united in the resurrection of the dead, never to be broken again, and then we will truly give thanks to God, truly glorify His name forever."

Verse 12 - I give thanks to You, O God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify Your Name forever.

This is not a stick of the law with which to beat flagging Christians. This is a confession of faith in the Messiah who makes my heart whole, even now and forever more. This is a confession of faith in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come where my heart will be able to be given wholly and where my glorifying of God will never cease.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Myth of the Evangelism Magnet

There is a myth floating around - and I mean literally a "myth" - a story, a tale that floats around, and people hear, and then they believe, and they think, "Oh, this is what we should believe and put our trust in." It is the Myth of the Evangelism Magnet.

So, what is this myth? Well, it has many variations, but it goes like this. Did you hear about that congregation over there? Well, they decided to do "X" (where X is some program, or some specific activity or building project) - and suddenly, more people started showing up and their church was growing. Boy, that means we ought to do X as well, sign us up!

There are a lot of Xs. . . maybe it's the latest program for outreach from the Synod, maybe it's a building project (not as popular a myth in a recession, but just wait, once the economy turns around, you will hear how a growing church is a building church), maybe it's a day care or a spiffy program, maybe it's a "blended" service. . . there are tons of Xs. However, they all have one thing in common.

They don't involve you directly speaking to people you know about Jesus.

Oh, well, sure, of course someone does some Jesus talk at some point (although if that can be held off until the people magically wander into the Church and the pastor can handle it, that's the best -- according to the myth). But note about these myths - they are are impersonal - there is a project, a group activity, something everyone does together (or throws money at), and then we can sit back and watch the people show up - how awesome!

But for a moment, pause. Consider yourself. How did you come into the Church? Was it the building program? Was it that you woke up one Sunday and thought, "You know, even though I have never wanted to go to Church before, I heard Church Y had a rocking service, I'll go"? Actually, I'm guessing it was because someone, someone you already knew, told you about Christ's love for you.

Simple as that. As wondrous as that.

However, now the dominate idea seems to be this Evangelism Magnet idea - that the program will draw - and that my interacting with people I know will be minimal. The program is what will draw people in and give growth.

But that's not what Scripture teaches. The Word gives life - the Word spoken by parent to child, the Word spoken by friend to friend, the Word spoke by neighbor to neighbor. The Word proclaimed 1 on 1.

It's an appealing myth, this Evangelism Magnet. But it is a lie. Even if you get people to sniff around your church because of program X, it still is a lie. It is the Word alone that gives life.

And the thing is - you don't even have to do much for this - in fact there is less work involved in this for you than there is for program X. Go hear the Gospel proclaimed - learn it. And then, when God drops someone into your path who is hurting, who sees the impact of sin in their life, tell them the comfort you have received from God in His Gospel. And leave it there.

As the old lyrics to "Lift High the Cross" taught, there is one magnet - the Cross - the Gospel of Christ Crucified. Let that be your only magnet - and don't put a lot of time-consuming, expensive fluff in the way of it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I am here by publicly offering my services for a new show/program - it could be done privately, or we could record and pod cast. Ready. . .it would be. . .

Brown's Preaching Nightmares!

Yes, I will come and and examine your preaching, rip your abuse of the text, abuse of Law and Gospel to utter shreds, and then rebuild you into a textual, Lutheran preacher.


Now just to wait for the phone calls and offers to come rolling in.

Yep. . . just to wait for the phone to ring and get to work.



Oh wait - Seminarian Hobson is coming home -- even if no one volunteers, I'll get to do it anyway. Woot!

What does this sound like. . .

So, in 1563, the Puritan faction within the Church of England made the following 5 demands.

1 – Less Saints Days
2 – Elimination of Vestments for the Clergy
3 – Elimination of kneeling at the altar to receive the Lord’s Supper
4 – Elimination of “emergency baptism” of sick newborns.
5 – Elimination of organs from the Church.

So - does this sound like anything to you? Or, let me put it in these terms. . . In order to resonate with American Culture (as an aside, heavily influenced by Puritanism), there's a few things we should do, like:
1 - Get rid of that confusing Church Year and just preach on what is important to the people right now,
2 - Be more casual and approachable in how we handle church,
3 - Be more casual in our sense of worship - we don't want to weird people out with God's presence,
5 - Get rid of that culturally-unintelligible organ music.

Now, sadly, this comparison is superficial and surface at best, because unlike the Puritans, who had strongly held religious conviction that their 5 things were unscriptural, when we hear these things today, they are simply to fit in and be more popular.

We have people longing to chillax with the Puritans - Lord have mercy upon us!

Transforming Congregations Network

I will repeat here what I wrote to the pastors of my circuit after seeing a presentation made explaining the Synod's Transforming Congregations Network. This was part of a meeting amongst the circuit to explore approaches and angles of outreach within our circuit, and possibly ways in which our congregations might work together.

Second, my thoughts concerning Transforming Congregations are not favorable. The initial assertion was that the traditional outreach methods we have seen are flawed - yet this is the same, tired business model based package that we have seen for the past 15 years, only it's called TCN instead of SMP or PLI. When the first congregation that uses the program is a Methodist congregation, there is no reason for any Lutheran Congregation to use it, for if it is acceptable to a Methodist congregation, the program will have a differing view of the purpose of the Church and worship.

The Goal of the Church is not to provide interesting and engaging services (physical or emotional) to people, but to proclaim Christ, to bring people not just to a "relationship" with God but into His very presence in His House where He gives us His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins. In all his presentation, there was little focus on Christ (and I say little simply because if I say "no focus" as I wish, I might have over looked a 30 second comment). It seems as though the focus is upon tricking folks into the door and hoping they learn something. That isn't outreach - for it's the same thing a snake oil salesman could do. This was disturbing.

Moreover, the presenter butchered the parable of the Sower. The parable of the Sower's point is *not* that we ought to look to try to find the good soil and focus our efforts there. We cannot see into the hearts of men, we cannot judge who is or isn't good soil - in fact, we shouldn't even judge the harvest of another - rather we should consider what our own hearts produce and repent ourselves. No, the parable of the Sower is that God sends His Word out everywhere - it speaks to the universality of our proclamation, while explaining why some reject that Word. His approach completely contradicted this. Moreover, what was pointed to as things which plant a harvest was not the Word, but rather neat, energizing activities on our part.

I will strongly, strongly recommend against any congregation using this, as from what I have seen the focus is shallow, works focused, and generic in doctrine. For too long the Missouri Synod has aped and mimicked the shallow programs of generic American Christianity - I am more and more convinced it is time to be Lutherans like Luther - staunchly and firmly and gladly focusing on the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ in all its richness amidst a world full of anabaptists and papists and enthusiasts who with their false doctrine place burdens upon men.

Just thought some of you who have not had the privilege of siting through the sales pitch would like some observations upon it. Mark and avoid - this is my counsel.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Brief Observation

You know, it is amazing how much the "New" amazing Transforming Congregations stuff sounds exactly like the Specific Ministry stuff that was floating around 5 years ago, which was old and tired then.

Don't Drink the Kool-aid!

Scott Adams, of Dilbert Fame, writes the following:

"When companies make money, we assume they are well-managed. That perception is reinforced by the CEOs of those companies who are happy to tell you all the clever things they did to make it happen. The problem with relying on this source of information is that CEOs are highly skilled in a special form of lying called leadership. Leadership involves convincing employees and investors that the CEO has something called a vision, a type of optimistic hallucination that can come true only in an environment in which the CEO is massively overcompensated and the employees have learned to be less selfish."

If you substitute "money" with "members" and apply this to Churches, this is the exact same disdain I have for Church Growth Mentalities.

12 and a half. . .

So, part of the reason why things have been so random here on this blog this morning is because I have finally decided that I need to update the Church's website. . . in particular the page with the sermons on it.

The software I have - Yahoo's sitebuilder - is the clunkiest thing ever. . . one of those programs where the letters appear around 2 seconds after you type. And then there is the uploading... which is going on now.

So I've been avoidant of if. Thus if life.

However, in looking at all my sermon recordings, I was struck with the regularity of the start time. There was only a range of around 3 or 4 minutes on when the sermons started. And the timing of service here is fairly consistent - generally a communion service will be right at 65-70 minutes, let's say 65 for the sake of argument at the moment. And that got me to thinking. . .

One of the complaints about the historic liturgy is that we just do the same thing, over and over again. Too often we let this statement sort of go unchallenged - so this morning I went through the Ordinaries - the things that we say and sing week in and week out.

It took 12 and a half minutes - 12 and a half blessed minutes where I didn't have to deal with Yahoo Sitebuilder. This wasn't me rushing through it - if anything I was taking more time than I would - and this is everything that is in the hymnal for DS3. 12.5 minutes out of 65 - or basically just less than 20%. Or in other words, even when one uses the Historic Liturgy, 80% of what goes on changes from week to week. 80%. That's not the same thing week in and week out - it's the same structure that let's us understand that 80%.

Oh, and as it is updating, if you want to hear my voice on the sermons you've seen on this blog, they can be found at

Follow the twisted train of thought

(This is what happens when I restart my computer and am simply forced to think)

1. There is the assumption that older musical styles associated with the liturgy no longer resonate with people today.

2. For the sake of argument, let us grant this.

3. Then, the question would be, what style of music best approximates a worship service, where there are multiple singers with differing roles, and also large group aspects?

4. The closest approximation would be Musical Theater/ Broadway style music. There is the understanding of role - of conversing through song, of joining together in large vocal pieces.

(Author's note: Walking away from my computer while it began its reboot the line, "Now Eva Peron had every disadvantage, you need if you're going to succeed." popped into my head)

5. For Musical Theater to work, it is VITAL that the lyric be set and unchanging. This holds true from a local community production to Broadway to a midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. If the lyric changes, the ability of a production to function fails utterly. Nor, could such changing lyrics be learned and beloved by the audience.

6. Likewise, even popular songs in other formats, such as Rock or Country, maintain lyrical consistency. Even cover songs that cross over into other genres maintain lyrical consistency.

7. Therefore, an attempt to contemporize the liturgy or make it more appealing to the masses that involves a constant changing of the lyric of the liturgy fundamentally operates in a way that is foreign to modern audiences.

8. Therefore, while one might argue that we ought put the lyric of the liturgy to a more modern, showtunesque setting (a la LSB's DS4), it is vital that the words of that service remain consistent.

So yes, I think having Andrew Lloyd Webber take a crack a writing a setting would be better than what you do each week in cutting and pasting from the "Creative Worship" book. I don't think I'd have the musical chops to pull it off - but if it were learned it could be done well, in theory.

9. The people who call for contemporary services do not desire a well done liturgy, but the removal thereof.

(I suppose in the day one might have been able to do a Blues Style service, as lyrically speaking the Blues have a call and response function lyrically:

I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees.
Down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees.
Asked the Lord above for mercy, "Save me if you please."

This is an A-B/A-B/C movement - which could be applied liturgically. However, if the goal is to create a service that is "contemporary" then this wouldn't work today as the Blues has fallen out of popularity in popular music.

Oh, and for anyone who read this and threw up a bit in their mouth, I apologize.)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Trinity 3 sermon

Trinity 3 – Luke 15:11-32 – June 20th, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Today’s parable is now known as the parable of the Prodigal Son. This is actually a horrible name. There’s not just one son in our story today, there’s two, and we end up sort of ignoring the second son because of the title. And in reality, neither son is the main character. Folks used to simply called this parable the Prodigal. So what does “prodigal” mean? Now we just assume it means “wandering” – but that’s not what it used to mean. It meant overflowing – like a prodigy overflows with talent, or my dad’s prodigious tree overflows with apricots. The focus of this parable isn’t really upon either son – but upon the Father, the Father and his prodigious love, love for his two wicked sons.

And yes, I did say two wicked sons. Both sons in this story are troublesome and in the wrong. To begin, the younger son. And the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.” Think just how insulting this would be. Dad, I can’t wait for you to die so I can inherit stuff, just give it to me now. And we know what this young son does – he runs off, he blows it on wine, women, and song. And the way the story goes, it doesn’t seem to take him too long. Think about that – burning through half your life’s work in just a short time. Must have been wild. Must have been wretched and wicked. So we see that this younger son is off base, we get that. But what about the older son – in reality he’s just as bad.

Oh surely he’s not that bad! He stays at home, he works hard, isn’t he a good kid? When the older son hears that his brother has come home and there is a celebration, what does the older son do? Listen – But he was angry and refused to go in. Then when his dad comes out to “entreat him” – to beg him kindly to come back in, this older son tells his dad off. “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” Do you see just how wicked this son is? Think about this – he snubs family, snubs his brother. If I had snubbed my family like this, my mother would have tanned my hide. And then consider how he talks to his father. “Look”. If I copped an attitude like that, again, a tanned hide would have been in my future. And then he brags – I’m wonderful – but you dad, you are mean and unfair and you never gave me anything, not even something to share with my friends – not only do you treat me unfairly but you make me look bad in front of my friends too. Do you see how lousy this older son is behaving – I mean, this is nasty rebellion – this is a guy dressing down his father simply because his knickers are in a bunch cause his brother got some attention.

They are both lousy – and at least the younger son has the good grace to recognize this fact. Granted, he doesn’t realize it until he’s broke, stuck feeding pigs – and for Jewish folks, who thought pigs were unclean – this is about as low and bad and nasty as a job as you can get. So you have the younger son who is wild, could care less, and hits bottom and realizes he needs help. You have the older son who is prideful in himself, who is hateful, angry, and mouthy, just completely willing to dress down his dad. I feel bad for the father in this text – both his sons treat him like dirt. The one says, “I wish you were dead” and the other says, “You’ve never done anything for me, all you make me do is work.”

But what does this father do? When the younger son comes home, does he make him slave away in the fields? Does the father become the cruel taskmaster the older son accuses him of being? No. Before the younger son can even apologize, can even start to beg, the father sees him coming and runs to meet him. We might have in our image some guy in overalls running down a dirt road, almost like in the Waltons or something like that – no. In Jesus day they wore tunics – they basically wore robes, dresses that went down to mid-calf. He had to hike up his hem and run. It would have been a spectacle, an embarrassment. Dignified men didn’t run, and they certainly didn’t run to meet lousy brats like that younger son. But with joy, without concern for his own pride, the father runs to meet the younger son. What love!

And then, there is how the father deals with the older son. Here this father hasn’t seen his younger son in who knows how long. And we know the father is so excited, so overjoyed to have this younger son back. But then he hears that the older son, his other son, is upset. So what does he do? He leaves his younger son’s party, leaves the son whom he hadn’t seen in who knows how long, and goes to see this older, pouting son. And when the older son is vile to him, lambastes him unfairly and unjustly, what does this father do? Does he give him the back of his hand? No. Out of his great love for the older son, he speaks kindly, he speaks gently, he seeks to restore the love between brothers and remove this brother’s hate. Do you see how this father is prodigious in love, how he is overflowing with love for both his wayward children, how he is patient and kind with them?

The point of the parable is that this is precisely how God is with you. Consider again for a moment the two sons, for they are pictures, images of how we ourselves might fall into sin. You have the younger son, and he is greedy, he falls into gross sin, he could care less. That happens. He just seeks to serve his wants, his desires, “I’ll do whatever feels good” and cares for no one else. That’s one way Satan will tempt us – and that is a way of pain and suffering. It breaks us and we fall until we hit rock bottom. A lousy thing, but how many of us here have had to hit bottom with something? This happens. And then there is the older son. He’s arrogant, he’s prideful, he thinks so well of himself – and what does this do? It cuts him off, it isolates him. Think about it – everyone else is celebrating together, having a wonderful time – and he’s off sulking in a field. That’s what pride and arrogance do – if you walk around thinking you are better than other people, you end up alone. How many of us have been there? Just so sure that we were right and we were going to tell people about it, and we look around, and we are off by ourselves because we in our pride were wrong. These sons show us simple, typical ways of sinning, and the end result for both of them are lousy. One is down at rock bottom, the other is stuck off on his own. Those aren’t good places to be. So I will say this – be wary of your desires, for often they are bad and will lead you astray. Be wary of your pride and arrogance, for that will lead you to kill relationships and drive you away from people.

And note also how these two sons end up having flawed ideas of how they relate to their Father. The younger son messes up twice – first he runs away from his father and doesn’t care whatsoever. Can we all agree quickly that running away from God and ignoring Him is a bad idea? But then, even when he has hit rock bottom, he still is messed up in how he wants to relate to his father. “I will arise and go to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your servants.’” It was good for a bit – you are right young son, you have sinned, and you aren’t worthy. But did you see where he goes too far? Treat me as one of your servants. He wants to tell his dad what to do, and he wants to work things out on his own. That’s not the way it works. He doesn’t get to work his way back into his dad’s good graces. The father will have none of it – he welcomes back his son, brings him good clothes, a ring and good shoes, prepares a feast – all without the son doing anything.

Dear friends, this is the picture of how God forgives you freely. God’s forgiveness, God’s welcoming you back into His family, into His House, to His table and Supper never has anything to do with what you are going to do for God. Works flow from forgiveness, but our works never cause forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is all about His complete and pure love for you. God loves you, plain and simple, and He desires to have you be with Him, forgiven and restored. He’s not going to make you jump through hoops first, He’s not going to hold you at arm’s length – rather, when we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. In fact, God is the one who does everything. It is Christ Jesus who comes running down from heaven to you, who suffers the embarrassment and shame of the Cross and the grave so that risen again He might welcome you with open arms to your heavenly home. This is God’s love for you.

And again, the older son doesn’t understand how he relates to his father. He too thinks it is all about what he himself does – look at how I have obeyed you and you never give me anything. Listen to what the Father says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” Son, how do I give you something when it’s yours already? I am with you, and everything that is mine, the house, the fields, the goats and calves, they are yours already – don’t you see? And the older son had been so worried about working, about earning his father’s respect that he failed to see that the father had given him every blessing already. Now, do you see how this too can be a way that we misunderstand God? God is not some cruel taskmaster – it’s not as though we must slave away and hope that God gives us something. Has not Christ Jesus our Lord told us that He is with us always, even to the end of the age? Have we not received so much goodness from God even before we think to ask for it? This is God’s love for you – for He is with you, and all that He is, His goodness, His righteousness, His holiness, His love – this is yours. And the problem is that so often we get focused on what we in our pride are going to do that we forget, we overlook what God has given to us already. But the most beautiful thing is that when we sulk, when we pout – God comes to us and says, “You’re baptized, you are joined to Me, I am with you always, and everything, heaven itself is yours now. Remember this, rejoice in this – rejoice in the good that you have and rejoice in the good that your brothers have.”

This, dear friends, is the picture of God’s love for you. Love that is overwhelming, love that is full, love that is complete. There is nothing left for you to do to earn it – simply rejoice in the blessings of forgiveness and life and salvation that are yours, for Christ Jesus our Lord has won us all these things, and He gives them to us gladly and freely. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Or to be shorter. . .

(Brevity is the soul of wit, so take two).

If "mission" is to speak Christ to others - then all mission training can be judged on whether or not it teaches Christ.

People Aren't Dying without Christ

I hear all the time that people are dying without Christ, so we must do something. And normally, I end up taking issue with the later half of the statement - that it isn't I who do anything, but the Word that does it. Proclaim the Word and salvation will arise. And often I get blank stares, befuddlement, and wonder as to what I am talking about. I had thought a lot of the misguided mission talk was centered around a lack of understanding of the 3rd article of the Creed - that I by my own reason or strength cannot believe in Christ Jesus my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me. . . and ditto the Church.

That is something that is messed up, something that is missed - but I think I have made a breakthrough. The reason why people don't understand the 3rd Article of the Creed is because they don't believe the impact of the Law and the 2nd Article.

Consider the phrase "People are dying without Christ". Scripturally speaking - is that true - is that the fullness of what it is to be without Christ? To be dying?

"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." - Ephesians 2:1-3

It's not that people are dying, it's that they are already DEAD. Period. Dead as a doornail. To not have faith is to be dead, dead, dead.

You see, it's not that the people out there are dying and *we* can rescue them, that we can stop them from drowning, even that we can convince them to come on in and be rescued. They are dead. I can't raise the dead by my own reason or strength - I can't find the magic program that will suddenly give life to the dead. I am not able to breath into man the breath of life. . .

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. . ."

But God can. God excels at breathing into the nostrils of man the breath of life -- or to be all Hebrew about it, Gos excels at Spiriting into man the Spirit of life -- you know, the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the Giver of Life. . . I cannot do anything, but the Holy Spirit, who always accompanies the Word of God, the Word of Christ, the Word that points to and gives Christ, He can and does raise those dead in trespasses and give them life.

And this is totally and completely the work of the Spirit by the Gospel, by the Word of God. Seriously. Totally and completely - without any merit or worth in me bringing about my salvation. . . "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

There is nothing I bring to the table as regards my salvation. And now I will make a bold claim that will drive many folks nuts. There is nothing that I bring to the table regarding anyone else's salvation. Not my awesome plans or programs. Not my brilliant ideas for outreach. Not any simple 7 steps outlined in my best seller.

Why do I say that? "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

Oh, sure, I do good works - but they aren't "my" good works. Not properly speaking - it's not as though I create the good works, or that I have to find them or plan them or micromanage them, or that I do anything of myself to bring them about. No - I am God's workmanship - I am created by God in Christ Jesus for good works - for HIS good works that He has prepared before hand -- and He simply makes me to walk in them.

Why is it that we focus on our plans? Why is it that like the wise fool we look at our programs and our barns and say, "Ah, now we can do stuff"? You want an outreach plan - here's one that isn't something I made up, doesn't involve any steps. It's God's plan - go live your life, and you know what, God has prepared good works for you to walk in.

There it is. Will God put people in your life for you to care for? Yep. Will God put people in your life for you to encourage with the Word? Yep. Will God even put people into your life who are dead, dead, dead, and then have you speak out the Word He had spoken to you, have you breath out the Spirit who has been breathed into you? Yep.

You want outreach - be in Christ's Word. Receive the Word and Spirit of life in preaching, in the Supper. Then go live your life. Hear Christ, be forgiven, be strengthened by Christ's Body and Blood in the Supper. That way you may fend off Satan when he tries to keep you from carrying for people. That way you won't worry about what you will say (WHAT? You mean we don't have to check the program's notebook for what we have to say at point 2.1 b in our script? Or determine what stage of interest the person might be?) - for "And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.""

Why don't we simply listen to Christ - and then speak back what He has said to us in His Word? We used to do that. Our lives were shaped by the liturgy (which is us simply speaking back to God His Word), our training shaped by the Catechism (which is us simply speaking back to God His Word in an orderly, German way), our daily prayers (which is us simply speaking back to God His Word, often exactly as He has taught us to pray. . .) - oh foolish Americans, who has bewitched us that we would substitute for the simple, clear proclamation of Law and Gospel in season and out of season for the plans and ideas of men.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Post Church for quite some time. . .

So, I'm watching the Good Eats episode on Eggs Benedict, and it mentions the development of Brunch. The term "Brunch" was introduced in August of 1896 by one Guy Beringer, who calls for the creation of a new meal (brunch) - and why?

"Instead of England’s early Sunday dinner, a post-church ordeal of heavy meats and savory pies, why not a new meal, served around noon, that starts with tea or coffee . . . By eliminating the need to get up early on Sunday, brunch would make life brighter for Saturday night carousers."

(as a note: no, Beringer isn't using "post-church" in the modern "hip missionologist" sense - but he is describing a culture where Church is no longer the focus)

Even 114 years ago - already moving to a "post-church" culture. . . Sunday is for sleeping in.

And then, in the US, this kicks in after World War Two in great detail - a food historian notes: "We like to sleep in Sundays, read the newspapers and loll in bed. After the World War II generation went away from church altogether, Sunday became a day to enjoy doing nothing and brunch just grew like topsy."

What does all this mean? I don't think any of us are unfamiliar with the concept of Brunch - many of us even have enjoyed a nice brunch after the early service. However, this common American occurrence was developed really in the spirit of blowing of Church.

Ah, the arrogance and assumption Christians have made -- and only now do we realize the world doesn't think like we do. The said thing is, if we had just believed when the Scriptures told us the world was our enemy, we wouldn't have forgotten this.

(oh, and if you want to read the article where I got the quotes - try here)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Great Post from Jay

Alright, I will beam with a bit of pride - congregational member Vicar Jay Hobson has written a fantastic blog post comparing the Christian to a Vuvuzela down in South Africa at the world cup. Read it.

The Prodigal Son as Pastoral Care Instruction

The thing that strikes me about the so-called story of the Prodigal Son is just how lousy both sons are. The younger is wild, runs around, wastes - a "bad" seed. The older - is he that much better? He is prideful, he yells at his dad, tells him that he ignores him, is unkind, is not generous, and that he wastes attention on the lousy, younger son.

These two sons can often describe division and faction within a congregation - or even personalities we see there, can they not? Those who only seem to come to Church when they've hit rock bottom - the "stalwart" members who are arrogant and prideful and full of disdain whenever something doesn't go their way?

The father is the perfect example of Pastoral Care. How does he treat the younger son? With nothing but love and joy. I am glad you are here, let us get you incorporated, come to the feast, put your ring on, remember that you belong here and not out in your wild life. How does he treat the elder son? Even when he is yelled at and abused, the father speaks kindly, gently - corrects the elder son calmly, shows him what he isn't seeing.

This is the ideal form of pastoral care. To with joy lift up the fallen, and with quiet steadfastness and firmness to resist the proud and call them back.

This is so very, very hard. So often we want to be the Elder son telling folks off about how they treat us poorly. . . so often we want to be the younger son who runs off and just doesn't care about anything any more. Lord have mercy upon those You have called to serve as Your Pastors.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A New Blog

I think I am going to keep up doing the "Not Quite" posts - so I have created a new blog - Not Quite How It Goes.

Feel free to tell people about -

Monday, June 14, 2010

Not Quite the Hymn

Inspired by a discussion on worship.

"Man himself is present/ let us now appease him/ and with slick songs please him/ friendly stylish music/ see the crowds now gather/ this is what they'd rather/ like to hear/ in their ear/ for their Sunday chill time/ soothing sounds are so fine.

Now it's the Gen X'ers/ they want rocking music/ something that is "fresh, dope, and trip"/ thumpa, thumpa, thumpa/ hear the bass line driving/ mosh pits multiplying/ Holy grunge/ so much fun/ head bang now for Jesus/ man does this **** please us.

Then Chicago Folk mass/ see the grey haired hippie/ and the "peace-love" chicky/ did they light some incense?/ man it's kind of smokey/ and we've got the munchies/ flower child/ running wild/ trapsing down the aisle/ just another style.

What we do in worship/ doesn't really matter/ if it's God we're after/ anything will work here/ on a Sunday morning/ just don't make it boring/ if it's not/ relevant/ from my point of view/ then its day is through.

Oh, wait, that's not how it goes.

Not Quite How it Goes - Trinity 3

(The lesson for this upcoming Sunday is Luke 15:11-32 - the Prodigal. This isn't quite how it goes)

A man had two sons. The younger son said, "Dad, I wish you were dead so I could have my half of the estate." The father backhanded the boy and said, "There, you got one of my two hands. Be content with that." However, this younger son was clever, and he robbed his father of what the father would never have given and stole away in the night.

The younger son then basically blew through the money (it was over after he ran into Lindsey Lohan - just all down hill from there), and as he was scrounging away in an L.A. coffee shop, slinging Joe to skinny rich girls, longing to have their decaf lattes, he thought, "Wait a second, I should be sponging off of my dad like these broads are. . . how can I weasel my way back into his good graces?" So the younger son took remembered all the dirt he had experienced in his wild days and wrote a tell all book and appeared on TMZ. When the father saw his son on television, he said, "The boy is famous" and called him back home, where he welcomed him and his royalty checks.

The older son, heard this and was very upset, because he had convinced his dad to drop the younger boy out of the will, and now the older son was worried that unless he did something neat, the younger son would get everything. So the older son went out wildcatting for oil, and his father sent him an e-mail and said, "You better find something, because your younger brother is earning his keep. Otherwise, don't bother coming home, cause you aren't worth my time" And the older son finally got sick of everything and moved to Europe to write lousy self-help novels, completely estranged from his family. Then when the father died, he celebrated because his foolish father had forgotten to change the will, but the younger son was okay because he still had his money from the Tabloids to live off of.

Oh, wait, that's not quite how it goes.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Not quite how it goes

(Note: For those of you in the 3 Year Series, in the 1-Year we have Luke 14:15-24, which doesn't show up, I don't think, in the three. . . hmmmmm)

There was a man who was giving a feast, and when the feast was ready, he sent his servants inviting those who were invited saying, "Come to the feast." But they all alike made excuses. One said, "I have bought a field, please have me excused." Another said, "I've bought 5 yoke of oxen, please have me excused." And a third said, "I've just married a gal, and we ain't showing up."

When the servant returned to the master, the master was sad and said to himself, "I must be doing something wrong with my feast, otherwise more people would want to come." So he sent his servant to ask each of the people who refused the invitation what they would want in a feast, and the one said, "Pork" and the next said, "Shellfish", and the last said, "I'd like cheeseburgers." And the master said, "Even though we are Jewish and these are horrible things, I will make them - come to the feast." And still, they blew off the feast.

So he said to the servant, "Go, hire entertainers to wander around my feast, minstrels and jugglers, and then they will want to come." And so the minstrels sang bawdy songs and jugglers juggled and there was much spectacle, yet they still did not come to the feast.

So the master said, "I know, we will offer a nice, new cart to one of the people who arrives - the chance to win a cart, that will draw them in." And a few people looked in, but once they realized their ticket wasn't a winner, they left.

While this was happening, the lowly servants told their fellow poor and miserable of the wonders at the feast, and so the poor and the lowly showed up at the door and said to the master, "Might we partake of your feast, and we will do for you what we can." The master looked at them with disdain and said, "Um, this is a good feast for good people. Sorry, there's no room for you."

While the cooking continued, the wondrous smells of the feast drifted out to the highways, and strangers from a distant land smelled the feast, and so they came to the masters house and inquired of him what the feast was. But the master of the feast said, "You aren't the target demographic my feasting committee had in mind, so I don't think it would be good for you to be here - why don't you figure out a feast-team-leader from amongst yourselves and do whatever he tells you - maybe we'll even give you some scraps later on." And still the master pined for those who would not come, and he spent ever more time and effort trying to entice them to come, and soon his feast became a carnival, then a cart wash, then a tavern, then a finnancial advice center, then a social justice center that ignored the poor, all in the hopes of bringing those three in. And the master was well pleased with all his efforts at reaching the lost.

Oh - wait, that's not how Luke 14 goes. . . my bad. I must have gotten confused somehow.

Today's Sermon - Trinity 2

Trinity 2 – Luke 14:15-24 – June 13th, 2010

In the Name of the Father of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
When we hear Jesus teach this morning, He has been invited to dine at a house of the rulers of the Pharisees, where they were watching Him closely, eyeing Jesus for any mistake Him might make so they could lambaste Him. This the same meal where Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, where he teaches “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” It’s an interesting situation, and Jesus continues to teach, using imagery of the eternal feast of God, when finally, one of the people there jumps in with, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Oh, yes Jesus, when God shows His power and might, how great it will be to be there. Here’s the thing – this fellow didn’t realize how right he was, and yet how wrong he was. He was thinking of some sort of earthly-kingdom where we’ve driven out the Romans. He had visions of the victory party over earthly foes. He didn’t realize that Jesus is pointing us to something higher, something better.

But [Jesus] said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’” So here is the set up – a long expected party is about ready to be held. And people have known it is coming, have been looking for its coming, and then finally the messenger is set – the time is now! Come to the master’s feast!

And yet, there are problems. But they all began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought 5 yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ And excuses are made – and shoddy ones at that. This is the long awaited celebration! Your field can wait! It will be there tomorrow. So will the oxen, you can look at them tomorrow. And as this is the long expected feast, you wife ought to understand and rejoice as well that it is time! Because, that’s the thing – these excuses, they aren’t very good excuses. Think of it this way – if you were invited to your niece’s wedding and said, “eh, I just bought a field, I can’t show up” would anyone buy that excuse? Lousy excuses are given. So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ The master knows he’s been blown off, but he is determined to have his house filled for the celebration. So he orders that those who were looked down upon be invited in, the poor, the lame. Bring them. And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you command has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’ And when there is still room, when the poor of the city can’t fill it up – go find the strangers and travelers on the highways – go find the criminals and robbers hiding behind the hedges – go find anyone and everyone – fill the house. But those who blew the master off were going to get nothing.

That is the story – and those Pharisees knew that Christ was directing this squarely at them. For a long, long time, the Messiah had been promised. That was the refrain of the Old Testament – the Messiah, the One promised in the Garden, the Prophet like Moses whom God would give to His people, the true Son of David, the Savior proclaimed by the prophets, He would come. And God even sent his messenger John the Baptist preparing the way, announcing that the Lord was nigh. Do you not see – Jesus Himself is the feast! And yet, what happens? The Pharisees, the top of the top of the Jewish community, those who should have been most eager for this, they make excuses. They don’t rejoice in Christ – they examine Him, they look for flaws so they can reject Him. They are just as foolish as the people blowing off the feast in the story. “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread. . .” you dolt, you are eating bread in the Kingdom of God right now because you are with Christ, but you are too dense and stubborn and sinful to see it! You throw up your vain expectations of worldly power and glory and wealth, and so you blow off Christ, you ignore Him, you treat Him like dirt and so you miss everything.

And so Christ preaches to the very people the Pharisees looked down upon. He goes to the poor and the lame of Israel, and the Good News is proclaimed to them, they are invited to join in the feast. And many come – and many don’t. And so Christ goes further – He preaches to the stranger – the Samaritans, the Gentiles, to the criminals - the crooked tax collectors and the prostitutes. All of them, He calls to His feast – and why should He not – for He is the Savior of the world, and with His death upon the Cross He has removed and forgiven all sins – and so He calls all to repentance and life in Him. For those who reject, who brush Him off – so be it, it will not keep Christ from being the Savior, it will not stop Christ from calling more and more unto Himself.

Do you see how Christ here preaches a stern warning to the Pharisees? You too, oh Pharisees, need to repent, for you have been blowing off God, and if you continue to make your excuses, if you continue to reject Me, you will have rejected God and missed out on His Kingdom. This is a stern warning, a stern rebuke. And it is one that we ourselves need to hear. We are the Pharisees – we are the good Christians of our day, we are the ones who know better. And we are called to God’s feast, we are called to come to God’s House where God Himself is present, where Christ Jesus comes to us in His Word, where Christ Jesus comes and gives us His own Body and Blood in His Most Holy Supper. And how often do we blow this off, treat this as unimportant? How many of us aren’t here today, or if we are here today, eh, skip when we feel like it? Blowing off God and His Word. Or, how many us were a little glad that we don’t have communion today so we can be out of Church that much quicker – think on that – oh, we don’t receive Christ’s Body and Blood for forgiveness today, oh well, I save 20 minutes of time that I can spend on other things. Is that the respect that we are to have for our Lord? Do we here rejoice in the feast of God, the feast of the Lamb like we ought – or are our own hearts quick and eager to wander? This text is like a slap across the face, a smack upside the head to all of us here, myself included. We treat as unimportant the highest gift in our lives, the chances for us to be called together with God. We set other things above God, raise up our work, our entertainment as idols better than Him. Lord have mercy upon us.

Perhaps we are not the good little Christians we think we are. Perhaps we are more like the poor and the crippled and the blind the lame. It does seem as though our worship and devotion is poor, does it not? It seems as though our ability to show love is crippled, does it not? Are we not so often blind, are we so often not helpless and lame? And this is our comfort – that Christ does not look down upon our failings – Christ does not despise us in our weakness. No, when we behold our frailties, when we see and understand our sinfulness and failings, when we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean – when we repent, God is so eager to forgive. That’s why He invites us to this feast, that’s why He comes to be with us, to be the God of Grace and Mercy who forgives sins. It’s only when we are clinging to our pride and arrogance rather than repenting of it that we fail to see this. But Christ Jesus has called us to repentance, and given us His forgiveness – He continually invites us to His House to be with Him, to hear His Word, to be united with Him and with all the Saints in His most wondrous Supper. The Kingdom of God is here for us, for our salvation now.

This is the wondrous thing – the Kingdom of God isn’t a just a future thing – it’s not just those who “will eat bread in the kingdom of God” – it’s something we are called to now, something Christ gives us through His Word and His Supper now. Out of His great love for His Church, God gathers us around His Word and Sacraments, gives us even now a participation, a contact with those in heaven. I say that I’ve never met my Grandfather Ralph, my dad’s dad. He died when my dad was 15. But that’s not true – I am with him now, for He is with Christ, is not Christ here? Are we not the body of Christ, joined together around our Lord? Your loved ones whom you have told me of so fondly – are we not joined together with them now in Christ? This is what we confess in the creed when we say we believe in “The Communion of Saints” – that we saints visible and invisible are brought together in Christ. This is the wonder, this is the joy of this feast, that we are forgiven and united in Christ Jesus, that His blood shed for us upon the Cross unites and joins us together – and that we get a touch, a taste even now of what we will see in full unveiled glory in the life of the world to come – which is why we confess that we look forward to it, that we expect it. And yet our old foes, Satan, the World, our Sinful flesh keep trying to throw up distraction after distraction. Pay attention to your field, your oxen, your family squabbles, your jobs, your activities, your busy-ness, your this and that. But the Word says, “Pause, and for a brief hour behold the wonders and joys of the love that God has for you, the depth and wonder of the forgiveness of your sins that is yours in Christ, the joys of reunion seen now in part and promised in full because of Christ’s righteous love for you and for all the saints.” This is the wonder of the feast – this is why we who eat bread in the Kingdom of heaven are truly blessed, more blessed that our minds can comprehend in this sinful, fallen world. All thanks and praise be to God, indeed, let our own praises rise in chorus with the Angels, with the Watchers and the Holy Ones, with the souls in endless rest – for Christ Jesus our Lord is good to us, and still calls us to His House here on earth, that we might join Him for all eternity in our Heavenly Home. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost + Amen.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cult of the Cool

Here is a question or query for you all to think about. When was the last time you saw a pastor at a Church with Contemporary Church or an Emergent Church that didn't think that he was "cool"? Not confident, not a nerd who enjoys himself, but who thought that other people would look at him and say, "wow, that guy's got it"?

That is what contemporary worship is. It's the cult of the cool - and whether it's the hip late 20s guy from the Sem, or the 55 year old gray-hair folk-rocking out for Jesus - there is this assumption that the ones in charge are "cool".

I don't want to be part of the cult of the cool (even though I am teh super AWESOME!!!). I don't want people to come to church because I am spiffy and neat, because we are the hip place to be. That's not what Church is to be about - Church is to be the gathering of the Body of Christ around Christ present for us in Word and Sacrament.

Enough of the "let's be hip for Jesus" as the main guide to "winning" souls. Let's just talk and focus upon Christ and His gifts.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Is your Title disposable?

I have not historically been a big fan of calling the parish pastor "Father". I'm by no means opposed to it - I'm not one of those people who get their knickers in a bunch if someone calls them "Father ______". It's not a matter of Rome-ophobia, but rather familiarity. I'm used to calling one of the clergy "Pastor _______".

Oklahoma threw that a bit - I'm called Pastor, but I'm also more apt to hear other terms as well - this is my minister, this is the preacher. And I just had a thought. Pastor is a wonderful term - I am a shepherd of God's people. Excellent. A minister - I do minister, fine a good term. I hope I preach. But there is just something different about the term "Father".

"Father" implies a direct, personal relationship - not just a function. A pastor - sure, today, right now, but maybe not later -- like my barber, or my pharmacist. I might change if I want to.

You don't get that with "Father". There is a relationship, a sense of belonging - both ways. A gal wouldn't normally ask some other Father to give her away at a wedding. . . but she'd ask another pastor to do her wedding, or to baptize her kid, because this other pastor is her mom's cousin's brother-in-law's nephew.

The difference between Father and all the other titles - a Father is what you get and you have and that's it. . . the other ones seem. . . disposable.

I don't know how coherent or insightful this is - I just got back from being at the hospital at 6 in the morning, but it's something to think about. If we call our clergy simply by a function or role instead of a relationship, should be be surprised if people shop for others in that function or role?

Monday, June 7, 2010

The working of the Law

You know, the Law in Luke 14:15-24 stands out entirely too clearly when:

1. The wheat harvest will have started by this Sunday, so who knows what attendance will be like.
2. The Post-memorial day "Let's go to the Lake and forget Church" season has kicked in.
3. We, for whatever foolish reason, do not plan on celebrating the Supper this weekend, because well, we just don't do that on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.


You know, the Gospel in Luke 14:15-24 stands out so clearly when:

1. We see the great love that Christ has for use even though we are poor, crippled, blind and lame, and have often wandered down the highways away from Him.
2. We see the wonders of the feast of God, whereby we receive true and full forgiveness for all of our sin from Christ.
3. We see the wonder that we are joined together with Christ and all the Saints, with those of our loved ones who now see Christ face to face and who are always at the feast.

We praise Thee, we Bless Thee, we worship Thee, we glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory which Thou showest in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus for our Justification and life!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Trinity 1 Sermon

Trinity 1 – Luke 16:19-31 – June 6th, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
The Trinity Season, the time of the Green Paraments, is the time of teaching. It’s the time of spiritual growth and maturing – that’s part of the reason why the color for this season is green. And what we will be hearing throughout the summer are Gospel lessons that are focused on our Lord’s teaching, our Lord instructing us in what the Christian life is, how our lives as Christians will differ from that of the world. And today our Lord sets us up a contrast – the contrast between Lazarus and the rich man.

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.” We see two men. You have the rich man, a man of wealth and means, a man who lacks for nothing, who has nice clothes, a good house (it has a gate, that means it’s pretty nice), fantastic food. This would seem to be a good life, would it not? The rich man seems to be living the American Dream – good house, plenty of cash, getting the best of everything. Yet, there is something wrong, isn’t there. Where is his love? Where is the care and concern and compassion that he should show? A sick man is laid on his doorstep, and he does nothing, not even to feed poor Lazarus the scraps that fall from his table, not even to share his leftovers.

This is the first warning that we get today – and I ask you to consider, where is your love? What do you love, what do you make your priority, what do you think most about? Is it your stuff, the things and pleasures of this life? Are you consumed by your work, so that you can make more and more? Many of us in this country are – and the danger comes in that we forget our neighbor. Rather than living to serve, we make our living at their expense. Rather than finding delight in showing love, we treat our neighbors as a burden, a drain on our time when we could be doing something better. . . like caring for ourselves. Be wary, very wary of that attitude, because it can creep in and wreck havoc upon your soul. And its even easier for us today to forget our neighbor – the poor, they live on the other side of the tracks from us, we can speed on by them in our cars, we don’t even have to walk by them. They are easier for us to ignore than Lazarus was for the rich man. Think on how you show or fail to show love.

Of course, on the other hand, we have poor Lazarus. He is unable to help himself. Can’t fend off the dogs – doesn’t even walk to the place where he begs, he is “laid” there. Weak and powerless and in utter need. Doesn’t sound like someone any of us would want to be, does it? In fact, some of our greatest fears revolve around losing the abilities we have, coming to the days where we become weak and frail. But I say to you this day, it’s much better to be Lazarus. Listen to what our Lord says.

“The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.” It’s much better to be Lazarus, to be the one who is poor and needy – and you could tell by one simple fact. Lazarus ends up in comfort, in support in the afterlife – the rich man in torment. Well, I think we can all understand easily the torment of the rich man – no love, no faith, no charity – torment comes. We get that. But what of Lazarus – why is he there at Abraham’s side? Is it because Lazarus suffered – do the sufferings of our lives here merit us heaven? No, and that’s shown by the fact that he is at Abraham’s side, who was quite the rich man himself. No, this goes back to what we heard in Genesis this morning – “And [Abraham] believed the LORD, and He counted to him as righteousness.” The true contrast here isn’t between rich and poor, but it’s between belief and unbelief. Lazarus was with Abraham, so we know that, in spite of all the trials of his life, he believes like Abraham, has righteousness credited to him just like Abraham.

And here’s the neat, neat thing that our Lord does with this story – Jesus let us know that Lazarus believed right off the bat. Lazarus has a name. Think on this – if I know you, if I have a relationship with you, if you are part of my family, I’ll know your name. What’s the rich man’s name? We don’t know – there’s no relationship, there’s no connection. The rich man has ignored God and he’s stuck off on his own, nameless and with no identity. He’s just ‘that rich man.’ But Lazarus – we know Lazarus, there is a connection, a tie – and he is with the faithful. Now, consider your own baptism. We have lost this a bit in American today, because we wait weeks to baptize kids, because we pick names out well before the birth – but let’s be old fashioned here. Your first name used to be called your “Christian” name, because you got it at Baptism. This is the connection that we in the Church are supposed to make – that we have Christian names, we have been Named by God as one of his own in Baptism, by water and the Word. God knows you, knows your name – you are His and He is yours. By faith you have been connected to Christ, joined with God, and thus Christ’s righteousness is credited to you and you are welcomed to God’s family.

That’s the key difference, that is the biggest importance. The rich man ignored the Word of God, but Lazarus believed the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness. And so Lazarus lived a life of patience, of trust rather than a life of selfishness and greed. Again, I am going to call upon you to examine yourself. What shapes your life? Is it your desire for stuff, or the fact that you are a Baptized Christian? Are the things of the world what you crave, or are the things of God’s Church, the Word, the Supper, these things that are yours from Christ and for your growth in Christ? Examine yourself to see how Satan attacks you and tries to make you forget who you are in Christ, strives to make you forget God and to wander away from him.

As the story continues, we see the rich man’s greed continue unabated. Even in hell he thinks he exists simply to be served. Send Lazarus with water. Doesn’t even ask, just commands. But, that’s the way it goes. No warning, no punishment breaks his heart because it is given over to greed. Same thing was probably true in life. But there is a moment where the rich man seems to make a connection, to have a moment of understanding, and he calls out, “Then I beg you, father, to send him [that is Lazarus] to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – that that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” Finally, the rich man thinks of someone else – thinks on his brothers. Send Lazarus to warn them – and they need warning. But Abraham says this, “They have Moses and the Prophet; let them hear them.” Moses and the prophets – the Scriptures. That’s what we are to listen to, that’s where we are warned, that’s where our sin that we need to repent of is pointed out to us. We live by the Word. And the rich man counters, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” That brief flash of humility in the rich man is gone. Tells Abraham no. Think on that – think on how audacious that this – telling Abraham that theologically speaking he doesn’t know what he is talking about. There is a disdain, a disrespect of God’s Word, and that disrespect destroys faith. Faith comes by hearing – that is what we are told, but so many people want to add something else. Those people won’t believe if they just hear the Word, but maybe if we add a dog and pony show they will believe. Maybe if there’s a backbeat, they will believe. Maybe if we are more relevant they will believe (because, of course, struggling against my own sinful desires isn’t really relevant, sin has nothing to do with me). All of those thoughts – that’s just diminishing the Word of God and brushing it aside. A dog and pony show is better, entertainment is better, itching my ears with something that I like and calling it “relevant” is better. But these idea aren’t better – it is the Word of God that gives life. And to seal this point, Abraham says, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

And what Abraham says here is true. The folks who made excuses before the Crucifixion made excuses afterwards. They refused to hear what Moses and the Prophets said of the coming Messiah, and they still rejected that Messiah after His resurrection. But, dear friends, you are Baptized, you are part of God’s family, and you have been given hears to hear the Word of God, to know that the One that Moses and the Prophets promised and pointed to, Christ Jesus, has come, that He has suffered and died for your sins upon the Cross, and that He has risen from the dead. That really sums up what the Word of God says. God’s Word shows us our sin in all its utter filth, so that we know our need for a Savior and repent, and then God’s Word shows us Christ Jesus and what He has done to win us salvation. And this is the wonder, the joy, the true reason for any praise that we give – Christ Jesus has won us life and salvation. We have been brought to believe in Him, and now we have His righteousness, His life, His salvation. Everything centers around this – that we are sinners, but we are repentant sinners who struggle against our sin, and we are sinners forgiven on account of Christ Jesus. And we still today give heed to Moses and the Prophets, to the Evangelists and St. Paul – to the Word of God, both Old and New Testaments – because they all point us to Christ Jesus and His love for us, they all strengthen us in the relationship He called us to in the waters of Holy Baptism, they all preserve us in this life, and along with His most Holy Supper prepare us for the life to come. This is indeed how God shows us love. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +